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50 People To Watch in 2008


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THIS YEAR’S LIST of folks worthy of keeping an eye on includes sportsters like Trevor Hoffman, Chuck Long and Norv Turner. We’ve included Channel 10’s former Troubleshooter Marti Emerald, who’s shot her hat into the political ring. Gerry Braun’s in the mix—for breathing some new life into The San Diego Union-Tribune. Bill McDannell walked across the country to inspire peace, and nobody seemed to care—except us (find out if he’s about to do it again). There’s much more to entice you to take a look at our list, including a hometown girl who gets to anchor on Fox6 news, the world’s fastest amputee and an Aguirre (but not Mike!).


Gary Aguirre

Some 40 years removed from his days as a young San Diego public defender, Aguirre’s returned to our city with a reputation for winning cases and making headlines. In 1978, his was one of the first successful lawsuits against PSA in the deadly crash of Flight 182. In the ’80s, he was a pioneer in construction-defect litigation. A midlife course change took him to Washington, D.C., and the Securities & Exchange Commission, where his tough investigation of a politically sensitive insider-trading case won him plaudits from congressional probers and got him fired from the SEC. His new legal specialty: securities law. (Yes, he has a brother named Mike.)

Auday Arabo

Arabo worked for one year as a prosecutor for the San Diego district attorney’s office before becoming president and CEO of the Neighborhood Market Association. He’s the Democratic candidate for the 78th Assembly District and hopes to be a bridge between the parties. “I want to cross the divide that exists in Sacramento regarding public safety issues,” he says. “We need more firefighters and officers.”

Philippe Beltran

Never one to stand still, restaurateur Beltran has opened seven establishments lauded by critics, foodies and diners over the past 18 years. The Left Bank–born Parisian’s secret? It’s haute cuisine without haughtiness, his concepts and flavors accessible to everybody. Following the French country of Hillcrest’s La Vache and the whirlwind world-fusion of South Park’s Vagabond, his latest creation with business partner Jacqueline Delaney (and their new company, Beltran Restaurant Concepts) is Kensington’s Bleu Bohème, a classic French bistro. But he’s not stopping—the duo has plans in Mission Hills for another ode to globetrotting and in Liberty Station for a Spanish-theme eatery. Says Beltran, simply, “I’m kind of bohemian. I’m a traveler.”

Bob Bernard

The fights against cancer and HIV are making promising strides, thanks in no small measure to Ichor Medical Systems and Bernard, its president and CEO. In 2007, Ichor partnered with leading medical research centers to test its TriGrid intracellular vaccine-delivery system, a vast improvement over conventional injection. And 2008 looks to be monumental. Ichor will be testing malaria and avian flu vaccines, and Bernard is optimistic for a human HIV vaccine trial in China. “We’re finally in the clinic after working on this technology since 1994,” he says, “and a lot of people around the world are excited to see what kind of results we can generate with it.”

Laurie Black

This mother of two college-student sons looks not far out of college herself. But she’s a veteran of the political arena who once served as chief of staff to Congresswoman Lynn Schenk. After years in the wings, Black stepped into her own political spotlight last summer as San Diego’s newest Port commissioner. Winning the seat was perhaps her biggest political battle. Black’s priority at the Port is to help remake the city’s waterfront. In her spare time? What spare time? She’s also the mother of four and wife of Bob Lawrence, one of the city’s more successful developers.

Nancy Laturno Bojanic

The executive director of Mainly Mozart has been with the organization since its beginning. Laturno Bojanic has advocated making the festival into a multidisciplinary community celebration. “In June, we will celebrate the 20th Mainly Mozart Festival at the elegantly renovated Balboa Theatre—our new summer home,” she says. “With our new, accessible downtown venue, we hope to share this cultural treasure with more San Diegans than ever before.” Educational programs will reach more than 60,000 children in San Diego and Tijuana, and a chamber music series will showcase world-class artists at venues in La Jolla, Rancho Santa Fe and Carlsbad.

Gerry Braun

A political reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune from 1985 to 2000, Braun also spent seven years as the newspaper’s writing coach. In February 2007, his Only in San Diego column sprang to life. Running on Sundays and Wednesdays, the column is a unique look at major local issues of the day. “It’s not exactly mainstream—I try to round out and broaden a particular dialogue,” he says. Braun has written about such topics as his day spent looking for dead squirrels with the city attorney, and a visit with a pit bull to determine if it was frightened by neighborhood children.

John Chalker

A former fighter pilot, Chalker is managing director of LM Capital Group. A San Diego Chamber of Commerce board member, he was recently reappointed to the California Transportation Commission by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now he’s in a position to allocate billions of dollars for statewide land, air and water transportation. “An integrated system is so important to us,” he says. “It benefits us economically and environmentally, and that’s what it’s all about.”

