March 18 2015 01:12 PM

Mayor’s PR machine is no match for the Chargers

Are Dean Spanos (left) and Mark Fabiani (right) just messing with Mayor Kevin Faulconer?
Photo illustration John R. Lamb

“If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull.”

—W.C. Fields

On the keep-the-Chargers-from-bolting front, it’s gotten so bad for Mayor Kevin Faulconer that even Republican-friendly KUSI is stirring it up. On its late-night edition Monday, the station ran a clip from its morning show that seemed to imply that City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, a guest on the show, was questioning the wisdom of Faulconer’s task-force-redux strategy to solve the stadium dilemma.

“We don’t have a plan. We don’t have a design. And we don’t have financing,” Goldsmith says in the evening segment, the words “CATCHING UP TO L.A.” blaring at the bottom of the TV screen. Reporter Steve Bosh then booms in a voiceover, “On Good Morning San Diego, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith suggested the city might have taken a different approach.”

Cut back to Goldsmith, who declares, “Let’s recognize our position and go in a businesslike manner and do it the right way. And the Chargers respect that.”

Goldsmith proceeds to note that he’s spoken to Chargers front man Mark Fabiani on the subject and then drops this mea culpa: “If you look historically where mistakes are made in negotiating with the NFL and sports teams, it has been city attorneys like me thinking we know it all. And although I know how to negotiate, I don’t know stadiums.”

Holy snickers! Goldsmith seemed to be saying the frat boys over at Camp Kevin had really screwed the pigskin pooch this time, with their hair-on-fire, waaah-the-Chargers-don’t-love-us-anymore pronouncements that highlighted the first half of this so-far lopsided game of chicken in cleats.

But then along comes Goldsmith’s able wordsmith, Gerry Braun, to spoil the whole backbiting conspiracy. “The media often creates conflict where there is none,” he tells Spin via email. Mr. Smooth submits as evidence the actual eight-minute interview from that morning—“I found a link in about six seconds,” he boasts—which, indeed, seems to be more about, as Braun puts it, “what to do from this point forward.”

“That particular sound bite could benefit from context less [sic!] it be misconstrued,” Braun almost flawlessly explains, lest Spin Cycle quibble.

The actual context of this tiny episode of digital manipulation might have gone unnoticed, like most KUSI stories, had it not been for the electrified air already enveloping this bitter custody battle over a precious NFL asset.

Fortunately, Spin’s parents stuck together till their dying days, so don’t expect any worthwhile tidbits of insight into the trauma that such parental warring can impart on all interested parties. But let’s be honest: While Smilin’ Fabiani’s temperament continues to remain as silvery slick as his hair, the mayor’s entourage is beginning to resemble one of those shaggy after-party-hangover scenes from Animal House.

Spin wanted to see how the mayor was holding up, particularly after his press office was pushed into full alert last week when a curious email floated down into the media buzz saw. The email, from longtime Republican fundraiser Jean Freelove, contained the subject line, “Keeping The Chargers in San Diego.”

“I’ve been asked to help Mayor Faulconer in an effort to keep the Chargers football team in San Diego,” the email pitch to unnamed local companies opened. “We need to raise funds for the cause and I’m hoping that [you] might be able to give $10,000 or so to help out.”

As you might expect, the reaction was frenzied. KPBS reported how Freelove referred queries to the mayor-appointed-but-supposedly-independent Citizens Stadium Advisory Group (CSAG), which promptly denied any knowledge of the outside fundraising effort. The KPBS story noted that chief Faulconer adviser Jason Roe took the credit (blame?) for the fundraising misstep, saying the email was simply intended to “gauge their interest.”

Well, yes, that is what a fundraising pitch is all about: to gauge one’s interest in forking over dough to be spent—well, we don’t know exactly how, since that question remains unanswered. The mayor’s office did not respond when asked if it had received a satisfactory explanation of how Faulconer’s name was invoked in an apparent unauthorized fundraising effort.

But, hey, the CSAG has settled on a site for a stadium, and it just happens to be where a stadium is currently sited! And it’s a site the Chargers studied ad nauseam a decade ago and came to the conclusion that it would simply be a permitting beast to lock down the additional development entitlements in order to offset the cost of a new Mission Valley stadium. NFL players might be wearing jet packs by the time that stadium’s built, in other words.

No, the Chargers were really hoping for a Downtown stadium. But Fabiani said the team is open to either site, CSAG chair Adam Day said in reaction. A U-T San Diego editorial quickly echoed that sentiment in jilted fashion, calling on Chargers President Dean Spanos to put “his cards on the table: Does he really want the team to remain in San Diego or not?” On Monday, Spanos came “out of hiding,” as the U-T headline described it, to repeat “at least four times during a 40-minute conversation” that “I’m anxiously await ing what the mayor and the task force come up with.”

As Fabiani told Spin recently, “We get calls every week from all kinds of people who want to finance the stadium. And we’re very nice to them, because, look, it only takes one to actually come through. But when they figure out the cash flows, then all of them politely go into a different direction.

“What they do is they think they can take the revenue from stadiums, which may be what the [CSAG] is trying to do, right?” Oh, and this crusher: “I hate to tell you this, but we haven’t read a UT editorial in several years now.” 

It’s all fine and dandy to consider the $1.7 billion Chargers-Raiders stadium plan in Carson an unholy alliance of bluff-tacular proportions, but this is about business.

Professional football is a business. Negotiating is a business. Politics is a big room surrounded by mirrors.

This is a cutthroat business decision—one, it must be emphasized, that centers on our big brother / nemesis to the north. Los Angeles is the once-in-a-lifetime prize for NFL owners. What if we, dear San Diegans, are the mere pawns?

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