In 2003, Gina Champion-Cain appeared on the cover of San Diego Magazine under the headline “Who Owns Downtown?” But the businesswoman had bigger goals that a ballyhooed Gaslamp presence.
She was plotting a run for mayor.
Days before a riveting San Diego Union-Tribune series on the imprisoned Ponzi schemer, a longtime San Diego freelance writer revealed Champion-Cain’s interest in the 2004 mayoral race.
Thomas K. Arnold in April 2003 invoiced Champion-Cain from his Carlsbad home, charging $1,750 for “research and report, San Diego issues.”
In fact, he wrote a 750-word campaign biography that began:
Redevelopment strategist and civic leader Gina Champion-Cain will bring an invaluable combination of business acumen, leadership and vision to city hall. She understands what San Diego is. She has the foresight and imagination to envision what it can be. And she has the tenacity, drive and organizational ability to prepare San Diego for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, as America’s Finest City becomes the poster city of the Pacific Rim.
Arnold, 64, told Times of San Diego he was stunned when he heard of her criminal fall.
“We spent quite a bit of time together, mostly on the phone, and I thought she was smart, strategic and successful,” said Arnold, who launched a local rock magazine called Kick when he was 21 and now publishes the Hollywood trade magazine Media Play News. “I never could figure out why she didn’t go through with her mayoral run.”
Arnold also helped Champion-Cain, then 38, craft position papers and a “five-point plan.”
Dick Murphy was mayor at the time. But his tenure — which included creating the San Diego Ethics Commission — was tainted by the city pension scandal. He defeated county Supervisor Ron Roberts and write-in candidate Donna Frye in 2004, but announced his resignation in April 2005.
Murphy’s longtime friend John Kern, who served as his chief of staff at City Hall, says he doesn’t recall hearing about Champion-Cain wanting to occupy the mayor’s office.
“If someone had planned a serious run against Dick Murphy, I would have known it,” Kern said in a phone interview.
He later added via email that he had forwarded the Arnold materials to Murphy.
“After reading them, and given her comments about him, [Murphy] thought she may have thought that he would not run again, which would be consistent with the 2003 date of the papers and the fact that she did not follow up,” Kern said.
(In the September 2003 issue of San Diego Magazine, in fact, Ron Donoho wrote that Murphy “publicly flip-flopped — twice — on whether to run again in ’04.”)
In her would-be 2004 biography, Champion-Cain said her primary goal as mayor would be to identify a list of “intelligent and financially feasible priorities, based on reality,” and work to carry out these goals.
“My agenda won’t consist of talking points,” Champion-Cain said in the bio. “They will be action steps. San Diego has come a long way, but there is plenty to do. And as they say in business, the best way to get things done is, quite simply, to do them.”
This was 10 years before she began her liquor-license loan “program” that led to her guilty plea and 15-year sentence after being tagged by the FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission.
Writer Arnold doesn’t recall much else about the real-estate woman’s mayoral dream, saying he had three kids, ages 1 to 7, plus a full-time job and an active freelance career at the time.
“I had way too many of those proverbial irons in the fire to give it much thought,” he said. “I did the work, I got paid, and I was quite happy with that!”
La Jolla couple Barbara Bry and Neil Senturia — whose “as told to” book “I Did It” on Champion-Cain will be published next week — weren’t aware of her interest in city politics.
“We know nothing about this,” Senturia said of the potential mayoral run.