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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS GOVERNOR : Democrats Spar Over Finances, Waste

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Limbering up for the first head-to-head weekend debate, John K. Van de Kamp and Dianne Feinstein traded barbs on personal finances and toxic waste Thursday that had each accusing the other of failing to live up to their responsibilities to Californians.

The attorney general, in particular, spared no niceties in raising questions about Feinstein--questions to which he admitted he did not have any answers. His opportunity came during a question-and-answer session at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council breakfast, when an audience member asked what he thought about the loan of more than $1 million to Feinstein’s campaign by her husband, investment banker Richard Blum.

“It does raise a very interesting point,” said Van de Kamp. “Who is behind that money? Where did that money come from? What is she influenced by?”

Speaking to reporters later, Van de Kamp said it was Feinstein’s responsibility to make a “full disclosure” of her husband’s clients and added that her personal wealth created “an imbalance, an inequity” in the governor’s race.

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In particular, Van de Kamp cited Blum’s representation of some insurance companies, and suggested that was responsible for Feinstein’s 1988 support of an auto insurance initiative sponsored by the industry. Blum has released a list of his corporate clients but has not released the names of individuals whose investments he manages.

Hours later at a press conference she called to chide Van de Kamp for his treatment of toxic waste disposal cases, Feinstein issued a strong denial that her husband’s finances had in any way influenced her political positions.

“There is nothing in my husband’s background, foreground, past or future that’s going to influence me,” she said. “Anybody who knows me knows I’m going to make up my own mind. Additionally, my husband has never tried to influence me. . . . He’s ethical. He’s moral. He’s got a basic integrity and credibility.”

The former San Francisco mayor termed Van de Kamp’s insinuations “baloney.” She refused, however, to release a list of her husband’s individual clients on the grounds that to do so would cost him business.

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Feinstein and her husband, in tax returns released last month, reported earning nearly $7.4 million in 1989, in what Blum described as the best year of his career.

In addition to reminding voters of Feinstein’s wealth, Van de Kamp appeared to be trying to cast doubt on her integrity. And Feinstein, too, appeared to be playing to a deeper agenda--cleaving environmental support from Van de Kamp by criticizing his handling of toxic waste issues.

Standing in front of an abandoned North Hollywood plating company, Feinstein said that as chief law enforcement officer of the state, the attorney general has been apathetic about enforcing toxic dumping regulations.

Three weeks ago, Feinstein disclosed that she sent a letter to Van de Kamp pressing for an investigation of the North Hollywood firm’s apparent dumping of 50 drums of cyanide. The 55-gallon barrels were supposed to have been sent to Mexicali; the address on the bill of lading was actually a wheat field there, Feinstein said. An inspection of the field turned up no such barrels, and their present location is not known.

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“What I am suggesting is ‘Get with it,’ ” she said in comments directed at Van de Kamp during the North Hollywood press conference. “We’ve got fifty 55-gallon drums of deadly cyanide out there somewhere. Let’s find it. Let’s see that it is properly disposed of.”

Repeatedly, Feinstein referred to Van de Kamp as the “environmental czar"--a dig at the attorney general, who helped write the so-called “Big Green” initiative that calls for an elected environmental officer for the state. She said the description was legitimate because Van de Kamp has authority over the legal jurisdictions in the state.

Van de Kamp said his opponent was simply wrong.

“Mrs. Feinstein does not know too much about state government,” he said, adding that cases such as the one she described were primarily to be handled at the local, not state, level.

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Feinstein, in announcing her environmental platform last month, said she would push for formation of a statewide “strike team” to hunt down illegal dumpers who carry hazardous material across county lines. On Thursday, she said she would not hesitate to send the National Guard to the border to help stem the flow of wastes into Mexico.

Much of the candidates’ time this week has been spent preparing for Sunday’s debate, the first of two starring the Democratic candidates. The second debate will take place a week later, and both are expected to be pivotal to the campaigns.

With fighting words, Van de Kamp on Thursday said he was looking forward to the contest.

“I hope that people will . . . understand that there’s a real choice in this race, a choice between some specific ideas and a specific attack, a person who stands up for things--as opposed to one who talks and walks,” he said.

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Feinstein was less confrontational in describing what she hopes will come out of the hourlong session in San Francisco.

“All I look forward to is an opportunity to reach the people of the state of California,” she said. “I think they’ll make up their own mind.”

Van de Kamp began the day at the World Affairs Council breakfast at the Biltmore Hotel by promising, if he is elected, to press the federal government to turn over a chunk of the so-called “peace dividend” and use it to retrain defense industry workers expected to be laid off by cuts in defense spending.

He added that he would establish a venture capital fund to help finance new businesses and a “director of conversion assistance” to help the state manage the economic changes posed by likely defense cutbacks.

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