By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The brazen, hardball shamelessness of both South and Mulholland is a source of constant amusement — and quotes both on and off the record — for the state political media, this reporter included. Who wouldn’t share some chuckles over the pure, unbridled chutzpah of either one? But talk about a stagnant Democratic Party. No surprise that the strategists of both campaigns are hard-bitten, totally situational cynics. But does it have to be the same two cynics we’ve seen over and over and over again?
There was Garry South, flopped out in the media room at the Museum of Tolerance a few weeks ago as the two candidates were about to stage their second debate — one where the most debated topic was the burning issue of which guy was softer on polluting dairies. The week before, Angelides had branded South “the King of Mean.” And South, slouching in his chair, his legs open and sprawled out in front of him, was having a grand time now, trash-talking Angelides. “I’m the King of Mean!” he proclaimed to us. “Got to live up to my reputation!” And then, out-staging Claude Rains in Casablanca, South — who was the closest confidant and strategist to Gray Davis during his doomed pay-to-play administration — was now shocked, just shocked, to learn that his current candidate’s opponent was on the take from special interests. “Here’s a man who’s gotten 44 percent of his donations from developers,” South loudly told us, referring to Angelides and feigning a dripping disgust. As South was jawing, Westly’s press aides passed out a database of Angelides’ developer contributions. “I don’t think anyone running in the state has ever gotten so much from one community,” said South.
“I think Democrats ought to take a hard look at what his developer cronies are trying to buy,” South continued. Maybe Gray Davis could help unravel that puzzle for us. And, to be a stickler about it, isn’t Westly getting a greater percentage of his funding from a single community? The Westly family?
Not that I’m making any distinctions here. Angelides’ adviser, Bob Mulholland, is a more than worthy match for South. A backroom political brawler for the last 30 years, Mulholland has advised numerous state campaigns and has been the political adviser to the California Democratic Party. I had a priceless exchange with him on the day after Phil Angelides won the official endorsement of the party at the Sacramento convention.
We were standing outside the convention press room, and I was asking Mulholland about a high-profile contribution that had been given the week before to one of those “independent expenditure” campaigns in favor of Angelides. Developer Angelo Tsakopoulous, an Angelides business partner and finance chairman of Angelides’ official campaign, had ponied up $5 million to something called Californians for a Better Government. Despite the intimate personal relationship between the two men, under state law this committee could not coordinate its activities with Angelides’ campaign and would theoretically be acting on its own (wink wink). The newly formed committee, wholly financed by developer Tsakopoulous and his adult daughter, immediately put up a commercial touting support for Angelides from firefighters and cops (who were played by actors, by the way). Not only was the commercial somewhat clunky, but the whole slippery maneuver was drawing a lot of negative media attention.
“Are you at all concerned,” I asked Mulholland, “about all the bad PR you’re getting around this $5 million expenditure from Tsakopoulous?”
Mulholland looked me in the eye and impassively said, “No.” And then he waited for me to say something else.
“That’s a pretty direct answer,” I responded, taken aback by the unanticipated brevity of Mulholland’s response. “You want to say anything else?” I asked.
“No. Only a fool would get involved in a fight with firefighters,” he added, and then waited silently for me to make the next move.
“Oh, come on, Bob,” I continued. “We both know that’s not where the money is coming from for that ad. Not from firefighters.”
Without a twitch or hesitation, Mulholland answered: “What do you see on TV? Firefighters and cops. Like I said. Only a fool would fight with them.”
In the final days of the race, with neither campaign igniting much response from the voters, neither one staking out a clear lead, and neither Angelides nor Westly able to strongly differentiate himself from the other, both candidates have escalated their negative campaigning.
Though Westly had pledged a clean campaign, he poured $10 million in less than a week into twin attack ads that targeted — and distorted — Angelides’ tax-hike proposals. While Angelides has promised to raise taxes on the top 1 percent of California earners, Westly’s spots suggested they would hurt middle-class families. Angelides, in response, accelerated his already aggressive style and responded with his own negative ad, one spotlighting Westly’s negativity.
Taken together, these latest rounds of spots dragging the race down into the mud can only further depress turnout. An earlier prediction made to me by veteran Democratic consultant Kam Kuwata that both campaigns were going to have to “surgically” find their voters in a low-turnout election ?seems prescient.
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