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Few Sparks Fly as Rivals in 23rd Congress District Meet

October 23, 1986|MAYERENE BARKER | Times Staff Writer

It was the first joint appearance by liberal Democratic Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson and his Republican challenger, George Woolverton, in their campaign for the 23rd Congressional District seat, but it was hardly a political debate.

The candidates, appearing at a Sunday night forum at Leo Baeck Temple in West Los Angeles on how to achieve nuclear disarmament, played the roles of political commentators giving relaxed critiques of U.S. foreign policy. They focused on the "Star Wars" defense system and the recent Iceland summit between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

About 200 people attended the event, which Rabbi Laura Geller, the narrator, said was one of several meetings organized by the Shalom Center throughout the country "to advance the cause of peace" through the election process. The center, headquartered in Wyncote, Pa., bills itself as "a Jewish response to the horror of nuclear holocaust."

2 Views on Summit

The candidates followed the theme of peace as they avoided any criticism of each other, despite giving slightly different appraisals of the summit. Each promised to work for nuclear disarmament.

Woolverton made the initial remarks, promising that, if elected, he would work toward reducing and, "if possible, doing away with nuclear arms altogether."

Woolverton, a Tarzana attorney who describes himself as a political moderate, said he viewed the summit not as a failure but as the beginning of meaningful arms talks. The "Star Wars," or Strategic Defense Initiative system, over which the two superpowers deadlocked should now be used as a bargaining chip with the Soviets, he said.

"I want to bargain that chip away but I want the right price," Woolverton said.

Right to Emigrate

That price, he said, would be to ensure that Jews living in Russia have the right to emigrate wherever they choose.

"We cannot accept a peace that will continue to enslave 3 1/2 million Jews in the Soviet Union," Woolverton said.

Beilenson criticized Reagan, however, saying the President passed up an opportunity to move toward peace by rejecting Gorbachev's proposal to keep the Strategic Defense Initiative in the laboratory and out of testing. "Hopefully, something can be salvaged," he said.

"Nobody other than the President believes in SDI as a weapon that will render all nuclear weapons impotent," he said.

The incumbent congressman also told the forum that "arms control alone does not equal peace," asserting that if the United States is to achieve world peace, it must stop its policy of "unilateral global intervention."

"Our own country is purposely seeking out confrontations where there need be none," he said. "Our own country has taken on the policy of policing the world."

Woolverton's remarks received polite applause. The audience reacted a bit more enthusiastically toward Beilenson.

Calls for Public Service

The most favorable response followed the congressman's response to a question that had nothing to do with nuclear arms.

Asked his policy on the draft, Beilenson called for "national service for all young people," giving them the choice of military service and several other options.

Every young person should spend a year in the Peace Corps or a like organization "doing something for people other than themselves," he said.

Woolverton's response, that he opposes a draft in peacetime, drew little reaction from the audience.

The Republican challenger said Monday that he was disappointed the forum was not a formal debate.

None is scheduled for the campaign, although the two men may appear together at a candidates' forum, Woolverton said.

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