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Big money fails to save San Diego convention center tax hike

$800,000 from adjacent hotels not enough to muster Measure C supermajority

The Manchester Grand Hyatt contributed $300,000.
The Manchester Grand Hyatt contributed $300,000.

When San Diego's hotel lobby, backed by a host of out-of-town operators, began its quest for an expanded downtown convention center via a 2018 tax hike initiative, some local political professionals were skeptical.

Jerry Sanders urged Chamber of Commerce board members to gather signatures "through work, friends, and family."

Their doubts turned to disdain in May 2018 when the hotel owners, allied with well-heeled labor unions, came up with a modest campaign war chest and proceeded to lavish much of the cash on friends and political associates of Republican San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer.

They included Irvine-basedRick Manter, a onetime Faulconer colleague at the public relations and lobbying firm of NCG Porter Novelli, who ultimately got a total $83,833, including travel expenses, according to city disclosure filings.

Doing even better was lobbying and politics concern Southwest Strategies, a longtime Faulconer friend and financial backer, which received a total of $170,677, records show. Manolatos Nelson Murphy, another Faulconer-friendly PR outfit, got $33,136.

But the signature-gathering drive went so slowly that GOP ex-mayor and Chamber of Commerce honcho Jerry Sanders issued a last-minute call for volunteers.

Former Faulconer chief of staff Stephen Puetz's firm got $132,586.

"If each of our Board members helps to gather 50 signatures through work, friends, and family, we can ensure this important initiative is placed on the November ballot," said Sanders in a June 2018 email reported by the Union-Tribune.

In the end, proponents managed to increase their budget, but barely mustered enough signatures, forcing them to pull strings at the city council to hustle the tax hike measure onto the March 2020 primary ballot.

Veteran local campaign observers guesstimated that achieving the legally required two-thirds vote for approval would end up costing backers between $3 million and $5 million to pull off. But fundraising continued to lag, revealing the limitations of how much cash hotels and their suppliers were willing to put into the tax hike.

Finally, with polls showing Measure C below the threshold for approval, hotel owners adjacent to the convention center stepped up with more money. On January 14, the Hilton San Diego Bayfront gave $200,000. On January 27, Marriott International came up with $250,000. The Manchester Grand Hyatt contributed $250,000 on February 5.

Late reports show the Manchester Grand Hyatt came up with an additional $50,000, as did Hilton, on Monday, March 2, the day before the election. Hilton also contributed $50,000 on February 20.

The total collected from January 1 through February 14, was $1.91 million, records show. Data from city disclosure reports filed by proponents show that their committee spent a total of $1.9 million during the same period, well under what those in the political know said was the required minimum of $3 million or more in the face of voter doubts about the open-ended proposal.

Despite serving up another embarrassing failure for the mayor, his longtime associates appear to have done well financially. Axiom Strategies of Kansas City, where ex-Faulconer chief of staff Stephen Puetz is senior vice-president, got $132,586 on January 19. Subsidiary AxMedia received $535,592 for "TV and Radio Ads" on January 18 and $655,424 for telephone work on February 15, according to city disclosure reports.

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The Manchester Grand Hyatt contributed $300,000.
The Manchester Grand Hyatt contributed $300,000.

When San Diego's hotel lobby, backed by a host of out-of-town operators, began its quest for an expanded downtown convention center via a 2018 tax hike initiative, some local political professionals were skeptical.

Jerry Sanders urged Chamber of Commerce board members to gather signatures "through work, friends, and family."

Their doubts turned to disdain in May 2018 when the hotel owners, allied with well-heeled labor unions, came up with a modest campaign war chest and proceeded to lavish much of the cash on friends and political associates of Republican San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer.

They included Irvine-basedRick Manter, a onetime Faulconer colleague at the public relations and lobbying firm of NCG Porter Novelli, who ultimately got a total $83,833, including travel expenses, according to city disclosure filings.

Doing even better was lobbying and politics concern Southwest Strategies, a longtime Faulconer friend and financial backer, which received a total of $170,677, records show. Manolatos Nelson Murphy, another Faulconer-friendly PR outfit, got $33,136.

But the signature-gathering drive went so slowly that GOP ex-mayor and Chamber of Commerce honcho Jerry Sanders issued a last-minute call for volunteers.

Former Faulconer chief of staff Stephen Puetz's firm got $132,586.

"If each of our Board members helps to gather 50 signatures through work, friends, and family, we can ensure this important initiative is placed on the November ballot," said Sanders in a June 2018 email reported by the Union-Tribune.

In the end, proponents managed to increase their budget, but barely mustered enough signatures, forcing them to pull strings at the city council to hustle the tax hike measure onto the March 2020 primary ballot.

