Chapman Has Unique Dual Role
As Thunder President, Stockton Councilman

Lori Gilbert
Staff Writer
The Stockton Record

STOCKTON, Calif. – Dan Chapman never used the word delay.

It wasn’t intentional, he said, but he avoided the word just as every other City of Stockton official did at a recent press conference called to announce the first games to be played in the new downtown arena would be a week later than scheduled.

Chapman, president of the Stockton Thunder ice hockey team, said the team had no problem moving its planned Dec. 3 home opener back a week.

Skeptics in the media pointed to it as proof that serving as president of an arena’s occupant and as a member of the city council was a conflict of interest.

Chapman, though, has no regrets.

“The main message I was trying to deliver is that we were not overly concerned about pushing the home opener back one week,” Chapman said. “If we were talking about five, six, seven weeks, there would have been a different tone.”

Perhaps a tone as strident as Stockton Ports owner Tom Volpe’s threat to fine the city every day the opening of the baseball stadium was delayed — followed by his filing of a claim against the city this week.

But a week before the announcement, Chapman had said he had contingency plans in case of a delayed home opener.

When his high profile positions collided in their most public way yet, Chapman deftly handled both roles without drawing the wrath of either party.

The people he represents in the Parkwoods neighborhood where grew up and now is raising 10-year-old Andrew and 7-year-old Eric with his wife, Mary Ann, have voiced no complaints about his wearing two seemingly conflicting hats.

The words “honest’ and “integrity” pop up in conversations with those who know Chapman.

Former Mayor Gary Podesto, who encouraged Chapman to run for his seat, calls him, “an All-American boy.”

Even fellow councilman Steve Bestolarides, who is more critical than others about the handling of city matters, offers high praise.

“He’s honorable, intelligent,” Bestolarides said.

Chapman’s hiring as Thunder president came under attack from the media when it was announced in December. While Chapman’s integrity wasn’t specifically challenged, questions about how he could serve the city and its high-profile partner at the arena were raised.

The Thunder, after all, is owned by Michael Reinsdorf, who’s part owner of the company hired by the city to run the arena.

Chapman knew there’d be backlash, but he was stunned by the reaction.

“The first 48 to 72 hours after I announced I was taking the position, the media heat was incredible,” Chapman recalled.

He’d consulted attorneys about the potential conflict of interest before accepting the offer. He’d talked to his parents, his wife, his closest friends and confidants. He questioned whether he should attempt both jobs.

“The most common thing I heard during all that controversy was, ‘The people that know you know that you will do what’s right,’ “ Chapman said. “I was concerned about people that don’t know me.”

Chapman was born in Stockton in 1962. His parents divorced when he was 7. Although his mom, Jackie, had custody of him and his elder brother and sister, they saw their dad, Bill, every other week.

He calls it a “good divorce” if there can be such a thing, because his father was supportive of his mom after the split. Both molded his character.

“My mom always kept things on an even keel at home. We never had a whole lot. She was a single mom, a bank teller. Things were tight. She kept me modest.

“My dad motivated me to succeed in anything I tried to do. He filled me with positive reinforcement.”

A baseball fan who played at Lincoln High, Chapman dreamed of working in Major League Baseball.

After graduating from San Francisco State in 1984, he spent a year and a half at a cable television station in San Mateo before returning to Stockton as the radio announcer for the Stockton Ports.

“I don’t know if anybody around loves baseball more than Dan,” said Don Miller, the team’s general manager at the time. “He loves baseball and he loves Stockton. Those are his two things.”

When Miller left the Ports in 1989, Chapman became the general manager.

The Milwaukee Brewers supplied the players for the California League Class A team. Chapman made their games inviting for fans, generating sponsors and arranging special attractions.

In 1997, when the team’s batboys had to be fired because California law required that those under 16 stop working by 7 p.m., Chapman jumped into politics, working to have the law changed. The next season, under-aged batboys were back on the job.

Chapman served as the Ports’ general manager for 10 years, leaving when he felt there was no more he could contribute to the organization.

He spent two years with Anheuser-Busch. Then he was approached by the Boys and Girls Club of Stockton. He accepted the job as the organization’s director in 2001.

