Dear National Media: So most of you are going to be parachuting into Orange County in the next couple of weeks to report on the fiasco that is the Orange County Register's bankruptcy–their second in six years. You will no doubt encounter current Register publisher Rich Mirman, a nice-enough guy who's now apparently gone native and wants to be a newspaper man instead of just someone looking to get their investment back. But another guy you're going to meet is Mirman's takeover partner: Mike Harrah.
Already, you're just referring to him as a "developer" who happened to buy the Register's SanTana offices and land last year–and that's it. Eventually, ustedes will latch on to the man's size, his big beard, and that he likes Harleys, helicopters, and the city of Santa Ana (which everyone who counts calls SanTana). What you probably don't know is what we at the Weekly have covered for almost 20 years: that Harrah is an aggrandizing, thin-skinned multimillionaire far too obsessed with erecting a monument to himself to be trusted with ANYTHING.
A quick primer: Harrah (who was the Weekly's landlord from 2004 to about 2008) is a longtime developer in downtown SanTana that, for the past 12 or so years has been trying to build a 37-story office tower called One Broadway Plaza across the street from a residential neighborhood, and just down the street from more. It's a building that's not necessary, and that only he wants in what can only be properly diagnosed as an Ozymandian obsession with building a Freudian phallic fortress. The man is like Ahab with, ahem, Moby Dick.
A city referendum allowing him to build his proposed One Broadway Plaza passed back in 2005 after he gave thousands of dollars in campaign donations to SanTana councilmembers and associates sued critics. In the subsequent years, he's taken out ads in national newspapers trumpeting his triumph while boasting about details that don't square up with what he told the public. Yet Harrah has yet to break ground, long stymied by a pesky condition in his permit that required he fill the skyscraper to at least 50 percent capacity before construction could begin. (that the SanTana City Council turned over in 2010).
In the meanwhile, however, Harrah has done everything possible to paint himself as the city's savior, sponsoring videos (from which the above image comes from–notice how Harrah just HAD to have One Broadway in the frame?), vanity magazines, and even conferences. Key to all of these ostensibly independent productions is the idea that One Broadway Plaza is the final key to transform the city from a Mexican slum to a gentrifying wonderland. Why, earlier this year, Harrah dropped mucho dinero with the Register on a nearly-weekly Sunday "sponsored content" series in the paper focusing on his vision of SanTana.
Simply put, this is a man so in love with his image (can anyone find the photo of him playing the upright bass during a staged jam session at his old Ambrosia restaurant that once appeared in a magazine?) and so obsessed with building a steel-and-glass version of himself for all of the world to gaze upon that he's willing to buy a newspaper to make it happen. That's the big conspiracy theory going around Orange County Register employees: that Harrah wants to buy them just so they can become the tenants he needs for One Broadway Plaza, so the Register can become the propaganda tool that will drown out any critics, and so he can tear down the current Reg offices to flip that into other developments. Indeed, sources inside the newsroom tell the Weekly that Harrah was spotted with Mirmam multiple times this summer talking about future plans while gazing out the windows–not just for the paper, but the land that Harrah now owns.
Harrah is someone who loathes investigative reporting and just happens to be buddy-buddy with the county's dirtiest politician: SanTana Mayor Miguel Pulido. To allow Harrah his own newspaper is the worst thing that can happen to Orange County–he'll make Papa Doug Manchester (the former owner of the San Diego Tribune, who bought the paper just to push his favored development projects) seem as much of a serious newsman as Ben Bradlee.
Any other questions? Email below. Gracias, and don't believe the Harrah hype!