San Diego mayor runs for US Senate as staunch backer of Reagan

Mayor Pete Wilson of San Diego says either he or US Rep. Barry Goldwater of Los Angeles will be the Republican nominee next fall for the US Senate seat now occupied by Sen. S. I. Hayakawa of San Francisco.

Elected mayor of San Diego 10 years ago, Mr. Wilson is in his third term. Over the years, he quietly assumed control of a system that does not specifically give the city's chief executive much power. All the while, he has preserved a low-keyed demeanor that some observers say handicaps him in gaining the statewide attention he needs to become a US senator this year.

Mr. Goldwater has been the leader in all four voter samples taken by the California Poll since last January. But between April and October his rating dropped from a high of 35 down to 22. That October figure was just three points ahead of Wilson's, and the mayor says he has the momentum and the financial support to move to the top this spring. In an August California Poll, rating nine declared or possible candidates, Goldwater led Wilson - who had just switched from the gubernatorial to the senatorial race - 24 to 14.

US Rep. Pete McClosky of Palo Alto was third in October with 18 percent, and Senator Hayakawa had 15 percent. But Wilson asserts that both Mr. McClosky and Hayakawa are continuing to fall behind. (A new California Poll report on the race is expected in early February.)

Interviewed here by the Monitor, Mayor Wilson said:

* He supports President Reagan down the line on his economic policy, ''new federalism,'' defense, and foreign policy. He also backs the administration's proposed ''guest worker'' program to help alleviate the problem of illegal immigration from Mexico. But he thinks many more workers than proposed should be allowed in, and he opposes sanctions against employers who hire illegals.

* He feels the Soviets will negotiate an arms-reduction agreement only under the pressure of resurging US military strength, and he would not vote to reduce the President's projected defense spending in order to reduce future deficits.

Excerpts from the Jan. 8 interview follow:

You sought the gubernatorial nomination unsuccessfully in 1978, and your initial intent this year was to seek it again. Is the Senate second-best choice for you?

No. I guess the best way to express it is to say I wish I had about three or four lives - like Walter Mitty - and in one I would be governor and in another I'd be US senator. . . . I look forward to serving in the Senate. I think this administration is engaged in a fundamental redirection of American government. It is long overdue and desperately needed - and I would like very much to be a part of that.

There's a spectacular opportunity here, and I can bring to it the experience that I have had at the local level. I think what sets me apart from some of the others (in the Republican primary race) is that I know what works and what doesn't. I have been trying to translate federal good intentions into something workable at the local level for 10 years now.

You are said to be a ''strong'' mayor, taking initiative and even power not necessarily granted in the city charter. But you have done it so unobtrusively that some commentators say your ''nice guy'' image keeps people from seeing you as a forceful leader. Do you have an ''image'' problem in that respect?

No, I don't think I have anything to overcome. I feel perfectly secure. And I think those in the best position to know would probably disagree with that assessment. I would guess that the public employee union leaders would not share that opinion, nor would those with whom I've jousted in my role as mayor. I just , frankly, don't accept the premise. I think perhaps there's been some confusion between flamboyance and forcefulness.

Have you had to deal, in San Diego, with the same kinds of urban problems that leaders in places like St. Louis, Gary, Ind., and New York City have faced - people on welfare, minority unemployment, poor housing, many residents dependent on federal entitlement programs?

Yes, to a degree, although one of the mistakes the federal government has made is trying to deal with such problems through a general prescription, when in fact every city is different. That's why to a great extent I would seek to decentralize both resources and discretion to the local level. It's a good managerial practice, and from the standpoint of public administration it's the only way you can make sense. The problem has been that through the development of categorical grant-in-aid programs we have responded to the sense of priorities of congressmen, not of mayors. . . .

Is it correct to describe you as a backer of the Reagan administration pretty much down-the-line: on economic policy, federal aid to states and cities, defense, and foreign policy?

Yes. I served the President-elect as chairman of his transition-team task force on urban policy, and a number of recommendations the task force made could be described as Reaganomics. We suggested that a number of liberal programs which had been failures be scrapped and that he should go in another direction, for the simple reason that the cities can never be healthy until the economy is healthy. The patchwork quilt of stopgap measures has been a very expensive failure. If we are interested in employing this country's youth, especially minority youth, you're not going to get them off the streets with makework programs that have a limited life. The only way they are going to be put to work and enjoy the dignity of earning their own way is to have small businesses put in a position where it is profitable to employ them. So we advocated a number of things which I think are at least realistic - like a differential minimum wage, Kemp-Roth or some tax cut that would give small businesses the kind of advantage , the kind of incentive, that would allow them to save and invest and expand plant.

