Virginia gubernatorial candidate Henry Howell sought last night to link his opponent's campaign to what he called "bigotism" and "anti-semitism" and called on him to repudiate the support of two figures from the state Democratic Party's ultraconservative past.
In a speech at the B'rith Sholom Center here, Howell charged that support of former Attorney General Andrew P. Miller by former Virginia Reps. William M. Tuck of Halifax and Watkins M. Abbitt of Appomattox have raised questions about Miller and "who he stands with and who he stands for." Howell is running against Miller in the June 14 Democratic primary.
"You all remember Bill Tuck," Howell said. "He thought 'massive resistance' (to school desegration) was Jim Dandy . . . the greatest thing since . . . matzoh ball soup.
"Watkins Abbitt" he reminded his Jewish audience, "called (Howell campaign contributor) Sydney Lewis 'a rich, radical Jew'" in a public letter just before the 1973 election in which Howell lost the governorship to Republican Mills E. Godwin.
"Now he knew there are not very many Jewish people in Virginia. And there are a lot of Protestants envious of your determination and your success," Howell said. "And it was a winner for Watkins Abbitt. He was working for Mills Godwin. That was sending a signal . . . and this is moving around again . . ."
After devoting a fair portion of his 20-minute speech to the bigotry issue, Howell said "I don't want to bring it up." He said he's certain Miller, who he described as "too young for the job" and unsure "what he's really all about" actually "doesn't know what's going on" in his own campaign.
"But he's young, nd now that I've told him he should say . . . whether he wants Bill tuck's support and watkins Abbitt's support."
Tuck, a former Virginia governor, was among those who greeted Miller at Tuck Airport when the gubernatorial candidate arrived in South Boston earlier this week. Abbitt has posed for pictures with Miller at fund-raising receptions.
Even without the attacks on Miller, Howell's speech as an unusual campaign oraion - a rambling litany of pst accomplishments and future hopes overlain with ointed allusions - some bitter, some wistful to the personal cost of his early 30 years in public life.
It was also part of a 36-hour campaign effort in tidewater aimed at countering the persistently repoted erosion of his long-time power base virginia politics.
The former lieutenant governor told his audience of about 100 middleaged and elderly men that he thought Jews are "the most patient, perservering people the world has ever known."
"I'm glad to be here with the leaders of the Jewish community because you're very wise," he said. "You are not swept up easily . . . you're not going for ice cream cone issues (from) someone just arrived who wants to give you this, give you that. You are too experienced."
He went over his record as a political and legal advocate ("the archives of accomplishment") that he said had been achieved despite social and political ostracism from the Virginia powers that be.
"Now a lot of people don't like me . . ." he said. "I don't know why they don't want a guy who's done so much good . . . I think I ran a good office as lieutenant governor . . . it's known in Virginia that I was good . . . showed administrative talents, presided over the Senate. Disposed of bills. Did a good job. . ."
He said the thought of Henry Howell as governor scared the establishment: Frank Batten (chairman of the board of a chain of newspapers including the two in Norfolk) "has to take his sloop and go sailing for about a week every time he thinks about it."
Howell said he had built his record by uniting people "around a burning issue . . . in Virginia we got to stand for something.
"It wasn't the clothes I wore. I didn't have an expensive suit," he said, but he added that his accomplishments "weren't easy" and required a tremendous sacrifice of time - time with his family and time improving his income. "It meant Betty and I can't go to Bermuda," he said. "I don't represent the (wealthy statewide) Virginia National Bank. I don't even represent the (local) Southern Bank." When he first ran for office, he said, he determined that "regardless of the social complications, the light of the lamp shall burn and we can go forward."
Now, he said, he faces "frankly a conspiracy" on the part of the news media in his own home city of Norfolk to keep the people of Tidewater from learning "that there's a primary . . . and Henry Howell's running."
He said he has been unable to appear on even the local television talk show and "Frank Batten is too cheap to . . . hire enough reporters to cover the race for the governorship."
That line - there was no local reporter present - drew the only spontaneous applause during the speech, and at one point Howell chided his audience almost wistfully about their lack of response.
"You don't have to sit there emotionless," he said. "You all can applaud when you want to really . . . If you all agree with me you can say 'Shalom' or 'amen' or whatever is appropriate. I want to hear from you. If I'm on the wrong track I want to know it."