Los Angeles mayoral candidate Richard Riordan, under attack by his rival for donations to anti-abortion groups, insisted Thursday that he is "simply pro-choice--no ifs, ands or buts about it," even though he said last month that he is morally against abortion.
Riordan noted that he has given money to groups and individuals on both sides of the abortion issue. But he backed off a statement he made last month to an anti-abortion activist at his campaign headquarters: "Morally, I'm pro-life. Legally, I'm pro-choice."
On Thursday, Riordan said: "I am pro-choice plain and simple." Pressed as to why he contributed to anti-abortion groups, Riordan would only say: "I'm pro-choice. I'm pro-choice. I'm pro-choice."
Riordan's latest remarks angered those on both sides of the highly volatile issue.
"I think Richard Riordan owes voters straight talk on this issue, not silence when asked about choice and not double talk," said feminist attorney Gloria Allred, who endorsed Riordan's rival, City Councilman Michael Woo, Thursday at a news conference.
At the other end of the spectrum, Wendi L. Lehman of the Right to Life League of Southern California wrote a letter to Riordan on Thursday, saying, "Your decision to sacrifice the lives of the unborn for the sake of politics demonstrates a lack of integrity."
Lehman's group, which runs 16 "pregnancy counseling" centers in the area, received a $250 check from Riordan's foundation in 1987. Riordan also gave $10,000 in 1991 to Americans United for Life, a Chicago-based group that describes itself as the legal arm of the anti-abortion movement.
Riordan countered that he has also made donations to candidates who favor a woman's right to abortion, such as Kathleen Brown, Dianne Feinstein and Leo McCarthy.
"I am committed unequivocally to a woman's right to choose," he said in a statement. "If I was a Supreme Court justice, I would vote to uphold Roe vs. Wade. But I am not seeking a Supreme Court appointment. Instead, I am running for mayor, and committed to upholding and enforcing all laws that impinge on a woman's right to choose."
Although the abortion issue has only marginal relevance to the mayor's duties, Woo has embraced it as part of his effort to portray Riordan as an ultraconservative who has undergone a "political face lift."
Saying that abortion is relevant to the mayor's office, Woo said the city must enforce trespassing laws through the Police Department against protesters who blockade abortion clinics.
At a news conference in front of an abortion clinic, Woo received the endorsements of several abortion rights activists--including Peg Yorkin, who heads the Fund for the Feminist Majority, and Meegan Ochs, who said she had an abortion several years ago to end an unplanned pregnancy.
"It's not enough to mouth the words pro-choice to make himself palatable to the voters," Woo said, noting his support for a motion introduced by Councilman Joel Wachs last November that declared Los Angeles a "pro-choice city."
Seeking to focus scrutiny on Woo, Riordan held a campaign event of his own Thursday--with a toilet at his side.
The toilet was placed on the City Hall steps by the Riordan campaign to symbolize a $282,000 remodeling of Woo's City Council office in 1988 that included $12,000 for a private bathroom. Riordan called it a waste of taxpayers' money for Woo to build a private bathroom when a public restroom was just a door away from his office.
Riordan also brought three retired police officers with him to show how the funds spent on the office remodeling could have been used to hire three more police officers.
Woo spokesman Garry South said the work was not a lavish remodeling. Instead, he said, it was part of a city effort to build a new council office on the second floor of City Hall. And South called the toilet that Riordan used as a prop "an appropriate symbol for his campaign."
(The toilet in question is destined for Riordan's home bathroom, which is being remodeled.)
In another campaign development, a legal analysis suggested that the city Ethics Commission, under certain circumstances, may be able to regulate fund raising by the state Democratic Party, which has pledged to run a $200,000 independent campaign on Woo's behalf.
"There could be some factual circumstances under which they could regulate statewide committees" involved in the mayoral race, said Robert Stern, who prepared the report.
It will be considered at a commission meeting today. Ethics Commission officials are concerned that such independent fund raising and spending could undercut city campaign finance limits. Federal court decisions allow independent committees such as the state Democratic Party to spend any amount they wish. But the new legal opinion indicates that the city agency may be able to regulate money raised on Woo's behalf, including imposing a $500 donation limit.