Would you support tax increases to reduce the federal deficit?

No. I would not support any tax increase until I was convinced that the Congress had done the job it should do in cutting spending.

If you were in the Senate today, would your position be to maintain Reagan's proposed levels of defense spending or to reduce them somewhat in order to reduce the deficit?

I'm going to agree with him that we should certainly try to find other ways (to hold down the deficit), because in the 1970s we fell far behind the Soviets -- they outspent us by $300 billion. We are definitely inferior to them in terms of conventional weapons. We are in danger if we do not play catch-up. We're in danger of becoming inferior to them in strategic weapons, and we simply cannot afford to do that. . . .

How do you stand on relations with the Soviet Union and arms reduction negotiations?

I applauded the initiative the President took in the challenge he made to Brezhnev to engage in a verifiable, equalized reduction of theater-scale weapons. I was not surprised, if disappointed, in the response. I think we simply have to take the position that if they are not willing to engage in both a verifiable and equalized reduction that we are compelled to rebuild American military strength, not to parity but to superiority. I think he (Reagan) put it simply during the campaign when he said no one's ever invited attack by being too strong. It's clear that you invite attack by weakness.

Do you have any hope for the current arms-reduction talks?

I must say I have increasingly less. We can never afford to give up all hope, but I think the Soviets will have to be pressured into it. They've made pretty clear that they have lost very little of the aggressive tendencies that have marked the conduct of their foreign relations from the end of World War II to the present. I think we deluded ourselves for a time that the cold war was over and detente was achieving wonderful things. We should continue to press for exchanges of various kinds until you see clear evidence, as we've recently seen in Poland, and then you've got to be realistic and cut off that exchange and bring as much pressure as possible on the Soviets so that they understand we're not simply going to shake our heads and cluck our tongues. I would support at least all the measures the President has taken thus far. . . .

You're a close neighbor to Mexico, with a good vantage point for assessing what we are doing and what we could do about the problem of illegal immigrants. How do you feel about the Reagan proposals, and do you have some ideas of your own that you would take with you to Washington?

I think the proposal for a guest worker program makes a great deal of sense. The White House consulted with me before they released the program. I told them I had two criticisms: That the quota they set is notably unambitious. There is a legitimate market for the labor of 10 times the number of Mexican nationals that would be permitted under the legislation. And that I disagree with sanctions against employers, because I think they will be ineffective and even counterproductive. I don't think we should be discouraging American employers from hiring people whom they need; and yet the sanctions, I think, would have that effect.

We are talking about a great many jobs that would otherwise go unfilled. The guest worker program does a number of things. First, there is a legitimate market. These are jobs that are not being filled by Americans; they would simply go unfilled, and this would have a marked impact on this state -- not just in agriculture, where everyone assumes the need exists, but also in construction. It would also heavily affect tourism. These are people who by their labor are benefiting both our economy and their own (Mexico's). The other point I would make is that by legalizing their entry you would give public officials a much better handle on their presence and on the needs and problems they may generate. . . . Just from a humanitarian point of view, the illegal status of a Mexican alien in this country subjects him to the cruelest possible exploitation -- first by those on the other side of the border who smuggle these people into the US.

Do you think the program would have significant impact on the traffic across the border in illegals?

Well, to have a significant impact you've got to have plenty more. If you're just letting in a trickle, a small fraction of the need, then you're going to continue to have this mass exodus at night through these arroyos -- and all the problems associated with it.

Do you support the Reagan administration policies toward Central American problems?

Yes. I don't think we can afford to close our eyes to the exportation of violent revolution from Cuba. It's a Soviet-Cuban sponsored insurgency of very much the same character, regardless of which country is involved. There are certainly elements in each one of nationalism -- the kind of predictable and understandable resentment among those who have been economically downtrodden. But I think we have no choice but to support governments which are going to contain and resist an exported communist revolution, because it does threaten, not only the countries to which this revolution is being exported, it threatens our own interests.

Would it be better for the US to support a repressive, right-wing dictatorship than to tolerate a left-wing revolution?

I think it depends on the character of the revolution. If these were revolutions that were occurring unaided by Soviet or Cuban expertise and arms and money, I would be much more inclined to say that we should not interfere in the internal affairs of another nation. But . . . if they (the revolutionaries) are distinctly anti-American, if they are not only belligerent but threaten our interests, then I would have to say we certainly cannot support that, and in fact have to resist it. . . .

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