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Feinstein, Van de Kamp Exchange Political Jabs

Times Political Writer

Dianne Feinstein, the former mayor of San Francisco, is beginning to shape the message she would deliver to voters in a governor’s race next year, but she already has one for Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp, who also wants the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

“If he’s going to run as a crime fighter, as a former D.A. and attorney general, then the crime rate should have gone down,” Feinstein said Monday in an interview over lunch.

Actually, according to Van de Kamp’s office, the FBI Crime Index for California shows a 10.6% decline in major crimes between 1982 and 1987, Van de Kamp’s tenure as attorney general.

But Feinstein’s charge portends the very thing some California Democratic officials fear most in 1990: a divisive and costly primary while U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson captures the Republican nomination without serious opposition.

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Feinstein also said she believes her support for capital punishment as a deterrent to crime is more in line with the voters’ sentiments than Van de Kamp’s opposition to it. (Van de Kamp, while acknowledging he opposes capital punishment, says his office vigorously enforces the death penalty laws.)

Thus, with the primary still 15 months away, both Democrats have already fired at each’s potential weaknesses.

Last week, Van de Kamp told influential Democrats at his fund-raiser that, “if I wanted to fail at a big job I’d go be mayor of San Francisco,” a reference to the fact that Feinstein ended her tenure in early 1988 with a projected budget deficit.

Feinstein, who actually seemed more relaxed than feisty over a lunch of oysters on the half-shell and french fries, was eager to address her vulnerability on the budget question.

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She said she had proposed a way to cover the projected $76-million deficit in San Francisco last year, but unexpected expenses more than doubled the deficit after she left office.

“There is nothing new about a projected budget deficit in San Francisco,” she said, “but by law you have to balance it and I would have if I had still been in office.”

Feinstein still has not made a final decision to seek the Democratic nomination for governor, but she gave a clue Monday to one theme she will test if, as expected, she proceeds.

Support Among Women

“I’m not a traditional Democrat, I’m more of a moderate,” she said. “I’m not an insider.”

Van de Kamp will venture into Feinstein’s turf today to show off support for his candidacy of some Bay Area women Democrats, including Rep. Barbara Boxer (D-Greenbrae), San Francisco City Atty. Louise Rennie and Contra Costa County Supervisor Sunne McPeak.

At his fund-raiser last week, Van de Kamp showcased the support of some powerful Establishment Democrats in Southern California.

“He has those people and I’m sure they will all vote for him and that’s fine,” Feinstein said. “But if he has the message and the commitment that appeals to people, then that’s what makes the election. If he has that I haven’t heard it.”

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As for her own message to the voters, Feinstein said it was shaping up this way:

“The No. 1 area all across the state is the drug problem. We have to take a look at some of the societal things, the divorce rate, the breakup of the family, the increase in the number of children raised by one parent.

“This is a social phenomenon that law alone can’t meet. We’ve got to meet it as people. And that is the value of my candidacy, to speak as a woman who has a family, who has raised a daughter.

“So part of my message is to stress the value of family, empowering people with a sense that they can tap into the community and control their destiny.”

She said she was still working on her message to address other California problems, including transportation, but said that, generally, she believes the voters would support more costly solutions to problems--including a gasoline tax--if they were presented and explained properly by political leaders.

Some Democratic strategists say that Feinstein could get a boost in two-way primary with a male opponent because she is a woman, but she disagreed with that theory Monday.

“There is still some doubt about a woman running for governor,” she said. “Everybody has always discouraged me. From the beginning, it has been, ‘Oh, you can’t do it, a woman can’t do it.’ Listen, I’ll shake the boat when I run for governor.”

Times political writer John Balzar contributed to this report.

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