With San Diego's mighty Republican hotel barons yoking themselves to some well-heeled labor organizations to advance their long-stalled convention-center expansion plans, city hall insiders see a watershed moment for county politics.
Hastened by the gradual demise of the Union-Tribune, which during decades of ownership by the Copley Press and later GOP wheeler-dealer Doug Manchester acted as both weapon and cheerleader for the party's priorities, the era of voter fealty to Republican kingpins appears finally over.
Rushing to fill the vacuum is a new set of characters, armed with money, social media, and a familiar-seeming penchant for backroom political deals to advance their conflicting agendas.
A key player is Unite Here Local 30, whose website says it represents 4500 hotel, gambling, and food-service workers in the county.
Though a seemingly obvious backer of an expanded convention center, the union has cut an organizing deal with Fifth Avenue Landing, would-be developers of a bayfront hotel project that would block the so-called contiguous convention-center expansion plan pushed by the city's old-guard hotel moguls and their champion, GOP mayor Kevin Faulconer.
A victory by Fifth Avenue would require the convention-center expansion to be located across Harbor Drive, an option long opposed by hotel interests but backed by ex-Padres owner John Moores, whose JMI Realty dumped nearly $1 million into an ultimately failed 2016 ballot drive mounted by lawyer Cory Briggs. JMI, it is said, still yearns to develop its downtown land.
The current convention-center expansion scheme, in the form of a ballot initiative to be circulated by a group calling itself Yes! For a Better San Diego, would boost taxes on hotel-room stays by 3.25 percent downtown and 1.25 percent elsewhere in the city from the current 12.5 percent.
Larded with a claimed $600 million in spending for street repairs and $140 million to cover city expenses related to the homeless, the measure is designed to co-opt as many would-be opponents as possible.
But whether voters believe those projections remains to be seen in the wake of last year's Sandag scandal regarding overstated transit tax revenue.
And pushback from Unite Here, Fifth Avenue Landing, or Moores could play havoc with the proponents' unity pitch, as well as make it difficult to come up with six-figure political contributions from unions and hotel owners essential to footing the multimillion-dollar bill for a costly corps of paid signature-gatherers.
For its part, filings with the federal Department of Labor show Unite Here hasn't been reluctant to put down cash to back its sentiment. The union paid attorney Briggs $15,000 for legal services related to representational activities, according to its 2016 annual financial report, filed last March; $30,000 went to the influence-peddling outfit of Rath, Miller, LLC, cofounded by longtime Republican operative Phil Rath, listing the purpose of "market research for contract negotiation."