Image-conscious Inglewood won a national award from the U.S. Conference of Mayors for community efforts against drugs, but came up short in a bid for a bigger prize.
Although Inglewood was one of 25 finalists in the National Civic League's 38th annual All-America City competition in Houston, the league did not select it as one of 10 winners.
Each year, the league honors communities that have developed a broad base of community involvement in creating innovative solutions to local problems. The 25 finalists were chosen from a record 96 applicants. Past winners include Cleveland, which won three times during the mid 1980s for revitalizing its core city.
Inglewood leaders prepared intensively for their presentation to the Civic League, hoping the award could be the centerpiece for a campaign promoting the city as a progressive, multi-ethnic community overcoming problems of crime and blight.
"It would have been an ideal way to focus the attention of the community and the rest of California on a lot of the positive things we have going on," said Deputy City Manager Norman Cravens. "We feel we've made a turnaround."
Inglewood officials are pleased to have been finalists, are still discussing a promotion campaign and may enter the competition next year, Cravens said.
He said they were surprised not to be selected, having received favorable comments from the awards jury and other finalists.
Only California Winner
Paramount was the only California community to be named an All-America City this year.
After taking part in the Houston presentation, Inglewood Mayor Edward Vincent went on to the U.S. Mayors Conference in Salt Lake City, where Inglewood received a national award for "partnerships in drug control" combining volunteers and the private sector.
Washington and Cincinnati were among six other municipalities selected from 57 applicants to receive the drug-control award, said spokeswoman Laura Waxman.
Inglewood's applications for both awards centered on an anti-drug campaign begun in 1986 that involves the Police Department, school district, community groups and local institutions such as the Forum, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Laker Wives organization.
The Lakers and their wives sponsored an anti-drug rally at the Forum for Inglewood public school students this year. A citywide walk-a-thon last year involving the Lakers raised $31,000 for the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program taught to sixth-graders by police officers.
The Police Department's anti-drug task forces and reverse sting operations, where officers take over rock cocaine houses and arrest buyers of the drug, have had considerable community support. Drug dealers and buyers are warned to stay out of the city by a billboard campaign sponsored by Inglewood Park Cemetery and billboard companies.
The selection panel for the U.S. Mayor's Conference award praised the involvement of the Lakers in activities such as the walk-a-thon, Waxman said. The judges also said that Inglewood's proposal for a tax assessment to finance a permanent police anti-crime task force represents a "novel approach" to meeting law enforcement needs. The assessment proposal will be considered in a public hearing next week.
"It was a tremendous honor for the citizens of Inglewood," Vincent said in a telephone interview from the mayor's conference.
'Crying for Federal Help'
"Everybody here is saying drugs is the most dangerous problem affecting this country. Some of the mayors here are crying for federal help. I disagree with that. Money doesn't solve everything. People have to solve problems," he said.
Vincent said he and other officials had been confident of winning the All-America City Award as well, but added: "We did the best we could. We could not have made a better presentation."
The All-America City competition was fierce, as evidenced by the effort Inglewood and other cities put into their pitches. Inglewood's package capitalized on the Lakers connection with a flashy video intercutting the Lakers' "Just Say No" anti-drug rap with high-flying Lakers' game footage and scenes of residents participating in the walk-a-thon.
In addition, a team of city representatives--including Vincent, Police Officer Calvin Smith of DARE and 12-year-old student Janine Neal--rehearsed their presentations repeatedly with the coaching of top city officials.
Increasing interest in the award results from a new emphasis on self-reliance by cities facing local problems, said Christopher Gates, vice president of the National Civic League.
"The focus of change in this country is devolving from federal to state to local government," Gates said. "That forces people at the local level to get creative and innovative."
Paramount was honored for a comprehensive program against gang membership in the schools, a program to refurbish run-down housing and police innovations including evaluation forms filled out by residents each time officers respond to a call.