Throughout his career, Poochigian got rock-bottom scores from environmental groups but was tops with the California Chamber of Commerce and the state Farm Bureau. Answering attacks from Brown over his opposition to the stem cell ballot measure, Poochigian says it was on fiscal grounds.
Helping crime victims and upholding the death penalty are his top priorities.
A recent morning found Poochigian on the steps of the Capitol, surrounded by leaders of the victims rights movement. Harriet Salarno, president of Crime Victims United, applauded Poochigian's "unwavering record of support" and railed against Brown, who as governor signed a bill expanding the rights of prisoners but opposed a bill of rights for crime victims.
"Victims of crime have been a primary inspiration driving my candidacy," Poochigian said. "My opponent has consistently fallen on the wrong side of the fence."
Brown was born into California political royalty. Pat Brown, his father, was attorney general and governor during the 1950s and '60s, and his sister, Kathleen, served as state treasurer and ran for governor.
After a stint in seminary school, Brown attended Yale Law School. He won statewide office at 32, becoming secretary of state. He was governor at 36 and launched the first of three presidential runs before he was 40.
As governor, Brown jousted with the medfly, put death penalty antagonist Rose Bird on the state Supreme Court and saw his veto of a capital punishment bill overridden by the Legislature. But he presided at a time when criminal recidivism was a fraction of its current level.
His quirky style attracted as much attention as his policies. Brown renounced the governor's mansion for a floor mattress in a rented apartment, dated singer Linda Ronstadt and acquired the nickname Gov. Moonbeam.
After a last failed presidential bid in 1992, Brown had his own Bay Area talk radio program. Executions by lethal injection, he proclaimed to his listeners, put the state at risk of seeming akin to Hitler's Germany. He called corporate America "an out-of-control Frankenstein."
During two terms at Oakland City Hall, Brown again has proved his consistent inconsistency. He embraced capitalism and served as head cheerleader for an urban housing boom in downtown Oakland. He pushed for more cops and lobbied for curfews on parolees and probationers. Felonies in the city of 412,000 fell from an annual average of about 40,000 in previous decades to about 28,000 on Brown's watch.
Poochigian supporters say that's spin. After an initial dip, crime has jumped during Brown's second term, peaking this year. So far in 2006, Oakland has been hit by 124 homicides, more than double the mayor's first year in office.
Foes in Oakland say Brown's redevelopment agenda priced poor people out of housing. Meanwhile, the city's deficit-stricken school district succumbed to a state takeover despite Brown's intervention. And his relationship with some black leaders was icy from the start.
He was embraced by the real estate sector, which gave him roughly 20% of the more than $6 million he has raised for the attorney general race. Topping Brown's donor list are developers who won city approval for big construction projects, sometimes weeks after giving to his campaign.
Brown insists he feels no obligation to his donors. As for the poor, Brown said, 2,400 affordable housing units were built or planned on his watch, a 30% increase over the 1990s. The rise in crime this year, he notes, mirrors a trend in neighboring Richmond and even San Francisco, across the bay.
The proof of his potency as a crime fighter, Brown said, is that "police in my city endorse me, and police in his city don't endorse him. In fact, they endorse me."
But to Poochigian and his supporters, Brown is a "fictional crime fighter" and a flip-flopper.
"At the core, Jerry Brown has no fixed principles," charged Ken Khachigian, Poochigian's campaign strategist.
In the 1992 presidential race, Brown was criticized for having served as a $20,000-a-year board director for the firm of Milan Panic, a wealthy biomedical executive and longtime contributor. Panic's firm had agreed to pay a $400,000 government penalty for falsely promoting an AIDS drug. Brown also acknowledged that he telephoned Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) in a bid to help resolve Panic's dispute with the government over the drug.
Brown downplays the episode and calls Panic "an outstanding individual and friend of mine."
Poochigian's campaign team also cites Brown's three-decade relationship with Jacques Barzaghi, a former French soldier and the Democrat's political factotum since statehouse days.
After a female co-worker accused Barzaghi of sexual harassment, the Oakland city manager suspended him for three weeks without pay. Brown questioned the credibility of Barzaghi's accuser, a mother of three.
It was three more years before Brown fired his trusted advisor after Barzaghi's 30-year-old wife told police he had tried to push her down the stairs during a domestic dispute.
"I handled that fine," Brown said. "Would I do anything different? Nothing that comes to mind."
Times staff writer Duke Helfand contributed to this report.
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