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Too Little, Too Late From Condit, Davis Says

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Gov. Gray Davis on Monday broke his long silence over the conduct of U.S. Rep. Gary Condit, joining the chorus of those criticizing the Central Valley lawmaker for a lack of candor since Chandra Levy disappeared.

“I’m disheartened that Congressman Condit did not speak out more quickly or more fully,” Davis said.

He did not, however, urge Condit, a fellow Democrat, to resign or try to dissuade him from seeking reelection, as some Democrats have.

“While I get no joy out of this whatsoever, I just think it is important that Gary Condit be as forthcoming as possible, do everything humanly possible, to help law enforcement identify the location of Chandra Levy,” Davis said at a news conference in Woodland, outside Sacramento.

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Davis, who is politically and personally close to Condit, has been criticized by Republicans for not speaking out sooner.

The last known public sighting of Levy, 24, was on April 30, as she prepared to come home to California following a six-month internship in Washington. Her relatives have said that she and Condit were having an affair.

In his nationally televised interview with ABC News on Thursday, however, Condit refused to characterize the relationship beyond declaring Levy to be a close friend. He also failed to clarify discrepancies about the degree of his cooperation with investigators.

That interview and subsequent ones broke Condit’s self-imposed silence--to ill effect. Two surveys Monday underscored the political damage.

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Nearly eight in 10 people responding to a nationwide CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll described Condit as dishonest and immoral. Seventy-five percent said they believe Condit has obstructed the investigation into Levy’s disappearance, and 71% believe he lied during his appearance on ABC.

A separate CNN survey of voters in Condit’s San Joaquin Valley suggested the uphill fight he could face if he seeks reelection: 61% of voters said they would not vote for Condit should he seek an eighth term in 2002.

On Monday, California Democratic Chairman Art Torres suggested Condit could face a primary challenge if he seeks reelection. He said the Democratic Party would not take sides, citing a 2-month-old change in bylaws requiring neutrality in such contests.

Torres denied any attempt to coax Condit out of the race. “A frenzy has been created here and people need to step back a bit,” Torres said. “He has until Dec. 7"--the state filing deadline--to decide.

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But Torres acknowledged that Democrats are “very concerned” about Condit’s political status. “Capital V. Capital C,” he said.

Compounding Condit’s troubles, the lawyer for a flight attendant who says she had an affair with him announced plans to seek an indictment of the congressman for allegedly trying to coerce her into denying their relationship.

James Robinson, attorney for Anne Marie Smith, submitted a citizen complaint Monday to the Stanislaus County Grand Jury, bypassing the usual legal channels. County prosecutor Jim Brazelton said he would treat the case like any other citizen complaint.

Already, federal prosecutors in Washington are investigating allegations that Condit and staffers impeded the probe into Levy’s whereabouts. They have questioned Smith twice about an affidavit sent by Condit’s attorney denying any affair.

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The congressman has said he never asked anyone to lie to authorities. But he appeared to back away somewhat from his adamant denial of an affair with Smith.

In an interview with Newsweek magazine last week, Condit questioned the meaning of the word “relationship.”

“In my opinion, we did not have a relationship,” Condit said. “It would probably be her definition of a relationship versus mine.”

Davis addressed the Condit matter in response to reporters’ questions after signing legislation to provide rural law enforcement funding over the next decade. Davis said “the focus of attention” should be on Levy and her parents.

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“For several months, my wife, Sharon, and I have kept the Levys in our thoughts and prayers,” Davis said.

As for Condit, “I don’t have any specific advice for the congressman. What he should or shouldn’t do are matters best left to him and his constituents.”

Condit and Davis served together as Assembly freshmen in 1982, and Condit was one of the first California Democrats to endorse Davis’ uphill 1998 run for governor. Since then, Davis and Condit have appeared at each other’s fund-raisers, and Condit has helped Davis shore up support in the San Joaquin Valley.

Davis also employs Condit’s two adult children. Cadee works on the governor’s personal staff in Sacramento, and Chad is a Davis aide in Central California. Chandra Levy worked as an intern in the Davis administration last year before moving to Washington.

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Appearing Monday night on CNN, Chad Condit suggested his days in the Davis administration may be numbered.

“There’s no honor in kicking somebody when they’re down,” Condit said of Davis’ criticism of his father. “I just disagree with the governor’s comments. They kind of miss the mark.”

“But you don’t hold the governor in less regard,” said interviewer Larry King.

“I probably do,” Condit replied.

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“But you’re still working for him,” King said.

“Right this second,” Condit said.

Among those attending Monday’s news conference in Woodland was Sen. Dick Monteith (R-Modesto), a possible Republican challenger to Condit. Monteith echoed Davis in saying he wants to keep the focus on finding Levy, but added that he is awaiting the new district maps being drawn by Democrats before deciding whether to run.

In the Legislature, Democratic lawmakers said they would redesign Condit’s district to make it safer for Democrats--but not necessarily Condit.

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“We have proceeded all along to make it the best Democratic seat we could, regardless of the nominee,” said state Sen. Don Perata of Alameda, chairman of the Senate Reapportionment Committee.

He and Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) insisted that Condit’s political problems play no role in their plans. “When you look at reapportionment you look at 10 years,” Burton said, “not just the next election.”

Times staff writer Carl Ingram contributed to this story.


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