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SOUTH GATE : Kennedy Woos Senior Citizens

October 18, 1992|JILL GOTTESMAN

He showed up half an hour late and stayed no more than 10 minutes, but Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) did what he came to do last week at the OldTimers Foundation in South Gate.

With his new wife, Victoria, at his side, the senator charmed an audience of about 300 Southeast area senior citizens, wooing their votes for the Democratic ticket next month.

He was flanked by Los Angeles-area Democrats--Rep. Edward R. Roybal, state Sens. Art Torres and Diane Watson, Assembly candidate Martha M. Escutia and congressional candidate Lucille Roybal-Allard.

An energized Kennedy, who spoke Tuesday from a wooden podium with a Clinton-Gore poster taped to it, told the audience that he favors increased Medicare benefits to cover prescription drugs and eye and foot care, which are currently not included in the program.

"The real test in America is whether we will make sure our parents will be able to live in peace and dignity, without the fear of increasing health costs," he told the crowd. "We need to start putting people first in this country."

Kennedy's stop at the publicly funded senior center was part of a two-day tour through Los Angeles stumping for the Democratic ticket. On Wednesday, Kennedy and Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) appeared at a family clinic in Venice to outline presidential candidate Bill Clinton's national health care plan.

Kennedy has long been a champion of Social Security and Medicare benefits as well as long-term care for the elderly.

His brief appearance helped at least one member of the audience decide who to vote for in November.

"I had my doubts, but that speech he made makes me want to go out and vote for Clinton," said South Gate resident Robert Coffe, 67, as he sipped punch amid Halloween cutouts decorating the OldTimers cafeteria.

But if Kennedy's impassioned message about preserving Medicare benefits or the folksy greeting he passed on from his 102-year-old mother, Rose, did not win votes, his off-key rendition of the Mexican folk tune "Jalisco" was the clincher.

"I was so happy he could sing in Spanish!" Charles Diaz, a 64-year-old Hawthorne resident said, beaming. "It was a beautiful thing."

South Gate was an unlikely place for the senator to speak. The last politician to stop in South Gate was President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, although Vice President Dan Quayle was in nearby Lynwood last month campaigning for the Republican ticket.

"I want to tell you why I am here," Kennedy told the seniors. "After the debates the other night, I called up Bill Clinton and said, 'Bill, I'm ready to go anywhere in the U.S. for you.' And he answered: 'Get on a plane to L.A. and go to the OldTimers Foundation in South Gate!' "

A spokeswoman from Torres' office said local Democrats wanted Kennedy to visit the Southeast area instead of East Los Angeles, where politicians generally tend to stop. She said the OldTimers Foundation was chosen because of its politically well-known executive director, Bell Councilman George Cole.

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