To the consternation of many in what has been traditionally a Republican run town, Bob Filner was democratically elected the mayor of San Diego last year. Anybody who was paying attention knew that he was planning to shake things up. This had the status quo very worried. Especially the big hotel operators. You see, they had a tax arrangement going where a so called hotel tax was actually funneled back to their pet projects.
Filner wanted to step in and mess with the established program. The new Mayor went off half cocked and engaged in what some may rightly consider strong arm tactics, seeking money be reverted to the Balboa Park centennial among other things. He started stepping on people's toes. Big, scary people who don't particularly like their toes being stepped on.
"Papa" Doug Manchester was one of the hotel big shots. He also owns the local fishwrap. He despises the new mayor. He offered the mayor's opponents in the last election cut rate deals on election advertising, in violation of election law. They still lost. Now the paper takes shots at the mayor every chance it gets.
Since the Union Tribune is pretty much the only game in town for the vast majority of San Diegans, I am afraid that the people are getting a very skewed view of the mayor. Not that Filner is perfect by any means, who is? But he is trying to do some admirable things and he is definitely shaking things up. I think that the caricature that the paper is painting of him is a little unfair.
But this whole imbroglio is a great illustration of what happens when a rich guy like Doug Manchester decides that he can plunk a bunch of money down and suddenly he is a journalist, but manages to skip that whole part about journalistic integrity. Just wait for the Koch brothers to try their hand at the game.
Now you can argue that Filner is an asshole or that he is bad for business and that is your right. But he was democratically elected and you would think that the paper could at least respect the will of the majority and stop engaging in the character assassination. The paper is really going downhill, except honestly, for the sports section which is pretty darn good. Yesterday the paper unabashedly ran an article celebrating Papa Doug Manchester's new mantle as "Mr. Nice Guy"of San Diego." Please. Talk about an exercise in self flagellation.
Let's look back to an article I wrote in November of 2011 to stoke our memories about how Manchester and the U-T do business. The Coastal Commission had shot down a project that he was partnered in that would have obscured the views of the water. Manchester was evidently pissed and not ready to give up without a fight. He had a new megaphone although his acquisition of the paper had not even been announced and the editorial staff ran this piece:
The California Coastal Commission’s unanimous rejection of the Navy’s redevelopment project on prime downtown waterfront does not have to mean the death, or even the overly long delay, of the project, the thousands of jobs it would create and the hundreds of millions of dollars in economic stimulus it would spark for San Diego over the next decade. There is a path forward.A newspaper with any semblance of journalistic standards and integrity would have disclosed their publisher's vested interest in the development. But there was a new sheriff in town and from now on things were going to be different.
It will not be easy – besides the commission vote there are two lawsuits involving the project pending on appeal – but the consultant for developer Doug Manchester, the Navy’s partner in the project called Pacific Gateway, signaled that he is willing to continue working with the commission and its staff in search of agreement.
The biggest obstacle is the desire of commission staff for the 2.9-million-square-foot office-hotel complex to be scaled back by eliminating one of the four office towers and one of three hotels. The Manchester team views them as key components that would make the project economically viable while still providing the Navy a new headquarters building for free.
What’s needed, said Perry Dealy, Manchester’s consultant, is “a reasonable and fair balance – and I’m willing to do that.”
If the commission, its staff and project opponents adopt a similar spirit, Pacific Gateway can breathe new life.
Why is Manchester so pissed off at Filner? Was it because he wouldn't clean up a few issues with code enforcement? Scratch a few backs? A tool of organized labor? Because he stood in the way of Manchester making a bundle on the construction of a new city hall? Was interfering with plans for a new football stadium? Wanted to change the culture of city government? Ruffled feathers with his lax attitude regarding medical marijuana patients and dispensaries?
Filner has certainly not been an angel. He has needlessly picked fights with his City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and the City Council. He is headed to a one term burn out with his recklessness and confrontational style. But it would be a shame if the election was to hinge on an unfair representation of the man promoted by a newspaper beholden to its own vested mercantile interest and with such a clear disregard for normal journalistic ethical standards.