When it comes to getting noticed, politicians--and aspiring politicians--love nothing better than a parade.
And so even Monday's downpour did not deter a handful of those seeking to replace Mayor Tom Bradley from joining the procession of pompon girls, marching bands and celebrities who traversed the Crenshaw district in the eighth-annual Kingdom Day Parade honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
There was Councilman Joel Wachs, who called a news conference before the parade to declare Los Angeles a "racism-free city." And Julian Nava, who pressed the flesh in the VIP room alongside Councilman Nate Holden and attorney Stan Sanders.
Businessman Richard Riordan scheduled his own event nearby, meeting with a group of minority business owners at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Shopping Center to announce his economic recovery plan for Los Angeles.
Outside in the rain, his megaphone tucked under his soaking blazer, was Larry Green, the omnipresent gadfly who has made street-corner campaigning his hallmark.
"It's like Spago out here," he said at the entrance to Gagnier's of New Orleans, the restaurant that served as the VIP staging area. "It's the Spago of politics."
In a race that has attracted 26 candidates--ranging from the moderately well known to the obscure--time is everything, even in the rain. Government offices may have been closed Monday but campaign offices were in high gear, faxing advisories on their candidates' latest stops.
Those lined up along the parade route said they welcomed the attention, with only a few scattered accusations of shameless self-promotion. One of those who welcomed the politicians with open arms was Crystal Justine, 22, an aspiring actress who was recently named Miss Black Los Angeles.
"They all want to be photographed with me," she said of the horde of politicians lingering nearby. "It's part of the job. I love it."
Candidates acknowledged that politics was in the air.
"This is a campaign stop--anyone who denies that isn't telling the truth," said Wachs, who represents the eastern portion of the San Fernando Valley. "But it's more than that. This is an important day for the community. That's why I wanted to use the solemnity of Martin Luther King to raise the issue I'm raising."
The issue was the racial strife tearing at Los Angeles.
Wachs announced that he will introduce a resolution at today's City Council meeting encouraging all schools, places of worship, meeting halls, offices and homes to declare themselves "racism-free zones," within which prejudice is not allowed.
"What we need is the commitment of every single individual . . . to respect the dignity of every other individual," Wachs said. "All of us are a little different from everyone else. We must celebrate our differences."
Sanders, who grew up in Watts, used the occasion to reflect on his two meetings with King. The first came while Sanders was a student leader at Jordan High School. Later, when Sanders went to Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar, King visited the English town on a stopover on his journey to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize.
"He was a man who inspired me when I was coming of political age," Sanders said. "The message he promulgated then is still relevant now."
Riordan stressed in his speech the need to revamp the city's bureaucracy to make it easier for businesses to relocate or expand in Los Angeles. He said that, as mayor, he would require that environmental impact statements be processed within one year, and he would create a task force to give businesses prompt advice on the regulatory process.
He also took time out to praise King. "I believe that if Dr. King were here today, he would be a leader for all people, bringing them together to provide the healing that is necessary in Los Angeles today," Riordan said.
As part of that healing, the group Coalition '93 began distributing surveys to households throughout the city to determine the issues that voters regard as key in the April primary election.
"We will use the surveys to formulate questions for the mayoral candidates and hold their feet to the fire on those questions," said Sharon Delugach, one of the group's organizers. "Dr. King said the greatest tragedy of a nation is when millions of its citizens feel like they have no stake in their own society."
Nava, a professor at Cal State Northridge and former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, said he attended the parade to reach out to the African-Americans who supported him during his days on the Los Angeles Board of Education. Nava criticized his rivals who did not make it out to the parade.
"I think every single one of the candidates should have been here," he said. "This is an American commemoration, not simply one for blacks. To heal this city, candidates have to show they care, not simply talk like they care. Sure, it's raining, but you can count who is sincere by who is here."
Those who were not there took a different view, saying they would have joined the festivities if they could.