Veteran local campaign observers guesstimated that achieving the legally required two-thirds vote for approval would end up costing backers between $3 million and $5 million to pull off. But fundraising continued to lag, revealing the limitations of how much cash hotels and their suppliers were willing to put into the tax hike.

Finally, with polls showing Measure C below the threshold for approval, hotel owners adjacent to the convention center stepped up with more money. On January 14, the Hilton San Diego Bayfront gave $200,000. On January 27, Marriott International came up with $250,000. The Manchester Grand Hyatt contributed $250,000 on February 5.

Late reports show the Manchester Grand Hyatt came up with an additional $50,000, as did Hilton, on Monday, March 2, the day before the election. Hilton also contributed $50,000 on February 20.

The total collected from January 1 through February 14, was $1.91 million, records show. Data from city disclosure reports filed by proponents show that their committee spent a total of $1.9 million during the same period, well under what those in the political know said was the required minimum of $3 million or more in the face of voter doubts about the open-ended proposal.

Despite serving up another embarrassing failure for the mayor, his longtime associates appear to have done well financially. Axiom Strategies of Kansas City, where ex-Faulconer chief of staff Stephen Puetz is senior vice-president, got $132,586 on January 19. Subsidiary AxMedia received $535,592 for "TV and Radio Ads" on January 18 and $655,424 for telephone work on February 15, according to city disclosure reports.

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Comments
14

We dodged a bullet on this one.

March 6, 2020

What took out the simple game of dodge-ball?

March 6, 2020

I'll be darned; you just cannot buy an election in SD by spending bucks. (Well you can, but these dopes just didn't pony up enough to make the case to the usual brain-dead SD city voters. On the other hand, Sara Jacobs did buy her primary victory in the congressional race with a half million of her own money and with some help from her "friends.") If the measure had passed the bulk of the funds collected from visitors would have been squandered on an oversized white elephant convention center.

The tourism cabal still seems to think that a bigger convention center will bring more and larger conventions to town, and line their pockets, and that's what this push from Kev-boy has been all about for as long as he's been in the seat. There's no guarantee that any number of bigger conventions would show up. Show attendance is on a downtrend which will likely continue, and convention centers around the US are in price wars to convince shows to come to their cities.

March 6, 2020

I've got NO SYMPATHY for RIPPLETOE, as he/Rippletoe has interests in what be of "Theology" & "Church Work." [he's in the wrong place] Another perspective: Add this SDR report, that now mixes Politics & religion; as disruption ALWAYS comes during that mixture.

March 6, 2020

Drop the L it is Rippetoe. I couldn't find much background on him so let me know where you found his politics/religion.

March 8, 2020

You're funny.~

March 8, 2020
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March 7, 2020
This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.
March 7, 2020

Matt just who are the " well-heeled labor unions"? Labor backs all projects that will employ their members. All construction is temporary thus all construction jobs are temporary. Unions can only spend money on political issues that their members specifically give them. The can not use dues money for political activities. Your lack of knowledge of how unions operate is showing.

March 7, 2020

Maybe my reading comprehension is off, as i just woke up, but why doesn't this article say what "measure C" is?

March 7, 2020

....Meanwhile Matt Potter missed the end of the SDSU Confucius Institute last year; Insane McCain struck from Beyond the Grave through his law that a US university who takes Pentagon money can't also take any cash from an "enemy nation", and the Confucius Institutes are backed by the People's Liberation Army of mainland China....and I guess Sud-Soo is taking military money somewhere beyond the rotcy. The Chinese rolled up operations and stalked off last summer and MATT LOST HIS CHANCE TO WRITE ABOUT IT somehow even though the Asian languages subdepartment at SDSU would gladly talk about what a jam they are in now with a display space/lecture area they can't fully use because all the books went with the Chinese.

March 8, 2020

I'm not sure that Matt was the one who could/should/would have covered the story. (It wasn't reported in the YouTee either, was it?) This is the first I've seen of it, and it is most interesting. The Chinese are extending tentacles of influence into just about every nation on the planet. They hope to have such influence that they will not be opposed when they make moves.

March 8, 2020

Visduh, that story screamed MATT POTTER. This was a guy who wrote 50,000 words on a San Diego Elementary School computer buying system that wasted about 100,000 bucks or so (maybe far less - I have a bad mem'ry for numbers) way back in the '90s. He LOATHES both of the big colleges in town.

March 16, 2020

I've been watching (author) names on these SDR newsstories for some time; wondering why Matt's name not been showing -- in the frequency as it used to. I had only seen it once, since my monitoring.

March 13, 2020

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