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Dose of Union Support Revives Weary Feinstein

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Democratic candidate for governor Dianne Feinstein tucked into the safety of Ventura Harbor Wednesday and urged a supportive group of union shop stewards to help her get out the vote.

Battling a cold and controversies over her views on abortion and aid to the needy, Feinstein found peace among representatives of a supermarket union that has endorsed her candidacy for governor.

The light day of campaigning, designed to allow her to prepare for Sunday’s televised debate with her Democratic opponent, Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, included posing for the cameras with children at Patagonia’s high-profile child-care center in Ventura.

“You reach a point of being a little ragged around the edges,” Feinstein told leaders of the United Food & Commercial Workers Union before her speech.

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Union officials brought her cold medicine, and Feinstein rallied to deliver her speech about being tough on crime and compassionate on social issues. She was enthusiastically received by 200 shop stewards representing 11,000 union members in Ventura and five other counties in central California.

“Please, please, please go back to your people and spread this message,” Feinstein urged the shop stewards. “Your members are Democrats for the most part . . . “

Feinstein’s opportunity to tap into the grass-roots support of a large union came less of her making than that of her Democratic opponent.

Van de Kamp, as attorney general, has angered the union’s leaders by attempting to block the merger of Alpha Beta and Lucky supermarket chains or, failing that, forcing Alpha Beta to sell off stores in non-competitive markets.

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The United Food & Commercial Workers union fears that independent companies would snatch the spinoff supermarkets and break union contracts in these stores. The unions’ leaders have been unable to persuade Van de Kamp to change his position.

“We were soured on him,” said Robert V. Morand, president of Local 1036, which covers Ventura and other counties. “Van de Kamp appears to want to play hardball. And Feinstein indicated that she was willing to work with us.”

Duane Peterson, spokesman for Van de Kamp, said the attorney general stuck by his decision because he believes that the supermarket merger would end competition in some markets and cost California shoppers an extra $400 million a year at the checkout counter.

“This one union did lobby Mr. Van de Kamp to encourage him to back away, but he went on with the legal action on behalf of California consumers,” Peterson said. The AFL-CIO, among other labor groups, has lined up behind Van de Kamp, he said, because his record is clearly better on union issues.

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That explanation didn’t seem to wash with shop stewards who are protective of union jobs.

“Van de Kamp really messed up with the merger deal,” said Kimberly Rhett, a Port Hueneme resident and shop steward at Albertson’s supermarket.

Feinstein received the loudest applause for her support of the death penalty and stiffer sentences for violent criminals.

Leaving the meeting, Gwen Wanner of Bakersfield tearfully told Feinstein of her husband’s murder in 1979 and thanked the former San Francisco mayor for her position to get tough on crime.

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One woman criticized Feinstein for her views on abortion. She said Feinstein should stick by her statement in last Sunday’s debate that she would consider supporting legislation to outlaw abortions for purposes of sex selection.

Feinstein has since acknowledged that her statement was a political error. “I’m pro-choice and I’ve always been pro-choice,” she said.


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