Wilson--The Fade: Why Not Face The Fact That Presidential Hopes Have Been Shattered?

Wilson's presidential hopes have been shattered by public disgust at his broken promise to run California and not run for president, the insistence of the national press corps on examining the contradictions in his record, a collapsed state agenda, dwindling campaign fund-raising and internal discord, and revelations that he has employed at least one illegal alien prior to making his crusade against illegals the basis of his reinvented political career. To recap that last and especially telling point, Pete Wilson would not have been re-elected absent his use of the immigration issue. The governor's own test marketing of his re-election themes--crime control and ''tough governor for tough times''--conducted in the Fresno media market in mid-'93 proved that something more was needed. That something was the crusade against illegals. Even with that, his strategy's success depended upon two factors outside of Wilson's control--an absence of enterprise journalism and an incompetent opposition campaign. Both factors worked to Wilson's advantage. In their May 4 conference call with selected journalists (conducted on a not-for-attribution basis), and on other occasions, Wilsonites reportedly said that the governor never saw Delgado; indeed, that he hadn't even been aware that he and his wife had a housekeeper. In a press conference held, ironically, on Cinco de Mayo, the governor said that he had been aware of Delgado and, not surprisingly, may well have spoken to her. If Wilson did speak with her, as you will see, he would have noticed something impossible to miss. ''We were under the impression she was a citizen,'' Wilson said. As the governor clearly understands, this is an important point, because in 1978, it was a violation of California law to employ an illegal (just as it is now). As it happens, the bill making it illegal was carried by one of his closest associates in the Assembly. (A number of papers have inaccurately reported that it was not against the law then to employ an illegal.) The escape hatch in that particular law, which was closed in 1986 by the enactment of the federal Simpson-Mazzoli Act, is that the employer must know that the employee is an illegal to be in violation of the law. Which is why Wilson's impression that Delgado was an American citizen is significant. But one is left to wonder why Wilson and his then-wife would have formed that impression, since they did not have her Social Security number with which to pay her still-unpaid Social Security taxes. After the governor spoke, I asked his lawyer, John Davies, about his experience in speaking with Delgado. Davies hasn't actually spoken with Delgado, although his bookkeeper has. Why is that, I wondered. Because his bookkeeper is fluent in Spanish. And what tiny amount of English that Delgado speaks is, as Davies puts it, ''very broken.'' It is now, of course, some 17 years since the governor and his then-wife formed the impression that Delgado was an American citizen. Delgado and the man who entered into a green-card marriage with her, Kirk Klag are in hiding. Delgado has been reported to be in Mexico, where she owns a home with the woman who was married to Klag before her. However, according to a very well-informed source, Delgado has actually gone to ground in Southern California. The Wilson campaign won't say whether any representative of the governor has been in contact with her since Wilson's Cinco de Mayo press conference on the matter. Nor will it say when its internal investigation of the illegal employees situation--now nearly 10 weeks old, by Wilson's account--will result in a complete accounting. One striking element early on in the Wilson illegals story was the aggressive coverage by the six-month-old Spanish language newspaper, San Diego Hoy. Its extensive interviewing of Delgado's family and friends did much to debunk the Wilson camp's spin that the governor was unaware of the existence of his housekeeper. But San Diego Hoy's coverage trailed off dramatically in the last few weeks. Intriguingly, it turns out that the newspaper's actual owner is hardly someone the San Diego Latino community might expect it to be, and is someone who comes as a surprise to at least some of the newspaper's staff. Database research reveals that individual--several steps removed along a chain of corporate ownership--to be Leon Black, a New York financier and protege of disgraced 1980s junk bond titan Michael Milken. Black, who headed up mergers and acquisitions for Milken during the heyday of the late Drexel Burnham Lambert investment bank, is someone who has done serious business here in California during the 1990s. In 1992, Black masterminded the acquisition of the junk-bond portfolio of First Executive Corp., the largest insurance company to go bankrupt in U.S. history. He and his partners, (principally Credit Lyonnais) made not millions, but billions on the deal, which was negotiated by then-Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi and passed on by the Wilson administration. The Wilson campaign refused to answer when asked if the governor or any of his representatives have been in contact with Black during the period in which San Diego Hoy's coverage ended. When in political extremis, Wilson is fond of invoking his background as an ex-Marine. Now, with his presidential candidacy crippled by having employed at least one illegal immigrant, and by his failure thus far to recover from what had been billed as minor surgery to repair a vocal ailment, he is probably looking at the U.S. Marines wristwatch that he sported when he trailed Democrat Kathleen Brown by a wide margin, wondering if he's run out of time to right a presidential candidacy that seemed so promising just two months ago. As a John Wayne fan, the governor probably recalls the Duke's 1965 movie, In Harm's Way a World War II naval melodrama penned by a former Los Angeles Times editor. ''Give me a fast ship headed in harm's way,'' Wayne intoned after the cinematic bombing of Pearl Harbor. Wilson is certainly headed in harm's way. But it is increasingly evident, and painfully so, that he is not doing so in a fast ship. Bill Bradley is a former Democratic political advisor and a regular contributor to the News & Review. He publishes the New West Notes newsletter on the Internet, where he can be reached by e-mail at bill@brad.com.

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