GEORGE SKELTON / CAPITOL JOURNAL

Memory of '94 Ad Follows Angelides

Former Senate leader David Roberti says, "I'm not sitting around with a 2-by-4 in hand waiting to hit Phil over the head."

But many pols wouldn't fault him if he did.

And, if anybody should ask, Roberti is supporting Controller Steve Westly over Treasurer Phil Angelides for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

"I've known Westly probably longer than most people have in politics," he says. "He was Northern California [party] chairman when I was [Senate] president pro tem. I think he's competent."

That's plenty enough to get Roberti's vote over Angelides.

These days, Roberti, 67, is an L.A. lawyer — practicing "whatever comes in the door" — and teaching a political science course at Loyola Marymount.

Twelve years ago, the Van Nuys senator was the victim of one of the sleaziest TV ads ever in California politics — certainly the sleaziest I've ever seen, sinking below negative into ugly. The perpetrator was an ambitious Sacramento land developer and former state Democratic Party chairman, Phil Angelides. Both men were seeking the party's nomination for treasurer.

Angelides, I'm certain, wouldn't run that ad today.

Five years ago, he told me: "As you get older, you mellow. You learn and you grow. I probably wouldn't do that ad again….

"Clearly, the ad offended a whole bunch of people I respected. In that sense, it was a mistake."

But Angelides did run the spot and it has haunted him ever since.

It wasn't just the ad's content — attempting to link Roberti in voters' minds with the murder of a Florida abortion doctor — but the timing.

Roberti, a respected legislator for 28 years and Senate leader for 13, had just survived a brutal recall attempt by gun nuts. They were angered by his sponsorship of California's first ban on assault weapons following a Stockton schoolyard massacre.

Roberti quickly became a Democratic hero, but Angelides didn't join in the adulation. He was running behind the senator in the treasurer race and lobbed a stink bomb.

Angelides' ad featured a smoking gun, Roberti's image, a funeral and violent scenes outside an abortion clinic while a woman narrated: "A doctor murdered. But L.A. Sen. David Roberti refuses to vote to protect clinics."

The flimsy link was that Roberti had abstained on a meaningless resolution asking Congress to pass a bill protecting abortion clinics. Roberti says the measure wasn't even available to read and he wanted to make sure parents were protected if they tried to dissuade a daughter from having an abortion.

Roberti, a Catholic, opposed abortion on religious grounds. But he never made it a cause and did little to roll back abortion rights. Nor would he have been in a position to do so as state treasurer.

"If you wanted to go after me on the 'choice' issue, there were a number of more civilized ways to do it," he notes. "To have to explain to people that I'm really not in league with a bunch of crazy assassins was disconcerting."

He characterizes the ad as "the three Ds: dishonest, divisive and defamatory."

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