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California and the West | Mike Downey

Seeing the Light as the Rev. J Saves the Day

October 18, 2000|Mike Downey

I used to think of Jesse Jackson as a big buttinsky.

A meddler. A busybody. I'd see him coming and I'd mutter to myself, "Oh, Jesse, go home. Mind your own business."

Now I've seen the light.

It is obvious to me now that Jesse Jackson should be brought in to help resolve every dispute on Earth, big or small.

Going on strike? Bring in Jesse.

Israelis vs. Palestinians? Just dial J for Jesse.

Domestic quarrel? Never fear, Jesse's here.

He's not a meddler. He's a mediator. The man gets things done. Diplomats negotiate for days--Jesse jumps right in and brings out the hostages. Politicians plead with transit workers to no avail--Jesse jumps on a jet and gets the wheels rolling again.

I thought of him as an interloper. As uninvited and unnecessary. I was wrong. He's not just the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He's the Relevant Jesse Jackson. This guy could get mice to play with cats. He brings warring factions together to shake hands faster than a referee. He should have been a marriage counselor.


Los Angeles civic leaders are in Jackson's debt today. A month-old MTA bus and train strike might have dragged on into 2001, had the Rev. J not saved the day.

(I enjoy speaking in rhyme, because Jesse does it all the time.)

"Jesse, this city and county owes you," one of our supervisors, Zev Yaroslavsky--which rhymes with nothing--stated flat-out, shortly after Tuesday's union-MTA truce.

I hope somebody at least remembered to give Jackson a golden lifetime L.A. bus pass, good for the rest of his life. Ride on, Jesse.

Without you, the city of L.A. might still be at a standstill. Some of us would have spent the rest of the year riding to work on skateboards and Razor scooters.

The drivers' union had circled the buses like wagons. They'd dug in for a long fight. Leaders emerged from negotiations in Pasadena looking so forlorn, I thought some of them might grab a Greyhound and leave town.

Our fearless mayor, Richard Riordan, stepped bravely in front of a TV camera at every opportunity to say, "We're optimistic." It's his favorite comment. It could rain frogs for 40 days, and Dick Riordan would tell a TV crew, "We're optimistic."

Jesse Jackson gets action.

On the day he came to L.A., it was the City of Empty Bus Stops. The largest vehicle on our roads was a Chevy Suburban. One morning I saw a bus rolling downtown and felt happy for the passengers inside, until I saw it was taking prisoners to the county jail. The inmates aboard were probably saying, "We're optimistic."

But from the moment the Reverend hit town, you could hear those bus motors revving up again.

Maybe it's his clerical air. Maybe it really is divine intervention.

After all, who was the one responsible for L.A. County's salvation when 47,000 county workers were about to walk off the job? (And they had to walk off, because they couldn't find a bus.) Why, it was Cardinal Roger Mahony, who urged the strikers to reconsider at the last minute. Cardinal 1, L.A. 0.

This is why I sincerely believe it would be a good idea to summon someone such as Jesse Jackson here whenever there's any hint of trouble. You know, like with Batman or the Lone Ranger.

Maybe we could get a red Jesse hotline telephone. Or aim a big searchlight in the sky above Los Angeles, with a giant "JJ" emblem, so he'd materialize whenever we need him.

"Jesse, this is Chief Parks. We've got a problem with a rogue cop."

"I'll be right there."

"Jesse, this is Judge Ito. Got a tough one here."

"On my way!"

"Jesse, this is Phil Jackson. Shaq's free throws. . . ."

"I'm on the next plane."


Run for the White House again, Jesse. It's not too late. There are three more weeks to the election. There's still time for a write-in.

Al Gore probably couldn't get our buses running. George Bush couldn't make exact change. Ralph Nader might be able to get the buses fixed, but Pat Buchanan would make all of them lean to the right.

But you, you've proved you can get this city running. Well, same goes for this nation of ours. We're optimistic!

Thanks for everything you did. I used to dread seeing you coming. But now I can hardly wait until next time.

This is to inform ya that you're welcome in California.

See? I'm getting this rhyming thing down.


Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to: Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. E-mail:

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