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Rancho Santa Fe's Jason Hughes made headlines on April 10 when San Diego mayor Bob Filner posted a news release announcing the appointment of the downtown office real estate maven as a volunteer special assistant for city leases.

(Bailey Hughes clip courtesy of YouTube.)

Hughes, President & CEO of Hughes Marino, will focus on providing guidance on the 550,000 square feet of office space the City leases in downtown.

The position is voluntary and is expected to continue as long as necessary.

“I appreciate Jason’s commitment to public service in this advisory role, which he will perform without compensation from any party,” Mayor Filner said.

The move was controversial in some quarters, most notably at real estate developer Douglas Manchester's U-T San Diego, which ran a readers poll, asking, "Was Filner right to accept the free lease negotiation help?"

(Results as of this morning: 288 yes, 99 no.)

Previous GOP mayor Jerry Sanders, backed by Manchester, had turned down a prior offer by Hughes to run the leasing for free. Sanders put the work out for bid, during which Hughes reportedly submitted a one-dollar offer to do the job.

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U-T reported April 10 that it had not been able to learn the outcome of the bidding, but quoted another vendor as saying he had been designated for a contract by Sanders only to have the process ended by Filner on April 9:

Commercial real estate services firm Cassidy Turley provided documents to the Watchdog showing the city recommended awarding the contract to the firm in September 2012. On Tuesday, the city sent a letter to Cassidy Turley canceling the bid after an 11-month process.

In a statement, Cassidy Turley San Diego President Dan Broderick said the company was disappointed and surprised the bid would be canceled after the city said the firm was determined to represent the best overall value for the city. The statement did not specify what costs (sic) Cassidy Turley bid for the contract.

“We are frankly even more surprised that the mayor has decided to retain volunteer services on something as important as the city’s real estate footprint downtown,” Broderick said. “We are evaluating our options and what response, if any, we will make to the termination notice and decision to change courses on retaining paid services versus volunteer help.”

The paper went on to relate that Hughes, who opposed an ultimately ill-fated earlier plan by Sanders to build a costly new city hall from scratch, had made his free offer to "give [Hughes] the chance to prove he was right."

Unmentioned by the U-T was the behind-the-scenes role that U-T publisher Douglas Manchester has reportedly played during the city's long-running office leasing debate in his role as developer of the controversial Navy Broadway complex on the bayfront.

According to a story last November on San Diego State Univesity's KPBS, Manchester had touted his Navy Broadway project as a city hall option.

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After Manchester's candidate Carl DeMaio lost out to Filner, U-T took the new Democratic mayor to task for firing the city's Washington lobbyist Patton Boggs. Disclosure records show Patton Boggs was lobbying Manchester's project on behalf of the previous Sanders administration.

Now, if all that definitively San Diego-style political intrigue wasn't enough, comes word via a campaign finance disclosure posted online by the city clerk's office yesterday that Hughes and family members have of late given heavily to La Jolla Democratic city councilwoman Sherri Lightner, who won her re-election race against the GOP's Ray Ellis last November.

According to the May 1 filing, covering the period between January 1 and April 29 of this year, eight Hughes family members and employees each kicked in $500 to Lightner's 2012 political war chest. Seven of the contributions were dated April 1, a little more than a week before the mayor's announcement that Hughes's free offer had been accepted. The other was dated March 28.

Lightner donors with the last name Hughes included Jason, Bailey, Brighton, J. Shay, and Tucker. The other givers were Ryan McCrary, listed as general counsel at Hughes Marino, the Hughes firm, along with the company's senior vice president Edward Muna, and David Marino.

A rags-to-riches profile of Jason Hughes and his wife Shay posted online last September by the Rancho Santa Fe Review, describes Hughes Marino as a family-run business:

Shay, who for years had been a stay-at-home mom for their three children, is now the chief operating officer for the company or, as Jason puts it, a “stay-at work” mom who manages a larger family.

She can also still keep an eye on their children, since their two oldest, Star, 22, and Tucker, 19, — who both graduated from the University of San Diego at age 20 — work for the company.

Bailey, now 17, has been acting since he was 7 and has his sights set on becoming a writer.

“Bailey has always been a storyteller,” Shay said.

$2000 of the money raised by Lightner went to pay a campaign debt to consultant Rollin Bush, who according to a release posted online by the San Diego Police Oficers Association, the police officer's labor advocacy group, became communications director there in March. Lightner consultant Tim Lahman was paid $1,000.

We have calls into Lightner and Hughes seeking more details on the nature and timing of the contributions.

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