FRESNO, Calif. – GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman accused Democratic rival Jerry Brown on Saturday of orchestrating a scandal over her former illegal immigrant housekeeper, a charge that prompted Brown to fire back and say Whitman won’t take responsibility and is not fit to be governor.
The issue dominated the candidates’ second debate, held in one of the most economically distressed regions of the state, after a week that has upended Whitman’s campaign.
“The real tragedy here is Nicky. After Nov. 2, no one’s going to be watching out for Nicky Diaz,” Whitman said, referring to the former housekeeper, and turning to face Brown directly shortly after the start of the debate. “And Jerry, you know you should be ashamed, you and your surrogates … put her deportation at risk. You put it out there and you should be ashamed for sacrificing Nicky Diaz on the altar of your political ambitions.”
Brown responded by saying Whitman, the billionaire former chief executive of eBay, was trying to evade responsibility.
“Don’t run for governor if you can’t stand up on your own two feet and say, ‘Hey I made a mistake,’ ” Brown said in a moment fraught with tension as the two candidates, neck-and-neck in the polls, turned away from the audience and faced each other directly. “You have blamed her, blamed me, blamed the left, blamed the unions. But you don’t take accountability.”
Whitman had hoped to use the debate at California State University, Fresno to court Latino voters. She has worked hard to win support among independents and Latinos, who are crucial to the campaign of any Republican running in a state in which Democrats hold a 13.4 percentage point edge among registered voters.
But she’s been forced to explain how she had an illegal immigrant housekeeper – Nicky Diaz Santillan – on the payroll for nine years and, according to her, didn’t know it.