Candidate Gets Campaign Help He Doesn’t Want : Election: Developer persists in running separate campaign for Cowan despite the Escondido councilman’s threat to withdraw backing for a large housing project.
Shea Homes, partner in a 3,000-acre Escondido residential development, has spent about $24,000 in an independent campaign to get Escondido Councilman Ernie Cowan reelected June 5.
Cowan, a supporter of the Daley Ranch development in northeastern Escondido, said he wants no part of Shea’s help and has asked Shea President Tom Noon to halt his campaigning. Noon has refused, Cowan said.
“I didn’t know about it, I don’t want it, I had no part in it and I’m trying to stop it,” Cowan said Tuesday about the Shea Homes campaign.
“It’s the old good-news, bad-news political joke,” Cowan said. “The good news is that I received an endorsement. The bad news is that it was from Attila the Hun.”
Cowan said that he “would have put a stop to this long before if I had known about it,” and threatened to withdraw his support of the massive Shea housing project if Shea does not stop its campaigning efforts on his behalf.
Shea Homes, a subsidiary of the J.F. Shea Co., builder of the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam, filed a report on its independent campaign with the city clerk’s office last week, detailing expenditures of about $24,000 including $14,000 on a pro-Cowan telephone campaign and $7,000 on a poll.
June Rady, chairwoman of the Escondido Planning Commission and a candidate for Cowan’s council seat, said she was “angered and appalled” at the magnitude of Shea’s support of her opponent. The firm’s spending for Cowan is nearly equal to the combined spending reported by Rady ($10,200) and a third council candidate, Sid Hollins, an elementary school board trustee, who spent $15,200. Cowan’s campaign has spent about $33,000.
One day before the deadline for filing for city office, Rady said she was asked Noon and political consultant Lynn Wessell to run for mayor against slow-growth Councilman Jerry Harmon.
“They showed me the poll they had done,” Rady said. “It had a number of scenarios and one was that if I opposed Ernie (Cowan), he would win, but that I could beat Jerry Harmon (for mayor). There was an inference that there would be support for me if I ran for mayor.
“I refused because I do not feel prepared to take on the duties of running a council in a city of this size,” Rady said. “I am qualified to perform the duties of a city councilman.”
After she turned down offer, she said, “I just got up and walked away.”
Cowan said he also received a pitch from Shea officials to run against Harmon in the mayoral race. He also refused.
“They told me that their polls showed I would be a strong candidate for mayor,” Cowan said, “but I’ve already been mayor (under former procedures when council members appointed the mayor) and I didn’t want to take it on again,” Cowan said. “I also didn’t want to be a minority mayor.”
Cowan and outgoing Mayor Doris Thurston, who is not seeking reelection, have been a minority voting bloc on the council since the June, 1988, when voters returned Harmon and slow-growth newcomers Carla DeDominicis and Kris Murphy over pro-growth incumbent Doug Best and nine other candidates.
Best, the lone Harmon challenger in this first citywide mayoral race, admits that Shea support “may have just shot Ernie in the foot.”
He said he was surprised that Shea disclosed its support of Cowan right before the June 5 election and “would have supported him to that extent.”
Best, who served 12 years on the council before his defeat in 1988, was a planning commissioner’s when the city’s General Plan was created in the early 1970s. The plan called for an ultimate city population of about 300,000 and allotted 3,200 homes to the Daley Ranch property.
Since the slow-growth majority has held power, the city’s General Plan has been revised to cut the ultimate Escondido population to half of the original plan. Daley Ranch’s 3,200-home allotment was halved to 1,700 homes under the new General Plan.
Councilman Murphy questioned whether Shea Homes and Cowan were working independently of each other in Cowan’s reelection campaign.
“It will be hard to prove that Ernie, by accepting polling information from Shea, received an illegal campaign contribution,” Murphy said. “But this certainly proves that he is in the pocket of the developers, something that most of us have known for a long time.”
Harmon also questioned the relationship between Shea officials and Cowan’s campaign.
“I have thought all along there were shenanigans going on, that communications were taking place between Cowan and his campaign staff and Shea Homes and Lynn Wessell (the political consultant for Shea).
“Ernie made a telltale comment sometime before Christmas that he would base his decision on whether to run on a survey being done. Now it has become clear that the survey was being paid for by Shea Homes,” Harmon said.
Sandra Michioku, spokeswoman for the state Fair Political Practices Commission, said that there are no provisions in the California Political Reform Act that restrict an independent that expenditures be reported and that the campaign be neither used nor influenced by the candidate.
“There may be other state laws which pertain to this situation but I can address only the Political Reform Act,” she said.
Shea Homes and Daley Corp., partners in the Daley Ranch project, have filed suit against the city and the three slow-growth council members--Harmon, DeDominicis and Murphy--asking the court to restore the original development density allotted to the property and seeking damages, including $40 million individually from each of the three council members named.