By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
On her first stop today, Boxer is given a tour of the newly built Long Beach Aquarium by the city's mayor, Beverly O'Neill. Because this is a key part of the Queensway Bay Project, and because Boxer helped O'Neill secure an EDA grant, plus the $40 million loan to finance the revitalization program, O'Neill and a handful of invited guests seem eager that the senator appreciate the end result. To follow Boxer as she is heading through the cool darkness of the building is to wonder where her energy comes from. Maybe it's just good campaigning at a time when the race is beginning to look less certain, maybe her heart has gone out to her amped-up guides, but she works hard at trying to match their level of enthusiasm as she is shown not just one glassed-in fish tank, but every single exhibit in the multilevel tourist attraction.
"Whoa!" she exclaims about the floating Australian sea horses and the Japanese spider crabs. "Whoa!" she says about the deep-sea diver's boots they have on display. "Senator, come stick your finger in the starfish," says Mayor O'Neill, and Boxer dutifully allows the spiny creature to fold up around her digit. Then, tour over, she gets back into the rental Lumina and - flip, flip - there go the shoes and off she is driven to Santa Ana, where uniformed cops will giddily demonstrate crime-fighting computer software, then it's on to a Friends of Barbara Boxer luncheon.
She was born and raised Jewish and lower-middle-class in a neighborhood near New York's Ebbets Field to Ira Levy, an accountant, and her Austria-born mother, Sophie. Barbara Boxer the Activist, however, sprang into being in Greenbrae, California, a year after she and Stew moved into the three-bedroom tract house where they still live. It was 1968, and Boxer dropped her 3-year-old son off at the home of another political mom, took her newborn daughter with her to then-presidential nominee Eugene McCarthy's campaign headquarters and volunteered her services. "I walked into this office with this little baby sleeping in this bag," she remembers, "and I said, 'I'd love to help, because I really care about this race.' And the woman, she was this really crusty lady, looks at me, looks at the baby and says, 'Can ya type?' And I said, 'Oh, yeah. I'm a great typist. I can take shorthand, too.' Pretty soon I was working a couple of days a week, writing press releases. And before you knew it, I became the press secretary of the whole operation. And that's how I got started, that's when I realized that I could communicate. Before that, I didn't know that I could."
After that, she mastered every task, hauling candidates to campaign appearances, doing advance work. Still, despite her grassroots experience, when a spot on the county Board of Supervisors opened up in 1972, Boxer says, she ran "by default," after her husband was approached and declined. "He was the perfect profile. You know, a lawyer, a man and blah blah blah," she says. She still recalls her first public speaking engagement: "It was a county debate, and I was so frightened. I mean, I couldn't even find my voice. I managed to squeak by, but it was horrible." In the end, she lost, but by such a close margin that she was inspired to try again four years later and win.
While her stage fright vanished with experience, it has been more difficult for Boxer to get used to the mudslinging. Recently, Newt Gingrich and Fong mocked Boxer and her colleague U.S. Senator Carol Moseley-Braun at a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser luncheon, targeting them as the "evil twin sisters" that they plan to beat on November 3. And while she claims, "I don't take any of it personally. Not even one iota," Fong's barb seems nevertheless to have left a sting. And why not? When you're a politician who never pretends to be anyone other than who you are, it is you who is being maligned, it's not just the political persona. "It's outrageous," she says, then pauses and stares out the car window at a brick wall. Having realized that she's running about 20 minutes early, Boxer has asked to be driven to a shady place, and there she sits in the rental Lumina, parked on a side street somewhere in Santa Ana, quietly stripping the label off a bottle of Crystal Geyser water. "After all these years in office, no one has ever called me evil," she says, finally. "So to me, it's not hurtful. But you do have to wonder, 'What is this guy trying to do?'
"These boys don't have much to say," she says. "I don't know what [Fong's] platform is. I don't know what he wants. Usually when people have nothing to say, they'll attack something else.
"I'm ready for it," says Boxer, who adds that when things get personal she might discuss them with one of her campaign staff, but never with her husband, who takes them very personally. "When I'm criticized, it bothers him. So the last thing I'd do was to say to him that I felt badly. Because he'd look at me and say, 'Then don't do this anymore. You could do 12 other things with your life.' He thinks this is a difficult and thankless thing to do. I don't agree with him. He just doesn't see the good things . . ." Her voice trails off.