Monday's gubernatorial debate may have been civil, but outside the Los Angeles Times building more than 100 protesters participated in a raucous contest of their own as Green Party candidate Peter Camejo unsuccessfully tried to attend the event.
Camejo, who was not invited to participate in the debate sponsored by The Times, attempted to enter the downtown Los Angeles building as a guest of GOP candidate Bill Simon Jr., only to be turned away.
"It is bad enough that I'm excluded, but to say that I can't even be present to listen to the debate is really wrong," Camejo said before the debate, as demonstrators of various persuasions tried to drown each other out with competing chants.
A few dozen Green Party supporters, some carrying photos of Camejo with black tape across his mouth, argued with a crowd of union members, who waved Gov. Gray Davis signs and shouted, "Four more years!" Advocates for the poor yelled, "What about the rest of us?" Meanwhile, a cast of political characters paraded up and down 1st Street: a Superman waving a Simon sign, a woman wearing a question mark costume, a man in a Davis mask dressed as a prostitute and two protesters in Simon masks and jail stripes.
The chaotic scene did not distract Camejo from his goal. About 45 minutes before the debate, he made his way to the door of The Times building, surrounded by a crush of television cameras and reporters.
After holding up his invitation from the Simon campaign, Camejo was allowed inside by a security guard. At the check-in table in the lobby, however, the newspaper's public affairs staff said he could not attend the event.
"But the L.A. Times said to Bill Simon that he could invite people, right?" Camejo said. "And I'm on his list."
"But you're not on the L.A. Times' invitation list," said Debbie Ream, a public affairs representative.
"So you're saying I can't come in?" the candidate asked. "OK, thank you." He turned around and exited the building.
Martha Goldstein, a spokeswoman for The Times, said later that Camejo was not invited to participate because he did not have at least 15% of support in the polls, a criteria used in presidential elections. "Whether or not you're put on the list as a guest, he was still a candidate, and we didn't feel he met the threshold of our requirement to be here," Goldstein said.
After being turned away, Camejo jumped up onto a planter outside the building and told supporters that he was being excluded because Davis is frightened that the Green Party candidate will siphon votes away from him. Davis had threatened to boycott the debate if Camejo was present.
"I believe the reason for this extreme overreaction on Davis' part is because of the rebellion that is going on in the Latino community," said Camejo, arguing that Latino voters are angry that Davis vetoed a bill that would allow some illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses. As he spoke, Davis supporters clambered up on the planter to block Camejo signs with their own.
Goldstein said that the decision to exclude Camejo had nothing to do with Davis. Davis spokesman Roger Salazar said that having Camejo at the debate, the only one scheduled before election day, would have been a distraction.
"We are not interested in creating sideshows," Salazar said. "We are interested in a serious debate on the issues."
But outside, Simon supporters picked up on Camejo's theme. A man in a chicken costume waddled around the crowd squawking, "Davis chicken to debate Camejo!" A woman carrying a Green Party sign stared at him quizzically, then nodded. "That's right!" she declared.
As Camejo conducted media interviews, decrying his exclusion, the debate continued on the sidewalk.
"What do we want?" chanted union members. "Davis! When do we want him? Now!"
Green Party protester Patrick Meighan stood in the middle of them, yelling back.
"We want a politician who's going to defend Californians, not corporations," shouted Meighan, a 30-year-old writer from Los Angeles.
He waved a $20 bill in the air, adding his own words to the union chant.
"What do we want?" he shouted. "Money! What do we want? Donations! What do we want? Cash!"
"You don't know what you're talking about, pal!" construction worker Ralph Velador yelled back. "What has Simon said he's going to do for us as working people?"
"I don't care about Simon!" the Green Party supporter said.
"That's the problem, you don't care," the union member shot back.
After the debate, Camejo said that the public had been deprived of hearing about the issues that he would have raised, such as affordable housing, a living wage and the decriminalization of marijuana.
"I thought the debate would have been substantially better with me in it, because obviously on so many of these issues the Green Party position is very different from the Democrats or Republicans," said the candidate, who watched the debate in the lobby of a nearby downtown hotel.
Although he was not allowed to participate, Camejo proclaimed himself the winner of the debate.
"You can sometimes win even when you're excluded," he said. "I think people know that I was silenced and I think they realize that another point of view on many of these issues could have really helped to create debate."