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Davis Denounces Credibility of Accuser

Governor says fund-raising allegations were the felon's bid to reduce his prison time.

October 30, 2002|Michael Finnegan and Mark Z. Barabak | Times Staff Writers

OAKLAND — Gov. Gray Davis on Tuesday tersely brushed aside a convicted racketeer's accusations of improper campaign fund-raising against him, saying the source was "desperate" to get out of prison when he made the statements.

Davis' remarks came a day after his Republican rival, Bill Simon Jr., said the governor "owes more to the people of California than just dismissive denials" of the allegations by convicted felon Mark L. Nathanson.

On Monday, a federal judge unsealed court records showing that Nathanson tried in 1993 and 1994 to implicate Davis in improper fund-raising. At the time, prosecutors concluded that Nathanson had no credibility and they found no evidence of a crime.

At a campaign stop with black ministers here Tuesday, Davis explained why his campaign threatened last week to sue TV stations if they were to run a potential Simon ad on Nathanson.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Davis said, found "that no decent newspaper would report these allegations without also faithfully reporting the doubts the U.S. attorney and the courts had about these allegations, because these were the desperate words of a convicted felon and an admitted perjurer trying to reduce his sentence."

"The FBI did not believe him," Davis went on. "The U.S. attorney called him a liar. And the federal district court called the charges libelous. Now we have a right to tell the stations this is the kind of credibility that law enforcement and the courts attach to the words of this convicted felon."

The release of the Nathanson records came eight days before the Nov. 5 election. Nathanson was a state Coastal Commission member who went to prison in 1993 for extorting payments from property owners seeking permits to build on the oceanfront.

On Monday, Simon made Nathanson's allegations the main focus of his day, demanding at a Malibu news conference that Davis respond to questions raised by the convicted racketeer, who told prosecutors that Davis had asked him for the names of people he had helped in coastal business so that Davis could solicit campaign donations from them. Davis was then state controller.

But on Tuesday, Simon did not mention the accusations in remarks at campaign stops in San Diego and Oakland. Instead, he waited until reporters asked him about Nathanson, then briefly reiterated his comments from the day before.

"I said that Mr. Davis owed the people of California some answers; I still feel the same way," Simon said after a speech in San Diego.

Despite Simon's apparent reticence to aggressively press the matter, his campaign rushed into production a new television ad on Nathanson's accusations. Simon declined to say whether he would air it.

But Simon began broadcasting an ad that blames Davis for bad schools, rising electricity rates and other troubles.

"Under Gray Davis, traffic is hopeless," Simon says in the ad. "So if you've had enough, if you want real change, I'm asking for your vote. I'm Bill Simon."

Davis has been airing a commercial that used the words of the state's newspapers to undercut Simon's credibility. The criticisms were leveled at Simon after he alleged Oct. 8 that Davis had accepted illegal contributions -- only to be forced to recant the accusation when it turned out to be false.

Davis also put out a new TV spot Tuesday pledging improvements in education, transportation and health care.

At his San Diego campaign appearance, Simon criticized the governor for previous ads that cast the GOP candidate as a corporate scoundrel. In a speech to about 100 women in a hotel ballroom, Simon accused Davis of "lying about me and trying to distort my record."

"It's going to be a close election in part because Gray Davis has completely tarnished me in all his ads," Simon said.

Simon called the hotel rally his "final women's event" of the campaign. A key goal for Simon has been to win back women voters, who have deserted Republican candidates in recent California elections.

Simon's main tactic for appealing to women has been to promise better schools. On Tuesday, he broadened that effort by saying that Davis' mishandling of state finances had harmed small businesses owned by women.

"When he says that he's right in the mainstream, and he reaches out to women, how can he reach out to women when you're killing the golden goose, when you're strangling the very thing that will mean opportunity for women in this state?" Simon said.

Davis has argued that Simon's opposition to abortion rights -- among other things -- puts him out of step with mainstream California voters.

"Mr. Davis certainly has been into symbols, scare tactics, those kinds of things," Simon said after his speech. "I've been trying to focus on real ideas and real solutions to real problems that face all Californians."

For his part, Davis avoided any mention of Simon's name during his brief campaign stop Tuesday at Allen Temple Baptist Church in the predominantly black flatlands of East Oakland.

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