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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS : Beilenson Backs Democrats in Debate With GOP's Sybert : Congress: The remarks come during the first meeting between the 61-year-old incumbent and his 42-year-old Republican foe.


In a surprising break from Democratic incumbents nationwide who are attempting to distance themselves from the Clinton Administration, Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills) Tuesday defended the President and the Democratic Congress for their efforts to fight budget deficits and crime.

Beilenson's remarks came during his first debate with GOP rival Richard Sybert for the 24th District seat and raised eyebrows in the Sybert camp. "He's running against the conventional wisdom," said James Vaughn, Sybert's campaign manager. "The Democrats are supposed to flee from Clinton, not embrace him."

But Tuesday, Beilenson, seeking his 10th term, proudly ticked off a laundry list of Clinton legislative initiatives approved by Congress and contrasted these "decent successes" with the legacy of stalemate on health care, family leave, gun control and deficit reduction left by the Reagan and Bush administrations.

"The fact is that your government has been more responsive" in the past two years even though the news media has failed to say so, Beilenson told 125 senior citizens at the debate sponsored by the West Valley Jewish Community Center. "I hope it'll make you feel we should continue the change we've started in Washington."

Meanwhile, Sybert told those in the audience that if they approved of Democratic attempts to resurrect failed Great Society programs, raise taxes and expand government, "then you shouldn't vote for me." Sybert is an attorney and businessman who was a top aide to Gov. Pete Wilson.

Another big difference between Beilenson and himself, Sybert said, is "I have never run for office before in my life, and my opponent has done nothing else." One of the nation's biggest problems "is career politicians from both parties," added Sybert, who, unlike Beilenson, supports congressional term limits.

Tuesday's meeting between the candidates was the first in a number of debates scheduled for the final four weeks before the election.

Beilenson and Sybert, both Harvard-educated, put on strong, fact-filled and articulate performances for the seniors gathered at Temple Aliyah in West Hills for the debate.

During his opening remarks, the 61-year-old incumbent strongly praised the Clinton budget deficit-reduction plan for slowing the flood of red ink and shrinking the federal payroll while noting it was approved "without a single Republican vote."

Beilenson also boasted that Congress, with Clinton leading, finally had the courage to pass the Brady handgun registration bill and a ban on certain military-style assault rifles despite opposition from the National Rifle Assn.; had provided $30 billion to fight crime, including money for local police agencies to hire 100,000 more officers, and had expanded the fight against illegal immigration by voting to double the size of the Border Patrol.

Beilenson said he also authored an amendment to the crime bill that now earmarks $1.8 billion to reimburse states for their cost of imprisoning illegal immigrants. "That will save the taxpayers of this state alone three-quarters of a billion dollars," Beilenson said.

For his part, the 42-year-old challenger blasted the crime bill, saying it was full of "tired old Great Society" prevention programs, such as midnight basketball recreational opportunities. The only difference midnight basketball will make is that "your homes will be burgled at 2 o'clock in the morning when you're asleep," Sybert said.

Sybert also hit Beilenson as "one of a handful" of congressmen who voted against U.S. military intervention in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, a move he said was "not helpful" to Israel.

Sybert marked out a tough stand on illegal immigration, saying he would not vote for "bilingual anything." As a member of the governing board of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, he had proposed an English-only rule for all conservancy literature. Sybert also supports Proposition 187, the November ballot measure to deny key benefits to illegal immigrants; Beilenson opposes it.

After blaming the Reagan-Bush budget deficits on congressional Democrats who refused to cut government bureaucracy and program fat, Beilenson became agitated and--in the candidates' most tense exchange--demanded to know what Sybert would cut. "I'd vote to cut the salary increases for Congress that you've voted for," Sybert shot back. "Talk real money," flared Beilenson.

Although he is not a practicing Jew, Sybert told the mostly Jewish audience Tuesday that his mother, Mildred Lerner, would have been so "kvell" (proud) to see him at a temple. "I haven't been in a temple since I was 12 years old," he said, grinning.

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