WASHINGTON — More than 200 of the Los Angeles region's top civic and business officials -- some of them adversaries back home -- kicked off a two-day lobbying blitz in the nation's capital Tuesday to secure more federal money for transportation, education, anti-gang programs and other priorities.
Members of the delegation -- led by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce -- delivered a unified message to members of Congress: The Los Angeles area powers much of the nation's economy and therefore deserves to reap its fair share of federal dollars.
"Southern California's challenges are America's challenges," Villaraigosa said at a midday news conference next to the Capitol, where he was joined by four members of the City Council, Police Chief William J. Bratton, School Board President Marlene Canter, Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom and others. "It's time to recognize that this is an engine not just for the region or the state but the nation and the world," Villaraigosa added.
The Los Angeles officials -- who fanned out to meet with several high-ranking members of Congress, including Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) -- said they didn't expect to come home with dollars in hand but worked to press the region's needs on lawmakers who are distracted by the war in Iraq and other matters.
"Sometimes you get immediate gratification. Other times it's laying the foundation for votes that will take place in a few months," Councilwoman Wendy Greuel said. "We're doing a little bit of both."
During their trip, the officials are focusing much of their attention on what they believe is the need for greater federal investment in transportation and security for the region. They came armed Tuesday with facts and figures about Southern California's contribution to the national economy, noting that 43% of the nation's imported cargo comes through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
The officials also brought along a breakdown, by congressional district, of the value that goods coming through the two Southern California ports add to a region's economy. For example, imported goods traveling through the local port complex contributed $2.2 million in economic activity to Minnesota's 5th Congressional District in 2005, the report said.
The Los Angeles officials called on federal lawmakers to authorize money for rail and transit projects that can speed cargo on roads and railways near the ports. And they urged the lawmakers to support legislation that would allocate money for port and rail security based on risk rather than on population.
Gang violence was another important subject Tuesday.
Villaraigosa, Bratton, Councilwoman Janice Hahn and Chamber of Commerce Chairman David W. Fleming urged lawmakers in one meeting to ensure that Congress passes gang legislation and that Los Angeles receives a significant portion of the money. The delegation also recommended that legislation target not only law enforcement activities but also prevention programs, job training and other efforts to keep young people from joining gangs.
Waters and Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village) were among those who listened to the hometown pitch. Reps. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Robert C. Scott (D-Va.) also attended the session.
"We have a million things competing for our time, and this helps focus us," Berman said afterward.
In a separate meeting with Kennedy, Villaraigosa and Canter, who have sparred over the mayor's bid to exert authority over the schools, discussed the pending reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind education law. They asked for greater flexibility for local schools and also for the federal government to pay the full cost of reforms. Los Angeles schools Supt. David L. Brewer and Monica Garcia, a school board member, also attended the meeting.
The delegates started Tuesday with a breakfast talk from Sen. Dianne Feinstein. She told the delegation that she supports efforts to pay for more gang prevention programs, as well as transit projects such as the extension of the Gold Line on the Eastside and the Exposition light-rail line on the Westside.
After the talk, the delegates divided into teams covering education, energy and the environment, international trade, small business and goods movement. They fanned out to meet with members of Congress.
Wherever they went on Capitol Hill, the L.A. visitors followed a simple rule: Stay on message.
"We are the ATM machine for the United States, and we're coming here to get refilled," Fleming told the gathering at the breakfast meeting with Feinstein. "We need some of those federal dollars back that we have been putting out year after year after year."