California gubernatorial candidates Democrat Jerry Brown, right, and Republican Meg Whitman, left, debate at Dominican University of California in San Rafael, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010 for their third and final debate. Brown is California Attorney General. Whitman is former CEO of eBay. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, pool)

The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 12, 2010; 11:35 PM

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown apologized Tuesday to Republican opponent Meg Whitman for one of his campaign aides referring to her as a “whore” on an audio tape that surfaced last week.

The candidates’ third and final debate was the first time California’s attorney general addressed the controversy, although his campaign had released a statement apologizing promptly for the remark last week.

Brown responded to a question about the audio tape from moderator Tom Brokaw, who said women consider the term just as degrading as blacks consider a certain highly offensive racial slur.

Brown said he disagreed with Brokaw’s comparison. He then went on to describe the recording as a “five-week-old, private conversation” before apologizing directly to Whitman.

“It’s unfortunate, I’m sorry it happened, and I apologize,” he said.

Whitman said the term was not befitting of a gubernatorial campaign.

“It’s not just me. It’s (the) people of California who deserve better than slurs and personal attacks,” she said. “I think every Californian and especially women know exactly what’s going on here.”

That drew a sharp response from Brown, who noted Whitman’s campaign manager, Pete Wilson, also used the term when he was governor, lashing out against Congress and what he saw as its protection of public employee unions. Brown then asked if Whitman had chastised Wilson for using the word.

“You know better than that, Jerry. That’s a completely different thing,” she said.

“It’s not,” Brown shot back.

The issue surfaced last week when an official at the Los Angeles Police Protective League released the recording to the Los Angeles Times. It captured a conversation between Brown and his aides last September after he had finished leaving a voice message with the union official over the union’s support for Whitman.

Brown apparently thought he had hung up but had not.

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