In a major embarrassment for Sen. Dianne Feinstein's reelection campaign, Republican challenger Mike Huffington revealed Thursday that property records on Feinstein's San Francisco home contain the same racially discriminating language she blasted him for just two days ago.
Huffington was called racially insensitive in a news conference Tuesday in which former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley disclosed that property records for two homes that Huffington once owned in Texas contained unconstitutional language prohibiting their sale to "persons other than of the white or Caucasian race."
But Thursday, Huffington called Feinstein a hypocrite because similar racial language--dating to 1909--exists in property records for the home that Feinstein bought in San Francisco nine years ago.
"I come to you today after having endured two days of smears and attacks sponsored by the campaign of my opponent, Dianne Feinstein," Huffington said at a Washington news conference just a few hours before the two candidates met in their first debate. "Her only objective in raising this issue has been to stir up racial fears and manipulate racial sensitivities all in the interest of furthering her own political ambitions. But this time, Mrs. Feinstein has been caught in the web of lies and deception she herself has spun."
The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed racial covenants in property records in 1948, although real estate experts say the language has not been removed from many homes that predate the decision.
Feinstein campaign officials said that the senator was aware of the language in her property records and that she had filed an amendment to the documents specifically voiding the racial exclusion. Feinstein bought the home in 1985, and campaign officials said she filed the amendment when she first learned of the language in 1992, the year she ran for U.S. Senate.
Feinstein officials also said her homeowners association has hired an attorney to have the language erased from the record, a process that was not yet complete. Officials were unable, however, to provide a name of the attorney handling the matter.
Asked why the campaign did not disclose that effort when it held a news conference Tuesday about Huffington's records, a Feinstein official said: "It was a non-issue."
Spokesman Bill Chandler said the Huffington and Feinstein cases "are entirely different situations" because the senator took steps to disqualify the language in her records while Huffington sold his property with the covenant still intact.
"I think there's a case where congressman Huffington purchased and then . . . sold two homes and then the new owners took efforts to remove it," Chandler said. "Here's a case that Sen. Feinstein has a title deed that was changed. They're entirely different situations."
But Republican campaign officials said Feinstein has ended up with egg on her face. The disclosure gave them an opportunity to replay a long list of quotes from city leaders, community activists and Feinstein aides who have showered Huffington with scathing criticism about his racial insensitivity over the last two days.
It also forced some of the Feinstein surrogates who attacked Huffington to backpedal. Bradley, however, declined to retract his criticism, saying that Huffington's circumstance was different because he sold his home without removing the language.
"It's not the presence of the restrictive covenant in your deed (that's the problem), because many have that," Bradley said Thursday at a City Hall gathering in his honor. "But what do you do about it? Before you sell that house, you ought to get rid of it."
On Tuesday, Bradley said about Huffington's failure to remove the language from his property records: "I think it's more than just carelessness. I think it's gross neglect of his duty as a human being, to say nothing of his duty as a leader in public office."
Since Tuesday, Feinstein's campaign has held two news conferences to push their attack, one with Bradley and a second one Wednesday in which Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke was joined by a group of African American clergymen.
The covenant in Feinstein's property record said:
"That, it being designed to create and maintain in said Presidio Terrace, a settlement, community or neighborhood of persons who are on a social equality, the said lots shall not . . . be at any time sold, conveyed, demised, leased or transferred to, or be permitted to be occupied or used by, any persons other than those of the Caucasian or white race."
Huffington also denied in his news conference that the racially exclusive language existed on one of his two Texas properties. He said the language on at least one of the properties had been removed or expired.
He also said he had never seen the language, since the property transaction was handled by surrogates. And he charged Feinstein officials with trying to mislead reporters by displaying his signature as if it were next to the separate document containing the covenant.
Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican consultant who does not work for Huffington, said Thursday that the Feinstein campaign raised the issue to get black voters to the polls. "The Feinstein campaign is desperate to motivate African American voters," he said. "But now it could backfire and turn off more Democratic voters."
At Huffington's news conference at the Ronald Reagan Center, the GOP candidate invited a conservative black columnist, Armstrong Williams, to stand alongside him, testify that he is not a racist and support his view that the restrictive covenants are not an issue anymore.
"It's a new day in America," Williams said. "Let the past be the past. We must stop racial divisiveness."
Shogren reported from Washington, Lesher from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Amy Wallace contributed to this report.