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Condit's Son Tosses Hat in Ring

Politics: Chad will face parks chief Rusty Areias, a close friend of his father, in state Senate primary.

November 09, 2001|MARK ARAX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FRESNO — It was only last summer, when the nation's tabloids were digging for every tidbit about his father's personal life, that Chad Condit decided that a run for political office might be foolhardy.

But that was before the events of Sept. 11 made everyone forget about Rep. Gary Condit and whether he was telling all he knew about the disappearance of intern Chandra Levy.

Now, as the state's eye is focused on war and the spotlight is no longer shining on his father or family, Chad Condit has quietly entered the race for California's 12th Senate District.

He will be running against one of his father's closest friends and political allies: Rusty Areias, director of state parks and a former assemblyman.

Areias, 52, whose friendship with Rep. Condit includes weekly phone calls, said Thursday that he was caught off guard by the younger Condit's decision.

"I've known Chad since he was a young boy, and he's a fine man," he said. "But frankly I'm surprised that he's running and a little miffed that I had to learn about it from the newspapers."

The race in a district that spans the lettuce fields of Salinas, the dairies of Modesto and the almond orchards of Merced promises to divide the agricultural community. There are those deeply loyal to Areias, a local boy who grew up on his family dairy in Los Banos, and Condit, the representative of a political machine that has shaped everything from Little League to the flow of water in this farm belt.

"It's the valley's political version of a family feud," said Jim Boren, editorial page editor of the Fresno Bee and a veteran political reporter. "It's going to cause problems for farmers, because both Areias and the Condit organization have been strong and effective voices for agriculture."

The younger Condit, 34, has declined to discuss his entry into the race with reporters. A call to his house Thursday was not answered.

In the days after his father's much-anticipated prime-time television interview with journalist Connie Chung last summer, the younger Condit sought to reverse his father's falling political fortunes.

He went on "Larry King Live," calling his father "Gary" and insisting that the congressman had fully cooperated with Washington police detectives investigating the May 1 disappearance of Levy. The 24-year-old Modesto native is still missing.

Chad Condit and his sister, Cadee, then made news by quitting their jobs with Gov. Gray Davis. They said they could no longer work for the governor after he criticized their father for not being more forthcoming about his relationship with Levy. The Condit siblings accused the governor of being disloyal to their father, a longtime Davis friend and ally.

Condit and Areias' entry into the race means that the field contains four Democrats and three Republicans, including former Assemblyman Peter Frusetta of Tres Pinos.

Areias acknowledged that he had his own question to answer about why he wanted to return to the Legislature after a decade's absence. His current job as head of state parks pays him well, $125,000 a year, and takes him to the more scenic spots in California.

"I love my job, but there is something about the Legislature and its breadth of issues that I find very appealing and that I frankly miss," he said.

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