You can credit President Richard Nixon with the “America’s Finest City” slogan.

Back in 1972, the GOP planned to hold the Republican National Convention here. It would be a triumphant coronation in Nixon’s “Lucky City” for the man who’d go on to wallop his opponent in the November election.

Then a scandal erupted over a convention-related bribe, and San Diego’s dream of Republican glory vanished. But soon, the city’s young mayor, Pete Wilson, created the new “Finest City” slogan to boost the city’s sagging spirits. The scandal itself was quickly forgotten as Watergate and a presidential resignation captured the public’s attention.

A new book puts the bribery scandal into perspective, revealing its crucial role in the downfall of a president. I interviewed the book’s author, Mark Feldstein, about the dirt he discovered while writing “Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington’s Scandal Culture.”

Why did President Nixon want the GOP convention to be here in the first place?

He loved San Diego and was very anxious to avoid any kind of demonstrations like those that had disrupted the Democrats in Chicago four years later. He felt safe there. It was Nixon country and near Orange County, and as they put it in a memo, “there are few Negroes.”

He really was a recluse in a lot of ways. It was close enough to the Western White House in San Clemente that he could helicopter back and forth and sleep in his bed at night.

As you write, the scandal hinged on a $400,000 donation from the giant International Telephone and Telegraph Corp. to support the convention.

ITT was anxious to curry favor, and they wanted antitrust litigation settled on their terms. That was a lot of money back then, and in return for them ponying up this money, Nixon ordered his staff to give ITT what it wanted and lay off the antitrust litigation.

Some people might assume that this sort of thing happens all the time in Washington: You donate money so you get what you want. Why was this case special?

That’s true in a sense. Most campaign contributors, especially on the big scale, are not philanthropists. The system is inherently dirty.

Usually it’s done with a nod and a wink. What was amazing about this story was that (syndicated columnist and investigative journalist) twitter.com/rdotinga.

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    Written by Randy Dotinga

    Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego and president of the American Society of Journalists & Authors. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga

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