Simi Valley leaders, admitting the city's reputation was stained by the Rodney G. King beating trial verdict, said Sunday that they hoped that today's visit by former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev will wipe away some of the tarnish.
Gorbachev is scheduled to appear at 11 a.m. at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. He will receive the first Ronald Reagan Freedom award from the former U.S. President, then speak about pro-democracy movements worldwide.
Simi Valley officials hope that the event will be an antidote to the avalanche of bad publicity that descended on the city last week after a Ventura County jury deliberating in Simi Valley found four Los Angeles police officers not guilty of beating King. City officials say their city was widely but unfairly blamed for the outcome of the trial and the rioting that followed.
"I think we'd like to get out of the spotlight we've had for the past few days," said Mayor Pro Tem Bill Davis, "and get back into the spotlight as the home of the Presidential Library. That's more positive."
City officials have complained that reporters nationwide are unfairly attributing the verdict to a "Simi Valley jury." They have pointed out that the jury included only two Simi Valley residents, and they've insisted that townspeople were outraged by the verdict.
"I went to a YMCA function in Simi Valley last night and talked to maybe 50 people," Davis said Sunday. "I haven't talked to one person who thinks the verdict is right."
Davis and other local leaders have been making appearances on national news broadcasts and elsewhere as part of an aggressive drive to correct misperceptions about the city. Davis is slated to represent Simi Valley today when Oprah Winfrey's talk show focuses on the King beating verdict.
These appearances, combined with the Gorbachev visit, will be "a somewhat mitigating factor, after a week of being beaten up by those who don't know or seek to understand the city of Simi Valley," said Assistant City Manager Mike Sedell.
"We've been maligned in the eyes of the world as to what Simi Valley represents," he added. "The Presidential Library is more reflective of the views of Simi Valley."
Although most local leaders believe that Gorbachev's visit will help heal the city's wounded image, Councilwoman Sandi Webb said it may just arouse more anger toward Simi Valley.
"I think a lot of people are rather disgusted with the attention Gorbachev is getting," said Webb, who is Ventura County's only elected official from the Libertarian Party. "He's being painted as a leader of freedom and democracy, which he is not.
"I just think it's a little ironic that someone who led one of the more oppressive countries in the world is getting this honor."
The councilwoman said Simi Valley is probably suffering from a double dose of unjust guilt by association because the city did not seek the King beating trial or arrange Gorbachev's visit.
But Webb said all the concern about the city's reputation may be misplaced. "I think the average person outside the city does not think about Simi Valley's image that much," she said.
Gorbachev's visit will be a relatively small gathering of 500 invited guests, who have made donations to the library, and about 200 newspeople. Gov. Pete Wilson will also participate in the program, along with the Conejo Unified School District Elementary Choir.
Despite the rioting that broke out after the verdict, U.S. Secret Service agents said no extraordinary security measures were planned for the event, which is not open to the public.
Simi Valley Police Sgt. Mike Brewer said his department would assist with traffic control outside the library, but he said no additional officers would be on duty to guard against potential violence.
Correspondent Peggy Y. Lee contributed to this report.
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