If all the ex–San Diegans on president-elect Donald Trump's reputed short list for administration posts get their gigs, the city could be one of the best represented in Washington's new era.
Billionaire University of San Diego law school graduate Tom Barrack, Jr., may run the Treasury department, and San Diego ex–growth control advocate and mayoral candidate Peter Navarro could head up economic policy, if speculation proves true.
The latest of ex-locals to surface in a New York Times Trump administration hopefuls tally is Ric Grenell.
The former Newt Gingrich aide parachuted into town back in 1998 as press secretary for GOP then-mayor Susan Golding, taking charge of her ultimately failed bid for the United States senate. Grenell lasted longer than most Golding staffers, until 2002, when he headed back to the East Coast to become spokesman for George W. Bush's United Nations delegation.
Then, in 2004, it was announced Grenell would become vice president of corporate communications for La Jolla–based military contracting giant Titan Corp., where Golding had been named to the board.
"After a lifetime career in the public sector, Grenell calls this private enterprise post, which he assumes in December, a great challenge — and a welcome return to San Diego," gushed Union-Tribune columnist Diane Bell after Titan's October 26 announcement.
"Ric will be a great asset to the Titan team," added Gene Ray, Titan's CEO and a major GOP funder.
"His experience over the last 12 years as the primary communications advisor for public officials at the local, state, federal and international levels will be a valuable asset, as we provide National Security Solutions to our government customers."
Behind the scenes, though, Titan had big problems, including charges that the company had bribed the president of the African country of Benin. The firm's employees had also been linked to alleged torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Following a November 18, 2004, item here about Grenell's Titan appointment and the charges against the firm, Grenell suddenly dropped from sight, emerging back at his New York UN gig early the next year.
Wrote Titan spokesman Wil Williams in response to a February 2005 email asking about Grenell's status with the company, "Mr. Grenell has decided not to join Titan.” Titan subsequently coughed up $28.5 million as part of its guilty pleas to felony charges in San Diego and New York federal courts.
In his UN days, Grenell was famous for his ferocious verbal duels with reporters over policy questions, according to an August 2003 Village Voice profile.
"Several sources in the UN press corps who spoke on condition of anonymity describe the U.S. spokesperson as 'rude,' 'arrogant,' and a 'bully,' neither popular nor a particularly good source," reported the Voice. "'He's unbearable,' says one journalist. 'Very pushy and very demanding,' says another. Grenell is said to complain incessantly, hectoring correspondents and their bosses and trying to 'mold' wire stories to fit his message. He yells at anyone whose slant doesn't follow his, says one source. 'He yells at people whenever he is uncomfortable, particularly foreigners,' says another."
After Barack Obama took office in 2009, Grenell set up Capitol Media Partners in Los Angeles, a self-described political crisis management firm. He became noted for his use of Twitter to attack an array of political foes, including Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, as recounted by Politico in April 2012.
"ask any Californian if the GOP has a latino problem. We have no statewide GOP elected officials because we confuse illegals with legals," said a January 19 tweet.
"First Lady slang? Michelle Obama tonight in North Carolina said: 'Because I got to get home after this.' is that transcript right?" he wrote March 2.
A brief run as 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney's foreign policy honcho ended after two weeks of heated controversy.
Wrote the U-T's Diane Bell in May 2012, "Ric Grenell, who is openly gay, attributes his recent resignation from Mitt Romney’s campaign staff to a double-barreled assault 'from the far right, who object to Republicans who are gay, and the far left, who object to gays being Republicans.'... While he favors gay marriage and President Obama’s personal support of it, Grenell says he takes exception to Obama’s 'dismal national-security and economic records.'”
Two years ago, Grenell resurfaced in San Diego as a consultant to the GOP congressional campaign of ex–city councilman Carl DeMaio, who ultimately lost to Democratic incumbent Scott Peters.
In June 2015, after former DeMaio campaign staffer Todd Bosnich pled guilty to charges that he forged an email threatening him over sexual harassment claims he’d made against DeMaio, Grenell harshly criticized Peters for his role in the case and attacked the Los Angeles Times, CNN, and other media outlets for their reporting of Bosnich's bogus charges.
“These same reporters should now hold Team Peters accountable for their dirty tricks or risk encouraging more ugly politics because a campaign gets away with it,” said Grenell.