Besieged by a burgeoning hepatitis epidemic that threatens to destroy his long-cultivated image as California's progressive Republican candidate of the future, San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer has rolled out a new public relations man to handle the emergency.
Greg Block, a well-paid veteran of San Diego State University's well-heeled spin-machine — where he received total salary and benefits of $175,629 as chief communications officer in 2016, according to Transparent California — is now the mayor's senior press secretary,
Block's first assignment: shifting the blame for the city's epic viral mess away from his boss. "The county is our public health agency,” Block told the Union-Tribune on Monday, September 25th.
"They have the expertise on public health matters that the city does not. As a result, we take our direction on public health issues from them.”
Regarding the longstanding controversy over the city's failure to provide adequate public restrooms to discourage defecating on sidewalks, the mayor's spinmeister trained his fire on the street-dwellers.
"We have had issues with vandalism and illegal activities, causing complaints from residents and business owners, leading many of [the restrooms] to be removed."
Conspicuously absent was any acknowledgment that the mayor's missteps may have contributed to the deadly breakout, as alleged by county health officials.
Faulconer, who himself emerged from the world of public relations as an executive at the downtown office of Porter Novelli, has filled his office with fellow flacks, including, in addition to Block, deputy chief of staff & chief of communications Matt Awbrey, senior director of communications Craig Gustafson, and press secretary Christina Chadwick.
Per Transparent California, in 2016 Awbrey got total pay and benefits of $163,677, and Gustafson, a former Union-Tribune reporter, received $118,138. Chadwick, married to Faulconer-appointed city chief operating officer Scott Chadwick, was the outlier, with $25,550; she joined the staff in September 2016. Block's salary was not immediately available.
Block, who did an eight-month stint earlier this year as public relations honcho for the Scripps Research Institute between his gigs for SDSU and Faulconer, is married to lobbyist Rachel Laing, a former PR staffer for mayor Jerry Sanders.
"The two met in 1999 when Laing, a lowly copy editor at The Daily Transcript, kept receiving story pitches from Block, a persistent public relations associate at Jack Berkman’s firm," according to a September 2010 profile of the pair in San Diego Magazine.
"Block is also making waves at SDSU for launching a campus news portal that cranks out news articles, videos and graphics about campus achievements and then markets them heavily through social media. 'You get much more control of the message that way,' he says, rather than relying on dwindling staffs at other media outlets to pick up on campus stories."
As media gatekeeper for Republican Sanders, Laing dispensed advice about Twitter and other social media, as demonstrated by an email exchange obtained under the state public record act in 2010.
"Hey, I know that the Reader is off limits as far as giving information and interviews," wrote Environmental Services Department public information officer José Ysea. “I can certainly block them, actually, I would prefer to block them to avoid them receiving a twitter message from me and then having them call wanting to receive more information. What is your recommendation."
Replied Laing: "Thanks for asking. No need to block them. The info is in the public domain, so you have to expect anything you put out there can be used or quoted by any news media, just like our Web content. However, their seeing something on Twitter or a Web site that interests them does not automatically grant them right to interviews, and we should continue to refrain from talking to them.”
As a registered influence-peddler, Laing has worked for Kilroy Realty's One Paseo development, and the marijuana lobby in the form of theAlliance for Responsible Medicinal Access.
Her latest client, according to a September 15 disclosure filing with the city clerk's office, is FS Investors, promoter of the bitterly-fought-over SoccerCity plan on next year's November ballot to privatize the former Qualcomm Stadium and surrounding acreage for commercial and residential development.
Faulconer, who has conducted secret meetings with the developers to assist the project, is a proponent of the measure.
Laing, the statement shows, is also working for Hines SD Riverfront, LLC, the would-be developer of Mission Valley's 200-acre Riverwalk Golf Course for commercial and residential uses.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake for both projects, and Faulconer, with virtual control of city planning and development processes, is widely expected with Laing's input to be a key expediter of the plans.