Watery campaign comes adrift in LA

As the world's media concentrates on the Rodney King civil rights trial in Los Angeles, candidates in the city's forthcoming mayoral election have been getting fed up with being elbowed out of the spotlight. So fed up that one decided to organise an event he felt was certain to grab column inches.

The underwater press conference held by the aspiring politician Tom Houston about a mile off the Californian coast would have been far more successful if he had not been rescued by a dive master after shooting up to the surface, coughing and spluttering.

It would have also gone better if his campaign staff, togged up in scuba diving gear, had not plunged into the waters only to find visibility so poor that several of the party lost contact with their partners, causing panic on board their diving boat (aptly named Disappearance).

The notoriously dirty seas turned out to be so choppy and murky that Mr Houston's large mayoral campaign banner was never unfurled. He also had to abandon plans to produce his underwater slate, and write down a summary of his proposal to tackle pollution.

Mr Houston's intention was that he, and a team of diving reporters, would have swum down 60 feet to the mouth of an old sewage pipe in the Santa Monica Bay, where he would have given a gurgling account of his plans to clean up the ocean floor, speaking through his respirator to an eager press.

Unfortunately, the media cancelled their plans to attend because of rumours that a verdict in the Rodney King case was imminent. (In fact, the judge merely announced a juror was sick. The juror yesterday returned, and deliberations continued for a sixth day).

The only reporter to turn up was Marc Lacey from the Los Angeles Times, who became seasick and vomited over the side of the boat before venturing into the water. 'We were 10 feet down when Mr Houston suddenly shot up to the surface,' said Mr Lacey. 'He was breathing quickly and waving his arm, which is a sign of distress. He had to be taken back to the boat by life raft.'

Life has not been made any easier for the 24 candidates in the LA mayoral race by the fact that it is dominated by two strong and well-funded front-runners who are tipped to get through to a run-off after next Tuesday's election. Millions of dollars have been spent in an effort to attract public attention, with limited results.

(Photograph omitted)

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