The hunt for Scorpion’s buyer

The Backroom is a column by the staff of the Long Beach Post with notes and analysis, along with bloops and blunders, from the city’s political scene. It runs every Thursday. To contact us, email [email protected]. For questions or concerns, please contact Managing Editor Melissa Evans: [email protected] or 562-437-5814. 

The Scorpion submarine moored next to the Queen Mary is reportedly about to be sold. We didn’t even know the rusted racoon-sanctuary was on the blocks, but we presume the “miscellaneous items for sale” ad included some verbiage about it being free for anyone willing to haul it away.

The Cold War-era relic wound up here after a guy who now lives in Palm Springs bought the sub during an auction in the late 1990s, and paid nearly $1 million to haul it across the ocean and park it next to the Queen Mary (this 2017 article in the Press-Telegram gives the full history). It served as a tourist attraction for 17 years until it was shuttered in 2015 due to unsafe conditions; raccoons have since taken up residence there, and a lawsuit over whose responsibility it is has been wending its way through the court system.

The sale may be a culmination of the litigation. But the buyer remains a mystery.


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We admit there is still a certain allure that surrounds the submarine, beyond just wondering what the heck it is. It was a part of a fleet of nuclear-armed underwater vessels used by the USSR, and remains a symbol of the fear that permeated that era.

We wondered who might be in the market for such a trophy, and what one might do with it.

You would reasonably expect The Backroom to have a few ideas, and, bigod, we do.

  • While Vladimir Putin is an obvious choice, given his love for amassing Soviet gewgaws (his collection of rare Matryoshka dolls is absolutely stunning!), we feel it’s much more likely that the mysterious buyers would be Rudy Giuliani and those two Ukrainian goons he hangs out with, simply so they can sneak out of the country and cruise back to the Ukraine, where they’re treated like superstars and the dollar is strong.
  • Closer to home and our heart (and we really shouldn’t bet with our heart) is the aspect of John Molina purchasing the submarine in order to come closer to owning the entire coast of California. What would Molina do with a Foxtrot-class submarine, you’re asking. Well, he does sorta owe The Backroom a helicopter, but we’ll settle for a submarine for now. Grudgingly.
  • The Queen Mary itself is a contender as the buyer if for no other reason than keeping the Scorpion right where it is ensures the Queen won’t be the ugliest thing in the bay.
  • We have our money on Tim Leiweke, a well-known developer and sports executive who has been floating around town trying to pitch big ideas for the elephant lot now that Angels are likely out. We predict he snapped up the Scorpion in order to make it the featured attraction in a new full-scale Competitive Battleship Arena to be built on the waterfront lot. (Was that Leiweke we spotted heading over the bridge to San Pedro towards the USS Iowa with a tape measure?)
  • The International Union of Trash Pandas, who we hear made a fortune in the waste management business, are plotting their “Hunt for Red October” moment in a daring reverse defection back to Russia.
That hurts

Back-stabbing among members of the City Council continued this week with Councilman Al Austin in the 8th getting dissed by his colleague to the south. Roberto Uranga in the 7th snubbed Austin by endorsing his challenger, Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, in the March primary election.

It seems Austin has become somewhat of the odd man out, at least when it comes to the new “in crowd” cabal. (Uranga also snubbed his other neighbor Dee Andrews in the 6th, endorsing Suely Saro.)

Uranga told us that Austin never approached him for an endorsement. Thrash-Ntuk, he said, will provide “a new perspective to the City Council that we dearly, dearly need right now.”

Austin, meanwhile, said he did approach Uranga for an endorsement, and was told by Uranga that he “would think about it.” Austin said he never got a call about this week’s announcement.

“I’m surprised he went in that direction,” Austin told us, guessing that the decision was in part retaliation for Austin not supporting Uranga’s wife Tonia in her race for school board. (Austin endorsed Erik Miller.)

The Garcia curse?

Those of us with big brains in the political arena have long admired Mayor Robert Garcia’s impressive winning record when it comes to backing candidates and charter amendments. He’s basically been able to pick his own pals in key positions. That’s great in the minor leagues of Long Beach, but his wildly enthusiastic backing of presidential candidate Kamala Harris, who continues to tank in the polls, won’t cause future national candidates to fly into town to beg for Garcia’s backing.

We’re not going to call it “The Garcia Curse” just yet. He’s got a lot of losing to do before he catches up with the Sports Illustrated Curse or the Mummy’s Curse, but he’s young. The Backroom doesn’t much like Harris’ chances to survive Iowa, if she even manages to limp into the Hawkeye State. And if the California senator drops out of the race, we don’t like the chances for whomever our mayor takes a fancy to next.

New commission

The voter-approved Ethics Commission will hold its inaugural gathering at 9 a.m. on Friday, with mostly organizational business on the agenda. You can also bet on a few syrupy speeches about the city’s commitment to transparency and integrity.

This is the commission that voters approved among a series of charter amendments a year ago (it was the CCC in the tasty alphabet soup that was the 2018 ballot)—the one we cynics in The Backroom assumed was a fluffy cushion to blunt the controversy of BBB, which extended term limits for most elected officials. (We expect a call from the mayor’s office arguing that BBB actually reduced term limits because under the old rules a councilperson could run as a write-in indefinitely, which is a load of top-shelf, high-dollar spin.)

We’re rooting for the Ethics Commission, to be sure. The first four appointed members appear to be upstanding people: Kimmy Maniquis, the former executive director of the California Conference for Equality and Justice; Margo Morales; Susan Wise, an attorney and former harbor commissioner; and James Shotwell, director of corporate compliance at Southern California Edison.

Those four individuals, appointed by the mayor and city auditor, will then select the remaining three members.

We hope the commission will not shy away from ruffling feathers; this city needs more of that.

Editor’s note: This column has been updated to reflect that Laura Som, a Cambodian refugee who founded the MAYE Center, has withdrawn from the Ethics Commission citing a time commitment. In her place, the mayor chose Margo Morales.

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