"It is just a dog matter to be sure," Walter F. Mondale said with a laugh. "But (critics) don't know how much I love my daughter. And this was something that she was very interested in."
Mondale was talking about whether a dog run should be established in Laurel Canyon Park, a matter that has generated a lot of heat in Los Angeles but that is not the sort of thing presidential candidates are accustomed to being quoted about.
But then Mondale's 25-year-old daughter, Eleanor, told him how concerned she was about not being able to run her Rottweiler, Teddy, without his leash. Mondale did what helpful fathers often do: He called a couple of old friends on her behalf.
Those old friends--and Democratic Party allies--happened to be Mayor Tom Bradley and William Robertson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and president of the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Commission.
Mondale said he called Bradley about a year ago and asked him to "take a look at" the matter. He later called Robertson, who last month joined three other members of the Bradley-appointed parks commission in recommending that the City Council build a dog run at the park.
"It's not a big deal," Mondale said by telephone from Washington. "My daughter just wanted to make sure that her case was heard. I don't know if it (the telephone calls) helped."
Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs had a different view.
"My concern is that people like Robertson will make up their minds because the former vice president of the United States called them," Wachs said. "I don't think the decision should be based on IOU's to the former vice president. That's pretty heavy pressure."
Striving for a Compromise
Wachs, who represents the area around the park, said he is trying to work out a compromise between dog owners and other residents who want the city to build a children's area and enforce its leash law in the park. The dispute began last March and heated up when dog owners found leaflets in the park threatening them that their dogs would be poisoned.
"I do not have the right to throw my weight around," Mondale agreed, insisting that was not his intent. "I am mindful of the fact that I am not a resident of the city and it is not for me to decide what the residents want there. All I asked was that they listen to the merits of it."
Eleanor Mondale, who met with both Bradley and Robertson, insisted it was the merits of the argument that persuaded both men to lend an attentive ear to her and fellow dog owners.
Robertson said Walter Mondale only asked him to listen to his daughter and did not tell him how to vote. Robertson said 75 dog owners at the commission meeting persuaded him to vote for the dog run after they described how they cleaned up the park, started security patrols and left scoopers so owners could clean up their dogs' messes.
A spokesman said Bradley does not plan to take a position until the City Council has voted.
Mondale, 58, has retired from public life and practices law for a Washington firm. "It's basically dog law," he quipped.
"I grew up on a farm and I feel that dogs and leashes are sort of an unnatural alliance. So I thought that I would get involved in this very weighty issue."
Wachs was not as lighthearted. "We're not talking about a farm," he said. "We are talking about a public park. You ask Mondale how many public parks in Washington, D.C., or in Minnesota allow dogs to run free. I don't think you'll find any. Why should his daughter's park be any different?"