Advertisement

The Two Worlds of Maxine Waters : Mastering the Back Rooms of Sacramento, Battling Despair on the Streets of L.A.

<i> Ronald Brownstein is a contributing editor of this magazine. </i>

FROM THE OUTSIDE, the Greater Union Baptist Church in Compton isn’t much to look at, a square, small building on a street of square, small houses. Inside, it has only nine rows of pews beneath dim fluorescent bulbs. It is the sort of church that finds glory in its faith, not on its walls.

On this sunny afternoon, somber black women, softly nodding to the words of the speakers who pass through the pulpit, have filled about half the pews. A few men are interspersed among them, one of them white. It is Monday, Jan. 16--the official observance of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday--and the friends of Birdell Chew Moore have gathered to bury her.

Four rows into the audience sits California Assemblywoman Maxine Waters, who represents an extremely poor, mostly black, though also heavily Latino, district in nearby South-Central Los Angeles. She wears a stylish blue suit, a black-and-white blouse and a large question-mark-shaped lapel pin. She listens as the mourners remember Moore, her decades of work in the community, her labors to build the Watts Health Foundation. About halfway through the service, the minister calls on Waters to speak, and she gathers up her notes and moves to the front of the room. When her name comes over the microphone, there is a flutter of applause.

Waters’ voice is soft and strong. “I cannot think of a better way to honor Martin Luther King and Birdell than to be here today,” she begins. “Most of the time she would call me and say, ‘When are you going to do something “about” ’ and then launch into a tirade about the ‘about’,” she says. The room warms with smiles of recognition. All that remains of Moore are memories, and Waters lets the audience hold that one for a moment. Then she continues. “When I first met her, she kind of scared me.” The smiles open into laughter. And above it, Waters talks about watching Moore, forceful and fearless, shout down politicians and bankers, the gray-suited ambassadors of distant power, when they came to see just what it was the people in Watts wanted. “It was delightful,” Waters says rapturously. “It was powerful, it was inspiring, it was motivating.”

Advertisement

Sitting in the back row, listening to Waters describe the dead woman’s power and presence, it occurs to me that she could just as well be describing herself. First elected to the state Assembly in 1976, this daughter of a welfare mother has become--through a combination of ferocity and ingenuity--one of the most powerful members of the California Legislature and arguably the nation’s most influential black female elected official. A close ally of Jesse Jackson and Assembly Speaker Willie L. Brown Jr., well-connected in Democratic circles on both coasts, Waters, 50, is an impassioned voice for liberal causes in local, state and national politics. Waters is “one of those people who walks into a room and everyone knows, instantly, that she’s there,” says political consultant Gerald J. Austin, who ran Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign. Not everyone in the political world likes Maxine Waters, but no one likes to cross her. Waters affects even the most seasoned politicians the way Birdell Moore affected her: She scares them.

In this era of smooth, unoffensive, indistinguishable elected officials, Waters is defiantly anomalous, a bantamweight throwing jabs in a room of game-show hosts. There’s nothing pastel about Waters; she lives in primary colors. Some politicians worship the spotlight; Waters reveres power--the power to move legislation, to bend the bureaucracy, to make her agenda the state’s agenda. Representing a community with needs that stretch the imagination, she is a dutiful and disciplined student of the possible.

When I tune back in at the church, Waters is winding up. She has, like any good preacher, brought her story around to the here and now. She is no longer attending to the congregation’s individual grief, their personal sorrow; now she is speaking to a deeper loss, the communal loss heavy in the room this afternoon: the shaken belief that these men and women can meaningfully confront the crime and poverty corroding their community.

That was the belief--the liberating mixture of anger and hope--that brought Waters into politics 20 years ago. Her anger endures, but on days like this, when the past’s bright promise is remembered, and then interred, hope frays. You can see it in the weary faces in this room. You can sometimes see it in Waters, too--a thin mist of uncertainty that clouds her bright, hard face. For all her faith, all her energy, all her power--all the faith and energy of people like Birdell Moore, of Martin Luther King himself--Waters knows that on the streets outside this church, anonymous young men who do not remember King’s name shoot each other every week over turf or drugs or pique, and those who live long enough become grandparents at 32. Sorrow seems to be permanently etched into this landscape, like the dirty streets and the distant blue sky.

Advertisement

It is despair, then, that Maxine Waters must now fight first, in the people she represents and in herself. “We’re not jumping up and down enough,” she tells the congregation, her voice rising, rumbling, like a train gaining speed. “It’s not enough to talk about gangs, drugs and unemployment. Each of us should examine our commitment not only to our personal lives but our family and our community and our children.” For the first time, someone calls out “Amen.”

“What have you done lately?” she asks, each word sharp, fervent, challenging. “What meeting have you gone to lately? Let’s make some noise. I yearn for the old days, when we were not socialized by someone else’s definition of

what diplomacy is, when we were not too cute to make some noise.”

