By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
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By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
“It’s been pretty bruising so far, hasn’t it?” Jerry Brown said, referring to the campaign as we chatted during the convention. “Both candidates are, really, in the center, the core of the party. But primaries are subtle exercises in manufacturing and creating differences.” True enough, except the part about its being subtle. The debate was so very ugly, so very nasty and so fundamentally irrelevant to the real-life issues faced by voters that the only thing missing was a grinning Arnold Schwarzenegger bounding onto the stage at the last moment, pushing aside his two Democratic rivals and raising his arms in a victory salute.
Phil Angelides is nothing if not driven. The lanky, gangly, big-eared 52-year-old first ran for political office at age 19, when he made an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Sacramento City Council. Wonkish as he might seem on the tube, he’s a totally engaged and passionate campaigner — even if ground-level campaigning has been relatively scarce on both sides. Harvard-educated, Angelides is fiercely smart, and he takes obvious pleasure and pride in smoothly fielding just about any question, spicing his answers with a dizzying level of detail no matter how obscure the subject.
On a recent Saturday campaign swing through a half-dozen Bay Area labor events, Angelides relentlessly stuck to his message. In short, that he’s the Anti-Arnold — the sort of fighting progressive Democrat who disavows “Republican-lite” centrism. That he’s the guy who “stood up” to Arnold while Westly “stood aside.”
“Steve Westly? While I’m here with you, he’s at home today,” Angelides told a receptive crowd of 75 union volunteers at the Contra Costa County Labor Federation in the town of Martinez. The assembled sheet-metal workers, electricians, carpenters, hospital technicians and letter carriers — all committed Democrats — were about to spend their morning canvassing door-to-door, and Phil was there to crank them up. Angelides continued, poking fun at the $22 million that Westly had put into his own campaign (now up to $32.5 million). “He’s at home having a fund-raiser,” Angelides paused with perfect timing before delivering the punch line: “With himself.”
The crowd now dutifully warmed up, Angelides, dressed in chinos, open sport shirt and a Polo windbreaker, started lobbing out slabs of political red meat. As his tone rose and color flushed in his pale cheeks, he held his right hand aloft at chest level, manually grinding out each phrase. “We’re going to drive Arnold Schwarzenegger out of the Statehouse! . . . We’re going to turn back the right-wing assault on working men and women! . . . You know, from the very beginning, I stood up to this guy Schwarzenegger because I thought he was wrong . . . I stood up to this guy from day one, and you know what? I was labeled the Anti-Arnold. And I’m damn proud of that right now!”
Angelides was so worked up, was he now going to imitate Warren Beatty’s John Reed in Reds and make a vow to support a worldwide workers’ revolution? Not quite. But he said enough to set the union guys and gals cheering: “I promise when I’m governor that I’m going to sign a minimum-wage bill that gives people a way to raise their families and that is going to increase year after year! We’re going to treat working people right!”
The candidate hit his target — the fabled liberal-labor Democratic base. “It’s easy to support Phil,” said Tom Baca, one of the local labor officials present. “He was the first to come out against Schwarzenegger. He didn’t get sucked in by that Hollywood glamour. He wasn’t like Westly, kissing Arnold’s butt.”
For the rest of that day, as Angelides streaked through two more Oakland labor meetings, and yet another one across the bridge in San Francisco, and then a photo-op two-block walk through an Asian neighborhood, he did exactly what a candidate is supposed to do — never veering, even for a moment, from the campaign script. He ably repeated his promises of a Democratic revolution following his inauguration and cracked the same anti-Westly fund-raising joke over and over, never fumbling the timing as the day wore on. When one of the reporters in tow would lob a question to him in between stops, Angelides was available with crisp and ready ripostes.
By late afternoon, having genuflected to Labor all day, Angelides was meeting and greeting that other core Democratic constituency — Affluent Latte-Sippin’ Liberals. In the upscale hills of Piedmont, in the home of a fervent Democratic activist and former party employee (who says the second happiest day of her life after getting married was the night of the 1992 Democratic presidential election victory), the more elderly crowd of guests were served up wine, cheese and a speaker-phone call from Olympia Dukakis (thereby provoking me and a fellow reporter to simultaneously note our surprise that she was still alive). “The more you know Phil,” Michael Dukakis’ actress aunt said over the phone, “the more you want to support him.”
Well, not exactly, Olympia. Indeed, Angelides has what you might call a Likability Problem. His record might be admirable. He’s been a reliable, liberal Democrat on most issues. And he’s gained a national reputation, as California treasurer, for investing state pensions and bonds in socially responsible and progressive enterprises. His personality, however, is something else.