Chapman used his business acumen and ties to the community to turn around an organization that was using endowment money to keep the doors open. It became a profitable business with a refurbished Cechini Clubhouse.

“He knew what the challenges were when he came in,” said David Cole, the board president at the time. “He knew he was fighting an uphill battle. He took the responsibility on readily. He was committed to the kids and took on the challenge without hesitation.”

About a year before last November’s election, Podesto and other businessmen encouraged Chapman to run for the council.

“He lived in the northern part of town and was active in the southern part of town. He understands the entire city and is compassionate toward youth,” Podesto said.

Chapman said he viewed a spot on the council as a chance to be involved in his beloved Stockton, a city that was moving forward with its downtown revitalization projects.

When Chapman began his campaign for city council, he and Cole had met with city staff to resolve potential conflicts of interest because of his role with the Boys and Girls Club. The organization receives money from the city and runs the city’s teen center, for example.

“There would have been more occasions when those kinds of things would have come up,” Podesto said.

Chapman had an informal lunch with Reinsdorf before the election, and was offered the job of Thunder president afterward, he and Reinsdorf both say. Chapman jumped at the offer.

“What made me get back into sports was meeting with Michael Reinsdorf, getting to know him, understanding what his vision was, knowing his desires to make the hockey and arena football teams work,” Chapman said. “He convinced me that by putting the right people in the right places, he could make these sports successful in Stockton.”

But his acceptance of the job within weeks of his election raised eyebrows.

Outgoing councilman Richard Nickerson said, ”I don’t know how you can separate where you step down from a vote and where you don’t.”

His voting on whether the city should subsidize the builder of a downtown hotel drew media criticism, but Chapman says he consulted an attorney before casting his no vote.

“My advice to him is make sure you play by the strictest interpretation of the rules and you’ll be fine,” Bestalorides said. “I think he’s an honorable person. I think he’ll keep the citizens’ best interests at heart. He knows he’s under a microscope. If anything, he’s more sensitive about conflicts of interest.”

He’s received no complaints from voters.

“As long as he steps off the podium when it comes to the events center and financing the events center, I don’t see any problem,” said Sylvia Kothe of the Concerned Citizens Coalition. “That’s my primary concern. I have not seen any and I’ve not been made aware of any problems.”

Reinsdorf is equally pleased with Chapman’s performance as Thunder president.

“I feel like I don’t have to worry about anything,” Reinsdorf said. “He is totally, 100 percent responsible for the organization. I have a ton of confidence in him. Most of my time spent in Stockton has been related to arena issues.”

Reinsdorf didn’t hesitate to offer Chapman the position after the election.

“I didn’t see any conflict,” Reinsdorf said. “I’d already negotiated everything with the city. I negotiated the leases. There won’t be any conflicts I can perceive once it’s up and running. There may have been an issue with the completion of the building, but it’s not something that entered my mind when we went through the process. I have a signed lease. It is what it is and doesn’t matter if Dan is on the council. What issues are there going to be when it comes to running the team? He won’t need approval from the city.”

It’s the run-up to the arena opener that puts the spotlight on Chapman’s chosen profession, what he calls, “the best job I’ve ever had.”

Once the building’s open, Reinsdorf said, the scrutiny will diminish.

“The opening of an arena, the building of an arena is always high-profile,” Reinsdorf said. “There are always going to be people upset about spending money and building an arena. Once it opens and people see the benefits to the community, they forget the issues.”

In the meantime, Reinsdorf said, Chapman wasn’t just spouting the city’s line about the insignificance of the Thunder’s first home game when he spoke at the city’s press conference to announce the ribbon cutting.

He was offering the official Thunder position.

“Our main concern was opening this facility in December,” Reinsdorf said. “At the end of December we’re playing Reading Pa. and it was important that we not be forced to reschedule those games. Reading only comes in one time.

“Typically you want to start with a home game in October. We were supposed to be open back then. When it became Dec. 3, it didn’t matter if it was Dec. 10. Any date in December was fine by me.”

That was the position Chapman wanted to make clear at the city’s press conference. If people wanted to criticize him for it, he doesn’t mind. The announcement, he said, was important.

“I felt I needed to be there as both a councilman and Thunder president, and if I’d been just one or the other, I would have been there,” Chapman said.“We needed to officially let everyone know what the schedule is.”