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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / U.S. SENATE : Bradley Faults Huffington on Race Issue : In appearance arranged by Feinstein, ex-mayor of L.A. accuses congressman of insensitivity because of discriminatory wording on records of former homes. Republican compares tactic to McCarthyism.

October 05, 1994|DAVE LESHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley said Tuesday that GOP Senate candidate Mike Huffington is racially insensitive because he failed to remove outlawed discriminatory language from the property records of two homes he once owned in Houston.

The racial covenants, which are ineffective because they were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948, state that the properties should only be sold to "descendants of the white or Caucasian race."

Bradley, appearing at a news conference arranged by the Feinstein campaign, stopped short of charging that the Republican challenger practiced discrimination. Instead, the former mayor faulted Huffington for not showing leadership on civil rights by having the language removed from the official documents.

Huffington angrily denied that the language even existed in records for one of the two properties Feinstein targeted. On the other home, Huffington said, the deal was handled by his surrogates and he never knew about the racially restrictive language because it was not contained in the document he signed. He also said the issue is irrelevant because the language is unconstitutional.

"She is a liar," Rep. Huffington (R-Santa Barbara) charged in a telephone interview from Washington. "They are saying that I am a racist--this is McCarthyism and Mrs. Feinstein should be ashamed of herself. She doesn't deserve to be a senator one more day with this stuff. She should resign."

Feinstein campaign officials said the senator was in Washington Tuesday and unavailable to comment on whether she thought Huffington had acted improperly or whether she agreed with Bradley that her opponent was racially insensitive.

Feinstein spokesman Bill Chandler said, however, that the racial covenant reflects improperly on a public leader. "This is something that just clearly isn't right," he said. "It is an action of his insensitivity and it raises questions about his truthfulness."

Feinstein officials also provided documents indicating that the racial covenant existed on both properties at the time they were owned by Huffington. One document regarding the disputed property indicated that the restriction was removed in 1993 by the owner after Huffington.

Real estate experts said Tuesday that racial restrictions are no longer common in property records, but they are sometimes found in documents that predate the Supreme Court decision 46 years ago. They are, however, sometimes used as campaign fodder for hostile opponents.

Former President George Bush was found to have a racial restriction in the records of a property he owned in Texas. And opponents of Justice William H. Rehnquist used the issue to challenge his nomination to be chief justice in 1986.

The first property Huffington owned in Houston was a home he acquired from his parents in 1976 for $70,000. Huffington sold the property two years later for $185,000.

The deed referred to a separate document listing a number of restrictions, one of which was the racial language. That section read:

"No part of Briargrove, Section 8, shall be conveyed to, owned by, leased to, used or occupied by persons other than of the white or Caucasian race, except that bona fide servants of other races may occupy servants quarters."

Texas law is even more restrictive than the federal law regarding racial covenants. A Texas housing official said Tuesday that the inclusion of racially restrictive language in a property record is illegal. If discovered, state officials order it removed.

"I think it's more than just carelessness," Bradley said. "I think it's gross neglect of his duty as a human being, to say nothing of his duty as a leader in public office. If you are sensitive in the matter of civil rights, you don't need to have someone read you the contract. You feel it from your innards."

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