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Pair Criticize Negative Campaign Mailers

November 26, 2002|Matea Gold and Tina Daunt | Times Staff Writers

Two prominent Eastside officials Monday jointly condemned recent attack mailers sent to voters in the 14th Council District, and vowed to pull their endorsements of the candidates running to represent the area if they participate in negative politics.

In a morning news conference in Hollenbeck Park, County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who is supporting former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa for the seat, and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), who is backing incumbent Councilman Nick Pacheco, both expressed strong disapproval of mailers sent by a Pacheco friend lambasting Villaraigosa for having white advisors and children out of wedlock.

"Personal attacks have no place in campaigns," Becerra said. "Indeed, they are corrosive, divisive and distract from a real dialogue about the issues."

Added Molina: "Neither one of us wants to be part of a campaign that is going to bring shame to this council district."

Pacheco has denied involvement in the attack mailers, and said he asked his longtime friend Ricardo A. Torres II to halt the mailings. Two weeks ago, after pressure from other officials such as Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, Torres relented. But he hinted that he may renew his attacks at some point.

This weekend, Villaraigosa sent his own four-page mailer to 14th District voters blaming Pacheco's "operatives" for the "repulsive" attack campaign. The councilman "has no right to divide our community by race for any reason," Villaraigosa wrote.

On Monday, Molina and Becerra both called Villaraigosa's response inappropriate, and said they hoped it would be the last volley hurled in what has already become an exceedingly nasty fight.

"I hope with this, this is the end of this kind of back-and-forth," the supervisor said. "This is exactly what we don't want to see going on in this campaign."

Villaraigosa defended his mailer, saying that it simply showcased newspaper articles and editorials about Torres' attacks. His campaign manager Steve Barkan said the mailers were distributed to households that they believe received the Torres fliers.

"We thought it was important to set the record straight and also show Pacheco that we will defend ourselves," Barkan said.

The former Assembly leader said he plans to live up to the standards set by Becerra and Molina.

"I have always run a clean, positive campaign, and I will continue to do so," Villaraigosa said.

But Pacheco called Villaraigosa's mailer a "personal attack" laced with "innuendo."

"I think ultimately each campaign is going to be held responsible for the quality and tenor the campaign takes," the councilman said, adding that he also plans to run a positive campaign.

Molina and Becerra's united front comes a year and a half after they were embroiled in their own campaign controversy. In 2001, Becerra's mayoral campaign launched an anonymous attack phone call in which a woman impersonated Molina and accused then-mayoral candidate Villaraigosa of being soft on child molesters and rapists. The congressman denied any knowledge of the call, but the incident soured his relationship with the longtime county supervisor.

On Monday, however, both officials were congenial as they agreed to hold their respective candidates accountable until the March election.

"If in fact we can't get our candidates to honor this request to speak directly to the issues, then I think my endorsement would be in jeopardy," Molina said.

The congressman agreed.

"Our names are behind them, and we wish to see that our names don't get sullied, along with anyone else," he said.

But it remains unclear whether attacks made by others on behalf of either candidate would prompt the officials to yank their backing. In the case of the Torres mailers, for example, Becerra said he is convinced Pacheco was not involved. Other groups such as labor and Indian gambling interests are expected to get involved in the closely watched council race.

"I think we're going to have a tough time trying to figure out if they violate it, as to how we'll hold them accountable," Molina acknowledged.

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