Protege seeking Condit’s seat in Congress

By Brian Melley The Associated Press
Tuesday October 23, 2001

SACRAMENTO — Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza said Monday he is running for Rep. Gary Condit’s seat in a move that marks a public split between the longtime friends and political allies. 

As Condit’s protege, Cardoza had long said he would not run unless his former boss retired. 

But with Condit on the ropes from the Chandra Levy scandal and little word on his future plans, Cardoza decided to enter the ring. 

“I don’t think he can win,” Cardoza said. “I also don’t believe he can be as effective as he was in the past.” 

While Condit hasn’t formally announced his plans, he has begun collecting signatures to run for re-election, indicating the two could face each other in the Democratic primary for the 18th Congressional District. 

Condit’s chief of staff, Mike Lynch, said Cardoza’s move was not a sign of bad blood between the two men. 

“This is America, anybody can run for anything,” Lynch said. 

The connections between Condit and Cardoza run deeper than a common interest in farming, the future University of California campus in Merced and water. 

Condit hired Cardoza as an aide years ago and when Cardoza rose through the ranks to lawmaker, he repaid the favor. He hired Condit’s son, Chad, at one point and still employs Condit’s sister, Dovie Wilson, as an office manager. 

Chad Condit’s wife, Helen, was paid as a fund-raiser last year and another in-law, Jamie L. Filice, was hired as a senior field representative. 

In recent weeks, the relationship between Condit and Cardoza has become strained, Cardoza said. 

“Oh, I think it’s splitsville,” said Sandra Lucas, chairwoman of the Stanislaus County Democratic Central Committee in Modesto, the heart of the district. “Right now I assume the friendship is not that strong.” 

Cardoza, of Atwater, said he decided to run after Condit canceled his annual “Condit Country” fund-raiser because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The fund-raiser had been scheduled for last Saturday. 

Cardoza would not elaborate but said he didn’t believe that was why Condit canceled the barbecue. 

The attacks on New York and Washington gave Condit a reprieve from headlines after months of bad publicity. 

Polls show that Condit’s support has tanked since his relationship with Levy, a federal intern who vanished in May, became the top news story of the summer. 

Although police say he is not a suspect in the disappearance of the 24-year-old Modesto woman, he admitted he had an extramarital relationship with her, according to police sources. 

Sources said Condit had encouraged Cardoza, who cannot run for re-election because of term limits, to run for the state Senate. 

Cardoza, 42, said he never planned to enter national politics at this point in his career, but the opportunity was too great to pass. 

“It might have been a gift if it had been someone else in his situation. It was very painful to watch a close friend go through the trauma that he’s gone through,” Cardoza said. “I take no joy in Congressman Condit’s troubles whatsoever.” 

Cardoza planned to formally launch his campaign Tuesday in Modesto and later in Merced, the county where his grandparents immigrated from Portugal to start a dairy and crop farm. 

He said he was “healthy as a horse” after losing 80 pounds since May when he underwent intestinal bypass surgery. He said the procedure cured his cravings and relieved nerve problems in his feet. 

Cardoza will face Tom Ciccarelli, executive director of Inter-Faith Ministries in Modesto, who announced plans last week to run for the Democratic nomination. 

Two Modesto Republicans, Sen. Dick Monteith and City Councilman Bill Conrad, have announced they are running. 

Cardoza, who once ran a bowling alley that hosted mud wrestling matches, vowed not to run a dirty campaign. But it’s likely that some mud will fly in the fight for the congressional seat. 

“Probably, there will be some blood,” Lucas said. “But the good thing is there will be blood on the other side as well.”