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Cooley, Garcetti End Debate Marathon

Politics: The 15th confrontation between the two D.A. contenders offered TV viewers little new, with both repeating old accusations.

November 03, 2000|MITCHELL LANDSBERG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the end, some sort of ceremony seemed in order--medals given, bouquets strewn, a curtain call or two.

But the 15th and final debate between the candidates for Los Angeles County district attorney ended rather unceremoniously Thursday, with KCET-TV Channel 28 moderator Val Zavala calling a halt just as things between Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti and challenger Steve Cooley were starting to get hot.

"I'm terribly sorry to have to bring this to an end," she said, stamping a period on a six-month rhetorical marathon.

The final, 30-minute debate, broadcast live on KCET's "Life and Times Tonight" program, offered little in the way of new positions, with the candidates mostly repeating charges and countercharges they have hurled at each other throughout the campaign.

Even when presented with new questions, such as one from a viewer who wanted to know whether they would support a law permitting concealed weapons, the two tended to fall back on rehearsed statements. Zavala had to prod Garcetti to finally answer the question. (He said he "absolutely" wouldn't support permits for concealed weapons.)

"Well, I'm glad you pointed out that he didn't bother to answer the question," Cooley said when Zavala turned to him with the same question. He then launched into his stock answer on gun control, also never answering the question. (Asked after the debate, he said he didn't think it would be "a good idea" to allow concealed weapons in California.)

Cooley also reached new rhetorical heights in his denunciations of Garcetti, whom he called, at one point, "a celebrity D.A. who takes care of his rich contributors."

"This is why it's so scary to think of Steve Cooley as being D.A.," Garcetti replied, returning to one of his campaign themes: that Cooley is too reckless to be trusted with the job.

Sitting a few feet from each other across a table, the two traded jabs over child support enforcement, the Los Angeles Unified School District's troubled Belmont Learning Complex site, the Rampart police scandal and Garcetti's trademark crime prevention programs.

Asked by a viewer whether he planned to scrap the crime prevention programs, which Garcetti considers his greatest accomplishment, Cooley said he intended to audit them and determine how effective they are.

"The ones that are working, great, we're going to keep those--maybe expand them, maybe improve them," he said. "Those that were designed to provide public relations opportunities or press conferences to aggrandize the current D.A.--those might have to go."

In response, Garcetti said: "Again, I want people to get to know Steve Cooley the way we know him." He then charged that Cooley would scrap or gut two of Garcetti's most prized programs: one that attempts to teach tolerance to hate-crime offenders, and one that uses prosecutors to keep children in school.

Cooley, a top deputy district attorney, placed first in the March primary election, earning a runoff with Garcetti, the two-term incumbent who placed second in the three-way race. Cooley has led in three preelection polls, but none has been conducted since July.

Garcetti was endorsed Thursday by the League of Women Prosecutors, representing men and women in the offices of the district attorney, the city attorney and the state attorney general.

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Times staff writer Sarah Hale contributed to this story.

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