Dole pledges to be tough on youth crime but not forget causes

SAN DIEGO (AP) Courting California’s pivotal suburban vote, Bob Dole promised strict punishment Wednesday for youths drawn to gangs and drugs but said society also must help those children who “never have a chance in America.”
Tough talk on crime is a staple of Dole’s effort to introduce himself to California voters and erase President Clinton’s big lead in the state with the biggest November electoral prize. He delivered a scathing critique of what he said was Clinton’s failure to stem the tide of illegal drugs into the United States.
But Dole also spoke compassionately about children from shattered families in what appeared to be a recognition that tough talk alone will not win over the moderate, independent-minded voters crucial to his chances here.
To illustrate his concern with battling crime, Dole visited a suburban Redondo Beach park once threatened by gangs, saluting community activists who worked with police to clean up the park and impose a curfew. “This is the spirit I want to see all across America,” the Republican presidential candidate said. “We can beat gangs and we can beat drugs if we work together.”
Later, San Diego police and community leaders briefed Dole on local drug and crime problems. Visiting a park where teachers must clear hypodermic needles from the schoolyard, Dole called Clinton an election-year convert to the importance of addressing the drug problem.
“When I am president, there are going to be two wars declared: a war on illegal immigration and a war on drugs,” Dole promised.
From the schoolyard, Dole headed for the site of the Republican National Convention, joking that, “I want to be sure I go to the right place in August.”
In his earlier remarks, Dole lamented the “sad fact” that much of today’s crime problem can be traced to juvenile gangs
“It is not with a great deal of enthusiasm that you talk about locking up children,” Dole said in Redondo Beach. But, he said, “we have a problem in America and we must face up to it.”
To that end, Dole said his blunt message to children who commit violent crimes was: “You are going to be tried as an adult and you are going to be punished as an adult.”
But Dole tempered his tough talk with a somber discussion of the troubles many children face that are not of their own making, and said government — but mostly community groups and neighbors — had a responsibility to offer a helping hand.
“Let’s face it, some children never have a chance in America,” Dole said. “Their parents are drug addicts or worse. … We’re talking about human beings.”
As Dole sought to establish a foothold in California, the White House suggested Dole was celebrating a Clinton success story.
Even before Dole spoke, Clinton aides said four of Redondo Beach’s community police officers were funded through a Clinton program that Dole opposed, and that the town was due another $215,000 to put a dozen more cops on the beat.
Dole voted against a 1994 crime bill that funded Clinton’s community policing program, on grounds it contained $5 billion in wasteful social spending. But aides noted Dole backed a Republican proposal to award $10 billion in block grants that local communities could use to hire police.
Dole said he would campaign aggressively throughout the state and focus on crime, illegal immigration, tax cuts and economic growth, affirmative action and balancing the budget. “We’ve got the issues,” he said.
Ken Khachigian, the veteran California operative tapped to head the Dole effort here, said Clinton was in for “80 days of hell” after the August GOP convention in San Diego. He said the Dole campaign and the Republican National Committee had vowed to spend the millions of dollars it takes to run a competitive statewide campaign.
In his speeches, Dole offered few specifics of how government could help such children, except to say that “there is no better crime prevention program than welfare reform” that requires the able-bodied to work and instills a work discipline in the children of recipients.