Now that I've completed the heavy lifting of my own New Year's resolutions, I'm moving on to lighter fare: drafting 2008 self-improvement pledges for other people.
In my first list of New Year's Resolutions Others Ought to Follow, SF Weekly visits former San Francisco First Gentleman Richard Blum, who may or may not be honoring a decade-old public pledge to atone for a political and business mess involving Cosco — yes, that Cosco, the one whose name is on the petroleum-spilling Cosco Busan. And we urge S.F. Giants managing partner Peter Magowan to pledge during 2008 that he'll familiarize himself with the concept of shame, and use the occasion of the humiliating Mitchell Report to quit begging taxpayers for subsidies for his steroid-fueled franchise.
If these men can stick to their SF Weekly New Year's resolutions, they might help the rest of us, too.
Ten years ago, the China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company (Cosco) became ensnared in a political controversy involving U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, her husband, Richard Blum, and plans for the Chinese government's shipping company to build a terminal at the former Long Beach Naval Station. Feinstein was helping President Bill Clinton, a supporter of the plan, run interference for the proposal, which created great embarrassment when the Wall Street Journal reported that the managing director of Blum's Asia investment partnership (Newbridge Capital) was a consultant to a unit of Cosco.
To clear the air, merchant-banker Blum took an unusual step: He announced he'd donate all profits from his China investments to charity, saying he wanted to erase the appearance that he and Feinstein benefited financially from her job. "It's difficult to be married to a public official today and carry out business," he was quoted as saying. His charity pledge was no trifle: Blum founded Newbridge Capital with David Bonderman, financial guru to Texas tycoon Robert Bass. Newbridge Capital is now an affiliate of Bonderman's Texas Pacific Group (TPG), with Blum helping direct TPG's Asia investment team. It has recently launched an aggressive expansion into the region. Blum's stepped-up involvement in Asia investments makes his old pledge to direct all China profits to charity all the more interesting. Does it hold a decade later? On Dec. 18, TPG spokesman and Blum mouthpiece Owen Blicksilver told me he thought Blum was keeping his pledge. "I believe that is still true. But let me check," he wrote in an e-mail.
According to a Blum profile last March in Forbes, Blum has turned his attention to Asia in a big way, helping the Chinese government take a controlling interest in what used to be IBM's personal computer business in 2006, with more deals to follow.
As China seeks to raise its political profile in line with its economic one, it will become ever more a preoccupation of policymakers such as Senator Feinstein. In the Forbes profile, meanwhile, Blum didn't seem as coy as he usually is about the notion that he benefits from mixing personal, business, and political relationships. In 2006, he made a side trip to visit Jiang Mian-Heng, the son of former Chinese Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin. It turns out Blum had made a point of taking Jiang Mian-Heng to lunch when Jiang previously worked for Hewlett-Packard.
That brings us back to Blum's decade-old pledge, made acutely relevant in light of his renewed merchant-banking push into Asia, his wife's reputation as a China supporter, and Blum's public rise as chairman of the University of California Board of Regents.
Around Jan. 2, I asked Blicksilver whether he'd found out if Blum was keeping his promise to donate China profits to charity. Hearing no response, I phoned him two days later. "If I get something, I'll come back to you," he replied. "But I have not."
It's likely Blum contributes plenty to charity. The American Himalayan Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping the people and the ecology of the Himalayas, and which he established and chairs, received more than $5 million during the most recently reported year of 2006, according to its filings with the IRS.
In the meantime, for 2008 I resolve that Blum should come clean with a full and public accounting of his China activities.
Taken together, search-warrant affidavits and indictments connected with the federal BALCO case and the recent Mitchell Report documenting the prevalence of steroids in baseball paint a picture of the San Francisco Giants clubhouse at Third and King streets as the performance-enhancing-drugs equivalent of a crack den.
Giants managing partner Peter Magowan needs to make a complete accounting of who knew that the land near Third and King, which he leases from the city, was really employed as a steroids supermarket.
The search warrant affidavit written by IRS agents Brian Watson and Jeff Novitsky who staked out the clubhouse in 2002, documents how Barry Bonds' trainer Greg Anderson seemed to have the run of the Giants' facilities, a privilege he exploited by running back and forth between BALCO and the clubhouse. The Mitchell Report, meanwhile, dedicates several pages to gingerly making the point that the Giants clubhouse may have been a doping den, and management was in a position to know about it.
In August 2002, Giants trainer Stan Conte told team general manager Brian Sabean he believed Anderson might be dealing steroids to players, according to the report. But Sabean did nothing to restrict Anderson's access, the report says. Indeed, Giants management was well aware that Bonds considered it crucial that his assistants be given unrestricted access to Giants facilities. Contract negotiations between Bonds and Magowan in 2002 focused on ensuring "proper access" for personnel the player "typically and historically needed."
In interviews with Mitchell's investigators, Magowan said he inquired about the possibility of steroid dealing, but was unable to discover more. Magowan claimed he had asked Sabean whether the Giants had a problem with Anderson dealing drugs to players, and that Sabean said he was unaware of it. According to the Mitchell Report, Sabean denied ever having that conversation.
Fast forward to 2008, when the Giants should conduct a who-knew-what-when audit, as other companies sometimes do when they learn their officials may have been complicit in wrongdoing. Instead, the team management seems to be proceeding as though the Mitchell Report had never happened, while attempting to grab control of a valuable parcel of land called Seawall Lot 337, or Giants Lot A, depending on how you look at it. The Port of San Francisco, a quasi-independent city agency, would like to redevelop the bayside property as condominiums, offices, and open space, transforming what is now an ugly expanse of asphalt — while raising money to repair the crumbling port infrastructure.
Giants management has gone into lobbying mode, sending consultants to public meetings to advocate for the existence of a public need for more parking. The port, for its part, has poured money into consultants' reports, and has discussed at port commission meetings the supposedly pressing need to "preserve" Giants parking. The underlying — and bogus — assumption is that a parking lot is something we should all be concerned about. If these discussions get too far, city government could wind up failing to put this land to its best uses. We could end up throwing even more subsidies at the Giants, in other words. Back in 2000, then–SF Weekly columnist George Cothran detailed millions of dollars in city subsidies sucked up by the then-new Giants stadium, including city borrowing to buy and repurpose land, planning costs, legal costs, lost rent, and myriad unbudgeted "mitigating measures" to help put the stadium in place. And now we learn that the money ultimately went toward helping to build an apparent drug den.
The local business press recently reported that the Giants organization plans to submit its own plan for the lot when the port begins accepting proposals from developers wishing to build on the site early this year. The plan will come on the heels of extensive lobbying to convince public officials that the Giants' needs are our needs.
Here's a New Year's resolution for Peter Magowan and his business partners: Treat your hosts — San Francisco taxpayers and neighbors — with more respect. Instead of spending the new year begging for subsidies, make 2008 the year you attempt to figure out what went so wrong with your organization that it became a den for steroid abuse.
Oh, right. Happy New Year.