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THE STATE | SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA FIRES

Davis, Schwarzenegger Appear Together, Pledge Aid

The governor and governor-elect, speaking at a center for fire victims in Claremont, also promise a smooth transition.

November 01, 2003|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

Gov. Gray Davis and Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger moved side by side through a center for fire victims in Claremont on Friday, vowing to work as a close-knit team to help Southern Californians put their lives back together.

It was almost as if the rancor of the recall race had never happened.

"Our goal is to work hand in glove to have a seamless transition so he can pick up without missing a beat when he becomes governor in two weeks," Davis said. Schwarzenegger stood beside him in the Alexander Hughes Community Center, one of six locations where one-stop centers will be opened in Southern California in the next few days to offer victims information about state, federal and local aid.

Wearing matching fire-scene-appropriate khaki pants, the governor, in a blue blazer, and governor-elect, in a leather jacket, heaped admiration upon each other and the firefighters, and avoided any mention of the ugly campaign that led to Davis' ouster from office. At one point, the notoriously ascetic Davis even reached into a bowl of Halloween candy and offered the notoriously health-conscious Schwarzenegger a Snickers bar. It was accepted.

The afternoon meeting, at which members of the media seemed to vastly outnumber fire victims, began with a twist for the often-tardy Davis. He turned up early and was forced to wait for Schwarzenegger, who arrived about 30 minutes later in an SUV to the roar of an assembled crowd.

"It's not every day you get to see your governor in your own home town, especially this one," said Michelle Mosley, a Schwarzenegger voter who lives near the Hughes center and came down for a glimpse of the two former rivals.

Sprinkled among the media and the curious were some burned-out homeowners, who tried mightily to squeeze through the jockeying crowd of photographers to plead for aid.

"There's so much commotion ... how do you ask" for help? said Diane Bertsch, who with her daughter fled the Big Bear area Tuesday and said her daughter is "running out of money for food."

The two approached the front desk only to be overwhelmed by a press of media.

Jim Antonich, who lost his home in the Palmer Canyon area near Claremont, even tried addressing Schwarzenegger in German to impress upon him the need for state aid in rebuilding the burned-out area.

After a brief tour of the center and a closed-door briefing, Schwarzenegger and Davis appeared together to talk of their joint efforts in bringing federal aid to fire-ravaged areas and other steps to help recovery.

Davis said that more than 5,400 people have already applied for disaster assistance, and that he and Schwarzenegger had "met some folks who have lost everything.... The least we can do is put a check in their hands and help put them back on their feet."

He also asked Californians to say a prayer for the firefighters, and urged them to contribute to a fund for Scott Rucker, the firefighter who died fighting the blaze near Julian.

"This is a wonderful state," Davis said. "It has a great heart. I'm very proud to have been a part of governing this state. And it is my honor now to introduce your next governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger."

Schwarzenegger stepped to the microphone and immediately began praising Davis, relating that he and the governor have been speaking daily and that Davis gave him great tips on how to approach federal officials when he went to Washington, D.C. earlier in the week.

"I would like to congratulate you, Gov. Davis, for the wonderful job you've done ... on these disasters. Thank you very much," Schwarzenegger said.

Davis looked briefly stricken, but the next moment, he interrupted the proceedings to thank Schwarzenegger once again and make a light remark about the movie star's popularity.

Davis told how Schwarzenegger had said to him earlier that day, " 'I normally don't get these big crowds except when you're around.' "

Davis said he responded: "Somehow, I think you do pretty well, pretty well without me, Arnold."

Davis said they would work together in the next two weeks to do everything they could to help victims put their lives back together, minimize the risk of future fires and began planning for any flooding or erosion that might result from the hundreds of thousands of acres of burned-out hillsides.

In response to questions, Schwarzenegger said it was the "wrong time" to reconsider his pledge to reduce the car tax, which funds local governments, including fire departments. But he also turned to fire officials and told them, "You will always have enough money."

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