Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo denigrated the record and character of Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown on Friday in their first face-to-face encounter in the race for the Democratic nomination for attorney general.
Delgadillo, who has far less name recognition and experience than the widely known Brown, has pulled no punches in his effort to set himself apart in the short stretch that remains before the June 6 primary.
On Friday, he did so in the heart of Brown country -- at an endorsement forum held by the Alameda County Democratic Lawyers Club, which later voted to endorse the two-term mayor of the county’s largest city.
Although Delgadillo wrapped his message in his personal story -- the East Los Angeles grandson of Mexican immigrants who understands crime through the eyes of a child -- at its core it was an assault on Brown.
“I’m not confused about who I am or what I stand for. I never wrote a letter on behalf of an abortion terrorist and then said I’m pro-choice,” he said, referring to a 1987 clemency letter Brown wrote, apparently at Mother Teresa’s request on behalf of a woman incarcerated for breaking into an abortion clinic.
“I also keep my promises,” Delgadillo continued, comparing Oakland unfavorably to a more affluent nearby city. “The mayor said he would lower the crime rate below that of Walnut Creek. Has he done that? Hardly. He said he’d improve the schools. Did he? No.”
Delgadillo also returned repeatedly to his humble-roots theme, discounting Brown’s political heritage: “I’m not the son of a governor. My name is Delgadillo -- not Brown.”
Brown simmered at Delgadillo’s dig at Oakland’s crime rate, which has spiked this year and triggered local voter disaffection. Still, he responded only to say that “crime in Oakland is down 30% from its 30-year average -- and people know that.”
Indeed, Brown steered clear of any attacks on his opponent during the short public forum, declining to mention even Delgadillo’s relatively young political career. Delgadillo was first elected city attorney in 2001.
Instead he focused on his own “breadth and depth” of experience as governor, secretary of state, a private attorney and mayor.
“As governor, I signed 9,000 bills and appointed 800 judges,” he said, emphasizing his commitment to fight “for the less powerful against the more powerful” as well as for environmental protections.
He noted his most recent endorsement -- secured Friday morning -- from the Sierra Club. And he emphasized repeatedly his “creative” streak, “integrity” and willingness to take unpopular stances.
In a typical Brownian moment, he also set forth as examples of his “broad base of experience” some ventures that voters might not consider must-haves in an attorney general, the state’s top law-enforcement official: “I lived in Latin America for five months,” Brown said. “I lived in Japan for five months. I traveled to India to work with Mother Teresa.”
Off stage, Brown stressed his intention to take the high road and stand “on my record,” but he took a few swings of his own.
Although the Harvard-educated Delgadillo may have grown up in East Los Angeles, Brown noted, he now lives in a million-dollar home and has worked for two Republicans. “He is the establishment,” Brown said.
“He’s looking out through the eyes of his childhood and he thinks that’s going to stop bullets,” Brown said. “I think that’s incredibly naive.”
As for the clemency letter, Brown said he wrote it because he thought the woman had paid her dues with a long sentence.
Delgadillo’s campaign consultant, Roger Salazar, called the event a success despite the lack of endorsement.
“Our point is more to get our message across and establish a contrast between these candidates,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Delgadillo announced the backing of local firefighters, teachers, carpenters and other unions as well as the Oakland Black Caucus.
The sharp tone Delgadillo set at the forum turned off some attendees.
“This is the first time I’ve heard Delgadillo,” longtime Oakland attorney Fred James said. “I think his opening statement was great. But it hurt him to go negative.”
James could not initially remember Delgadillo’s name but called Brown “such a personality ... you kind of know what he’s going to do when he takes office.”