In valley, Levy fate the issue

03/25/2002 6:25 PM

11/20/2007 10:14 AM

(Published: Sunday, June 24, 2001)

On the streets of Modesto and Ceres, Rep. Gary Condit receives unwavering support from some and scoldings from others.

But many simply want him to speak out.

They want to know about the nature of his relationship with missing intern Chandra Levy, a 24-year-old Modesto woman last seen April 30 in Washington, D.C.

"He would be helping the family if he told everything he knows," Modesto resident Kathleen Dunn said Thursday, hours before Condit met with the Levy family. "If he knows something and can't come forward, he isn't doing anything to help anybody. Look at her parents' stress."

Lita Theodore, a Modesto teacher, also said Condit should be more publicly forthcoming with information.

"It's been my experience that a little bit of truth is the beginning of gossip," Theodore said. "If he's the man of integrity he claims to be, he'll come forward."

Some said they would not vote for him again if evidence surfaced that Condit and Levy had an affair -- something that Levy's mother, Susan, has suggested. Through spokesmen, Condit has denied a romantic relationship, and his lawyer has said the issue is irrelevant.

Others simply refuse to believe anything was going on between Levy and Condit, who's 53 and married.

"It hasn't changed my feelings about him at all," said Karen Villa of Modesto. "He's come to our union meetings. I've met him a few times in the mall, and he's always been willing to talk about the issues. I think it's all been blown out of proportion.

"He's not a suspect. He has a right to speak whenever he's ready to. He's always given the appearance of being a family man."

Bob Nelson of Modesto said he believes Condit is the target of a smear campaign.

"I think it's a Republican ploy to discredit another Democrat -- I really do," Nelson said. "He's proved himself all the way up to now. It's mostly small-time gossip. I grew up in Ceres. I took pictures of his (swearing in). He and his wife are great people. He's one of the few politicians I'd trust."

Perry McElhaney of Turlock said the media are focused on the wrong person.

"It seems like the reporters now are after Condit instead of looking for (Levy)," he said. "They are not adding anything to the recovery of the lady. I'd still vote for him."

Almost all of those interviewed, however, agreed that Condit's alleged relationship with Levy is keeping the story of her disappearance in the national headlines.

"You hate to say it, but without him, she is just another face on a billboard," said Damon Rogers of Ceres, who attended elementary school with Condit's daughter, Cadee.

Cynthia Darmstander of Modesto, a Republican who did not vote for Condit in the last election, agreed.

"There's something about this story that has captured the imaginations of the American people, or they (the networks and national press) wouldn't be on it like the are," she said.

Rogers, the Ceres resident who said he has known the Condit family for years, defended Condit's silence.

"The media and (Levy) family have been wrongfully attacking him," Rogers said. "It's because he is a congressman. When people go out and start talking, that's what gets you in trouble."

Bee staff writer Jeff Jardine can be reached at 578-2383 or jjardine@modbee.com.

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