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The State

Camejo, Huffington Form Unorthodox Alliance

August 13, 2003|Lee Romney | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Green Party gubernatorial candidate Peter Camejo announced Tuesday that he and nonpartisan Arianna Huffington will jointly campaign for issues in the coming months, then decide together near the end of the race which candidate is better prepared to sprint to the finish line.

Camejo made the announcement of the unorthodox partnership -- which Huffington's campaign confirmed is in the planning stages -- as consumer advocate Ralph Nader sat by Camejo's side to endorse him in the race.

Nader -- widely criticized by Democrats as a spoiler for drawing liberal votes away from former Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election -- lauded Camejo's analysis of the state's budget mess, saying it was one that "voters will not hear from any other candidate, except for Arianna Huffington."

Then, in keeping with the burlesque and unpredictable atmosphere of the state's first gubernatorial recall, Nader was slammed in the face with a pie as the news conference wound to a close.

While Camejo had urged a civil campaign against his foes, the finger-pointing wasn't far behind.

As Nader, 67, was ushered into a back room at the Green Party's headquarters to clean the pie filling from his face, Camejo responded angrily to reporters' questions about the incident.

"I'm quite sure this attack came from a Democrat," said Camejo, who garnered 5% of the statewide vote in the gubernatorial election last fall, but polled in the double digits in nine Democratic Northern California counties. "What that person just did physically is what the Democrats have been doing to Nader ideologically.... I think it's sick."

The perpetrator, who had blended in with the crowd of media representatives before pulling the pie from a bag, escaped in the city's South of Market district. Ross Mirkarimi, spokesman for the state Green Party, was more measured than Camejo, saying: "We don't know who did this. Nobody was hurt."

But the gloves had already come off.

"Another absolute lie by Camejo," California Democratic Party campaign advisor Bob Mulholland said of Camejo's accusation. "I would predict it was one of the other Green Party candidates on the ballot

San Francisco is famous for its renegade band of pie-throwers. A group known as the Biotic Baking Brigade has pied Mayor Willie Brown, Chevron Chief Executive Ken Derr and others. But a reporter's e-mail to a contact described on the group's Web site as "Agent Apple" went unreturned Tuesday.

At the news conference, Camejo discussed his "fair tax" proposal, which would tax the wealthy at higher rates to relieve pressure on lower-income working families that, he says, carry an unfair burden. He assailed Arnold Schwarzenegger for supporting the anti-illegal-immigration Proposition 187, calling him "dead meat" in the eyes of Latino voters statewide.

Most notably, he discussed his willingness to embrace Huffington's campaign in an effort to get shared ideas before voters. For example, both candidates support instant runoff voting, a system that would give minor party candidates a boost by allowing voters to rank their three top choices.

What the partnership "means is that we work hard to get our message out and near the end, if the Green Party agrees to make a shift and support Arianna, we'll do that" and vice versa, Camejo said.

Huffington's campaign was less firm. Camejo and Huffington are meeting in San Francisco today to discuss the partnership, but whether Huffington would be willing to jump out of the race to throw her support to Camejo is an issue that has not yet been broached, said press secretary Parker Blackman.

"It's in the early stages of the partnership," he said. "Given the wild nature of this whole thing, who knows who's going to stay in or get out?"

Huffington's Web site touts the union this way: "These two prominent progressives have forged a unique and powerful partnership. They have agreed to work together toward a common goal -- making sure that a progressive sits in the governor's office after October 7."

And Van Jones, Huffington's Northern California political director, said joint appearances, joint announcements and linked Web sites are in the works.

"The Democrats are fighting among themselves, the Republicans are fighting among themselves," Jones said. "Meanwhile, the independents and progressives are working together. Peter and Arianna realize there will be one winner or loser on Oct. 7 -- the people of California. Rather than running against each other, they're going to be running with each other."

With roughly 150 candidates likely to be in the mix, concerns over splitting the vote have become almost meaningless.

Nader balked at the suggestion that his campaign spoiled the 2000 presidential race for Gore, claiming that Florida fraud and Gore's own "lackluster campaign" were responsible for his defeat. In this race, Nader said, with myriad candidates on the ballot and no runoff, the issue is moot.

"This is a different mix here," he said. "The vote is split a much larger number of ways. The winner could win with 12% of the vote."

California's Green Party has not yet formally endorsed Camejo.

Party affiliates will decide the issue in a teleconference Thursday, said Mirkarimi, although he said Camejo is "the most high profile" Green candidate running and is expected to win the endorsement.

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