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With the verdicts in, Los Angeles is returning to its usual routines. But for many inner-city residents, there's little cause to celebrate . . . : The Return to Normal


At opposite western corners of Florence and Normandie stand two empty lots. One is fenced in chain-link, full of dirt clods and rust; the other choked with weeds run wild. Amid homemade advertisements for hauling services, handyman and gardening work, a dozen or so brightly colored signs adorn the chaos: "Mike Woo For Mayor."

Is this a promise? An indication that one man just might be able to cure all this, sweep these two lots and what surrounds it clean of more than just debris? Right now, it seems too large a promise to be able to keep, let alone make.

As the week wears on and the cloud of elation over the verdicts dissipates, residents of, say, South L. A. or East L. A. or Pico-Union are more than likely relieved that the city didn't blow. They are not necessarily satisfied, however, with their version of "back to normal."

Normal for many in the Southland means back to a familiar routine of hard work, relatively comfortable home and, if lucky, some time to relax before the cycle begins again. For too many others, back to normal means a return to substandard status. Back to being invisible, back to being silenced, back to being a mere afterthought.

The innercity still clings to the image of Watts, 1965--if not one's personal, indelible detail, someone's passed-down memory. Something so full-blown and cataclysmic would be difficult to lose and should never be. Evidence is everywhere and these remnants sit side-by-side the bristling anger of a new generation. The desolation is palpable. Wide paved streets, the American symbol of opportunity, offer no promise. In 1965, summer youth programs offered a fresh breeze of hope, a windfall of relief and recovery money. Until, that is, it dried up, along with so much else in the inner city.

On Monday, two days after the latest verdict in the trial of officers accused of beating Rodney G. King and just one before the election, Mayor Tom Bradley wore a somber suit but jubilant expression as he held a mid-morning press conference near USC. All smiles, he proudly announced, in an efficient, the-crisis-is-behind-us, business-as-usual tone, an increase (from 19,000 to 40,000) in jobs available through the city's Summer Youth Employment and Training Program.

Earning $5.47 an hour, economically disadvantaged L. A. youths ages 14 to 21 will be given the chance to work at local hospitals, government offices, day camps and parks. The selection process begins in May.

"Employment and jobs are the No. 1 priorities for this community," Bradley intoned. He drove home a hitch, however, raising "a note of alarm": The funds could double only if Congress passes President Clinton's troubled economic stimulus package. Congress, the mayor explained, doesn't fully grasp the severity of the problem here.

"Make your needs known," Bradley and others persistently advise. But, it's difficult to fathom a louder cry than resonated last year.

The status quo that inspired those flames hasn't been altered by a long-scrutinized jury and/or its recent verdict. The have-nots' frustrations and needs still demand attention. None have evaporated; seeds of unrest remain.

The city is "looking for a savior," an African-American woman bagging groceries at a mid-town market tells the Latina checker. "Now you know, there's no such thing as that," she lectures to all within earshot, waving her hand as if she isn't even remotely involved or at the least affected.

Last spring's fury brought the long and often-hushed issues of race and class to the dinner table, to be discussed in a manner to which this city has not been quite accustomed. No longer impolite, race, at least briefly, could fill space in polite conversation.

These issues can no longer be ignored, pundits wrote and activists believed. But who would emerge to lead a new and enlightened city through its difficult change? Too many to count on two hands was the answer, so many that they blended into a monolithic one.

Despite all the ink about and academic conferences centering around race and class in quickly metamorphosing Los Angeles, political consultant Kerman Maddox had no illusions about a strong African-American candidate for mayor emerging. On Tuesday, Nate Holden and Stan Sanders, both black, managed less than 8% of the vote between them.

"No one had been groomed," Maddox says. "There was no one waiting in the wings. I expected that Mike Woo would run strong. And whenever you run against a man (like Richard Riordan, who was the primary's top vote-getter) who can write a check for $1 million, then turn around and write one for $2 (million)--that's formidable."

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