“My opponent called me a cream puff. Well, I rushed out and got the bakers' union to endorse me.” -Former U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell
What would the election season be without the obligatory endorsement? Well, for one thing, political reporters would be receiving a lot fewer e-mails and faxes from prospective candidates who love to talk about which person or organization likes them. Not such a bad idea, but then again voters need some way to cut through the rhetoric during these bromide-saturated days.
It should come as no surprise that most everybody who runs for elected office wears endorsements on their sleeves like big, perfumey corsages. And with the advent of the Internet, candidates can now display their sleeves 24/7-on bright and perky websites, where more space is typically devoted to the names of backers than lengthy diatribes preaching specific solutions to perplexing problems.
Clearly, endorsements can help voters navigate the murky election waters, but ask political consultants and candidates about their impact, and you'll get something that registers slightly above a stifled yawn.
“They're important if we have them, but they're unimportant if your opponent has them,” said political consultant Scott Barnett, who is currently performing double duty on the campaigns of mayoral candidate and port commish Peter Q. Davis and San Diego City Council challenger Phil Thalheimer, a Republican who is looking to unseat alleged Democrat Scott Peters.
In the case of the mayor's race, Barnett said he believes Mayor Dick “Check My Sleeve” Murphy got a jumpstart in nailing down the endorsements of what he calls the “echo chamber”-the politically connected bastion of downtown business types, lobbyists, lawyers and people he dubbed the “hanger-on-ers” that rushed in droves to mayoral candidate and county Supervisor Ron Roberts in the 2000 election, when Davis, Murphy and Roberts last waged political battle.
But even with the backing of the mucky-mucks, Roberts' campaign fizzled in 2000. “Let's put it this way,” Barnett explained. “Everyone supported Ron Roberts-except the voters.”
This time out, Murphy has gathered up the endorsements of the Big Kahunas of local organizations like the Sierra Club, the conservative Lincoln Club, the county arm of the Republican Party, the League of Conservation Voters and just about every other right-leaning politician that calls San Diego County home.
In a recent release shipped out to the media, Murphy's crack campaign team trumpeted the mayor's apparent invincibility by announcing that “more than 1,000 individuals and organizations have endorsed his campaign for mayor.” The release highlighted nine of Murphy's backers, including former San Diego mayor and grumpy Gov. Pete Wilson; county Supervisor Pam Slater, whose district got squeezed by Roberts and friends during redistricting; county Treasurer Dan McAllister, who also serves as chairman of the city-funded San Diego Convention Center Corp., a favorite of Murphy's; former NBA star and Grateful Dead head Bill Walton; and the San Diego Chicken.
“My campaigns, and my time as mayor, have been about listening to the people of San Diego instead of special interests,” the mayor quoted in the release. “I'm proud of that record and proud of the support it has produced.”
But the Chicken? No doubt the most famous sports mascot in sports-mascot history, but do endorsements from men in yellow-beaked chicken suits fly? Perhaps on the comedy circuit.
“All I can say is that endorsement is chicken feed compared to the support of the people,” Barnett snickered. “I can understand it, though, because the Chicken does match the mayor's fire coat. And the mayor won't debate. He's ducking debates, or should I say chickening out of debates. It is a little disappointing to be second on the Chicken's pecking order-or third.”
OK, point made. Davis has yet to list endorsers on his website-Barnett said a list of “citizens” backing his candidate is forthcoming-but Davis, a successful banker, told CityBeat endorsements are “like co-signors-you don't need them if you can stand on your own record.”
In his defense, the San Diego Chicken, aka 50-year-old Ted Giannoulas-who turned a fortuitous promotional gig for KGB Radio into a lifelong career entertaining sports fans-said he backed Murphy in 2000 as well.
While on a photo shoot in front of a Boston Market, Murphy pulled over in his car, got out and introduced himself, Giannoulas told CityBeat. “I said, ‘Hey, I'm actually thinking about voting for you.'” This time around, the Chicken sent Murphy a donation and was asked if the campaign could publicize his endorsement.
Giannoulas said he was slightly hesitant when the mayor did his “I'm in, I'm out, no I'm back in again” routine last year, but after seeing so many athletes-the NBA's Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or hockey's Dominick Hasek-stumble with retirement, he figured Murphy's early re-election jitters shouldn't disqualify him.
As the Chicken, Giannoulas over the years has bear-hugged President Gerald Ford on a whim (a backup Chicken head now rests in the former president's library in Grand Rapids, Mich.) and appeared in Time magazine with former California Gov. Jerry Brown at a parade.
He would never chuck the suit for political office. “It takes a special gene, I guess, to want to deal with all these problems every day,” he explained. “What I do is sandbox stuff. I just look at any politician and just trust in their good faith.”
The Chicken is a George W. Bush man, having known the President since his days running the Texas Rangers. He doesn't inject much in the way of politics into his antics. One time, he held up a banner that said “Axis of Weasels” over an opposing team's pitching-mound huddle, but the crowd didn't laugh. “I decided it was cutting a little too close to today's headlines,” he said.
About Murphy, the Chicken offered, “He comes across in sincerity, and his intentions are good. It's pretty simple.” He has never endorsed any other political candidate, he added.
Barnett, meanwhile, can't help himself: “If we had known there was an opportunity to get the San Diego Chicken's endorsement, we would have done everything possible to get that important and vital endorsement that will sway hundreds of thousands of San Diegans in the coming election.”
Doth Barnett mock the Chicken? “I would never mock the Chicken,” he insisted, “because I know what happens to those who mock the Chicken.” ©
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