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ROBIN ABCARIAN

Make Us Safe, Mr. Mayor

July 07, 1993|ROBIN ABCARIAN

Richard Riordan began turning my neighborhood around about 10 p.m. on the Fourth of July.

I live in Venice, where, as in many corners of this city, it's occasionally difficult to distinguish between firecrackers, bad mufflers and gun shots. The noises filtering through our open windows on Sunday had the dogs jumping and me wondering when the racket would end.

Then the LAPD helicopter swooped in and began describing huge circles around the park, a brilliant beam of light illuminating who-knows-what inanities below. Perhaps the booms and thumps we'd been hearing were not benign bottle rockets after all.

"This is the LAPD," bellowed a voice from the sky. "The park is closed. Please leave the area."

Yea, Mayor! Turn it around some more!

In truth, I'm sure Mayor Riordan had nothing to do with the police response to the hooligans who were disturbing the peace in our neighborhood. I'd like to believe the man will make a difference to those of us who do not represent big business. Hard to imagine, though, that he will have any effect on our daily lives.

*

I watched Richard Riordan last week as he stood on the steps at City Hall addressing the surprisingly thin crowd that turned up for his swearing-in.

His stiff speech sounded more like a high school graduation offering than the articulate, impassioned call for healing a divided city one might have hoped for.

He invoked Robert Kennedy, theologian G.K. Chesterton and the Bible. He stole a page from the Ronald Reagan School of Dropping the Names of Little People Into Speeches to Show You Care. (Memo to "the Schultz family in the Valley," "Steve Durnham" and "Greg Fischer, whom I have yet to meet": Your 15 minutes are up.)

It was a thumpingly dull morning.

In 1973, Tom Bradley drew twice as many people to his swearing-in, half of them black. People were excited; they talked about the dawning of a new day. Bradley's inauguration had dramatic sideshows, too. Forty members of the American Nazi Party came to express their displeasure. They wore brown shirts, carried signs that said "Go Back to Africa" and were shouted down by Bradley supporters.

Riordan, on the other hand, drew one lonely white guy with a placard reading "Riordan = Racist Scum." Like everything about this limp ceremony, no one paid much attention.

I never attended a Sam Yorty inauguration--he ruled the city from 1961 until Bradley toppled him in 1973--but I had the strong impression at last Thursday's do for Riordan that, except for a fleeting mention of AIDS, this city might have been handing the reins to someone of Yorty's era and back-room sensibilities. The crowd was mostly white. Women were introduced as "the lovely," as in, "the lovely Nancy Daly."

Turn L.A. around, Mr. Mayor, don't turn it back.

Oh, there were a few modern touches. Jackie Goldberg, the city's first openly gay council member, was sworn in with her colleagues. And some inaugural spectators were sporting the little lapel ribbons that have come to be cliches for various causes--red for AIDS, pink for breast cancer, etc.

After Riordan awkwardly ended his speech, his voice rising without warning to a shout, and singer Leslie Uggams began belting "America the Beautiful," the crowd started to disperse.

A Riordan supporter, a middle-aged businessman in a gray suit, brushed past me. He had a ribbon pinned to his lapel, too.

It was a neatly folded dollar bill.

*

I don't know how our new mayor spent his holiday. We spent ours at home. We used to go down to the beach, but the fireworks were canceled some time back after gang rivalries got out of hand a few times too many.

We don't go near the beach after dusk at all anymore. It's just too dangerous.

As it turned out, the disturbance in the park near our house Sunday night was not directly related to gang activity. A stolen vehicle had been driven into the area, police said, and Independence Day revelers were asked to leave so officers could search for the thief, who had fled on foot. He was not found.

You feel a little silly putting much stock in a politician's promises, but I could almost forgive Richard Riordan his wooden speaking style, his coziness with big business, his alternating stance on abortion if only he would make the city safer.

This is one area of our lives where turning back the clock wouldn't be such a bad thing.

Who, after all, doesn't resent planning lives around the schedules of criminals?

Who doesn't yearn to take the kids to the boardwalk without worrying about cross-fire?

And who doesn't miss the days when every boom and thump on the Fourth of July meant only that another bottle rocket was whizzing into space?

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