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California and the West

Pringle Campaign Apologizes to Angelides for Accusations

Politics: Threatened with suit, consultant for defeated GOP candidate for state treasurer admits charges about Democrat's real estate dealings were false.

November 12, 1998|JEAN O. PASCO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a rare political apology, Republican Curt Pringle's losing campaign for state treasurer has acknowledged that accusations it made against Democrat Phil Angelides during the campaign were false.

Pringle political consultant Russo Marsh & Raper, threatened with legal action, retracted three statements made in a campaign newsletter--and repeated by Pringle--that criticized Angelides and the Laguna West development he manages near Sacramento.

Pringle and his consultant falsely contended that Angelides was being sued by a union pension fund that had invested in Laguna West, that Bank of America had foreclosed on the property and that Angelides had "walked away" from the project days before the development defaulted on bond payments.

Pringle repeated those contentions in speeches and interviews as he referred to Angelides as a "wheeler-dealer developer" with a tarnished record.

"We apologize to Mr. Angelides and [Angelides backer and Laguna West partner Angelo] Tsakopoulos for the errors," the consultants said in a memo distributed Wednesday by the Angelides camp.

The apology, dated Monday, came after a lawyer for Angelides sent a letter Oct. 20 threatening to file a defamation lawsuit and demanding that the Pringle campaign set the record straight.

"I'm glad they did it because my business reputation and how hard I worked is important to me and my family," Angelides said Wednesday.

His campaign manager, Susan Baltake, said the apology was unexpected. "It sure surprised us," she said. "It kind of restores your faith in the process."

Pringle, an assemblyman from Garden Grove, could not be reached for comment.

In apologizing for the errors, Pringle's Sacramento consultants acknowledged that the lawsuit against Angelides was dismissed, that there was no foreclosure and that all bonds were paid long before they were due. The consultants told Angelides' attorney in a separate letter that they had operated on a "good-faith belief" that the statements were true.

Officials at Russo Marsh were not available for comment Wednesday.

Other political consultants said the mea culpa in the treasurer's race is a cautionary tale for candidates who attack their opponents.

"The 1st Amendment will let you say just about anything about someone as long as it's not malicious, but you need to make sure your facts are accurate," said David Ellis of Ellis / Hart Associates in Newport Beach.

It may be unusual for an apology to emerge from a bruising race, Democratic consultant George Urch said, but it was a token move after the fact by a losing campaign trying to keep itself out of court.

"It sounds like Pringle's campaign staff did some pretty sloppy research, and they purposely waited until after the election to do something about it," said Urch, who works for Frank Wilson & Associates in Laguna Hills.

"This is another example of why the public gets turned off by politics, because they don't believe what people say in campaigns," he said.

Baltake said Angelides hired lawyer Michael Grady of San Jose before the election because of Pringle's statements about Laguna West and the possibility that they would be repeated in a Pringle television ad.

"We had asked them how to stop an incorrect ad from being on TV and the answer was, 'You can't,' " she said. "So we had the attorney send a strong letter to Russo Marsh."

When an ad eventually aired, it mentioned controversy about the development but didn't refer to foreclosure or bond defaults.

Angelides touted the 1,045-acre project in his campaign as an example of an environmentally friendly development blending residential neighborhoods with manufacturing plants, parks and shopping centers. Laguna West is 12 miles south of Sacramento and has about 3,000 residents.

The statements about Angelides marked the second time during the treasurer's race that Pringle's campaign was criticized for misleading voters.

Last month, the consulting firm emphatically denied that Pringle's 1988 Assembly campaign was involved in hiring uniformed security guards at polling sites in Santa Ana's heavily Latino neighborhoods to warn noncitizens not to vote. But Pringle had acknowledged at the time that his campaign manager arranged for the guards and the signs they carried. Pringle and the local Republican Party paid $400,000 to settle a subsequent civil rights lawsuit.

Despite the increasingly rancorous campaign, Pringle called Angelides on election night to congratulate him and was "very gracious," Angelides said.

"That's a hard [telephone] call to make, and I know because I've made it," said Angelides, who ran for treasurer in 1994 and lost to Republican Matt Fong.

Angelides said he plans no further action against Pringle's campaign.

In a related matter, a Sacramento judge denied relief last week to six couples who sued Laguna West and Angelides, protesting the construction of lower-priced homes. The lawsuits also were mentioned by Pringle during the campaign.

"The fact is that it's over," Angelides said. "I just wanted to clear up the record."

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