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California and the West

Cranston Is Recalled for Unapologetic Liberalism

Memorial: Gov. Gray Davis praises former senator as succeeding on character rather than charisma.

January 17, 2001|JOHN M. GLIONNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — Serenaded by a gospel choir and folk singer Joan Baez, family, friends and political colleagues gathered Tuesday to memorialize the late California senator Alan MacGregor Cranston as a towering statesman and a caring man of deep integrity.

With the altar at the cavernous Grace Cathedral graced by the Cranston family tartan, Democratic leaders from Sacramento to Washington told how they were influenced by Cranston, a fierce crusader for nuclear arms control whose quarter-century career in the U.S. Senate ended in 1993 under the cloud of the Keating savings and loan scandal.

At times, the speakers touched humorously on the self-admitted faults of the balding and craggy-looking senator, who spent much of his career trying to turn his plainness into a political asset. Although he had an engaging smile, he freely acknowledged that he was deficient in the charisma category.

"He was almost always the underdog," said Gov. Gray Davis. "Critics dismissed his chances, saying he lacked the charisma to win. But Alan proved time and again that in this state, character and not charisma is what people want most."

Then, evoking a ripple of laughter, Davis added: "He became the patron saint of every candidate for office afflicted with the charisma deficit, myself included. He's my personal hero."

Cranston, who died on New Year's Eve at 86, was remembered as one of California's most enduring senators, an unapologetic but pragmatic liberal who was elected four times and became one of the senior members of the Senate leadership.

But the onetime presidential aspirant was sullied by the scandal enveloping Charles H. Keating Jr., the Lincoln Savings & Loan operator convicted of cheating elderly investors. Cranston, the most prominent of the "Keating Five," five senators who had dealings with Keating, was the only one reprimanded by a Senate ethics committee for "an impermissible pattern of conduct" with the financier.

Despite that episode, speakers--family members, U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and former state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso--detailed the integrity that fueled Cranston's career.

Biden told of how as a young journalist, Cranston was sued unsuccessfully by Adolf Hitler for trying to alert Americans to the dangers of the Third Reich by publishing an unsanitized version of "Mein Kampf" in America.

"Most of us would have considered it successful had we done nothing else but be sued by Adolf Hitler," Biden said of Cranston. "He had an inner compass that would have plagued most of us."

Before the memorial, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) dismissed the notion that the Keating incident could be thought to compromise Cranston's long and successful political career.

"People should realize that this was a small blip on a very distinguished career," he said.

That career focused heavily on civil rights and the environment. But the centerpiece of Cranston's agenda was nuclear arms control. After leaving the Senate in 1993, he founded a nonprofit group, the Global Security Institute, which seeks to abolish nuclear weapons.

Just before he died, recalled Cranston's son, Kim, the retired senator finished his latest book "The Sovereignty Revolution," his soon-to-be-published thoughts "on the global civilization."

Throughout the hourlong memorial, Cranston was remembered as a crusader who refused to give up on the integrity of his vision.

"God has called Alan Cranston home," Davis said. "And know that God will give him the enduring peace for which he struggled all his life for all people of the world."

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