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THE TIMES POLL : Sheriff Gates Generally Making Good Impression

February 19, 1990|BOB SCHWARTZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Brad Gates, who is about to begin campaigning for a fifth term, is generally rated favorably by county residents but is still not known to a surprisingly large number, The Times Poll has found.

Gates, who was first elected in 1974 and has been reelected three times with as much as 75% of the vote, was viewed favorably by 35% of the respondents. Nineteen percent had an unfavorable impression, but the largest number--39%--said they had not heard enough about the sheriff to form an opinion. Another 7% said they were not sure about their opinion of him or refused to answer.

The poll, which queried 612 Orange County residents by telephone, was conducted earlier this month by I. A. Lewis. It has a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points.

Eileen Padberg, Gates' campaign manager, said the poll results "don't bother me really badly," although the 35% favorable rating is significantly lower than the 50% to 55% that her own polls have found over the years.

The Times Poll was conducted Feb. 4 through 7. "That was a terrible week for Brad," Padberg said. "In fact, that was in the middle of a three-week period that was just horrible for him . . . . He was getting beaten up by the Board of Supervisors and in the press."

Gates came under heavy criticism from the Board of Supervisors over his proposal to build a training center for narcotics investigators on a 213-acre South County ranch while his department was running a deficit of between $4 million and $5 million. The board, in a rare display of unanimous opposition to Gates, shot down the sheriff's proposal on Jan. 30, voting instead to prepare the ranch for development and to sell it to the highest bidder at a future date.

Gates was dealt another blow on Feb. 5, when a Sacramento County judge ruled unconstitutional a plan backed by the sheriff and supervisors to place a sales tax increase for new jails on the ballot. Gates is under a federal court order to hold down jail overcrowding, and the ruling was a serious setback for the plans to alleviate the crisis.

Gates also received negative publicity over the recent settlement of two federal civil-rights lawsuits filed against him by Preston Guillory, a private investigator and former political opponent. The county has agreed to pay Guillory and his attorneys $475,000 to end an 11-year court battle, but the total cost to the county in payouts and attorneys' fees has climbed to about $1 million.

Padberg's fear that Gates' popularity suffered with the recent negative publicity was supported in interviews with poll respondents.

"I just read several articles concerning him, and they didn't picture him as a very astute fellow," said Richard Watson, an Anaheim electrician who gave Gates an unfavorable rating. "He wanted to spend all that money for the drug training, and I felt as though that was out of the question."

Elaine Chase of Buena Park, who is retired, agreed: "I don't care for him. He is not a man of the people; he's a man of the rich people."

Others, though, gave Gates good marks.

"I think he's doing a pretty good job," said Betty Beshears of Huntington Beach. "I haven't heard much about him that's too bad."

Michelle Franco of Cypress, a student, gave Gates credit for keeping crime in check. "I come from the South Bay area, and things just seem a lot better down here," she said.

Padberg said polls on Gates are often affected by the public's confusion between the Orange County sheriff and the controversial Los Angeles Police Chief, Daryl F. Gates. "I've always found a lot of crossover," she said.

Susan Pinkus, assistant director of The Times Poll, said the surprising result is the high percentage of respondents not familiar enough with Gates to express an opinion.

"It's almost half," Pinkus said. "You would think if he's in office for 16 years, he'd have some kind of visibility."

Padberg, however, said that finding does not worry her.

"It just proves that people don't read the papers, and when they do, they read only the headlines," Padberg said. The finding is also a reflection of the fact that his name has not been put before voters in four years, she said.

Gates, who so far has no declared opponent in the coming race, said he is pleased with the poll results.

"If 35% recognize that we're doing a good job and recognize all the work we're doing, I would think that's good," Gates said. "If only 19% look at us unfavorably, we probably fall in a very high (positive) scale."

Gates was even more pleased with the results of another poll question in which respondents were asked their opinion of the county Sheriff's Department as a whole. Nearly 7 in 10--69%--said they approve of the job the department is doing, and 12% said they disapprove--a better job performance rating than the 62% approval the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department received from Los Angeles County residents.

"I'm certainly extremely pleased," Gates said. "The people we're in contact with think very highly of us. I think they (the Sheriff's Department staff) have done an outstanding job."

Sheriff Gates Rated In a poll, 612 Orange County residents were asked their impression of Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates. Favorable: 35% Unfavorable: 19% Don't know: 7% Not aware: 39% They were also asked whether they approve of the way the Sheriff's Department is doing its job. Approve: 68% Disapprove: 13% Don't know: 19% Source: Los Angeles Times Poll

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