John Dadian

A Marine Corps veteran who pulled hard duty as chief of staff to former San Diego County Supervisor Susan Golding in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Dadian has never strayed far from his military roots. After building his own political lobbying firm, he was lead consultant for No on Prop. A, the 2006 campaign to block moving San Diego’s commercial airport to MCAS Miramar. His side won by 62 percent. This year, Dadian steps up to president of the San Diego Navy League, with 2,400 members the largest Navy League council in the continental United States.

Matt D’Arrigo

D’Arrigo knows firsthand about the healing power of the arts. His love of music and painting helped him heal after the death of his mother from cancer. In an effort to bring that power into the lives of San Diego kids, D’Arrigo created ARTS (A Reason To Survive), a nonprofit that harnesses the power of arts to heal, inspire and empower. “We’re looking to serve 10,000 kids in the coming year,” says D’Arrigo. A new transportation program, Van-Go, will shuttle kids to the new ARTS center at NTC Liberty Station; other plans include a children’s art gallery and framing business and new community partnerships.

Carl DeMaio & Todd Gloria

One’s a conservative Republican; one’s a liberal Democrat. One lives in family-oriented Rancho Bernardo; one lives in urban City Heights. One’s a blond-haired, blue-eyed Anglo; one’s a dark-haired, brown-eyed ethnic mix. One’s a campaign novice who rails against irresponsible government; one’s a political aide who teethed on local government. Common denominator: If the two favorites win their races for San Diego City Council— DeMaio in the conservative Fifth District, Gloria in the more liberal Third—for the first time, a quarter of San Diego’s council seats will be occupied by gays.

Rob Dunson

A former Emmy Award–winning sports photographer, deputy film commissioner Dunson mastered all aspects of film and television production while working for San Diego–based Stu Segall Productions for more than a dozen years. Though his schedule is jammed with a new prime-time NBC show he’s not allowed to talk about yet, Dunson will say he wishes to see more films produced here and more government support for the San Diego Film Commission. “The Film Commission has been underfunded for many years,” he says. “We need to bring awareness to our government of the importance of growth in our funding and growth to this lucrative industry.”

Marti Emerald

This former “Troubleshooter” reporter for Channel 10 has entered the District 7 city council race. The primary for local elections is in June, and one of the hottest issues Emerald faces is student housing at San Diego State University. “I’m looking forward to being the troubleshooter at City Hall,” she says. “Once people know their opinions are valued and there is an opportunity to brainstorm, we’ll find solutions.”

Jack Feller

A conservative, pro-business Republican first elected to the Oceanside City Council in 2000, Feller stunned the political establishment last April when he announced his intent to challenge Mayor Jim Wood in this year’s election. He even tapped legendary consultant Jack Orr to guide his fight, a relationship that ended abruptly and sadly with Orr’s death soon after. Pundits give Feller a good chance of winning, unless, of course, another conservative enters the race. That’s what happened four years ago, when two pro-business candidates, then-incumbent Mayor Terry Johnson and Councilman Rocky Chavez, split the conservative vote, allowing Wood to squeak to victory.

Steve Francis

He could be the poster boy of Republican politics. He could pay to have millions of them printed. Francis, an also-ran in the 2005 mayor’s race—despite investing $2 million of his own chips—has anted up again. This time, it looks to be a head-to-head race with incumbent Jerry Sanders, another Republican. Sanders has had his ups and downs but appears to be up right now. And he has the support of the party. Francis, meanwhile, has been busy making strange bedfellows—cozying up to labor, courting Democrat Councilwoman Donna Frye and even praising hyper-Democrat City Attorney Mike Aguirre.

Priti Gandhi

Born in India and raised in North County, Gandhi began her professional singing career in the choruses of Lyric Opera San Diego and San Diego Opera. The mezzo-soprano standout recently signed with the prestigious New York City Opera, where she’s worked as the understudy for roles in Don Giovanni and Carmen. When the artist slated to sing the role of Carmen’s Mercedes needed emergency surgery last October, Gandhi sang the role on opening night and in seven other performances. “I finally had to join the ranks of opera singers who live out of their suitcase,” says Gandhi. “That’s a great thing when you’ve been climbing the opera ladder for a few years. It means you’re working!”

Grand Ole Party

Relying not on studio wizardry or slick imaging, Grand Ole Party needs only the minimalism of its grimy, blues-inspired rock. And that voice. It hits you like a wall of sound, as if Billie Holiday came back from the grave possessed, and rounds out their perfect, precise sound. Classically trained vocalist Kristin Gundred (who also plays drums) is backed by guitarist John Paul Labno and bassist Mike Krechnyak. They’ve been turning ears with their debut album, Humanimals, and are widely tipped to be the next big thing out of San Diego. 2008 could be their year.


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