Archbishop Roger M. Mahony, the spiritual leader of 3 million Los Angeles-area Roman Catholics, has demanded that Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Mike Antonovich apologize to the region's Mexican-American population for recording a "distasteful" television campaign ad at the Mexican border this week.
In a letter published in Sunday editions of the Los Angeles Times, Mahony called on Antonovich to not begin airing the new television spot. He also expressed outrage that an Antonovich campaign official, gazing down a canyon at several hundred illegal aliens after the taping, remarked, "Who has the Smith & Wesson?"
Antonovich, a conservative Los Angeles County supervisor who is locked in a five-way race with major candidates for the Republican nomination in the June 3 primary, said Friday that the television ad was produced with the best of intentions and will be aired as scheduled.
Won't Pull the Ad
"While I respect the Bishop as a religious leader, I cannot accept his ignoring the problem of our open borders," Antonovich said after a fund-raising event in Orange County. "It is going to be aired because the issue of the open borders is serious in California."
The criticism by Mahony could hurt Antonovich in the ethnic communities, many of them heavily Catholic, where he has focused more effort than the other Republicans in the race. And it comes at a bad time. He collected just 8% in a recent California Poll, trailing fellow Republicans Bruce Herschensohn, Ed Zschau and Ed Davis.
Antonovich and Mahony have long-held but differing views of the illegal immigrant problem. Antonovich supports strengthening the Border Patrol, with military troops if necessary, and favors a guest worker program to ensure farmers a steady supply of labor. He also backs sanctions against employers who hire illegals.
Mahony, who was installed as Archbishop of the Los Angeles Archdiocese last September, was active in organizing Central Valley farm workers, abhors employer sanctions and told The Times last year that a guest worker program is "simply unacceptable." His belief is that most immigrants enter the United States in search of jobs and refuge from political persecution.
$35 Billion Disputed
In the ad, taped on a bluff just across the border from Tijuana, Antonovich says that illegal immigrants cost American taxpayers $35 billion a year (a disputed figure) and act as a major conduit of drugs into the country. He also says that the border crossing near San Diego poses easy access for the "new threat" of terrorism.
Citing news reports, Mahony said the Antonovich television spot "served to heighten the 'them' against 'us' rhetoric that is so damaging. . . . It is this 'message' which I find particularly distasteful, and an affront to our Hispanic brothers and sisters within our community."
Mahony said the Smith & Wesson remark by Antonovich press aide Allen Brandstater unmasked the divisive intent of the ad.
Brandstater said Friday it was a "jocular" comment aimed at drug dealers and terrorists. "It was not addressed to our Hispanic brothers and sisters," he said, quoting Mahony's language.
Antonovich said Friday he regretted Brandstater's comment. "It was a stupid, facetious remark that ought not to have been made by anyone. He has been severely reprimanded. It shows a lack of character on his part."
The television spot has not yet aired, but its production was covered by three newspapers and two Los Angeles television stations on invitation of the Antonovich campaign.