Democratic Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy took his continuing assault on Republican Sen. Pete Wilson’s environmental record to Wilson’s hometown Tuesday, where he blamed the former mayor for a coastal pollution crisis that has burdened the city with chronic sewage spills and a $1.5-billion cleanup bill.
“San Diego is the victim of a hit-and-run driver named Pete Wilson,” McCarthy said. “First he hit the city with a policy that polluted its beaches. . . . Then he ran to Washington. . . . As a senator, he’s never stopped running from the problem.”
McCarthy argued that Wilson neglected the city’s deteriorating sewer system, ignored the Clean Water Act’s minimum standards for waste water treatment, failed to take advantage of federal funds that would have paid for 75% of water treatment costs and declined to go to bat for the city after he went to Washington.
McCarthy has devoted much of his time and money lately to countering Wilson’s often-successful efforts to portray himself as an environmentalist. That reputation, according to observers of the race, has a lot to do with the breadth of Wilson’s appeal. All polls continue to show him leading the race.
Speaking to a convention of the California League of Cities here, McCarthy sought to blame Wilson for two local pollution problems, one of which came to a head after Wilson left the mayor’s office in 1982.
First, local critics of the former mayor have long argued, as McCarthy did here, that Wilson should have modernized sewage treatment facilities to purify waste water being pumped into the ocean more than a mile off Point Loma. Second, the critics, and now McCarthy, also say Wilson should have taken steps to replace an aging sewer system that in recent years has been spewing raw sewage into Mission Bay.
Referring to the Mission Bay spills, spokesmen for Wilson said he should not be blamed for something that happened after he left office.
The controversy over Point Loma waste water treatment, however, was well under way before he left office.
As mayor, Wilson agreed with scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography that further refinement of water treatment near Point Loma was not necessary. The scientists maintained that a mile out to sea there was more than enough water and oxygen to neutralize the flow of effluent.
A spokesman for San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor said Tuesday that Wilson continues to have “philosophical differences” over the Point Loma treatment question, even though the city is under pressure to build a $1.5-billion treatment system as a result of a lawsuit filed by federal and state agencies.
Paul Downey, the mayor’s spokesman, said Wilson so far has not endorsed a bill in Congress that would require the federal government to pay for more than half of the cost of the new sewage system.
“We are working with the senator’s office, and are hopeful that he will (support the bill),” Downey said.
Up to now, Wilson had not responded in kind to McCarthy’s repeated attacks on his environmental record. But Tuesday, he fired back with two new TV ads of his own on the subject of the environment. In one ad, he defends his record against charges leveled by McCarthy. In the other, he attacks McCarthy’s record.
For the last two weeks, Wilson has been fuming over an ad accusing him of voting against federal funds for cleaning up asbestos in schools and of voting to undermine enforcement of the Clean Water Act. Wilson’s latest commercial brands those accusations as “low-rent character attacks” that are “unfounded,” “false” and “sordid.”
Wilson’s second ad takes a poke at McCarthy for backing a 1981 bill that would have provided for the creation of five new cities exempt from local planning and zoning codes. The bill, which was defeated, had the backing of real estate developers. Wilson’s ad says that one of the developers has contributed thousands of dollars to McCarthy’s campaign.
Just as Wilson has sought to rebut McCarthy’s charges about his environmental credentials, McCarthy has been busy lately responding to Wilson’s claims that he is soft on crime.
McCarthy has produced a commercial quoting a San Diego detective saying that “all the major police officers’ and deputy sheriffs’ associations have endorsed Leo McCarthy, 50,000 strong, including a lot of Republicans.”
Many of the organizations are groups that lobby for better pay and working conditions for police officers and that frequently back Democratic candidates with a pro-labor record.
A number of other law enforcement groups, including the California Peace Officers Assn., the California Police Chiefs Assn. and about 120 individual police chiefs and sheriffs around the state have endorsed Wilson. These are groups that tend to be more supportive of candidates who take tough stands on law-and-order issues.