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The date was March 9, 1972, and San Diego's hopes to host that year's Republican convention were quickly unraveling.

Lobbyist Dita Beard had spilled the beans to Washington columnist Jack Anderson about a deal by ITT Corporation, a giant conglomerate of the era that then owned Sheraton hotels, to bankroll the event with $400,000 from its various subsidiaries in exchange for favorable treatment in an anti-trust case against the firm.

"Authoritative sources here say that although they believe there was nothing improper about the agreement," the New York Times reported, "the Republican National Committee in Washington regards it as prudent to break off the controversial agreement."

"The Sheraton Corporation has said that its $100,000 contribution was not unusually large. However, San Diego's largest hotel operator, Atlas Hotels, Inc., said today that it's cash contributions to the local fundraisers for the Republican convention was only $24,000.

"In response to questions, C. Terry Brown, president of Atlas Hotels, said the $24,000 represented a doubling of Atlas's normal contribution to the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau."

Slightly more than three months later, on June 17, 1972, burglars broke into the Watergate complex offices of the Democratic National Committee in Washington. Many of the players in the San Diego ITT scandal were implicated in the break-in and subsequent cover-up and many later went to prison. They included Nixon's attorney general John Mitchell and then-California Lieutenant Governor Ed Reinecke.

Terry Brown, who never went to college, was born and bred into San Diego's often politically murky world of hotels and real estate. It is the only life and work he has ever known.

His father, Charles H. Brown - who is said to have once run a vegetable stand with his wife at the corner of Midway and Rosecrans and later owned a hotel on El Cajon Boulevard - opened the Town & Country Hotel in Mission Valley on December 25, 1953, following a fierce political struggle involving lots of campaign money and backroom dealings.

Wrote state historian Kevin Star in his 2009 book Golden Dreams: California in an age of Abundance:

Mission Valley, after all, was a riverbed, hence liable to periodic flooding, as had happened most recently in 1952. Still, C. Arnholdt Smith received a zoning variance from the city council to build a baseball stadium there, and starting in 1953, hotel mogul Charles Brown, who had also secured zoning variances, was developing hotels and motels along Interstate 8 (the Town and Country, the Hanalei) in an area later designated Hotel Circle.

Charles Brown's long-running battle to build in the flood zone was also chronicled by UCSD professor Steve Erie and Scott McKenzie in a 2008 academic paper:

Hotelier Charles H. Brown had bankrolled the “Jobs and Growth” campaign, but his real priority was aggrandizing his Mission Valley property values at the expense of downtown.

The dike had already been broken back in 1958 when the city council unanimously overrode the Planning Department and approved the rezoning application of the May Company of Los Angeles to build a shopping center in Mission Valley near the junction of what are now I-8 and I-163, joining Brown’s Town & Country Hotel, the pioneer commercial beachhead dating from 1953.

Charles died at age 49 in 1966, leaving control of his controversial but lucrative legacy in the hands of his only son Terry and Terry's mother, Ida Mae Brown.

Terry Brown has since cut a wide swath through the San Diego political scene, lubricated by hundreds of thousands of dollars in political gifts to local, state, and national politicos. Friday's lawsuit against Democratic mayor Bob Filner over the so-called tourism marketing district, chaired by Brown, is only the latest of many well-financed efforts, some successful, some not, to have his way with local politicos.

When Terry Brown wrote an impassioned letter to president Ronald Reagan in 1988 seeking a pardon for his old friend Bud Alessio, whose father Johnny was a protégé of Charles's friend and associate, fallen banker and Nixon intimate C. Arnholdt Smith, the Los Angeles Times reported:

Two of the investigators who worked on the cases said the letter-writing campaign for the pardon showed a similar pattern of behavior.

'Scratch My Back'

Wolf, the lead FBI agent on the bribery case, said: "That's the way he (Bud Alessio) operates. You know, scratch my back, I'll scratch your back. Butter up people who can do favors for you when you need them."

Added A. David Stutz, one of the IRS agents on the tax case: "That's their style. That's the Alessio style. That's the way they do business."

Bud Alessio's attorney, Thomas Nugent, strongly denied that the community leaders wrote the letters as a quid pro quo.

In 2003, Brown and his wife Charlene agreed to pay a $15,000 penalty to settle charges brought by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission that the couple had failed to timely report $296,491 in campaign contributions they had made to the Yes on E, "Taxpayer Protection Act" campaign.

It was just one more small bump in Brown's long, rough and tumble career.

Update: Charles Brown's wife Ella Mae Brown married car dealer Warren Wright in 1974, and became Ella Mae Wright. He died in 1979. She died in November 2007 at 88.

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photog921 Feb. 24, 2013 @ 12:45 p.m.

Interesting local history and review of national ramifications. Doubt the vast army of local journo tweeters are aware of much of the history.


HonestGovernment Feb. 24, 2013 @ 5:29 p.m.

Great reporting and research. Why is San Diego cursed with these thugs? Let's hope the Browns have no successor spawn that will continue the mugging of our town using the family money.

How fitting that the Taxpayers Assoc is showing up in tomorrow's council session to support the Brown coalition. I guess they approve of the tax dodges that the Brown family buddies, both Alessio brothers, went to prison for.

Wonder if Frye will be in attendance? Brown targeted her, too, with big money for poisonous mailers by his Coalition to Keep San Diego Working. It's always really about jobs, right. For Brown's cronies.


rdotinga Feb. 24, 2013 @ 6:41 p.m.

Well, this member of the "vast army" of local journo tweeters (what, 15 people?) does know the history: http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/this_just_in/article_ce7ca17c-d24c-11df-be86-001cc4c002e0.html

"Back in 1972, the GOP planned to hold the Republican National Convention here. It would be a triumphant coronation in Nixon's "Lucky City" for the man who'd go on to wallop his opponent in the November election.

Then a scandal erupted over a convention-related bribe, and San Diego's dream of Republican glory vanished. But soon, the city's young mayor, Pete Wilson, created the new "Finest City" slogan to boost the city's sagging spirits. The scandal itself was quickly forgotten as Watergate and a presidential resignation captured the public's attention.

A new book puts the bribery scandal into perspective, revealing its crucial role in the downfall of a president."


monaghan Feb. 24, 2013 @ 9:41 p.m.

Hon Gov, the truth is the army of journo-tweeter twerps don't know jack about the history of this city and that's the reason their "work" is so personal and shallowly lacking in substance. The truth is that right now the Reader is our best source of political facts, strung together in a way that makes sense of the past as it relates to the present.

And Randy Dotinga, selectively remembering is not sufficient. You skate past the significance of this history when you quote yourself downplaying "a scandal ... over a convention-related bribe" and segueing to Mayor Pete Wilson's public relations response by coining the outrageous ironic slogan "America's Finest City."


HonestGovernment Feb. 25, 2013 @ 5:13 p.m.

The gentle, upbeat description of Wilson, "the city's young mayor, Pete Wilson, created the new 'Finest City' slogan to boost the city's sagging spirits," reminds me how much the public prefers "gentlemanly" pols and big cheeses, no matter how greedy or ugly their politics (Sanders: fondly called Gentleman Jerry in his circle of admirers). And why Filner is treated so rudely. Though Sanders hurt the City in many ways, he was cunning. Filner isn't cunning. He says what he believes. I'll trust my wallet with Filner and his ilk any day of the week.


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