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Freshman Braun Raises Some Eyebrows : Politics: New senator has stirred controversy through her boyfriend, a lengthy vacation and $3,000-a-month penthouse.

January 06, 1993|WILLIAM J. EATON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, who made history Tuesday when she took the oath of office as the first black woman U.S. senator, has made a series of missteps since her election in November that have tarnished her image and upset some of her supporters.

Riding the crest of women's outrage over the nationally televised Clarence Thomas-Anita Faye Hill sexual harassment hearings, Braun defeated incumbent Alan J. Dixon in a three-way Democratic primary and then went on to her general-election triumph.

Yet the weeks since have not been good to Braun. Her boyfriend and former campaign manager, South African-born Kgosie (pronounced Cozy) Matthews, has become the target of sexual harassment allegations by two women on the campaign staff. Braun also has been criticized for paying Matthews a salary of $15,000 a month for two months after the election, even though the campaign recently reported a debt of more than $446,000.

Further, while many new members of Congress worked diligently last month as they prepared to take office, Braun, her 15-year-old son and Matthews took a lengthy trip overseas. And Braun raised eyebrows by moving to a $3,000-a-month penthouse on Chicago's lakefront after the election, a striking contrast to the "single working mother" image she cultivated during her campaign.

As one staunch Braun backer said, the new senator's actions appear to be squandering goodwill. "Someone needs to shake her."

Others supporters were more circumspect.

"She may have to work harder than somebody who has a lower profile," said Harriett Woods, president of the National Women's Political Caucus. "With the spotlight comes a potential for blemishes showing up. . . . The higher you are, the farther you can fall, and we don't want that to happen."

Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women, brushed off some of the charges as politically inspired but added: "I think she'll be subject to a lot of scrutiny because she's so highly visible. . . . Perhaps it will take a little time for her to adjust, (but) she'll do a great job when the Senate gets down to its substantive business."

And Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) added: "All of my conversations with her show she's a very professional person and prepared to be an excellent senator."

Braun acknowledged for the first time last week that she was dating Matthews, a British subject. Before that, she had said they were "best friends."

She has denounced the former staff aides who made the anonymous sexual harassment allegations and insisted that the charges are without merit.

Critics, however, said that Matthews' alleged behavior toward women is ironic since Braun's stated reason for entering the Senate race was her anger over the treatment of Hill, the law school professor whose charges of sexual harassment against Thomas failed to block his confirmation as a Supreme Court justice.

Matthews accompanied Braun and her son on a vacation to South Africa, three other African countries and England for 27 days last month. They flew back on the costly Concorde and were then flown from New York to Chicago on a private plane owned by an Illinois lawyer.

The trip was financed by private resources, Braun said at a testy news conference in Chicago a week ago, and she promised to pay the lawyer three first-class fares for the last leg of the trip.

She took her vacation while other newly elected members of Congress were involved in extensive preparations for their roles as elected officials. Braun still has not hired a chief of staff and is now relying on nearly a dozen holdovers from defeated Sen. Dixon's staff to run her office.

Chicago newspapers have reported that the rent for the furnished apartment Braun now occupies is below market value. But Braun brushed off the suggestion that she is receiving special treatment in the lease. She also declared that she moved because she was about to be homeless after selling her house, which she had to vacate by the end of November.

Long before the latest round of troubles, Braun drew fire when she failed to report that her mother received $28,000 from the sale of property at a time when her mother's nursing home care was being paid by Medicaid. Her mother turned the money over to Braun, who later repaid part of the sum to help pay for the care.

Braun's election drew far-flung support. She raised more than $6 million, with most of it coming from an aggressive nationwide mail fund-raising campaign tapping contributors for $200 or less.

In addition, she received large contributions from fund-raising events in Washington, New York, Detroit, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Hartford, Conn.

Explaining why she was the subject of so much press criticism, Braun told reporters: "I think you all got mad at me for some reason."

NEW LAWMAKERS: The 103rd Congress convened amid pomp and ceremony and pledges to end gridlock. A11

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