April 1 2015 11:53 AM

Stadium foes are smiling, snarling

Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the Chargers’ Mark “The Jinx!” Fabiani
Photo illustration by John R. Lamb
No man likes to have his intelligence or good faith questioned, especially if he has doubts about it himself.

—Henry Brooks Adams

In every political drama, there comes the shark-jumping moment. In the escalating Chargers' stadium war of words, the media battleship U-T San Diego may have produced it last weekend with an article that posed the question: “Did Mark Fabiani jinx the Chargers-Raiders stadium plan for Carson?” 

Below a photo of former President George W. Bush’s infamous 2003 “Mission Accomplished” visit on board the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, the story strained to compare arguably The Most Miscalculated Wartime Boast Ever to a routine news advisory from Carson2gether, the citizens group backing a Chargers-Raiders stadium proposal up north.

“The Chargers special counsel oversees the politics of all the team’s stadium machinations, so the wording of a release from its citizens organization up there seemed peculiar,” the story teased.

No, the press release didn’t refer to the team as the Los Angeles Chargers or drop a neener-neener on Mayor Kevin Faulconer and his glacial decision-making machine. But it did announce that stadium supporters would be delivering boxes of signed petitions to Carson City Hall via a “Petition Mission Accomplished Parade.”

“The term ‘mission accomplished’ carries considerable political baggage, and that can’t be lost on Fabiani, a Democratic strategist who has worked at the highest levels of national politics,” U-T government and politics editor Michael Smolens hypothesized, while reminiscing about Bush’s declaration of the end to major combat operations in Iraq, 12 years and counting too early.

“In political circles at least,” Smolens wrote, “the term ‘mission accomplished’ is still uttered with irony or outright derision. It does not denote success. (Note: Bush never used those words.)” 

No, but he stood on the flight deck off San Diego’s coast with a monstrous banner emblazoned with those words hanging behind him. So, wildly overblown message received.

Conversely, Smolens acknowledged that the Carson citizens group did “successfully deliver petitions with seemingly more than enough signatures” to qualify the stadium project for the ballot.

“And the overall fate of the Carson stadium won’t hinge on those two words,” he added. “Unless, perhaps, the political gods feel they’re being taunted.”

Yes, ladies and gents, it appears the occult has wiggled its way into the mainstream conversation over the future whereabouts of San Diego’s antsy professional football franchise.

For his part, Fabiani took the poke with a shrug. “We’ve got a tremendous amount of work to do and so haven’t had the time to focus on this kind of commentary,” he told Spin Cycle in an email, adding, “As the commentary itself concedes, though, the event was focused on the signature gathering effort—which resulted in almost twice the number of required signatures in just eight days. So that’s really the bottom line, isn’t it?” 

Meanwhile, the bottom line for Team Faulconer seems to be simple: Keep jabbing needles into the Chargers PR voodoo machine and hope it causes some heartburn over thoughts of moving north.

The mayor’s wordsmiths will tell you momentum is on San Diego’s side, now that the county has agreed to join the cause by splitting a half-million-dollar tab with the city to hire some stadium experts that will vet whatever financing plan Faulconer’s hand-picked Citizens Stadium Advisory Group (CSAG) comes up with by May.

“Positive momentum is building for a fair and responsible stadium plan,” Faulconer said last week. “This partnership will make it official that the entire San Diego region is united and making progress toward a real solution that will garner broad public support.”

With Faulconer providing the smiles, CSAG spokesman Tony Manolatos, a former Faulconer staffer, is busy sinking his teeth into what he perceives as Fabiani’s disingenuous motives.

“As I’ve said recently, Mr. Fabiani’s goal is to convince NFL owners that the Chargers can’t get a new stadium built in San Diego,” Manolatos said in an email to media outlets Tuesday. “He’s decided one of the ways to try and do that is to criticize just about everything occurring in San Diego. Progress is being achieved on multiple fronts, but if Mr. Fabiani can make San Diego appear divided and dysfunctional, the league’s owners are more likely to green light the team’s move to Los Angeles.”

Spin could spend several columns exploring the notion of whether San Diego needs assistance in appearing “divided and dysfunctional.”

It could also be argued that this progress the mayor projects is simply an acknowledgement that the task of negotiating a stadium deal is way over the city’s head. Even City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, who attended the city-county presser last week, recently admitted to KUSI that he knows little about stadium negotiations.

That could explain why city leaders seem to be viewing this endeavor as they would any political campaign: Put on a brave face and kick your opponent when opportunity knocks.

What Faulconer’s folks appear to get now is their target demographic really isn’t San Diego city or county voters, but rather the 32 owners of NFL teams, 24 of whom will have to sign off on which team (or teams) move to L.A.

That means nine owners can scuttle any team’s dream, which also explains why you hear the phrase “good faith” bandied about by both sides. NFL policy lays out a laundry list of factors to be considered in a proposed relocation.

“Because league policy favors stable team-community relations, clubs are obligated to work diligently and in good faith to obtain and to maintain suitable stadium facilities in their home territories,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a 2012 memo to owners.

Last week, a U-T editorial suggested that the team is not acting in good faith. “As we have written on this page several times,” it read, “a new stadium in San Diego is not possible without the enthusiastic cooperation and participation of Spanos and his organization. It’s not happening.”

Apparently the solution is just to smile more, and insert a few more voodoo pins.

Got a tip? Send it to johnl@sdcitybeat.com or follow John R. Lamb on Twitter @johnrlamb.