Students of Crespi Carmelite High School were treated to a three-ring political circus Tuesday morning, with students dashing to attend assemblies featuring the widest array of political candidates seen so far in the San Fernando Valley this political season.
Although fewer than 15 of the 500 boys who attend the Encino parochial school are old enough to vote in November’s general election, the school’s “Decision ’88" mock election carried enough clout to draw candidates or their representatives from county, congressional and presidential races. The event included the first and likely only joint appearance of 23rd District Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Tarzana) and his challenger, Jim Salomon.
“My goal was to get the kids interested and talking,” said Crespi’s dean of students, Gary Murphy, who organized the event. “They were all arguing and bickering about politics. That was the goal and so we were successful.”
Murphy, a 1974 Crespi graduate, said he was not surprised at the appearances by Beilenson and Salomon, as well as Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich and challenger Baxter Ward. Murphy said he first received commitments from candidates last winter after deciding to stage the event, which he patterned after a 1972 mock election that brought representatives of George McGovern and former President Richard Nixon to the school.
This year’s turnout by candidates, as well as representatives of the presidential candidates and Republican Sen. Pete Wilson and challenger Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy, posed a bit of a logistical problem for Murphy. He had to schedule three assemblies for the same time, with students choosing among the races for U.S. Senate, House and county supervisor. A fourth assembly, featuring the presidential representatives, was held afterward for the entire student body.
“You just can’t get 500 boys to sit still for 3 hours,” Murphy said. “We heard Mike Dukakis was going to be in Los Angeles today, but I’m glad he couldn’t make it; it would have been a real nightmare” of planning.
In the opening round of assemblies, most students opted for Antonovich and Ward, who were debating on the school’s football field. The two men, who in previous debates had engaged in well-publicized name-calling and argument, instead politely emphasized their respective positions on crime, drugs and development.
“I was expecting some kind of argument; that’s why I came to this,” said Mike Blumenthal, a sophomore. He and other students said they were disappointed that the Ward-Antonovich assembly was “so laid-back.”
Meanwhile, in the school gym, Salomon, in his first face-to-face confrontation with Beilenson, criticized the incumbent for considering tax increases to lower the deficit and called for greater penalties for drug users.
Beilenson, who has served in the House for 12 years, met Salomon for the first time Tuesday and told the 100 or so students in attendance that despite the charges his opponent was making, “he seems like a fairly nice chap.”
Beilenson said he honored Crespi’s request to appear because he had often spoken to government classes there in the past. Salomon said he came because Beilenson did. The two had not met before because Beilenson said he had been busy in Washington while Congress was in session.
Representatives of Wilson and his Democratic challenger, McCarthy, debated environmental and national defense issues before about 150 students in the school library.
In the day’s final event, Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Tarzana) represented Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and Jack Pitney, a Claremont College political science professor, spoke for Vice President George Bush.
Afterward, the boys pointed fingers and raised their voices in heated schoolyard debates. Senior Patrick Estes and Father Terry Pfender squared off over national health care. Some students complained about negative campaigning, and still others argued over defense spending.
Students, who studied each of the races in classes to prepare for the event, said they were disappointed that there was not more talk by candidates about issues.
“I learned today that the two presidential campaigners are only interested in insulting each other instead of saying what they want to do,” said Spyros Mallas, a sophomore.
In the end, it was a landslide for Bush and other conservative candidates who won the mock election at the mostly white, middle- and upper-middle-class school.
“I’m not surprised at the outcome, just the margin,” said Murphy, who also teaches U.S. history.
Bush won with 359 votes, about 81% of the student body, while Dukakis received only 84 votes. In the school’s 1972 election, Murphy recalled that “Nixon won overwhelmingly. This has always been a very conservative school.”
Antonovich, who opened his remarks by telling students that his aunt was a longtime teacher at another Los Angeles-area parochial school, won the school’s supervisor’s election with 64% of the vote. Wilson beat McCarthy with 72%. And Beilenson, who has served six terms in the House of Representatives, narrowly lost to Salomon by a 53% to 47% margin.