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Posted at 2:15 p.m. PDT Thursday, January 20, 2000

Out of the limelight, former U.S. Sen. Cranston fights a battle for peace

Published: November 21, 1999

Special to the Mercury News

In his spacious Los Altos Hills home, Alan Cranston works from behind a massive horseshoe desk -- which he designed himself -- surrounded by books, some of which he wrote himself. Bookshelves rise to the ceiling on all four walls of his spectacular den.

Since leaving the U.S. Senate after 24 years, Cranston has kept a low profile. So low, in fact, that it's not uncommon to hear questions as to whether he is still living.

Cranston not only is alive, but at age 85 he keeps a rigorous schedule, moving from continent to continent at a pace that would deplete the physical and mental resources of many younger men. He remains quietly active in shaping the world around him.

Two primary goals carried over from his Senate years -- world government and nuclear arms control -- still motivate Cranston's activism. The global plane upon which he operates today, however, is far removed the rough-and-tumble political arena where he once jousted in California and Washington, D.C.

Arguably, the Palo Alto-born Cranston has exercised more influence inCalifornia's Democratic Party than anyone else in the half-century now closing. Santa Clara County has been his lifelong base.

A long-ago Stanford track star, Cranston no longer maintains the long-distance running routine he kept up throughout his political career. But he still sprints, walks a lot, and is careful about diet and other habits.

''No smoking, little drinking, and avoiding fats,'' is his sum-up of his health regimen.

Twice married, Cranston has outlived both his wives, Geneva and Norma. Now his family life centers around his son, Kim, a daughter-in-law, and a granddaughter.

Working outside the spotlight, Cranston currently heads the Gorbachev Foundation USA and thereby is one of Mikhail Gorbachev's close American contacts. Until recently, he has also chaired the peace-seeking State of the World Forum, which he founded in 1995 as an offshoot of the Gorbachev Foundation. His co-chairs include Gorbachev, former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, broadcaster Ted Turner, writer Elie Wiesel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and India's Sonia Gandhi.

Nowadays, many of Cranston's closest allies are those who share his crusading fervor. ''He is committed with every ounce of his energy to the elimination of nuclear weapons in his lifetime,'' said Lynne Twist, former head of the worldwide Hunger Project and former co-chair of the World Forum.

Cranston has been in the public eye, in one way or another, most of his life. His first job after graduation from Stanford was as a foreign correspondent for International News Service. Later he won acclaim as a historian and is probably the only American ever sued personally by Adolf Hitler -- for copyright infringement.

In the 1950s, Cranston was the father of the California Democratic club movement and architect of the coup that toppled the Republicans from the Sacramento power monopoly they had enjoyed -- with only one short break -- since the 1800s.

Elected to the Senate in 1968, he stayed there for four terms, becoming Democratic whip. In the mid-1970s he was considered by Jimmy Carter for both vice president and secretary of state.

Cranston ultimately left the Senate during a hectic period of his life that included a bout with prostate cancer -- which he overcame -- and involvement in the so-called ''Keating Five'' episode. He drew a Senate ethics committee reprimand for intervening with government regulators on behalf of savings and loan operator Charles H. Keating Jr., from whom he had accepted heavy political donations. (Cranston now favors replacing all political contributions with public campaign financing.)

These days, Cranston -- never a publicly introspective man -- says little about his past political life. But it built the foundation for his current crusade.

Over the past four years Cranston's State of the World Forum has drawn more than 2,000 world leaders to its conferences in such places in New Delhi, India; Washington; Belfast, Northern Ireland; New York and Monterrey, Mexico. Participants have included Gorbachev and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Earlier this year, the forum met in troubled Belfast, close to the grim, walled neighborhoods where embattled Catholics and Protestants hate, fight and sometimes kill each other. That gathering alone attracted 865 leaders from 80 countries, including five present or former heads of state and five Nobel peace laureates. Their purpose: to ponder the challenges of the new millennium.

So far, the State of the World Forum has scored two major coups in its campaign against nuclear weaponry. In 1996, it released an anti-nuclear statement signed by 63 generals and admirals from 17 countries, including 21 Americans and 17 Russians. In 1998, a comparable statement was issued by 130 statesmen from 48 nations. Currently, Cranston is at work on a third worldwide appeal, this one from the mayors of the world's notable cities, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Ex-Mayor Susan Hammer has signed for San Jose.

These appeals neither seek nor suggest unilateral disarmament. What is realistic, say the generals and admirals, is ''steady pursuit of a policy of cooperative, phased reductions.''

Cranston's anti-nuclear concerns began when he met Albert Einstein 50 years ago at Princeton University. The scientist told him that nuclear weaponry,fully developed, beyond the crude Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, could wipe out all life on the planet.

''That caught my attention,'' Cranston remembers still.

The end of the Cold War, he notes, has radically changed the nature of the nuclear threat but has not abolished it. In the past, the great danger was from hostile governments. Now Cranston mentions terrorists, the Mafia, and drug syndicates as the most worrisome potential possessors of a nuclear bomb.

Cranston sees the Senate's recent rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty as an ''unfortunate setback'' -- but not without a positive side.

''It creates an opportunity,'' he says, ''because it has alarmed and alerted many people. Some who have not been particularly concerned about nuclear dangers are suddenly aware that these dangers are still with us and we are not coping with them effectively.''

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