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Doug Manchester: San Diego Hotel and Union Tribune Cheerleader

Everybody make some noise! One of San Diego’s most polarizing figures, Doug Manchester now owns the city’s largest megaphone the Union Tribune. And he’s ready to cheer. For the Chargers, and Jesus. But will the city get on its feet?

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IT'S EARLY MORNING, and Doug Manchester is sitting at a corner table in the ornate private dining room at the $300 million Grand Del Mar. He owns the place and looks the part.

The fireplace is burning, and he puts his napkin in his lap as he sips a foamy vanilla latte. A copy of the U-T San Diego rests beside him. He owns that, too. He bought the newspaper company for roughly $110 million in November. One of the perfectionist’s first changes at the newspaper? He hired more janitors.

Like the gold leaf trim and imported marble blanketing the resort around him, every detail about Manchester feels meticulous: dyed brown hair, fixed in place; dress shirt, top two buttons unbuttoned, a bit of chest exposed; white handkerchief peeking out of his blue blazer pocket; khakis, perfectly pressed.

Manchester swats aside my first question. He wants me to know the words he lives by: “Making positive memories.” He thinks it should be part of his newspaper’s mission statement. This reminds him of a favorite poem. Unprompted, he begins from memory:

Doug Manchester of the UT San Diego

When you get what you want for
struggling for self,
And the world has made you
king for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that man has to say.
For it’s not your father, or mother,
Whose judgment must pass,
The verdict which counts most in life,
Is the man staring back from the glass.
You may be like Little Jack Horner and chisel a plum,
And think you’re a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says
you’re only a bum,
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.

Few San Diegans could have evoked the visceral cancel-my-subscription-today reaction that Manchester did when he bought the Union-Tribune. He has a reputation: egomaniacal, short-tempered, litigious, unrelenting. Some fear him. Two politically connected people warned me not to write a negative word about him. “If there is a hell, Doug Manchester is the face of it,” one said.

Douglas Frederick Manchester leaves little middle ground. This is how he deals with it.

“There’s always going to be people who may be jealous,” he explains. “As long as you don’t cheat the man in the glass, you can live your life to the fullest. I get up every morning and tell myself, ‘Hey, Papa Doug, this is the first day of the rest of my life. Let’s live it to the fullest. Like it’s the Super Bowl, only without any timeouts or instant replays.’”

Manchester is 69 years old. He is a developer, a Catholic, anti-tax, Mitt Romney-supporting Republican. He’s shorter than you’d expect, with steel-blue eyes. He drives a four-door Porsche Panamera (the fastest car he could find, he says). Everyone from his restaurant staff to Romney calls him Papa Doug. He insists. It’s how he signs his name. (He explains it’s to distinguish himself from his son, Doug.)

He is famously wealthy. He spent $200,000 on his 65th birthday party at his namesake Manchester Grand Hyatt in 2007, then jetted to Costa Rica for a lavish week-long cruise ($350,000) aboard a 165-foot yacht. His wife’s estimate of their monthly utilities bill at their former home ($7,000) is more than most San Diegans’ monthly home payments. His bank accounts in 2009 held more than $56 million. And that was just his cash.

Now he is the publisher of San Diego’s largest newspaper. The purchase marks a bold entrée into the city’s cultural establishment by someone who’s not only lived outside of it. He’s also been one of its biggest targets.

Manchester has today appointed himself San Diego’s top “cheerleader.” The U-T gives him a significant platform for this civic rah-rah-rah, even if its influence has waned in the post-print age. The news staff is half of what it was five years ago. The opinion page stopped taking the strong positions that once made it a lightning rod. But in one day in November, the man who calls himself Papa Doug made America’s eighth-largest city wonder, Just how much power remains in the 143-year-old newspaper? And will he use it as a bullhorn—or a bludgeon?

Manchester says he’s entered a new phase of his life. It’s how he explains away old stories about his tirades and temper. They’re in the past, he says. His partner John Lynch, CEO of  the newspaper and the L in MLIM (Manchester Lynch Integrated Media), the company that technically owns it, agrees. Lynch describes him with a phrase you don’t often hear people say about a man who’s nearing 70: “I think he’s grown and matured.” The man who’s been called “Papa” for more than two decades would have you believe he’s finally acting the part.

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