San Jose mayor hires Washington consultant to boost national profile
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Nadia Lopez.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo hired a Washington-based public image strategist to boost his national profile in 2018, according to public records obtained by San José Spotlight, and the PR firm scored three contract extensions and a pay bump that adds up to a six-figure compensation package over several years.

It started out as a temporary part-time gig, but Stephanie Craig — whose Apeiron Strategy Group now has a $7,500 per month contract to provide marketing and communications services to the mayor’s office — has become an integral member of his communications team, a source close to the mayor told San José Spotlight.

The contract with Craig’s firm, signed in Oct. 2018, was set to expire five months later. But the mayor’s office extended it three times for an extra two years, along with increasing her compensation. Craig’s contract now brings her total compensation to $184,000 and expires in Feb. 2021.

The taxpayer-funded payments to Craig’s agency have ballooned from $42,000 since 2018. The most recent contract extension, which boosted her total pay from $97,000 to $184,000, was signed May 5, 2020 — just as the city announced it faced a massive $71.6 million budget shortfall.

Invoices obtained by San José Spotlight through a public records request show the mayor’s office leaned heavily on Craig to create a national profile for Liccardo and some of his initiatives. The firm was hired nine months after Liccardo quit a key FCC advisory committee in Jan. 2018, and Craig spent 25 hours getting an op-ed from the mayor published in the New York Times in Nov. 2018 about his resignation.

In it, Liccardo trashed President Donald Trump’s FCC for pushing “an industry-friendly… mandate that cities offer below-market, taxpayer-subsidized lease rates to telecommunications providers,” who want to install phone and data equipment on city streetlight poles.

Now, Craig participates in daily calls with staff and has been assigned tasks that would otherwise be performed by the mayor’s communications director — a position that has been vacant for nearly a year.

On Friday, Craig declined a request from this news organization to discuss what she does for Liccardo. Instead, she provided a brief statement via email.

“It is truly a pleasure to work for the mayor, his team and on behalf of the people of San Jose,” Craig wrote. “My role consists of supporting the team wherever they need it as the team is lean to respond to the current fiscal climate.”

The mayor’s communications office lost two communications directors last year. First, David Low left in Feb. 2019 to work at Destination: Home, a nonprofit that promotes housing for the homeless. His replacement, Mattie Zazueta, returned to Airbnb after only a few months with the mayor’s office.

That leaves four employees devoted to the communications shop — Press Secretary Rachel Davis, Media Relations Assistant Nora Ramirez, Deputy Director of Digital Communications Sierra Fatlowitz and Digital Media Assistant Esmeralda Bautista. With no one in the top spot, Liccardo’s Chief of Staff Jim Reed is acting communications director.

Invoices from Apeiron — obtained by San José Spotlight via a public records request — show Craig billed the city $45,000 since January. That total includes $7,500 each month for consulting with the mayor’s office on “national media coordination,” the departure of Liccardo’s Chief Innovation Officer and the city’s response to COVID-19, plus $3,000 in expenses, according to the invoices.

Records obtained by San José Spotlight indicate the city’s contract with Apeiron Strategy began in October 2018, about five weeks before the Times published Liccardo’s op-ed, but a source close to the mayor said Craig started in 2017 while he was still on the committee.

Craig was earning $5,000 a month from San Jose for most of 2019, but the contract increased her pay to $7,500 a month in Nov. 2019 and remained at that amount in 2020.

A source in Liccardo’s inner circle told San José Spotlight the mayor originally hired Craig to be his on-the-ground staffer when he was in the nation’s capital working on the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, though he quit the committee in Jan. 2018 — nine months before hiring Aperion, the records show. As the only big city mayor on the committee, the source said whenever he went to Washington, Liccardo was beset by interview requests from national media and trade press outlets.

Liccardo could not be reached for comment. But Reed, the mayor’s chief of staff, provided a brief statement.

“Stephanie Craig’s expertise in media relations and exceptional judgment, work ethic and understanding of communications provide great value to the mayor’s office and the taxpayers of San Jose,” Reed said.

Before joining Liccardo’s communications office, according to her LinkedIn profile, Craig worked as a marketing executive at The Hill and National Journal. Before that, she was a communications executive for TechAmerica, an industry lobbying group, and the Data Transparency Coalition, an organization advocating for the publication of government data. She also has experience as a press secretary in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as in the Parliament of Canada.

Liccardo resigned from the FCC committee and stopped traveling to Washington regularly in Jan. 2018. But Craig continued to work on putting the mayor in the national spotlight, particularly his Office of Technology and Innovation.

According to the invoices, Craig also helped Liccardo write an op-ed on Google, recruit a new communications director and chief innovation officer, launch a proposal to turn PG&E into a customer-owned utility, write a city privacy policy, deal with regulations for scooters and, most recently, the city’s COVID-19 response.

Contact Adam F. Hutton at [email protected] or follow @adamfhutton on Twitter.

 

Apeiron Strategy Group invoices redacted
Apeiron Strategy Group contract

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