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Simon Officially Jumps In the Race

Politics: The electoral newcomer joins the fray for governor with a salvo against Davis and vows of a businesslike approach.


SACRAMENTO — Bill Simon Jr., a wealthy banker and political newcomer, formally launched his bid for governor Friday with repeated attacks on incumbent Gray Davis and a promise to infuse Sacramento with the sensibilities of the business world.

Simon conceded that he was attempting a "big jump" in his first try for office. "I don't believe that career politicians have a monopoly on leadership," he said.

"Nor," he went on, "do I believe the government has a monopoly on the answers."

Simon, the son and namesake of a former U.S. Treasury secretary, said that if elected governor, he would seek to bring "private solutions" to problems such as traffic congestion, failing schools and management of the state's water and energy supplies.

"I'm going to offer a different path, a path of smaller government," Simon said. "Of individual and private sector solutions, rather than big bureaucratic plans. And local government whenever possible."

But he was vague when pressed for details, sticking to generalities and sweeping criticisms of Democrat Davis. He also took a rare shot at his two rivals for the Republican nomination, California Secretary of State Bill Jones and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.

Simon described Jones as "an insider, someone who's been in politics his whole life." He questioned whether Riordan had sufficient "fire in the belly" and suggested that Republicans were "looking for a candidate that can make them feel proud of their party, not someone who will try to muddle the differences between the parties."

Riordan has antagonized some conservative Republicans with his support for abortion rights and gun control and his 20-year history of contributions to Democratic candidates and causes.

Simon, 50, announced his candidacy in the ballroom of a downtown Sacramento hotel, accompanied by his wife, Cindy, and surrounded on a packed dais by more than two dozen friends, supporters and family members.

In launching his candidacy, Simon became the latest in a long line of wealthy newcomers who have tried to make the leap into elective political office in California.

Most have failed: In just the past few campaigns, Al Checchi spent $40 million in a failed bid for governor, Darrell Issa spent more than $12 million in an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate (he now serves in the House) and Mike Huffington spent $30 million in a losing campaign for the Senate.

Simon has refused to say how much of his personal fortune he plans to invest in his candidacy, though he has insisted that he will not be "Mr. Megabucks" trying to buy the governor's office.

Simon, born in New Jersey, moved to California in 1990 to open a Los Angeles office of the family firm, William E. Simon & Sons. The private investment company controls assets of more than $3 billion, including the family-oriented cable network Pax TV.

Citing his business background, Simon said, "I've learned to see opportunities and anticipate problems--qualities that I believe that our current governor clearly lacks.

". . . In the early '90s, when many people were writing the obituary for California, we began to invest in California . . . [creating] literally thousands of jobs," he said.

A resident of Pacific Palisades, Simon has also been active on the board of several local charities, including Covenant House, Catholic Charities and Childrens Hospital. He cited his charitable works as a model he would pursue as governor, "embodying the philosophy that it's better to teach a person to fish than to give them a fish."

Simon's only government experience was a stint from 1985 to 1988 as a federal prosecutor in New York City. On Friday, he repeatedly invoked the name of his former boss: then-U.S. Atty. Rudolph Giuliani, who has given his high-profile endorsement to the campaign.

Ironically, Simon was urged into the governor's race by Riordan, a friend and fellow parishioner at St. Monica's Catholic Church in Santa Monica. Later, Riordan decided to run himself.

Twice in recent weeks, the Riordan campaign sent emissaries in hopes of persuading Simon to run for some other office. The freshly declared candidate laughed off a reporter's suggestion that he had been "double-crossed" by Riordan, in effect disavowing the sentiment.

But Simon pointedly refused, when asked, to rule out attack advertising against the former mayor and GOP front-runner.

"We haven't gotten to that point," Simon said. "We're early in the campaign. Right now I want to wage a campaign based on ideas."

Jones has formally announced his candidacy; Riordan plans to do so Tuesday in Los Angeles. Davis, for his part, quietly filed papers Friday in Sacramento announcing his intention to seek a second term.

The governor's plans have been no secret: Even before taking office, he started collecting money for his reelection, setting a four-year fund-raising goal of $50 million. As of Sept. 30, Davis had nearly $31 million in the bank.

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