Los Angeles City Councilman Robert Farrell, the target of both a recall drive and a conflict-of-interest inquiry by the district attorney's office, received a vehement defense Tuesday from a group of community leaders who blamed the "white media" for the black councilman's troubles.
"We are outraged because of the efforts of the news media to try to . . . crucify a good leader of the community," declared the Rev. Frank J. Higgins, president of the 400-member Baptist Ministers Congress of Los Angeles.
But recall leaders, who are themselves black, suggested that press scrutiny of Farrell is no different from that of white politicians. Farrell and his defenders, they suggested, have raised the issue to deflect attention from meaningful issues.
Matter of Curiosity
"I find it curious that he is addressing himself to the press when he ought to be addressing himself to his district's concerns," said Cynthia McClain-Hill, manager of the 8th District Citizens for Recall.
With three months remaining in the petition drive, the group says it has collected about 3,000 of the 12,560 signatures needed to force a recall election.
The recall leaders stress that their efforts started months before the first press reports appeared detailing Farrell's role in steering real estate, campaign funds and a city grant with a total value of more than $400,000 to a small anti-poverty agency run by his former wife, Essiebea Farrell. Those activities are now the subject of the district attorney's inquiry.
Tuesday's political cross fire started with a press conference on the City Hall steps, featuring Higgins and 15 other black leaders representing the clergy, business, block clubs and organized labor. After issuing their statements, all but one of the speakers refused to answer reporters' questions. (Earlier, Farrell had brushed off reporters who tried to ask him questions. He did not participate in the press conference.)
Farrell's defenders castigated the press, particularly the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, for recent stories concerning the Farrell controversy. The councilman, they suggested, was the latest victim of a nationwide pattern of media "harassment" and a "conspiracy" against black public officials. They cited a study by an Iowa State University professor postulating the harassment argument.
'It's All Whites'
"Who is the media? It's all whites," said Higgins, noting that no black reporters covered the press conference. "It is a white media."
"The black community's patience is wearing thin," added Pastor Thomas Kilgore. "We are tired of the press lambasting Farrell day after day on unproven charges."
The only Farrell defender who agreed to answer reporters' questions was Celes King, a prominent bail bondsman and former chairman of the city's Human Relations Commission.
"I have not seen the putting together of the alphabet that constitutes fraud," King said. Later, regarding Farrell's actions, he added, "I don't really feel it's a major conflict of interest."
But recall leader Kerman Maddox, a former aide to Mayor Tom Bradley and a potential candidate for Farrell's seat, pointed out that many white politicians, including President Reagan, have been the focus of intense media scrutiny as well. "I don't see the double standard," Maddox said.
The questions facing Farrell, Maddox said, are: "What did he know, when did he know it and what role did he play in this alleged misuse of funds?"
Farrell's supporters portrayed recall leaders as "outsiders," saying that most of the money for the recall campaign comes from people who live outside the 8th Council District.
Recall proponent McClain-Hill acknowledged that while most of the $15,000 raised by the committee came from people who live outside the district, "more than 90% comes from the black community," and largely comes from people who have roots in the district.
McClain-Hill herself does not live in the district--"but my grandmother does and has been there 20 years."