Schwarzenegger apologizes for mistreatment of women

Calif. candidate replies to published report that he groped several females

October 03, 2003|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

SAN DIEGO - Responding to fresh allegations of sexual impropriety, Arnold Schwarzenegger confessed yesterday that he had sometimes "behaved badly" toward women and said he was "deeply sorry" for his actions.

The movie star, who has been leading in the recall contest to replace Gov. Gray Davis, was reacting to a published report in which six women said he had groped them.

According to the women, the incidents spanned a period from the mid-1970s until 2000.

Schwarzenegger's apology, which stunned a crowd of supporters at the kickoff of his four-day bus tour of the state, suddenly injected new uncertainty into Tuesday's election.

The Republican had been considered almost a prohibitive favorite heading into the closing days of the contest.

Schwarzenegger dismissed much of the report, in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, as untrue and denounced it as "trash politics" aimed at tearing down his candidacy.

But, he went on, "I have to tell you, that I always say, that wherever there is smoke, there is fire. ... And what I want to say to you is that, yes, I have behaved badly sometimes."

He said he had been "on rowdy movie sets" and "done things that were not right, which I thought then was playful, but now I recognize that I have offended people.

"And those people that I have offended, I want to say to them, I am deeply sorry about that, and I apologize, because this is not what I'm trying to do."

Schwarzenegger added that he would be a "champion for women" if elected governor and hoped voters "will give me the chance to prove it."

Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who has fallen behind Schwarzenegger in the polls, denounced the actor's behavior and suggested that he might be guilty of criminal misbehavior.

Bustamante said the allegations "are very serious, and they should be resolved," noting that the state criminal code considers such unwanted touching a misdemeanor sexual battery.

His advisers said Schwarzenegger wanted to respond immediately to the latest allegations, so they would not deflect attention from his efforts to close out the campaign on a positive note.

Damage control

Duf Sundheim, the California Republican chairman who was called in by the campaign to help with damage control, expressed hope that it would be only a "one-day story."

But the issue seems unlikely to disappear before next week's recall election. Interviews with voters at two Schwarzenegger rallies indicated that at least some people, especially women, would now rethink their support for the candidate.

"It's going to put some question marks on his character," said Meagan Shortridge, 19, a student at Vanguard University in Southern California. "I'm not sure I'm totally supportive of him yet."

Donna Benck, an airport baggage screener, said the latest revelations might prompt her to vote for someone else.

"I'd like to hear what he has to say," she said, as she waited for Schwarzenegger to arrive at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa for a midday rally.

But the actor made no mention of the issue in his four-minute speech, which came several hours after he delivered his apology at the San Diego Convention Center.

Other Schwarzenegger backers brushed off the incident.

"Let's see - six women in 30 years. That's one every five years," said Pam Ford, 38, an artist from San Diego. "I bet he's been groped himself a lot more times than that."

Others also said they thought voters would discount the allegations, despite Schwarzenegger's admission, because they had arisen so late in the campaign and thus seemed politically motivated.

That idea was repeated by warm-up speakers at the outdoor rally in Costa Mesa before Schwarzenegger's "California Comeback Express" bus rolled up.

Republican Rep. David Dreier told the crowd that the Times article was not just an attack on Schwarzenegger but also "an attack on every one of us that wants to take back California."

`Going to get ugly'

A Schwarzenegger spokesman, Todd Harris, said, "Any time you run a campaign against Gray Davis, you know that it's going to get ugly, and you know that it will get personal. ... We're not trying to suggest that the Davis people are behind [the article], and we're not saying that they're not."

In the article, based on interviews with six women who accused the actor of improperly touching them, the newspaper said it did not learn about any of the women from Schwarzenegger's rivals in the race.

Davis, without directly addressing the issue of Schwarzenegger's behavior, called it "a matter between the voters and their conscience." He said he had had no involvement in the Times article.

Recent polls show that state voters are prepared to dump the governor in the recall election.

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