Friday, August 15, 2003
100-Year-Old Recall Candidate Still Campaigning After Setback
By DAVID KLINE, Staff Writer
At 100 years old, Mathilda Karel Spak is the candidate with seniority in California’s recall election. And while that distinction might not make up for her lack of campaign funds or limited name recognition, it has won her free press that might make other candidates green with envy.
Along with stories like this one and mentions on talk-radio stations around the country, Spak’s candidacy has prompted favorable mentions in the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle.
The Chronicle told its readers that “the 4-foot-11-inch, 125-pound independent is ready to kick butt.”
That assessment remains true even after Spak was dealt a major setback last week.
Spak is not on the list of certified candidates unveiled Wednesday evening by Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, so her name will not appear alongside those of the 135 men and women vying to take over if Gov. Gray Davis is recalled.
Undeterred, Spak said Thursday that she will continue her campaign, now as a write-in candidate.
“I was a little aggravated yesterday,” she told Spectrum, “but I’m going in on a write-in [basis].”
Write-in candidates are allowed in the recall election as long as they register with election officials in their home county by Sept. 23, the secretary of state’s Web site advises.
Spak said Shelley’s staff first told her that she hadn’t submitted enough signatures — she said she submitted about 93, when only 65 were required — and later indicated she was disqualified for misstating her age on her candidacy papers. She acknowledged that she may have inadvertently claimed to be 99 when she really is just weeks away from her 101st birthday.
Terri Carbaugh, Shelley’s spokeswoman, said age could not have been a factor, and that Spak was not required to list her age.
“Many of her signatures were not qualified,” Carbaugh said.
Spak, whose $3,500 candidacy fee was paid by the 99 Cents Only store, which held a contest to draft a candidate age 99 or older, said her goal as governor would be to improve the state’s business climate and to reduce government spending.
“I’m very disgusted,” she said. “I love California ... and now people are leaving it because they can’t afford to live here.”
The primary target of her disgust is the current governor, whom she views as a puppet of special interests.
“Our governor ran to Chicago to get money from the unions for his campaign, which means we’ll have to pay off the union now,” Spak said. “He’s got to give them something - they’re not giving him their money for nothing, they’re not doing it for love.”
She said the next governor should try harder to eliminate waste within the government.
“Run it like a business instead of like a ‘grab me some more money’ [enterprise],” Spak said. “Why don’t they talk about economizing? [Government employees] don’t have to have state-owned cars and use them every day, they don’t have to have gas supplied for their social outings.”
On another issue related to cars, Spak’s position might surprise some Californians. The centenarian candidate would like to see tougher testing for drivers over 70, on a yearly basis.
“I don’t think people should drive after a certain age,” she said. “I gave up after I was 90. ... I never had an accident, but I just thought it was time to stop driving. It depends on the individual, but I think [older drivers] should be tested every year.”
Spak, a widow with no children, is running as an independent, and her political views reflect this designation.
On issues associated with illegal immigration, she sides with many conservatives.
“I’m against the illegal aliens getting drivers’ licenses,” Spak said, citing a policy difference with Davis and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante. “If they’re here illegally, shouldn’t they be sent back? Aren’t they criminals?”
On other issues, she is in agreement with many liberals.
“We’re paying outrageous prices for drugs here,” Spak said, adding that she wants the federal government to approve the importation of drugs from other countries, where prices often are much cheaper.
While Spak’s age certainly qualifies her to be labeled a senior, she said she doesn’t focus on issues specific to older Californians. Government programs to help children are more important, she said, “because we’ve lived our lives.”
In fact, even her goal of improving the business climate comes back to helping children. The more businesses that take jobs out of California, she said, “the more hungry children there are.”
Many of the candidate’s positions are explained with business analogies.
“When you’re in business and business isn’t good, you get along with as little as possible,” she said, explaining why she opposes pay raises for government workers during lean times.
Spak speaks from experience, even if her career as a business owner ended when Pat Brown was governor of California.
After graduating from Northwestern University in the 1920s with a bachelor’s degree in business, she went to work in real estate and insurance. She eventually owned her own company.
In 1960, she retired and devoted her time to volunteering, at first donating five or six days a week.
“I cut down when I got to be 100,” she said. “Now I volunteer four times a week.”
It is that volunteer work which motivated her to run for governor. Acknowledging that she has no chance of victory against candidates with much more campaign money and name recognition, she said she is running to draw attention to the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation and a children’s hospital in Long Beach — the two places she volunteers her time.
Spak’s mother was afflicted with myasthenia gravis, a neurological disorder which can have a number of symptoms including muscle weakness, difficulty chewing and swallowing, and difficulty talking.
“Perhaps some of the people will listen to some of the things I’m saying and maybe do something about it,” the candidate said. “Maybe I can wake some people up!”
Already, she is having an effect. While waiting in line to file candidacy papers, Spak motivated a woman to volunteer time to help children.
Spak herself is motivated by lessons taught long ago by her mother, an immigrant from Russia.
“She loved it here,” the candidate said. “We were taught to vote and to read the papers and to be active and to help others.
“I’ve been voting ever since I was able to write my name,” she continued. “... My mother would have killed me if I hadn’t.”
Now, she hopes others will feel the same duty to go to the polls — with pens or pencils, so they can vote for the state’s most experienced write-in candidate.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company