Lorena Gonzalez and Nathan Fletcher at the Democratic National Convention
It's been a big convention for La Jolla Democratic billionaire Irwin Jacobs and his longtime political protégé Nathan Fletcher, the onetime Republican assemblyman–turned–independent and, finally, Democrat.
Fletcher, who twice ran unsuccessfully for mayor of San Diego with heavy financial backing from Jacobs and his extended Qualcomm family, was briefly shown on national television as he and main squeeze, Democratic assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, shared an intimate moment during president Barack Obama's speech to the delegates.
Jacobs himself was not as conspicuous, but his presence was felt, at least by San Diego political insiders, in the form of fellow billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the ex-Republican mayor of New York, turned independent, who addressed the convention earlier in the evening, making a pitch to independents to vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.
"You know, when the founding fathers arrived here in Philadelphia to forge a new nation, they didn't come as Democrats or Republicans, or to nominate a presidential candidate," Bloomberg told the convention. "They came as patriots who feared party politics, and I know how they felt."
Bloomberg's appeal for Clinton was eerily similar to one he made for Fletcher in May 2012, after Fletcher, having failed to get the endorsement of county Republicans, abruptly announced he was leaving the party to become an independent.
"Nathan Fletcher is a strong, independent leader who will make bold decisions for San Diego," said Bloomberg in a statement released five days before the June 2012 primary, in which Fletcher placed third.
"I look forward to working with Nathan and other courageous elected officials who share my belief that there is an alternative to partisan gridlock.”
June 2012 campaign disclosure filings subsequently revealed that Qualcomm executives and their friends and associates, including Gateway computer founder Ted Waitt, had poured $492,515 into a political action committee called icPurple that ran television spots on Fletcher's behalf.
"If you're tired of partisan politics," said the commercial, "vote Nathan Fletcher for mayor. He's not a Democrat, he's not a Republican, he's an American."
Less than a year later, in May 2013, Fletcher flipped again and signed up with the Democratic party blasting Republicans in a statement that said, "In my opinion, the GOP today is more focused on protecting those who have already achieved the American Dream than allowing others access to it."
Fletcher had been hired five months earlier, in January 2013, by Jacobs-controlled Qualcomm. When Fletcher ran again for mayor in the fall of 2013, Republicans, including the take-no-prisoners GOP Lincoln Club, bashed him as a turncoat who had been bought off by a make-work job at the cell-phone-chip-making giant.
Paul Jacobs, a son of Irwin who was then Qualcomm CEO, fired back in a letter, denying that Fletcher’s big-money job had anything to do with politics, and adding, "The allegations about Nathan’s job are completely untrue, from the erroneous salary figure to the outrageous allegation that his is a 'no-show' job."
Said Jacobs, "While we do not disclose salary information, we have previously indicated that the figure reported is grossly exaggerated. Nathan’s salary is commensurate with other employees at his level. We do not hire 'no show' employees."
Fletcher again placed third in the mayoral primary; less than two years later, he divorced his GOP wife Mindy, a onetime top White House aide to Republican president George W. Bush, and subsequently began his high-profile relationship with Democrat Gonzalez.
Whether Fletcher is on company time with the assemblywoman at the Democratic convention this week in Philadelphia couldn't be immediately determined. According to his LinkedIn profile, Fletcher is presently Qualcomm's senior director of Cyber Security Solutions and Global Strategic Initiatives. He did not immediately respond to a voicemail at his office for a request for comment regarding his current activities.
In January 2013, Qualcomm was hit by a lawsuit filed by the New York state comptroller’s office, alleging that the firm had not been fully transparent regarding disclosure of the corporation’s financial support for political causes. The company settled the matter by agreeing to publish a list of its spending to influence every six months on its website.
Besides their joint efforts for Fletcher, Bloomberg and the elder Jacobs, long close friends and associates, have been the prime movers behind a costly New York City redevelopment project. As a result, San Diego critics fear, Jacobs will not come up with sufficient funds to pay for the massive Balboa Park road and parking makeover he favors, ultimately leaving San Diego taxpayers holding a multimillion-dollar bag for the project.
The Balboa Park proposal was revived last month by Republican mayor Kevin Faulconer, a recipient of $35,400 in Jacobs family and Qualcomm campaign largesse in this year's mayoral primary, according to city disclosure filings.
The New York venture began life veiled in secrecy at Manhattan's Cornell University Club, related the New York Times in December 2011.
"Over three days, more than a dozen top officials from Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology barely ventured out of that 14-story clubhouse near Grand Central Terminal," according to the account. "The object of discussion was the tantalizing $400 million in real estate and infrastructure upgrades that the Bloomberg administration was dangling for someone to build a new graduate school of applied sciences."
What ultimately emerged was the Joan & Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, named for the billionaire and his wife, both Cornell alumni, who kicked in $133 million for the development.
Controversial among critics, including Max Blumenthal, author of Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, for links to drones and other Israeli military hardware, the institute was built on New York city's Roosevelt Island, and Bloomberg sees it as one of his major legacies.
Asked in an October 2013 Union-Tribune interview whether the Technion deal meant that Jacobs had reduced his San Diego money-giving, Jacobs replied, "We will continue to support many San Diego social, educational and cultural institutions, particularly UC San Diego, which first attracted us to move here and which continues to provide great academic and research leadership. We will always have some involvement outside of San Diego, but this is our home."
But concerns regarding the Jacobs family's willingness to fully finance the Balboa Park project have grown with revelations that two of his sons, Paul and Jeff, have recently been divorced, further fragmenting the family fortune.