Keeping the Fire Alive

BUT THE “OLD DAYS,” THE glory days of the civil-rights movement that first quickened Waters’ political consciousness, are now more than two decades old, and memories fade. Earlier that morning, when she was at her home in the Vermont Knolls section of Los Angeles, Waters heard the shouts and bustle of the men who pick up the trash, and thought: Isn’t it strange that they are working on Martin Luther King’s birthday? Don’t they remember it was a garbage men’s strike that brought him to Memphis the day he died?

That bittersweet note seemed strangely appropriate when Waters told me the story early that afternoon. Today, on King’s birthday, his legacy seems majestic, yet ambiguous. The civil-rights laws passed in the mid-1960s have encouraged the growth of a prosperous black middle class that has escaped the ghetto. But a larger percentage of black families live in poverty today than in 1969. Trapped in boats seemingly too grounded to be lifted by any tide, this isolated inner-city underclass confronts Waters and other black leaders with problems more intractable than anything the activists imagined when they buried Jim Crow.

Not only are the problems more complex but so is the task of rallying attention to them. King and the movement he embodied drew their strength from their moral certitude, their clenched outrage at clear enemies--the Klan, Orval Faubus, Bull Connor. But who is the legitimate target for outrage over gang killings in Watts? The teen-agers who casually shoot their classmates or blithely decide to have babies? The young men who find dealing drugs more alluring than working for minimum wage? The government whose promises have gone unfulfilled? The society that has tuned out? Is the enemy without or within?

Even so zealous an advocate as Waters has no easy answers. That ambiguity shadows her advocacy. For Waters, the hard fact is that the dilemma of the people she represents no longer inspires moral outrage. When white Americans watched the guard dogs and fire hoses batter stoic black protesters in the South 25 years ago, they demanded that something be done; now, polls say, many whites believe that enough has been done. It is symptomatic that on this morning, King’s birthday, Waters found herself marching through Beverly Hills amid a group of students to protest conditions not in Watts but in South Africa, where apartheid still offers the juxtaposition of evil oppressors and saintly victims that stirs idealism.

Advertisement

“The way people now seem to be able to like themselves better and have a moral position is to address something like the homeless, which is colorless,” Waters says with her characteristic assuredness as she leaves the march. “People don’t want to talk about the injustice of what’s going on in South-Central, because they really do believe we provide money for, say, education. (They think,) ‘If they’re not getting it, there is something wrong with them.’ People believe that if there is a problem, it is their problem, it is not because we haven’t done everything we can do for them.”

Later, driving away from the service for Birdell Moore, Waters says that increasingly she finds even the black middle class disengaged from the problems they left behind. “The people in that room were a dying breed,” she says. “They really believed a lot of things happened because of their activism. People marched and they organized, and their children are the beneficiaries of that, and they got a little better quality of life. . . . Now there is a class of young middle-class black who is not really involved.”

For each one of those, I suggest, there is a gang member still here who has even more contempt for the idea that political change has any conceivable relevance to their lives.

“That’s real alienation,” Waters says. “They feel it’s them against the world.” The last time she came to the same church, she says, was for a tense meeting between political leaders and gang members called by a group of ministers. Toward the end of the evening, one gang member turned to her, proud and wretched, and said, “Our mommas don’t love us and our daddies don’t love us but we love each other.” His lament has stuck with her, a splinter in the back of her mind. “There is something going on about this lack of a sense of belonging anywhere,” she says. Maybe, she believes, the way to begin is with a “cultural offensive,” an attempt to use churches and schools to root these rootless teen-agers in what Jesse Jackson calls their African-American heritage.

This idea excites her, but she knows it will do nothing to stop the killing next week or next month. “It’s painful,” she says. “It’s very painful. The first thing you feel about this gang business is you feel so inadequate, so incapable of solving the problem. You feel so overwhelmed with it, and if there’s ever anything that you never really understood, this is it.” Her voice sounds thoroughly drained of hope.

Her aide, Mike Davis, who is driving, turns the car toward Watts. When she’s not in Sacramento, Waters often spends afternoons driving through her district, which includes part of South-Central Los Angeles and the cities of Lynwood and South Gate. She stops to talk to people, trying to recruit the unemployed for Project Build, a job-training program she established in the housing projects, using state funds.

Shortly after we drive into the Imperial Courts project, she spies a group of men in their 20s in jeans and T-shirts standing on the street. She tells Davis to stop the car and leans out the window.

“Hi,” she calls out to the men, who look at her blankly, without recognition. “How’s everything? Have you guys been in Project Build?”

Advertisement

There’s a mumble that doesn’t sound affirmative.

“Next time they come around, check it out, because we’re doing something about job training. All right?”

There’s another mumble that sounds vaguely more affirmative. Waters pulls her head back in the car and sighs. “Look at these young men, wasting away. They have nothing to do here.”

We drive on for a few more minutes, past abandoned lots littered with broken glass, past rusted cars, past knots of sullen young men. As we drive, Waters ruefully eyes the gray landscape. “It’s a shame first of all that the housing project is constructed in a way that people are placed in a little-city situation, but they don’t have any services in here. They don’t have any services.”

