Davis' Style Could Hurt Him in Recall Vote

Gov. Gray Davis (search) has been elected to statewide office five times, but the millions of Californians who voted for him probably don't know his real name is Joseph, or that his home outside Sacramento is a condo in West Hollywood.

Joseph Graham "Gray" Davis has shaped California policy for almost 30 years, but he remains an enigma to voters. That mystery, created by his detached style and often rigid personality, helps explain how the 60-year-old Bronx native could become the nation's first governor to be recalled in 82 years.

"I don't know anyone who says they know him well," said Larry Berg, founding director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics (search) at the University of Southern California. He met Davis more than 25 years ago when Davis was Gov. Jerry Brown (search)'s chief of staff.

Even political allies, particularly the legislators who deal with him daily, say that while they share many goals they have no real relationship with Davis.

Davis has said he's no "rock star" as governor, just someone who would "get the job done."

But that ability was in doubt among the more than 1.3 million voters whose petition signatures put the recall on the ballot.

Analysts say many of Davis' problems were caused by forces beyond his control, including the power crisis of 2000-2001, the recession and the implosion of the state's high-tech industry. All combined to create the nation's largest state budget deficit, which could reach $38.2 billion by next July.

Those troubles, his critics said, demand bold leadership that Davis lacks.

Even that shortcoming could have been overcome, colleagues say, if Davis had built stronger ties to Democratic leaders. His failure to do that leaves him with a small and rather ambivalent group of defenders.

Davis, who was given the nickname "Gray" as a child by his mother, is known as a micromanager, often quibbling over wording deep in a press release.

He's also something of a fitness fanatic, rising each day to work out on a treadmill or stationary bike and eating the same midday meal of a turkey sandwich, without mayonnaise, and steamed broccoli.

Davis says he developed that personal discipline after a difficult childhood. His late father, an advertising salesman, was an alcoholic and eventually left his mother for another woman.

After serving in the Army during the Vietnam war, winning a Bronze Star, and graduating from Stanford University and Columbia Law School, he lost a bid for the 1974 Democratic nomination for state treasurer and joined the staff of Brown, California's "Governor Moonbeam."

When Brown left office in 1982, Davis was elected to a state Assembly seat from the Beverly Hills area; he still keeps a 1,000-square-foot condo in nearby West Hollywood. After two terms, he was elected state controller for two terms and then lieutenant governor.

All the while, however, "voters have never been enthusiastic about him," said Bruce Cain, a professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley.

Instead of building relationships, Davis has focused on other priorities, such as fund-raising. He brought in more than $78 million to spend on his re-election campaign last year.

He's benefited from running against weak candidates, in many cases conservative Republicans whose politics were out of step with most Californians.

Few believed he could win when he ran for governor in 1998, but then Sen. Dianne Feinstein decided not to run. Davis' two Democratic rivals spent millions attacking each other while Davis sailed past them to the nomination. That November, Davis beat Attorney General Dan Lungren, a conservative Republican, with 58 percent of the vote.

But Davis has made his own luck, too. When Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a moderate Republican, ran for governor last year, Davis bought TV ads during the primary that attacked Riordan on abortion and crime. Those attacks rattled Riordan, and conservative businessman Bill Simon won the nomination, only to lose to Davis last November.

Despite the successes, Davis has rarely ignited voter passion, said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a University of Southern California political scientist.

"He doesn't feel our pain the way Bill Clinton did," she said. "Throughout his political career he hasn't built relationships outside of those he has with his contributors. He doesn't reach out."

That doesn't mean he deserves the blame placed on him now, said Antonio Villaraigosa (search), Assembly speaker during Davis' first term and now a member of the Los Angeles City Council.

"There were a lot of factors at work," Villaraigosa said. "When you are governor you get the credit when things are going right, and the blame in bad times."