ELECTIONS ’88 ORANGE COUNTY : Greenebaum Takes Shot at Packard Seat
Democrat Howard Greenebaum is waging a vigorous campaign in his uphill battle against Rep. Ron Packard (R-Carlsbad), replete with frequent news conferences, even more frequent press releases, detailed policy papers and dozens of public appearances throughout the sprawling district.
Typical of his style was a press conference Thursday morning on a sidewalk outside the Fred Newhart Elementary School in Mission Viejo.
He chose the site to push one of his favorite subjects, “uncontrolled growth” that affects schoolchildren.
“This particular school caught my attention,” he said, “because it is kindergarten through eighth grade. That’s called K-8, and means that the younger children are exposed to the behavioral difficulties of junior high teens, including drugs and sexual promiscuity.”
He also said many of the school’s children use portable classrooms, “with no water or toilets,” an indication of the “gross overcrowding” that he attributes to the “greed of the development industry and corruption in our government.”
But despite all his efforts in the 43rd Congressional District, which straddles the border between Orange and San Diego counties, most of Greenebaum’s supporters and fellow Democrats suspect that he got closer to Washington when he worked in Baltimore a few years ago than he is likely to get as a result of this campaign.
“Howard’s a great guy, but I think his chances are zero,” said Joe Stern, a leading San Diego senior-rights advocate.
“Let’s face it,” said one Democratic Party leader. “Howard could spend all year on the beach and the result would be the same.”
Packard, a former dentist who first won his seat in 1982, has been overwhelmingly reelected twice, most recently by a 3-1 margin in 1986.
Greenebaum, however, insists that he has a chance for a political upset of the first magnitude.
“I’m no fool--I know it’s an uphill struggle,” said Greenebaum, a 58-year-old retired Maryland businessman who moved here three years ago and now lives in Leucadia with his third wife. “I know registration and money are against me. But sometimes long shots win. And this might be one of those times.”
Greenebaum has come up with an optimistic winning scenario: The tens of thousands of new voters who have moved into the 43rd District since the 1980 census have created a district “where no one really knows the makeup anymore”; the district’s Republicans “aren’t old-line, strict party-line Vermont-type Republicans,” and the presidential race will boost the Democrats’ turnout more than it will help Republicans.
But political consultant David Lewis has a more pessimistic view. Most long shots, according to Lewis, “might say one thing in public, but know in their hearts” that they do not have a realistic chance. Realizing that they are their party’s “sacrificial lamb,” they run primarily as a favor to party leaders in order to build up political chits for a future race, Lewis said.
Greenebaum said, however, that he is neither a token nor a hopeless dreamer. “My father was a featherweight boxer who always had to fight guys bigger than him,” Greenebaum said. “That’s how I was brought up. I’ve always bucked the odds.”
Greenebaum, raised in Baltimore, worked in a family jewelry business and, he said, learned some important lessons traveling the world and negotiating sales of diamonds.
“When you go in, there’s no set price, so in that sense it’s even worse than buying a car. Often, there was a language barrier. The seller’s trying to size you up, and you’re trying to do the same with someone you’ve never met before.
“Coming through that gives you a lot of confidence about your ability to handle other things. . . . Plus, we were always competing against the big jewelry store chains. That’s not much different from this campaign.”
Financially comfortable and retired at age 52, Greenebaum began searching for other outlets for his energies and, in 1982, ran for Congress in Maryland, finishing second in a four-candidate Democratic primary.
Two years later, Greenebaum ran again, this time winning the Democratic primary to earn the dubious right to oppose the six-term Republican incumbent, Marjorie Holt. The final tally: Holt 66%, Greenebaum 34%.
What would have been an otherwise forgettable landslide loss, however, lives on in Maryland political lore because of a Greenebaum stunt. Dissatisfied with the Annapolis Capital’s coverage, Greenebaum--in what he describes as “a joke with a point"--plunked a cup of donkey dung on the publisher’s desk, saying: “I have no comment about your newspaper, but my donkey does.” The incident prompted the Washington Post, in a tongue-in-cheek story, to award Greenebaum the Richard Nixon Media Relations prize.
Figuring he had no political future in Maryland--but not expressly looking for one elsewhere--Greenebaum moved here in 1985, primarily to be able to indulge his interest in horse riding year-round, he says. He quickly established himself as a community activist, involving himself in a wide range of issues from seniors’ rights to environmental causes, earning plaudits along the way for his commitment and diligence.
Throughout this year’s campaign, Greenebaum has tried to put Packard on the defensive by faulting dozens of the congressman’s votes and raising questions about some of his personal financial transactions--matters that Packard dismisses as “old, recycled things that have come up in past campaigns.” To dramatize Packard’s receipt of nearly $300,000 in political action committee contributions over the past five years, Greenebaum recently draped a 46-foot-long computer printout listing those donations from the Oceanside Municipal Pier.
Greenebaum also has complained that his campaign has been undermined by inadequate attention from the press.
“A candidate needs the press to get out his message, and if that doesn’t happen, I’d say it’s as much the press’s failure as it is the candidate’s,” Greenebaum said.
“I don’t think Packard is a good representative and think I’d be a better one--it’s that simple. Whether I win or not, I have ideas that can have an impact and benefit after this campaign is over. If the cause is a good one, the fight’s worth making.”
Times staff writer Gordon Grant contributed to this article.