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Park Politics : Rally Gives Veteran Political Activists and Neophytes a Close Look at Dole

May 30, 1996|ABIGAIL GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Connie Contreras was so excited when her daughter told her that Bob Dole was campaigning for the presidency just a block from her Redondo Beach home Wednesday that she dropped the bedcovers she was straightening, left the dirty dishes in the sink and ran all the way to Perry Park to see Dole for herself.

And she didn't even like Dole.

But for coming to her town, Dole earned the 64-year-old Contreras' vote.

"This is the first time I've ever seen any politician in my life," Contreras said, beaming. "This is so exciting for me!"

There are always political junkies who will work a presidential candidate's phone banks, wave signs and crowd in front of TV cameras at rallies. But to excite at least some of the average, reputedly apathetic American voters, there's nothing like a good, old-fashioned stump speech. Just ask Contreras.

"Dole came to my park, where I used to take my kids!" she said. "Now that I hear him, I'm going to vote for him."

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To be sure, there were more than a few political die-hards among the 300 or so in attendance, the ones who wear lapel pins with their candidate's name and rattle off their previous campaigns the way other people list their children.

Nikola M. Mikulicich Jr., a 23-year-old who graduated from Cal State Dominguez Hills at 17 and from UCLA's Law School when he was 20, is a veteran rally-goer, having attended Bush/Quayle rallies four years ago.

Mikulicich, a self-employed lawyer, a member of the Young Republicans and the local chapter of the California Republican Assembly, said he was glad he took a few hours away from his work.

"I came to show support for Dole and the work of the local officials to clean up this area," said Mikulicich, a Redondo Beach resident. "I think we got the message loud and clear to Dole, [Gov. Pete] Wilson and [state Atty. Gen. Dan] Lungren that we care about the work they're doing to make our streets safer."

The UCLA campus Democrats also made an appearance, complete with both hand-drawn and official Clinton-Gore signs.

"I'm here to make a statement, you know, that I don't think Dole has the best solutions to the problems in this country," said Max Von Slauson, a 23-year-old history major from San Francisco, outfitted in a sweatshirt from an Asian dance troupe performance, dark blue plaid shorts and hiking boots. "We're moving into the 21st century, you know, and he's, like, back in the 17th or 18th century."

Some ralliers came to Perry Park, a neighborhood green patch with playground equipment and a baseball diamond, not in support or defiance of Dole, but to share their opinions about park policing with the presidential hopeful.

Some neighbors and local officials said they were thrilled that Dole came to acknowledge what they called the successes of a temporary restraining order that bars 28 alleged gang members from congregating in the park or participating in various other activities, legal and illegal. The city hopes to be granted a permanent injunction in June.

But those named in the order, their friends and their supporters wanted Dole to know their side of the story too.

"Dole needs to come to our community and see what's going on for himself," said Rachel Lujan, an 18-year-old mother and student who rocked her stroller back and forth while she spoke. "It's a violation of the Constitution."

Dole may not have seen Lujan's and her friends' signs--"Redondo Beach 1996 Not Germany," read one--behind the banners proclaiming Dole's name, advocating abortion rights, supporting Clinton and Gore and touting education. But it would have been hard for him to miss the smaller anti-Dole group's boos over his supporters' cheers.

Dotty Ertel, a 52-year-old Marina del Rey resident standing next to the teenage protesters, said she might have been at home eating breakfast if it weren't for Dole's appearance.

But as long as Dole was coming, Ertel said, so was she. So in stylish black leggings and smart camel-colored blazer, she waved her Clinton-Gore sign and shouted, "Four more years!" with the other rabble-rousers.

"This is my first campaign," she said proudly. "Even if it's a Dole rally, we have our opinion and should be heard."

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Most of the 140 fifth- and sixth-graders from nearby Madison Elementary School were also participating in their first campaign event. Wearing bright red T-shirts proclaiming the name of their school, the children listened to the speech from the grass next to the adults' folding chairs. After the candidate finished, they sang a song about the Constitution.

Although they missed rehearsal for their play about the Constitution and Bill of Rights, 11-year-old Kathryn said she thought hearing Dole's speech was educational in its own right.

"He talked about gangs and making this a safe city and making this park a place where kids can play," Kathryn said. "I thought that was right. I like to play in parks."

Ray Comstock, 84, came to Perry Park not for Dole but for his regular Redondo Beach senior citizens meeting. Comstock said he was underwhelmed that he also caught the tail end of Dole's speech by happenstance.

"It's just politics is all it is," Comstock said. "I think half of them are here just to say they've been here."

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