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
Cranston always played the most hardball politics around. Four years before he was elected to the Senate, he entered and lost the 1964 senatorial primary to Pierre Salinger, John Kennedy’s former press secretary, who then lost in the general election to GOP song-and-dance man George Murphy. The presumed Democratic front-runner had been state Attorney General Stanley Mosk, but Mosk had mysteriously dropped out of the race that spring. Thirty years later, in a 1994 cover story in the Weekly, Charles Rappleye and David Robb reported that Mosk‘s sudden exit was the direct consequence of an extramarital affair he’d been having with a young woman deeply involved in the world of organized crime. A political operative for Governor Pat Brown (a Cranston ally) had endeavored to document this relationship, and William Parker‘s LAPD had reportedly come into possession of compromising photos of Mosk and the young woman. Two sources -- one of them a prominent Democratic newspaper publisher -- told the Weekly that Cranston had shown them those photos in the spring of ’64 in an effort to get Mosk to drop from the race. Cranston said their memory was playing tricks on them. (Brown then appointed Mosk to the California Supreme Court, where he serves to this day, at age 89, as one of the most distinguished liberal jurists in the nation.)
In the case of Charles Keating, however, the allegations against Cranston came sooner and with a good deal more fanfare. Reprimanded by his colleagues in 1991 for ”an impermissible pattern of conduct,“ Cranston did not seek re-election two years later.
In the eight years since he left office, Cranston‘s understanding of the dynamics of California politics has been totally borne out. The Democrats have established themselves the state’s majority party over the past half-decade, in large part due to the establishment of the very kind of ongoing field operation he and Ganz had tried to put in place a decade earlier. (Today‘s operation is the handiwork of the state’s new-model, Latino-led labor movement.) The importance of money, of course, has been magnified as well. The vast sums that Cranston raised from the state‘s leading industries have been dwarfed by the amounts that Dianne Feinstein, Gray Davis and Barbara Boxer have amassed to stay in office. Lincoln Savings has given way to the Lincoln Bedroom. The price of doing good has continued to rise.
In a way, it was a blessing that Cranston was able to devote his last years to organizing quietly, efficiently, to rebuild the movement against nuclear weapons. His years in power, when he crusaded, successfully, to stop the Vietnam War and to preserve the California desert, came at a steep price to his reputation and his honor. His years before and after power, when he crusaded in vain for world government and disarmament, have no such taint. More than any other single figure I can think of, he came to personify the Democratic Party at its most principled -- and its most indentured.