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L.A.'s acting mayor had a busy day in the spotlight

City Councilwoman Jan Perry began work in the wee hours of Tuesday, checking in with city officials about Jackson memorial security plans and talking to the media. She even led a council meeting.

July 08, 2009|Phil Willon

Eleven Asian elephants marched briskly down Chick Hearn Court toward the neon glow of Staples Center and a thicket of news satellite trucks in the wee hours of Tuesday.

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus was a day away, the Michael Jackson memorial extravaganza was hours away and the craziness already had begun for Los Angeles' stand-in mayor, City Councilwoman Jan Perry.

"Full moon. That's not good," said Perry, who at 4:30 a.m. was zipping up and down city streets around Staples Center in her Honda Accord hybrid, checking in with Los Angeles Police Department commanders on Jackson contingency plans one minute, chatting with elephant trainers the next.

On a day when people around the world had their eyes on Los Angeles' star-studded farewell to the late pop singer, the city's top politician was nowhere in sight. On July 1, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took off for a nine-day vacation in South Africa, and, with Council President Eric Garcetti also away, the job of acting mayor fell to Perry, the council president pro tem.

Representing a district that includes Staples Center and much of downtown Los Angeles, Perry spent days warning the Jackson faithful to avoid crowding around the arena if they didn't have a ticket to the memorial. Still, fearing the city might see a deluge of restless fans spilling into the streets, 3,200 police officers and 250 firefighters and paramedics were deployed around the arena.

"You know, you just have to be prepared the best you can be," Perry said before the event. "Despite what you may hear, though, I think this is going to be a great moment for Los Angeles."

And, as it turned out, a good day for Perry, one of a few council members toying with the idea of running for mayor when Villaraigosa ends his second and last term in 2013.

Authorities had feared that animal rights activists might disrupt the circus' traditional elephant walk from the rail yard, but a threat never materialized. And at the Jackson memorial, the crowd of spectators was overwhelmingly respectful.

Between briefings at the city's emergency operations center and the LAPD's command post -- and chairing a council meeting -- Perry also was all over the airwaves. Shortly before Jackson's memorial began, she was perched atop a 40-foot-high MSNBC stage overlooking Staples Center and being interviewed about the cost of the overwhelming police presence.

"It's our city's obligation, no matter what, to protect public safety," Perry said.

Still, city officials were facing criticism for allowing the city to cover the costs of providing police protection at Jackson's memorial while refusing to spend a dime on last month's parade for the Lakers' NBA Championship win.

In response to the criticism, Perry on Monday started encouraging Jackson fans to pitch in, explaining how they could make tax-deductible donations to lessen the financial blow to the city. Villaraigosa's office on Tuesday expanded the effort to allow credit card donations on the city's website.

LAPD Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese told Perry that the city's cost of providing security for the memorial probably would be lower than expected. Because the event went smoothly, more than 1,000 officers were sent home before the memorial concluded.

For Perry, Jackson's memorial touched on a hint of personal history. Born and raised outside Cleveland, she decided to move to Southern California when she was 17 after her parents took her to the Rose Bowl. They also went to the Rose Parade, which starred the Jackson 5.

"I was like wow, what an incredible place, where you could look up and see the Jackson 5," she said.

Perry later attended USC -- and never left Los Angeles.

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phil.willon@latimes.com

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