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Jones Assails Riordan as Simon Stays on Sidelines

January 24, 2002|MARK Z. BARABAK and MICHAEL FINNEGAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SAN JOSE — The leading Republican candidates for governor picked up Wednesday where their Tuesday night debate left off, with Bill Jones attacking Richard Riordan, and Bill Simon Jr. staying largely on the sidelines.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Riordan laid out a plan to revamp school budgeting by requiring districts to disclose how much they spend on bureaucracy versus classroom instruction.

Secretary of State Jones lit into Riordan for police corruption, the 2000 Metropolitan Transportation Authority strike and the San Fernando Valley secession movement.

Businessman Simon, curiously, shunned the attention that follows a big political event like Tuesday night's debate, making no public appearances.

The man they want to replace, meanwhile, disputed their criticisms of him. Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, said his Republican challengers were "light on specifics" about the looming budget deficit and erred in their energy policy proposals.

The Republican debate at San Jose State was the highest-profile event of a campaign that has been widely overlooked by Californians unaccustomed to voting as early as the March 5 primary. Still, on Wednesday the political landscape looked much as it did 24 hours earlier.

Riordan remains the candidate to beat, according to polls and analysts; Jones and Simon are vying as the conservative alternative.

"If one can shake the other out, we could have a fairly interesting horse race between now and March 5," said Larry Gerston, a political science professor at San Jose State.

Two debates are set to follow, but strategists for the front-running Riordan were convinced that Tuesday night's session was the one that mattered most. That is because the second debate, to be held next month at the state GOP convention, won't be broadcast statewide, and the third, Feb. 13 in Long Beach, will coincide with the Winter Olympics.

With so much focus on Tuesday night, the Riordan camp had pushed for a format that would minimize confrontation between the candidates by seating them in collegial fashion at a sort of Republican round table.

Though privately conceding that Riordan's performance was shaky, campaign strategists were generally pleased that nothing apparently happened to upset the status quo. As one put it, "It was a nonevent, and from our perspective that's a good thing."

Jones, who played the aggressor Tuesday night, continued his tough talk Wednesday at a Sacramento news conference.

He questioned Riordan's assertion at the debate that lobbyists "did not get in my office" during his eight years as Los Angeles mayor. Jones cited Riordan's hiring of Webster Hubbell--a confidant of former President Bill Clinton--and ex-City Councilman Richard Alatorre to work as lobbyists for the city.

"These two performed little or no work," Jones said of the convicted felons.

He challenged Riordan's management style. "Let's talk about the MTA," Jones said, his voice rising as he scorned Riordan's assertion that he hired talented underlings to help him as mayor. "When he was in France bicycling while poor people in Los Angeles couldn't move because of the strike, where were the best and brightest?"

Taking issue with Riordan's statements that he cut crime, Jones cited the Rampart police scandal. "He couldn't manage the Police Department to the extent to keep them from getting into a personnel disaster that is costing the city a lot of money," Jones said.

Although Jones did not bring it up Wednesday, Riordan misspoke in the debate when he said that he had not received campaign donations from Enron, the embattled energy company. Actually, Enron's energy trading arm gave Riordan's mayoral re-election campaign $500 in 1996.

Riordan said he had not known about the donation and his campaign manager, Ron Hartwig, said he took responsibility for the campaign's failure to uncover it. "We will happily write a check for $500 and send it back to Enron tomorow," Hartwig said.

Riordan, resuming the stance he took much of Tuesday night, largely ignored the criticisms. He denied direct responsibility for the hiring of Hubbell and Alatorre, saying they were retained by others in the city government. He did, however, acknowledge that he approved keeping Alatorre on the payroll once he was brought on.

Riordan focused on education in a speech to the San Jose Rotary Club and Silicon Valley Commonwealth Club.

He said public schools should have to list spending on administration separately from spending on books, classroom supplies and teacher salaries. By cutting back on bureaucracy, Riordan said, districts could raise teachers' salaries without requiring additional government funding.

After his speech, he was asked whether he supported school vouchers or for-profit companies such as Edison Schools being hired to run public schools. "I'm not an ideologue for or against vouchers," said Riordan, referring to the use of taxpayer funds to help subsidize private schools. "If it works for the children, I'm in favor of it."

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