A Mixed Reception for Wilson : Politics: Republican New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani welcomes governor’s entry in presidential race, but calls Prop. 187 ‘inhumane.’


Gov. Pete Wilson came to City Hall on Wednesday in search of support for his presidential campaign only to hear Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani condemn one of his central campaign themes as “inhumane.”

The New York mayor, a moderate Republican who has not endorsed a candidate in the presidential race, appeared with Wilson to give a friendly boost of media exposure to his fledgling campaign. But the meeting also underscored some fundamental differences between the two Republicans on issues that are basic to Wilson’s effort.

Giuliani used the label of “inhumane” to refer to Proposition 187, the California ballot measure to end benefits for illegal immigrants that Wilson supported during his reelection campaign last year. Giuliani also said that he disagrees with the governor’s proposal to roll back affirmative action programs because, he said, “additional help” is needed for some groups that have been excluded by discrimination.


“It’s an area where we disagree,” Giuliani told a throng of reporters gathered in the ornate Blue Room next to the mayor’s office. “With each of the candidates, you will find that there are areas of agreement and disagreement.”

For Wilson, it was another day that demonstrated how much work he has to do to put together a competitive presidential campaign. The governor wrapped up a weeklong tour of the East Coast on Wednesday, which has included a series of appearances with prominent Republican politicians.

So far, both Tuesday with New Hampshire Gov. Stephen Merrill and Wednesday with Giuliani, and later in the afternoon with New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, Wilson has received plenty of smiles and handshakes but no commitments.

“I welcome having Gov. Wilson here and welcome his voice in the race,” Whitman told reporters after a meeting in her Newark office. “But I’m also looking forward to the opportunity of having the other candidates here.”

By contrast, Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) has signed up a host of prominent supporters in New York, including the state’s two ranking Republicans, newly elected Gov. George Pataki and Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato. An endorsement by Giuliani, who sparked an uproar in Republican ranks last year by endorsing the reelection of then-Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo over Pataki and who has quarreled with D’Amato, would be a major boost for Wilson in a state where politics is still conducted more by machine than it is elsewhere in the country.

Giuliani praised Wilson but his remarks on affirmative action and Proposition 187 opened gaps that would require some difficult explaining if he chooses to support Wilson.


“I think there are a number of very good candidates,” Giuliani said. “But the governor has a very distinguished record in just about every area you would want to have--as a mayor, a senator, a governor. . . . He has a track record already of dealing with the kinds of things I have to do.” The mayor said he plans to make up his mind on presidential candidates this summer.

New York Republican leaders who support Dole have threatened to try to block Wilson’s access to the state’s primary ballot. New York requires an arduous petition process to gain ballot access--one filled with highly technical rules designed to thwart candidates who are not backed by the political Establishment. But Wilson, in contrast to the tentative-sounding presidential exploratory committee he has launched, defiantly promised: “We are going to get on the ballot.”

Wednesday’s appearance also demonstrated for Wilson the intellectual whipsaw he will face as a national candidate trying to appeal to vastly different electorates simultaneously.

When he visited New Hampshire on Tuesday, a state with a small minority population, the governor argued that his presidential campaign would be helped by his opposition to affirmative action programs and services for illegal immigrants. But in New York, Wilson spent most of his time defending his positions on those same issues.

Wilson said that opponents of Proposition 187, which has been stalled in court since it was passed by California voters last year, have wrongly cast the measure as being anti-immigrant. The governor emphasized that the measure sought to prevent illegal immigrants from receiving public benefits such as health care and education.

“It’s not about race at all and it certainly is not anti-immigrant,” Wilson said. “With all respect, I would have to say to anybody who tries to lecture Californians about racism or about anti-immigrant sentiment--we are a state more than any other I suspect that has been built with the courage and sweat of immigrants.”


Giuliani said he agrees with Wilson that the federal government should play a greater role in enforcing immigration laws, particularly the deportation of illegal immigrants convicted of crimes.

But he also complained that Proposition 187 would bar children who are in the country illegally from attending public schools. “I think it would be inhumane,” he said, because the result would be to leave thousands of children on the street.

As he did in New Hampshire, Wilson said his trip to New York will be the first of many he plans to make during his presidential campaign. At the same time, the governor insisted that California’s needs and the agenda of reforms he proposed this year--including a 15% income tax cut--will remain his top priority.

“My first duty is to the people of California and I will not falter on that responsibility,” he said. “I have a very ambitious agenda for the state of California, continuing the reforms we have already begun. But I am also convinced that I can run for President at the same time.”