In a private conversation inadvertently captured by voicemail, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown or one of his associates can be heard referring to his Republican opponent Meg Whitman as a "whore," saying she cut a deal protecting law enforcement pensions while the two candidates competed for police endorsements.
The comment came after Brown called the Los Angeles Police Protective League in early September to ask for its endorsement. He left a voicemail asking Scott Rate, a union official, to call him, then apparently believed he had hung up the phone. The voicemail captured the ensuing conversation between Brown and his aides.
With frustration, Brown discussed the pressure he was under from police unions to pledge not to reduce public safety pensions. Months earlier, Whitman agreed to exempt public safety workers from part of her pension reform plan: the bid to enroll new government workers in 401(k)-style plans instead of pensions.
"Do we want to put an ad out? … That I have been warned if I crack down on pensions, I will be — that they'll go to Whitman, and that's where they'll go because they know Whitman will give 'em, will cut them a deal, but I won't," Brown said.
At that point, a voice — either that of Brown or a second person — can be heard saying: "What about saying she's a whore?"
"Well, I'm going to use that," Brown says. "It proves you've cut a secret deal to protect the pensions."
The situation, in which Whitman was receiving a labor endorsement while supporting the union's position on pensions, is a reversal from the usual position the two candidates have been in. Unions have been a mainstay of Brown's campaign and have spent millions of dollars in a bid to help get him elected. Whitman has repeatedly charged that Brown would be unwilling to confront the rising costs of civil service pensions.
Two audio recordings of the conversation were released to The Times on Thursday by the police union. On the initial recording, the voice making the "whore" reference appears to be that of someone other than Brown. A union official later produced what he described as an enhanced version of the recording. In that recording, it is unclear whether the "whore" remark was made by another person or by Brown himself.
The union has endorsed Whitman and is spending $450,000 on her behalf.
Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford confirmed the tape's authenticity, but said Thursday evening that campaign officials had been unable to determine who had said what during the discussion. "I am confident it was not Jerry Brown," Clifford said, after reviewing the tape. "Whoever said it is speaking over the top of him in several places."
Steven Glazer, Brown's campaign manager, said the discussion was "a private conversation" but that "at times our language was salty. We apologize to Ms. Whitman and anyone who may have been offended."
Whitman spokeswoman Sarah Pompei said: "The use of the term 'whore' is an insult to both Meg Whitman and to the women of California. This is an appalling and unforgivable smear against Meg Whitman. At the very least Mr. Brown tacitly approved this despicable slur and he himself may have used the term at least once on this recording."
Related: Listen to the audio