GOP looking at San Diego on politics today

Jack W. Germond & Jules Witcover

November 29, 1990|By Jack W. Germond Jules Witcover

SAN DIEGO -- The Republican Party, which delivered a body blow to San Diego's pride in 1972 by pulling out its scheduled national convention and shifting it to Miami Beach as a result of an influence-buying scandal, is giving the most serious consideration to making amends by holding the 1992 nominating convention here.

California's second-largest and southernmost city is said by key party sources to have the inside track after the Republican National Committee's site-selection committee specifically asked San Diego, which for financial reasons had declined to apply, to submit a bid.

The site committee is to review the applicants tomorrow and is expected to narrow the field to San Diego and New Orleans with Houston, President Bush's voting residence, a longer-shot, semi-finalist possibility. Two other applicant cities, St. Petersburg, Fla., and Cleveland, are said to be out of the running.

San Diego originally decided not to apply for the convention because its City Council decided it could not come up with $8 million to $10 million in up-front money sought by the RNC. But, after the other four cities submitted their bids, party planners including White House aide Sig Rogich, in charge of presidential public events, contacted Mayor Maureen O'Connor. According to mayoral aide Paul Downey, the mayor expressed interest but said the city couldn't afford what was asked.

Nevertheless, the RNC site-selection committee came out in mid-October and liked what it saw -- a new convention center just off San Diego Bay and near-perfect year-round climate. Although the convention center was not deemed ideal for television coverage, the city suggested that major speeches, such as the nominees' acceptance speeches, could be held at the San Diego Padres' baseball park. Such a use is not unprecedented. In 1960, John F. Kennedy accepted the Democratic nomination at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

As for the money problem, the RNC has told the city that if it could come up with about $2.5 million in in-kind contributions, such as police service and some transportation needs, up-front money of about $6 million from private sources would be acceptable. So the city is working now to generate the private support, probably not an insurmountable burden in this heavily conservative Republican area.

Party planners say the fact that San Diego had the GOP convention snatched from it 18 years ago will not be a factor if the city gets the 1992 convention. But that outcome would be balm to a sore spot long borne by Sen. Pete Wilson, mayor of San Diego in 1972 and just elected governor of California. Wilson was hoping to show off his growing metropolis to the nation at the renomination of Californian Richard Nixon, but was jolted by the decision in May 1972 to shift the convention to Miami Beach.

The RNC cited high costs and labor difficulties as the reason. But the trigger really was terrible publicity generated by disclosure of an International Telephone and Telegraph Corp. memorandum indicating an ITT subsidiary would put up $400,000 to hold the convention in San Diego in return for settlement of a federal antitrust action against ITT.

Wilson and San Diego took the switch hard. One manifestation of the disappointment was a television ad run over Miami channels during the August convention reminding delegates how balmy the weather was in San Diego as they were sweltering at the Florida resort capital.

Wilson's chief of staff then and now, Bob White, says the governor-elect is lobbying hard to get the convention. Party planners say they came back to San Diego because they wanted a West Coast option, what with the state likely to have more than 20 percent of the electoral votes needed for election in 1992. Location of the convention seldom is critical in a presidential election, but such are the calculations of party pros always looking for an edge.

A formal decision on the site is not expected until January, when the RNC meets to elect its White House-anointed new chairman, William Bennett. But San Diego is no longer passive about getting the convention, and with Wilson as governor and two Senate races and an estimated seven new congressional seats at stake in the state in 1992, holding the party's best-publicized celebration here may prove irresistible to the site committee -- and President Bush, who doubtless will have the final say, and who obviously wants to carry California again in his expected bid for a second term.

Columnists Germond and Witcover, members of The Evening Sun's staff, also appear in the Perspective section of Th 1 Sunday Sun.

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