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Black Leaders Promise to Battle Against Secession

June 29, 2002|PATRICK McGREEVY and BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

More than 30 African American civic, political and religious leaders said Friday they will campaign to stop the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood from breaking away from Los Angeles, contending that secession would hurt black residents by reducing the clout and tax base of the diminished city that would be left behind.

Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson (D-Culver City) said the anti-secession message will be spread to black voters from churches and union halls. The campaign will also register African Americans to vote so they can be a force in the secession elections Nov. 5, he said.

"We join here together to oppose a movement to destroy this city, to oppose a movement to split this city apart," Wesson said during a small but spirited rally on the steps of First African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Los Angeles.

The rally seemed to end some of the uncertainty over the role black leaders will play in Mayor James K. Hahn's campaign against secession. Hahn had infuriated many African Americans by opposing Bernard Parks' bid for a second term as L.A. police chief.

The mayor was noticeably absent from the rally, but he did address another group of African American leaders on Friday, urging them to get involved in the anti-secession drive.

At both events, black leaders said the Parks dispute will not stop them from joining Hahn's effort.

"We're not going to be using secession as a revenge piece," said A. Asadullah Samad, president of Samad and Associates and founder of the nonprofit Urban Issues Breakfast Forum, where Hahn spoke. "It really doesn't benefit the African American community."

Later Friday, the pro-secession campaigns said African Americans would not be hurt by a breakup.

"This is the miseducation of black voters whose political power is quickly diminishing in Los Angeles," said Geoffrey Garfield, campaign manager for the Hollywood Independence Committee.

Garfield, who is African American, said the black population of Los Angeles would increase from 10% to 25% of the total if the Valley and Hollywood break away.

"In a new L.A., the voting age population of African Americans will double, thereby doubling the political power of the African American community in their city," Garfield said.

The result would be increased black representation on the Los Angeles City Council, predicted Richard Close, chairman of the secession group Valley VOTE.

But Wesson said African Americans would have greater say in a city with fewer resources.

"To me it's six of one, half a dozen of the other, if that means additional power or influence over a much smaller pot," he said.

Wesson also said African American residents empathize with secessionist complaints that the Valley and Hollywood receive substandard city services, but added the solution is to unite and improve Los Angeles. The legislator noted Los Angeles used its clout as the nation's second-largest city to secure $400 million in federal anti-poverty money a few years ago. "I don't know if they would come up with $400 million if we were not the second-largest city," Wesson said, adding that the city would also lose influence in Sacramento.

Breakup opponents also said losing the Valley tax base would harm Los Angeles programs in their neighborhoods, and the poor would be hurt the most.

"A breakup of the city would cause damage in South Los Angeles," said Norman Johnson, director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's local chapter. "We are not convinced that always smaller is better."

The Rev. Cecil "Chip" Murray of the First AME Church said, "The drainage of people is the drainage of funds, and the chief victims of drainage are the impoverished."

Others who announced their opposition to secession Friday included Geraldine Washington, president of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People's Los Angeles chapter; Juanita Tate of Concerned Citizens of South Central; Janett Humphries, president of the Service Employees International Union's Local 99, which represents school employees, and John Lett Sr., pastor of the Greater Missionary Baptist Church in Pacoima.

Hahn spoke to about 100 people at the Urban Issues Breakfast Forum in Culver City. The crowd initially appeared cautiously open to the mayor, then warmed to his anti-secession pitch.

"We understand the situation between the mayor and [former] Chief Parks and we didn't like it," said Gene Hale, president of G & C Equipment Corp. and of the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce. "It doesn't mean we're not going to do our homework on secession."

In his remarks, Hahn acknowledged that some in the group might be angry toward him, but he implored them: "This isn't about me ... I think people can disagree with each other. If this city breaks up, we won't be able to get back together." He also warned that African Americans would lose power if Valley and Hollywood cities are created.

"Instead of being a major player in a big city, the African American community will be a major player in a much smaller one," Hahn said. "The African American community will be left behind with less clout in Sacramento, less clout in Washington ... We will be left behind in a city that has been financially ruined."

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