With the epic battle for control of the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune raging on, a well-known L.A. political player and University of Southern California honcho with ties to Pete Wilson — who began his career as mayor of San Diego — has appeared on the scene, adding yet another level of intrigue to the newspaper drama.
As reported Thursday by LAObserved, an open letter released by a group of "business and civic leaders of the San Fernando Valley" that called for "local leadership and control" of the L.A. Times referred questions to Dan Schnur, a onetime Wilson media aide and political consultant who ran for California secretary of state as an independent last year.
Currently director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California in L.A., Schnur also did a stint as director of national communications for the failed 2000 presidential bid of GOP Arizona senator John McCain.
In addition to the recent missive from Valley politicos and business types, Schnur's name and contact information also appeared on a September 10 letter signed by a "diverse group of L.A. leaders" bearing the same message.
Besides USC, what makes Schnur's role in the L.A. Times fight of more than passing interest is his connection with Eli Broad, the billionaire Democrat and charter-school backer fingered as the top L.A. and San Diego takeover candidate, if the current owner of the two newspapers — beleaguered Times Publishing of Chicago — can ever be forced to part with the outlets.
Schnur’s USC bio notes that he has been an advisor to the Broad Education Foundation. But reached by phone today, Schnur identified a key force behind the open letters as Democrat Mickey Kantor, the 76-year-old L.A. politico, who along with Broad signed the message to Tribune. The letter-signers, Schnur added, do not advocate a position regarding the specifics of who should run the Times.
In addition, Schnur said there isn’t a relationship between his role at USC and his work on behalf of the letter-writing campaign, nor is he being compensated or reimbursed by anyone for his efforts. He characterized the nature of his involvement as that of an individual citizen who wants to see the Times in local hands.
When Schnur ran as an independent for California secretary of state last year, his campaign received sizable funding from Frank E. Baxter, who along with Katherine Baxter gave him a total of $27,200, according to state disclosure filings.
Baxter, a wealthy L.A. investment manager who was president George W. Bush's ambassador to Uruguay from 2006 to 2009, is a key Broad ally in the charter-school movement, with the Frank Baxter Education Complex in South Los Angeles named after him.
During Schnur’s campaign in April of last year, he appeared with Baxter at a luncheon event to discuss “leading-edge approaches to education reform,” according to an online invitation.
Other Schnur donors included Netflix founder Reed Hastings, one of the biggest names on Broad's side in the school-control controversy, with $6800. Schnur said his interest in charter schools is longstanding and not related to the positions of any of his campaign contributors or Broad.
Schnur’s 2014 donor list also included $6800 from Austin Beutner, the ex–New York investment banker and Broad associate whose firing by Tribune as publisher of the L.A. Times and Union-Tribune triggered the current argument over control of the papers.
Schnur said he became friends with Beutner after the former Wall Streeter moved to L.A. but has not consulted him about the current campaign.
Schnur's younger brother Jon, an ex–Bill Clinton aide and Al Gore 2000 presidential campaign advisor, is also an education policy player who has been friendly with billionaire Broad.
In a July 2009 write-up by Politico, Broad praised Jon Schnur — then advising the Obama White House on school issues — for being "a counterweight against the 'bunch of academics' on Obama’s education transition team."
Dan Schnur said he has never discussed the L.A. Times battle with his brother, who now runs a nonprofit called America Achieves and lives on the East Coast.
Whether Broad or another well-heeled buyer does manage to grab control of the Southern California papers, it could impact San Diego school-board politics, where a Broad ally, La Jolla investor and Voice of San Diego news-and-opinion website chairman Buzz Woolley, is already a major player, coming up with $15,000 to back the 2012 election bid of Bill Ponder.
Ponder lost out to now-embattled Marne Foster, the labor-union favorite whose current troubles could throw the seat up for grabs come election time next year.