Debaters Play Hardball : Ward and Antonovich Hurl Charges, Sarcasm
Seeking to blunt the antipathy of slow-growth voters, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich attempted to portray himself Friday as more concerned about sprawling development, traffic congestion and even the fate of oak trees than his challenger, Baxter Ward.
Ward, in turn, ridiculed Antonovich as a “born-again environmentalist” whose acceptance of large campaign contributions from builders and support for their proposals made him “a tool of developers.” He vowed that if elected he would review all pending construction projects, and he took unequivocal slow-growth positions on two controversial projects.
Political hardball, personal attacks and sarcasm marked the second and third debates of the bitter rivals at a Calabasas Chamber of Commerce breakfast and a later taping of a KCBS-TV show, “Newsmakers,” to be broadcast at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.
Sparks flew at both appearances. A combative Antonovich accused Ward of using “Gestapo tactics” and undermining law enforcement agencies while investigating county programs as a supervisor in the mid-1970s. Ward repeatedly questioned Antonovich’s truthfulness, alleging at one point that his opponent’s “factual instability has become chronic.”
The November contest is critical because Antonovich is part of a conservative 3-2 majority on the board, which slow-growth forces charge is pro-development. He was forced into a runoff when, in the June primary, he failed to defeat an organized attack by slow-growth activists who encouraged nine challengers to oppose him.
Ward, a longtime television newscaster who lost to Antonovich in a bitterly fought 1980 contest, placed second in the primary. He has been endorsed by the other eight primary candidates.
The prize is the sprawling 5th Supervisors District, which contains much of the county’s remaining open space. It stretches from Westlake Village on the west across the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys past Pasadena and to the desert communities of the Antelope Valley.
Taking the Offensive
Antonovich, on the defensive about the explosive growth issue for months, went on the offensive Friday.
He said that in 1973, Ward cleared the way for developers to amend the county master plan “at your expense. . . . I made developers pay for those.” In the West San Fernando Valley, Antonovich said, “I reduced the density by 6,000 homes in 1983, over the plan that Mr. Ward had approved as a supervisor in 1980 and the urban sprawl plan he approved in 1973.”
But when queried about pending projects, only Ward took strong limited-growth positions.
He said, for instance, that he supports the county master plan, which calls for construction of 138 homes on a Calabasas tract where the Baldwin Co. proposes to build 1,507 homes. Homeowners groups oppose the proposal; they say they would agree to 350 units.
Antonovich refused to commit himself to a specific number of units. Rather, he said the county has told the developer to work with Calabasas residents to reach agreement.
“We’re not going to approve a development here that is going to endanger the quality of life,” he said.
The opponents also differed on a proposal to build 1,550 homes in a private, gated community that would include a professional-quality golf course in the Cheeseboro Canyon area in eastern Ventura County. The land is owned by entertainer Bob Hope.
At the Calabasas Inn, before a packed crowd of executives, activists and residents, Antonovich and Ward were asked whether they would support the approval of a road in Los Angeles County to connect the proposed development to the Ventura Freeway.
“We need adequate roads,” Antonovich responded, emphasizing that the Los Angeles supervisors would work with the community to reach an environmentally sound decision if Ventura County proceeds with the project. There was some hissing in the audience.
“I would deny the application,” Ward said, flatly. Then, he said of Hope, “He is entertaining at Mr. Antonovich’s fund-raiser on Oct. 13, I think with a purpose in mind.”
The two rivals also differed on what kind of mass transit they support. Antonovich said he favors a monorail, while Ward said he supports a heavy rail system.
Antonovich maintained that a monorail would be less expensive, quieter and more environmentally sound. Ward said only a heavy rail system such as the one used by the Bay Area Rapid Transit District in San Francisco would supply the necessary capacity and speeds.
“If you’re spending that much money,” he said, “do it right.”
Antonovich also said he supports government and business efforts to increase car-pooling, staggered work hours and synchronized traffic signals to reduce congestion.
Antonovich criticized Ward’s support for giving free hypodermic needles to drug addicts to slow the spread of AIDS, hammering it as based on an “illusion that by giving needles to dope addicts they’re going to be healthier and more productive.”
“It sends the wrong message to our young people,” he said. “You’re encouraging dope users to remain users. Giving needles to drug addicts is reckless and crazy and dangerous.”
Ward responded: “I believe that people should not transmit AIDS if it’s at all possible for us to prevent that. And I’m fully aware that drug addicts do involve themselves with sex from time to time. . . . Because of that possibility, it is quite likely that at some subsequent point, an innocent party will become the victim of AIDS, either a sexual partner or a child to be born. . . . The epidemic is serious. You don’t want blood on your hands.”
Ward lampooned an Antonovich fund-raising letter that caused a flap this week. Signed by the incumbent’s father, Michael Antonovich Sr., it dubbed Ward “a nitwit” and asserted that “the weirdos are out to get Mike--the Hollywood radical types, the local liberal activists, the extreme environmentalists, and the gay and lesbian activists as well.”
Antonovich maintained he had never seen the final draft of the letter. He announced Thursday he had fired the Washington-based consultant who Antonovich said had written it and sent it to 8,000 prospective contributors without his approval.
“Mike, your father called,” Ward said, turning to his stone-faced opponent at the beginning of the Calabasas debate.
“He wanted to be here. But he couldn’t make it because he was stuck in traffic.”
Later, Ward said he was taking the extraordinary step of making a contribution to Antonovich’s campaign because Antonovich’s positions on growth, traffic and recent actions constituted an “in-kind” contribution to Ward’s campaign exceeding his self-imposed limit of $250. Ward said he was sending Antonovich $25.
“I’m very glad to have Mr. Ward’s support and contribution, and that will in turn provide greater representation in the 5th District,” Antonovich responded. His aides had called Ward’s action a publicity stunt.