Rep. Bob Filner challenged Councilman Carl DeMaio Wednesday to explain his interactions with UT-San Diego ownership over its downtown waterfront development plan.
Filner’s challenge to his opponent in San Diego’s mayoral race followed an investigative story by KPBS, which included an email from the paper's vice chairman and CEO John Lynch to Port Commissioner and Congressional candidate Scott Peters in which he wrote "We actually have made significant progress, with labor, Chargers, County, business, Navy, and one of the mayoral candidates" in selling the paper's plan for a multi-faceted commercial development of the waterfront area.
Since he had never met or spoken with Lynch, Filner said the candidate must be DeMaio, who the paper endorsed with a front-page editorial ahead of the mayoral primary.
Filner called on DeMaio to release his personal calendar and all emails with Manchester and Lynch and to detail the January briefing.
“Failure to provide this information will leave voters in the position of having to assume the worst regarding these clandestine dealings,” Filner said.
But in an interview, Lynch, despite the email proving otherwise, said he has never claimed to have made any progress convincing DeMaio of "the vision" of the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal, and doesn't know where KPBS came up with that statement.
"(DeMaio) called us and asked if he could meet to seek our support for the primary, and we happened to show him our vision statement," Lynch said. "His only comment was 'I'd put two hotels on there,' but there was no promise of support."
"Filner's depiction is completely untrue," Lynch added.
Shortly after developer Doug Manchester purchased the city’s largest daily paper and installed Lynch as its public face, the paper ran its first front-page editorial, making the case for a massive development that would displace the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal for a new football stadium, sports arena and beach area.
DeMaio met with the UT editorial board on Jan. 20, two days before the waterfront plan graced the paper’s front page.
Lynch said he invited all of the mayoral candidates to seek the paper's endorsement, and all but Filner took up the offer. During those conversations, he said the candidates asked questions about the plan, though he "may not have been present" during District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis' meeting.
He said he also met with Mayor Jerry Sanders and representatives from his staff, Port Commissioner and Congressional candidate Scott Peters, and "some of the county supervisors."
"It wasn't to secure support or anything else," Lynch said. "It was simply to create an interest in the project down there. Our thought was never to lead until the end, but to give a vision and get the business community to take over."
Pointing to Lynch’s claim to have convinced one of the candidates of the plan, Filner said the meeting between DeMaio and Lynch represented "nothing less than the sell-out of the mayor’s office to special interests.”
DeMaio’s campaign released a written statement dismissing Filner’s challenge.
“Instead of focusing on ideas to create jobs, Congressman Filner chooses to issue yet another wild conspiracy theory,” it read. “As the Congressman knows, Carl DeMaio has never supported the waterfront stadium proposal.”
DeMaio told KPBS he continues not to endorse the plan because a stadium can be built anywhere, but a deep-water shipping port can’t.
But Filner said he doesn’t believe his opponent.
“I think he has to say that after these revelations have come up,” he said. “Clearly, there’s a deal.”
He said Manchester and Lynch wouldn’t donate so much money to his candidacy if he told them he opposed their plan.
In the past, DeMaio has dismissed Filner’s assertions that he is beholden to the developers who have donated heavily to his political campaign. (In debates and once again Wednesday, Filner has incorporated a talking point that DeMaio’s favorite promise of “reform” really means “real estate for Manchester.”)
DeMaio has refused to respond to the chiding, other than to say he’s attracted support because of his promise to reform City Hall and make San Diego more business friendly.
On May 5 the paper endorsed DeMaio’s mayoral candidacy, but the one-term Republican Councilman has a longer history with Manchester and Lynch, as The Daily Transcript uncovered in December 2011.
When DeMaio launched his San Diego political career with the creation of the public policy action committee San Diego Citizens for Accountable Government, the UT owner and publisher quickly became its largest donor besides DeMaio himself, together accounting for $138,400 in money and free airtime (Lynch then owned a sports radio station) of the committee’s $328,500 bankroll.
Manchester also hosted a fundraiser for DeMaio after he announced his campaign for City Council, and Lynch has donated the $1,000 maximum to his mayoral campaign.*
A previous version of this story cited Lynch's claim to have made "significant progress" with "one of the Mayoral candidates," but didn't mention that it came from an email to Peters.
Correction: This story originally said Manchester, rather than Lynch, donated $1,000 to DeMaio's Mayoral campaign. We regret the error.