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Ueberroth Sees Himself as a Problem-Solver

The businessman, who ran the L.A. Olympics and pro baseball, says he will soon offer details on how to repair the state's ailing finances.

August 16, 2003|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

The boyish good looks that graced the cover of Time magazine in 1985 have settled into late middle age, the dark blond hair gone silvery gray and the skin a little loose around the neck. But Peter V. Ueberroth's eyes remain sharp and confident and his appetite for troubleshooting is still keen.

"I'm not throwing stones at the Democrats. I'm not throwing stones at the Republicans. I'm throwing stones at the process, which has gotten out of hand and it's got to be fixed," said Ueberroth, 65.

"If there's somebody at this given moment in history who has the skills to do that, it's me."

This Laguna Beach Republican and former sports czar said in an interview that what sets him apart from the other 134 candidates on the Oct. 7 recall ballot is that he has done it before: brought together squabbling factions and made them sort out their problems. And he's not running to stake out a political future, he says: Should Gov. Gray Davis lose the recall vote and Ueberroth succeed him, he plans only to finish out the term, and without pay.

Ueberroth's supporters agree that the man who rose to prominence in the 1980s by shepherding the Los Angeles Summer Olympics and Major League Baseball into profitability is just the kind of head-knocker Californians need to solve the state's fiscal and political problems -- even if his brash management style is hard for some to take.

"As a leader, he's the kind of guy who carries the wounded and shoots the stragglers, and he shoots them very publicly," said John Rutledge, an economist and investor who has known Ueberroth for more than 20 years.

"California right now doesn't need someone to coddle interest groups," Rutledge added. "We need someone to say this is broken and we need hard decisions. I can't think of anybody better at forcing people to come together in a room and fix something."

Ueberroth spent the 1990s resuscitating troubled companies, and vastly expanding his personal fortune, through his Newport Beach-based Contrarian Group Inc. He has sat on the boards of such major corporations as Coca-Cola, Hilton Hotels and Bank of America. He is part-owner of the fabled Pebble Beach golf course and holds stakes -- six worth more than $1 million each -- in a range of corporations.

"The '90s basically was trying to return to what I'm good at -- a finance and business man -- to accumulate some net worth for our family and for our charitable foundation," said Ueberroth, who with his wife, Ginny, has four adult children and seven grandchildren.

Ueberroth, who has not begun campaigning, has been largely out of public view for nearly 15 years.

"He's going to have to spend a lot of money and hope for some breaks," said Kevin Spillane, who was a strategist for former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. "His moment in the spotlight was in the '80s. He has to make his successes and achievements relevant to what's happening in California today."

Though Ueberroth declined to say how much money he hopes to raise or plans to spend, a filing with the secretary of state's office Friday showed that he had given his campaign $1 million. He had raised another $290,700 from donors.

Ueberroth has hired as his strategist William Lord-Butcher, who directed the 1978 Proposition 13 campaign; Dan Schnur, press aide to former Gov. Pete Wilson and GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain; and staffers from the aborted gubernatorial campaign of U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), whose millions underwrote the petition drive that will culminate in the recall election.

Billionaire Warren Buffett, a friend of Ueberroth's, has signed on with Arnold Schwarzenegger, as has Orange County's centrist New Majority collection of wealthy Republican business leaders.

Those donors rushed to judgment, Ueberroth said. "An awful lot of those members have, unsolicited, made contributions to our campaign," he said. "We're not even out of the box yet."

Ueberroth was one of the last of the top contenders to enter the truncated campaign that's more of a sprint than the traditional marathon.

Fellow Republicans Schwarzenegger, Bill Simon Jr. and Tom McClintock already have a week's worth of campaigning behind them, as does Democrat Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and columnist and author Arianna Huffington, running as an independent.

Ueberroth says he will make up for lost time with substance. Next week, he says, he will offer details on how he would repair the state's finances.

"We will be specific with a plan of what needs to be done," Ueberroth said. "I want to offer very direct changes -- cost cuts, revenue building -- that will balance this state's financial future. That's essential."

Ueberroth said he would discuss his proposals in a series of town hall-style meetings across the state. Analysts said getting his message heard above the din of 135 candidates would be difficult.

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