She sat offstage, impeccably dressed as always, at the July groundbreaking for a new central library, the latest in the list of San Diego’s civic conquests she helped orchestrate.
The mayors, state and city legislators and wealthy philanthropists on the dais all knew who she was. They had hired her again and again to make political conventions, Super Bowls and downtown ballparks happen. In the process, they made her just as powerful as themselves.
But you could forgive the crowd for not noticing when Mayor Jerry Sanders mentioned her name in passing toward the end of his introduction.
“My chief of staff, Kris Michell,” Sanders said, eliding the “thank you” between the ones he gave Jay Goldstone, his most public deputy, and Rana Sampson, his wife.
Kris Michell is the most powerful person in San Diego you know nothing about. She has remained in the background her entire career, rarely in the newspaper, quoted even less. Yet Michell’s been the link, the linchpin, the consistent ingredient in San Diego’s civic extravaganzas over the last 15 years. The Republican National Convention, the Super Bowl and Petco Park all bear her fingerprints.
Since Sanders’ election in 2005, she’s been his top political adviser, outlasting aides more celebrated and bombastic. Her role in the Mayor’s Office has evolved from an afterthought to a dominant presence.