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Former Vons President Decries Prop. 187 : Election: The grocery chain, under fire for its support of Gov. Pete Wilson, pays for newspaper ads signed by William S. Davila.

November 05, 1994|MICHAEL A. HILTZIK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In an apparent attempt to defuse a controversy over its campaign support of Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, Vons Cos. paid for a newspaper ad Friday attacking Proposition 187 that was signed by its president emeritus, William S. Davila.

The full-page ad, which ran in English in Friday's Los Angeles Times and in Spanish in the Spanish-language daily La Opinion, did not mention Vons, the largest supermarket chain in Southern California.

But Davila, as the company's president from 1984 to 1992 and as its television spokesman, is perhaps the public figure most closely associated with the chain. The first-generation Mexican-American and Los Angeles native remains a member of its board.

Davila was unavailable Friday for comment on the ad, which was headlined "A Message About Proposition 187," the election ballot proposal that would close off many public services to illegal immigrants and require public officials to report suspected illegals to authorities.

In the form of a letter that began "Dear Friends," Davila called 187 "a deeply flawed measure that is creating an unhealthy environment in our state." He called for a "no" vote on the grounds that 187 could cost an estimated $15 billion in lost federal funds, drive 300,000 children out of school and "create a police state mentality as we would be required to turn in 'suspected' undocumented immigrants."

For its part, Vons, while acknowledging that it paid for the ad, stressed that it has taken no corporate position on Proposition 187. It bought the ad to "support (Davila's) desire to communicate his position, because he is our president emeritus and a member of our board of directors," spokeswoman Julie Reynolds said.

Political advertisements in major newspapers such as The Times can cost upward of $50,000 per full page.

Vons has come under heavy criticism within the Latino community for its campaign support of Wilson, whose reelection bid is helping to promote Proposition 187 and is riding the coattails of public sentiment against illegal immigration.

The activist group Chicanos Unidos, for example, on Oct. 5 called for a boycott of Vons and three other large corporate contributors--Atlantic Richfield Co., Walt Disney Co. and E&J Gallo Winery--because of their support of Wilson. Several Vons supermarkets have been the sites of anti-187 demonstrations.

A Chicanos Unidos member, Alex Jacinto, said Friday: "I think it was very commendable of Mr. Davila to spend his money on this ad. If he didn't, then he's being used, and that's a shame."

Vons responded to the boycott campaign last month with a statement noting that it has contributed not only to Wilson's gubernatorial campaign but to that of his Democratic challenger, Kathleen Brown, and to other gubernatorial candidates.

"Vons does not have a position on Proposition 187, and it is wrong to assume that we support a proposition that a candidate who received a campaign contribution from us supports," Reynolds said.

Reynolds said the company contributed $50,000 to Wilson's campaign earlier this year; state campaign records put the total at $56,000 going back to 1993. Reynolds declined to state the size of the contribution to Brown's campaign but said it came in August and later, after the period for which state records are currently available. She also declined to say which of the other candidates for governor received contributions from Vons.

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