U.S. Senate candidate Mel Levine found himself the target of mounting criticism Friday over his multimillion-dollar television campaign and his absence this week from a House vote for emergency aid to riot-torn Los Angeles.
Levine, who missed Thursday's House vote because he was in Los Angeles, is using television commercials and meetings with reporters to deliver a tough law-and-order message in response to the riots. The veteran Democratic congressman blames the violence on lawless anarchists and on a "failure of political leadership" from both Democrats and Republicans.
Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy, one of Levine's opponents in the June 2 Senate primary for the seat being vacated by Alan Cranston, blasted Levine's decision to miss the vote while choosing to blame the riots on political leaders.
"It's the single most hypocritical and cynical act by a politician in recent memory," McCarthy said in a prepared statement. "Congressman Levine clearly believes that the millions he's spending on TV will drown out his misdeeds."
Democratic presidential candidate Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. also criticized Levine, saying his campaign represents the worst of big-money politics.
The House bill, which allocates $494.6 million in loans and relief payments for Los Angeles and flood-damaged Chicago, was approved on a 244-162 vote amid unexpected opposition. Fourteen Republican members of the California congressional delegation voted against the measure.
Rep. Barbara Boxer, Levine's other opponent in the Senate race, flew to Washington to join the vote, and she cast her ballot in favor of the bill.
Levine, in a breakfast meeting with reporters Friday, said he did not feel it necessary to return to Washington because the vote would not be close. He said his poor voting record--the second worst in the House last year--underscored the difficulty of being a sitting member of Congress who is running for election in faraway California.
Brown, meanwhile, took the unusual tack of injecting himself in the state's Senate race during campaign stops in Los Angeles and in Oregon.
Brown suggested that Levine, who is spending $4 million in television ads statewide in his primary bid, had no business attacking a party leadership that Levine, in fact, is part of. He contended that Levine's latest law-and-order spot, which blames political leadership for the violence, illustrates the party "cannibalizing itself."
"Here you have another candidate running for the Senate attacking the party, and he's one of the foremost exemplars of the whole way the party operates--the big money, the manipulative commercials to get elected," Brown said.
"That shows you that people have relative contempt for the intelligence of the electorate. And I think that is ultimately a cancer that undermines our party, and our whole democracy."
Through a spokeswoman, Levine declined to comment on Brown's statements. The spokeswoman, Hope Warschaw, said: "I didn't know Mel was running for President against Jerry Brown, and that's all I'm going to say."
Brown himself has come under fire for attacking a political system as corrupt and bankrupt after spending much of his life in it. Brown said that, unlike Levine, he is out of office, is campaigning to radically change the system and accepts contributions of no more than $100.
Brown emphasized it was not his intention to become embroiled in the Senate race and that he believed neither Boxer nor McCarthy stands for fundamental political change either.
At the breakfast meeting with reporters, Levine took a stand for the first time in support of the Los Angeles City Charter amendment that would bring about key reforms in the Police Department.
Until now, Levine was the only Democratic candidate who had not voiced a position, saying it was a local issue. But on Friday he said the Los Angeles riots convinced him of the need for change at the LAPD.
His announcement came the day a Los Angeles Times Poll showed overwhelming support for the measure, but the congressman from Santa Monica said his decision was made before poll results were released.
Levine refused to recognize any element of the riots as a political protest, saying instead the unrest was anarchy by a lawless group of organized gang members invited by a breakdown in civic leadership to loot and burn as part of a planned criminal activity.
"We have to get back to basics," he said, advocating more police for South Los Angeles and Koreatown. "In the context of mob rule or anarchy, none of the rest (social and educational programs) can happen."
"We have to recognize that what we had for 48 hours was anarchy. . . . I don't believe that the people who were looting and burning were doing it in response to the Rodney King verdict. I believe these were different issues."