Mayor Richard Riordan tried to shore up support in one of his weakest areas Monday at a cocktail reception thrown by Earvin (Magic) Johnson at the basketball star's Baldwin Hills movie theaters.
For the mayor, whose relationship with African American City Council members, voters and community leaders has been strained, the $150-a-person reception was meant to build bridges with prominent blacks as well as to raise money for his 1997 reelection bid.
"The money's important, but it's also a chance for people to get to know the mayor. There are misconceptions about the mayor in the African American community, and this is a way to demonstrate that he's trying to reach out," said Gil Ray, a lawyer who was one of the event's organizers.
The reception, however, was not quite the public outpouring of support that the mayor may have hoped for.
Magic Johnson Theatres Vice President Kenneth Lombard, one of the co-chairmen of the reception, would not comment when asked if the event signaled an endorsement of Riordan by him or Johnson.
And Virgil Roberts, president of Solar Records/J. Hines Co. and a member of the reception's organizing committee, said: "The spirit of the reception is not to say, 'I'm endorsing the mayor,' it's saying, 'He's the mayor of the city and he needs to come to our community. If it requires us hosting a meeting we're prepared to do that.' "
Many of the 200 who had sushi and drinks in the theater lobby were reluctant to say whether they would back Riordan's reelection.
Homer Broome Jr., a onetime City Council candidate, said he showed up to thank Riordan for helping him with his unsuccessful 1987 council campaign against Nate Holden, but is not yet endorsing the mayor. "I don't know who else will run," said Broome, who backed Riordan's opponent Mike Woo in 1993.
Riordan spoke of the need to "find common goals" and said he supports diversity but not quotas, while Michael Jackson videos played on six wall-mounted screens. Many in the crowd conversed with one another during the mayor's remarks and applauded politely when he finished. The news media were not allowed into the event, which Johnson did not attend.
Winning African American votes will be more than an uphill battle for Riordan. He was outpolled more than 5 to 1 in precincts with predominantly black voters in his 1993 election.
Some of that discontent with Riordan surfaced during an earlier visit by the mayor to the Magic Johnson Theatres. At the theater's opening last summer, Riordan was booed by some in the crowd, which prompted him to quip: "I think some people in the back are confusing me with [Raiders owner] Al Davis."
But the district's city councilman, Riordan foe Mark Ridley-Thomas, said Riordan blamed him for the crowd's response.
Robin Kramer, the mayor's chief of staff, would not comment on Ridley-Thomas's recollection. "It's not productive, and I'm not going to get into it," she said.
Monday's reception was one of several recent efforts by the mayor to improve his relationship with minority communities. In the last several months, Riordan has been meeting with community activists, church, business and political leaders to "find out what people are feeling," Kramer said.
At the Friday dedication of a building named for him at a Boyle Heights education center, Riordan gave a speech that Kramer described as "an umbrella statement" bringing together "many things the mayor has said in the past" about race relations.
"There are raw feelings, frustrations, anger and worry" in Los Angeles, Riordan said, without mentioning racial tension.
"There are problems, yes. But the solution is not to engage in divisive talk that serves neither to solve nor to heal," Riordan said. Without citing specific steps, Riordan called on the city to "use the Angeleno spirit of compassion, creativity and commitment to build many [of these facilities], to build many bridges."
Kramer said Riordan is "very pleased and touched," that Johnson held the reception, adding that it is "a big honor."
Spreading that warmth among black voters will be the mayor's real challenge. One African American City Council member who asked not to be identified said: "Raising money is not outreach, and it isn't listening to the needs of inner-city people."