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Simon, Davis Trade Barbs in Homestretch

November 02, 2002|Michael Finnegan and Matea Gold | Times Staff Writers

FAIRFIELD, Calif. — The race for governor careened into its final weekend Friday with Republican Bill Simon Jr. trying to keep the campaign focused on questions about Gray Davis' ethical standards and the governor dismissing his opponent's criticisms as desperate electioneering.

For the third time in recent weeks, Simon raised the specter of criminal wrongdoing by the Democratic incumbent, but offered no proof beyond citing accusations that Davis misused state employees in 1986, when Davis was running for state controller. The attorney general declined to prosecute at the time, saying there was insufficient evidence of a crime.

An upbeat Davis, meanwhile, racked up a slew of endorsements from Los Angeles city leaders, including Mayor James K. Hahn, and termed Simon's latest volley "pitiful." Davis also scolded the investment manager for trying to "parachute" into the race for governor after failing to vote in numerous elections over the last 12 years.

As the two candidates took their latest swipes at each other, both campaigns locked in their final televised assaults for the weekend.

Simon's campaign, which plans to spend about $1.5 million in the last four days of the race, is set to run a new commercial Sunday attacking Davis' leadership on the state's energy crisis as well as his fund-raising practices.

The governor's campaign is running $4.8-million worth of commercials over the final days of the campaign, highlighting Davis' record and questioning Simon's credibility. Of that, $500,000 in ads are due to run on Monday and election day.

Simon raised the old allegations about Davis on a day when he made three campaign stops in the northern Central Valley.

At a rally in Rocklin, the candidate and his wife, Cindy, signed a T-shirt nailed to a crucifix that said: "Gray Davis: California's most expensive prostitute."

During a morning stop at a Solano County jelly bean factory, Simon called on the governor to answer questions raised in a 1987-88 investigation by the state attorney general's office into allegations that Davis' legislative employees worked on state time for his 1986 campaign for state controller. At the time, Davis was an assemblyman.

Vincent Reagor, a deputy attorney general, recommended then that Davis be prosecuted, but his superiors decided not to proceed because they lacked evidence that Davis was aware of any improprieties. Instead, the Davis campaign settled the matter by reimbursing the state $28,000.

The matter was widely reported by the media at the time. On Thursday night, KCBS-TV ran a piece recapping the investigation, along with a new interview with Reagor, who still believes Davis should have been prosecuted.

"Last night, KCBS in Los Angeles reported that professional prosecutors, career prosecutors, recommended that Gray Davis should have been prosecuted for felony embezzlement based upon statements of his own employees," Simon told reporters in Fairfield. "These prosecutors apparently found that Mr. Davis abused state employees and resources to support his campaign for controller."

When asked to explain why he was raising the old accusation, Simon, a former federal prosecutor, tried to distance himself from the charge.

"Other people are raising it," Simon said. "Not me."

But Simon's campaign was closely linked to the new report. For weeks, it has encouraged news organizations to report on the case.

On Wednesday, Simon campaign manager Rob Lapsley traveled with a Republican Party consultant to Washington state to discuss it with Reagor. The two brought with them a copy of a file about the case, Reagor told The Times. The GOP consultant, Rob Stutzman, said he was listening on a phone extension in the retired prosecutor's house in Nine Mile Falls, Wash., during the KCBS interview.

In response to questions, Simon acknowledged that his campaign manager traveled to Washington "to verify the assertions that had been made," but still cast the matter as coming to light through an independent endeavor by the media.

Simon also urged reporters to ask then-Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp why he did not press charges against Davis. In an interview, Van de Kamp said the investigation did not uncover enough evidence that Davis had "personally detailed people to do what they were doing."

Van de Kamp noted that the findings were published in a 17-page public report in 1988.

But Simon said the accusations were part of a pattern of ethical lapses by Davis, and he renewed his frequent charge that the governor has traded favors for campaign money.

It was not the first time that Simon has made charges of illegality against Davis. Last month, Simon was forced to apologize after erroneously accusing Davis of accepting a political donation in the lieutenant governor's office.

On Monday, Simon raised the case of a convicted racketeer, Mark L. Nathanson, who in an effort to lessen his sentence in 1993 accused Davis of improper fund-raising. Prosecutors found no evidence of wrongdoing and concluded Nathanson lacked credibility.

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