Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, the Democratic front-runner in today's gubernatorial primary, issued an apology to Gov. Pete Wilson on Monday for suggesting in a weekend campaign speech that the governor was encouraging anti-Semitism.
"I did not mean to suggest that Gov. Wilson is anti-Semitic--he clearly is not," the lieutenant governor told reporters at a noon campaign appearance Monday in Boyle Heights. "I misspoke. The words I used yesterday were a total mistake."
But Davis did not back away from his other recent attacks on the governor. He said he intended to say Wilson was fueling "racism"--rather than anti-Semitism--because of the governor's past role in attacking affirmative action programs and benefits for illegal immigrants.
Davis' attack, which has escalated in recent days well beyond the level he has used during his years as lieutenant governor under Wilson, brought a stinging response from the governor Monday.
Wilson suggested after a speech in Huntington Beach that if Davis campaigns on such tactics, "then he is going to be guilty of deliberate race-baiting and . . . he has no business seeking this office, because that's about as ugly a thing and as cynical a tactic as he could be engaged in."
Wilson also demanded an apology "not simply to me, but he needs to explain why his judgment is so different than that of the Anti-Defamation League and any number of Jewish organizations that have honored me."
Davis' backpedaling and the governor's response provided a significant distraction on the last campaign day before today's primary election. The apology dominated a news conference Davis held after a Latino rally for about 150 labor and Democratic activists.
Davis' initial comments, reported Monday by The Times, were made during a backyard reception for teachers and Democratic activists Sunday afternoon in Sylmar.
Davis told the crowd of about 75 people, "Wilson likes to fan the flames of discontent, anti-Semitism and bigotry."
A day earlier, Davis suggested that Wilson was lucky to avoid impeachment for damaging the state's race relations.