Hillary Clinton has been conspicuously absent from San Diego’s hustings during the weeks leading up to the California primary. Instead, her husband, former president Bill Clinton, is doing the heavy lifting here. His latest trip was last Saturday to a big-money fundraiser off-limits to press and public. He also stopped by the Bonita Vista High School gym for a pep-talk about his wife. Two weeks ago, he popped into the Balboa Park Club to give a speech about biotech. As with most things political, there is a back story, this one involving the Hotel del Coronado and a posh oceanfront mansion restored by Larry Lawrence, one of Bill Clinton’s big donors. The beginnings are traced in letters made public two years ago by Clinton’s presidential library in Little Rock. “In 1944, FDR narrowly prevailed over Tom Dewey,” wrote the Hotel Del’s then-owner Lawrence to the president-elect on November 11, 1992. “That was the last time San Diego voted for a Democrat until your victory. In addition, ‘our’ lucky charm, Shelia, brought in two new Democratic members of Congress, two State Senators and four State Assembly members. All categories are records for this area.”
Shelia Davis Lawrence, ex–security guard at a South Lake Tahoe casino and Lawrence’s fourth wife, was a Clinton favorite. “Yes, I am very proud of her and of you!” continued Lawrence. “My desire is that Shelia will be given priority consideration — first, on arrangements for the Inauguration and, subsequently, as your protocol chief. We also have a wonderful idea about Coronado, which we hope to share with you privately. It is perfect for you, Hillary and Chelsea... right on the beach, almost private golf, and very affordable.” Lawrence’s proposed hideaway was an estate he called Crown Manor. The next October, Clinton named Larry Lawrence ambassador to Switzerland and appointed Shelia as special U.S. representative to the World Conservation Union.
The president’s first official stay in Coronado came in May 1993, when he checked in to the Del. “By presidential request, the room had a humidifier (good for the voice), a bowl of bananas (chock-full of potassium) and a six-pack of Arkansas mineral water (non-carbonated, please),” the Los Angeles Times reported. “On Tuesday morning, Clinton left the 691-room hotel to go jogging with Rep. Bob Filner (D-San Diego) and some Navy SEALs on the same beach where Marilyn Monroe made the 1959 film Some Like It Hot.
But it was his later lodging at nearby Crown Manor that interested lawyers during the 1998 Paula Jones sexual harassment case against Clinton, in which Shelia was referred to as Jane Doe 7. Larry Lawrence had died in January 1996, leaving Shelia a wealthy widow and in charge of the lavishly appointed Crown Manor. “Now, have you ever spent the night at a home owned by Jane Doe 7 when your wife was not with you?” Clinton was asked in a March 1998 deposition. “I believe I did once. I believe, I believe I did. I do not remember for sure. I believe I stayed there once when she was not with me.” Continued the lawyer, “On that occasion did you have sexual relations with Jane Doe 7?” Said Clinton, “Absolutely not.” Asked the lawyer, “Did you ever attend a party at the Hotel del Coronado which was attended by Jane Doe 7?” Replied the president, “She and her husband owned the hotel, and I went to several events there, and I think they were there for most of the events I attended.” Asked the lawyer, “On any of those occasions were you in one of the rooms of the hotel alone with her?” Responded Clinton, “I don’t believe so.”
Though denying any wrongdoing, Clinton settled with Jones for $850,000 in November 1998. On December 19, 1998, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to impeach him for lying during the Jones case deposition about whether he had ever had sex with Monica Lewinsky. The president was acquitted by the Senate in February 1999. A year earlier, at Shelia’s request, the body of Larry Lawrence, which had been laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, was disinterred and shipped back to San Diego. Documents showed the Coronado mogul had fabricated his World War II service in the Merchant Marine.