Trying to topple an 'icon' in Illinois Senate race

GERMOND&WITCOVER

October 07, 1990

CHICAGO — Republican senatorial candidate Representative Lynn Martin is finding that running against what she calls "an icon" is not easy, but she's doing all she can to pull him -- Democratic Sen. Paul Simon -- down.

Ms. Martin, trailing Mr. Simon badly all summer, has seized on three negative news stories about the long-respected Mr. Simon in an effort to crack his reputation for integrity. The stories have caused considerable embarrassment for Mr. Simon, but so far his protective shell of 40 years of public service appears to be essentially intact.

The first of the stories told of how Mr. Simon made a telephone call to an official of a bank overseeing a failed Chicago savings and loan in behalf of a campaign contributor who had defaulted on a $5 million loan from the S&L. Mr. Simon says all he did was ask the bank official to meet with his contributor to work out a settlement that is now in the works.

But Ms. Martin argues that in the current climate of the national S&L crisis, "it doesn't take a genius" to understand that a politician running for re-election should never have made such a phone call.

The second story involves Mr. Simon's intercession with a federal agency to release held-up federal funds to a District of Columbia cooking school whose owner was also a Simon contributor. Mr. Simon says that this one was a staff mistake, but that he takes responsibility for it.

The third story concerns Mr. Simon's brief blocking of the Senate confirmation of Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos when his department was delaying federal grants to students of a small Illinois college, one of whose officers was a Simon contributor. Mr. Simon says the grants had been approved, and all he did was use his clout for a constituent group as any effective senator would do.

All these stories have become fodder for Ms. Martin as she strives to dent Mr. Simon's armor as a man of integrity. And she professes amazement that he has handed her the issue of

integrity after his years of being known as a shining knight.

"You might not agree with him, but he always was a straight arrow," she says. "That's the way I felt about it. I've given up thinking that." The only conclusion she's been able to reach, she says, is that under the tremendous pressures of fund-raising, "the compass gets a little off. He just wouldn't have done this stuff five years ago."

Ms. Martin says that Mr. Simon, in two races for the Senate in the last six years plus his 1988 presidential bid, has had to raise $25 million, and the burden appears to have undermined his judgment. "I'm not suggesting sainthood," she says, "but he was this icon, and when a minister preaches morality and then gets caught . . . I don't know. I have no question in my mind this is not what he would have done six years ago."

Mr. Simon says he doesn't like the current system of campaign fund-raising and wants to reform it. "But in cases of ethical standards, I'm as careful as I can be." He attributes Ms. Martin's attacks on his integrity as "a typical Ailes operation" -- referring to Roger Ailes, the Republican media consultant who masterminded George Bush's attacks on Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential campaign. "My guess is that they feel the only way they can win is attack me on my strong suit."

Like other Democrats around the country, Mr. Simon says he has learned the lesson of the 1988 campaign -- that a candidate under attack cannot, as Mr. Dukakis did, simply turn the other cheek. A current television ad says:

"Lynn Martin is slinging mud at Paul Simon on the S&L issue. But Simon was one of only 13 people in Congress to vote against the deregulation bill that led to the S&L crisis. So why is Martin distorting Simon's record? Maybe to hide her record. Lynn Martin consistently favored deregulation of S&Ls. She voted to allow S&Ls to make riskier loans. And Lynn Martin voted to delay the shutdown of insolvent thrifts. Lynn Martin, a bad record on S&Ls. You can bank on it."

It is true that Mr. Simon has not been involved in any way with the major S&L scandal. But, notably, his ad says nothing by way of explaining his role in the phone call in behalf of his contributor involved in the S&L loan default.

David Axelrod, a Democratic consultant who handled media for Mr. Simon's presidential campaign, says that Mr. Simon, like the United States in the current energy crunch, "is dipping into his reserves" -- reserves of good will built up over 40 years. And Mr. Simon remains far ahead in the polls, so Ms. Martin has her work cut out trying to topple this particular "icon."

Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover are staff writers for The Evening Sun. Their column appears there Monday through Thursday.

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