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Air Traffic Glitch Keeps Jones From Landing Gov.

September 16, 2004|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

Can't a guy catch a break?

A systems failure that suspended Southern California air travel for 3 1/2 hours Tuesday night also caused Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to miss a heavily anticipated -- and high-ticket -- Beverly Hills fundraiser for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Jones.

Tuesday's dinner was the only general election fundraiser Schwarzenegger had scheduled with Jones, who has struggled to use the governor's popularity as a springboard for his campaign to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Schwarzenegger's staff refused to let media attend the reception and dinner for about 550 people at the Beverly Hilton's Grand Ballroom, squelching any hopes of free local television coverage.

Then the air traffic control outage forced Schwarzenegger to call in to the gathering -- not what a donor expects after ponying up as much as $2,000 for a few words and a snapshot with the former actor.

The Jones campaign, which has been trailing Boxer by a wide margin in most recent polls, sought to take the snafu in stride.

"We're very content," senior strategist Sean Walsh said Wednesday. "Arnold called in. He was highly complimentary of Bill's campaign. He stressed that he needs Bill Jones in the Senate as a partner to help get California its fair share. He was fully supportive of Bill's campaign and will work to get him elected."

Walsh said the two staffs had a "brief discussion" Tuesday night about whether the glitch might lead to a rescheduled Schwarzenegger appearance on Jones' behalf before the Nov. 2 election.

"We haven't had a follow-up yet," Walsh said. "We're very cognizant of the fact that he has nearly 1,000 bills to deal with between now and mid-October."

Jones himself barely made it to the fundraiser. An aide said Jones was aboard a private plane headed from Fresno to Santa Monica Airport when the control system went dead about 4:40 p.m.

With clear skies and good visibility, the pilot was able to land. But hundreds of commercial flights weren't so lucky -- some were grounded as far east as Wichita, Kan.

Boxer's campaign struck a tone of commiseration over Jones' misfortune. Boxer has missed events herself when Senate votes or travel woes interceded.

"That's a fundraiser's nightmare," said campaign manager Rose Kapolczynski.

But Kapolczynski also couldn't resist a dig. Boxer announced Wednesday that her campaign has reserved a block of 150 seats for rock guitarist Carlos Santana's Oct. 2 Greek Theatre concert, followed by an after-concert party with Santana for donations beginning at $250. The proceeds will be split between Boxer's campaign and the state Democratic committee.

"We're fairly certain Santana will show up," Kapolczynski joked, "unlike Arnold."

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