A few minutes later, when we’ve driven on to the Nickerson Gardens housing project, we pass a group of young children chasing each other through an open field. Waters watches them with mournful familiarity and then says softly, “See those kids out there, those little kids out there? All of them are more than likely going to come in contact with the law before they get into high school.” Her words hang over the car like a cloud.

“You must,” I say finally, “feel like you’re facing the ocean with a bucket.”

Waters nods her head slowly. “Yeah,” she says, “absolutely.” She looks out the window for a long time. “It’s rough,” she says, more to herself than anyone else. “I mean, it is rough.” The words are so heavy her tongue seems almost incapable of lifting them.

Her Own Story

MAXINE WATERS GREW UP IN circumstances not far removed from this, the fifth of 13 children reared by a single mother in housing projects in St. Louis. Her father left when she was 2. Her mother moved on and off welfare. Waters began working at 13, in factories and in segregated restaurants where she cleaned tables at which she could not eat. After graduating from high school in 1956, she married Edward Waters and had a son, Edward, and then a daughter, Karen. In 1961, with few prospects in St. Louis, the family moved to Los Angeles; her husband went to work in a printing plant, and she worked in a garment factory downtown. Later she went to work at Pacific Telephone.

In 1966, a friend told her that a new federal program called Head Start was hiring people to work with low-income preschool children. Waters was hired as an assistant teacher at her neighborhood center and was soon given the responsibility of coordinating community volunteers.

Until Head Start, Waters’ life was bounded by work and family. Now she was exposed to a swirling, churning world of community organization and politics at a singular moment of anticipation. The federal government had launched the War on Poverty; more blacks were running for office, and in the rubble of the Watts riots, better lives beckoned. “It was exciting, exciting, exciting,” she says. “At that point in my life I really began to examine where I was and what I really believed in.” Waters enrolled at Cal State Los Angeles, eventually earned a degree in sociology and began to volunteer in political campaigns. She worked for Mervyn M. Dymally, Mayor Tom Bradley and Sen. Alan Cranston, and then managed David S. Cunningham’s successful 1973 City Council race.

All the hours studying and distributing leaflets and knocking on doors took their toll on her marriage, and in 1972 she divorced. Her trajectory, though, was already set. She ascended higher in the political world by joining Cunningham as his chief deputy on the City Council.

Waters moved in front of the camera in 1976, when Assemblyman Leon Ralph, who represented the 48th District, retired to pursue the ministry. Ralph did not publicly announce his decision until after the filing deadline had passed. Instead, he sought to wire his succession by accompanying a young aide named Johnny Collins to file his candidacy just an hour before the books closed. In the ensuing uproar, Secretary of State March Fong Eu extended the filing deadline, and Waters was among those who jumped in. Collins still had not only Ralph’s support but also the backing of the state legislative leadership and then-Lt. Gov. Dymally. But Waters employed the grass-roots connections she had built over the previous decade, appealed skillfully to women and blew past Collins in the primary. In November, she was easily elected and she has never been seriously threatened since.

Another World

ON THE DAY AFTER Martin Luther King’s birthday, Waters flew back to Sacramento in a plane crowded with legislators. After it landed, she rode to the Capitol in a car with Democratic Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman, who represents a prosperous San Fernando Valley district. Friedman was talking about the difficulty of finding a building with reasonable rent for his office in Sherman Oaks. Waters turned around from the front seat. The problem in my district, she said gently, is finding any sort of building.

In a sense, Waters has always been an ambassador from an alien world in Sacramento. When she first arrived in the state Legislature, she might as well have spoken a foreign language. “When she first got there, she got there angry because she beat the odds,” says former Assemblyman Richard Alatorre, now a Los Angeles councilman. “She came in ready to fight with everybody.” Waters ruffled feathers immediately by introducing legislation to change the designation of members from assemblyman to assembly member.

Her style rankled as much as her politics. What Waters considered her natural manner--an in-your-face immediacy--many legislators considered outrageously abrasive behavior. “The image of being tough that I got here was created because I was tough in an atmosphere that had never seen a black woman work,” Waters insists. “That’s the way of life for us, that’s the way we talk to each other. In my neighborhood where I was raised, we didn’t consider it unkind or, as they say, aggressive. What I considered natural and acceptable became aggressive, confrontational, all kinds of things.”

The Assembly’s established powers did not feel as though they needed to bend, and did not make Waters’ first years in Sacramento easy. It was, she says, “very rough. There were a lot of . . . instances. I can recall being on Rules Committee where (then-Chairman) Lou Papan was really tough and mean. And it may have been an attempt to break me.”

Waters never broke; she adapted. She studied the rules of the road--how to get things done instead of just demanding that they occur, how to fight those who fought her. Waters learned how to raise money even from interests she condemned on the Assembly floor. She moved into the Legislature’s inner orbit largely because of her close relationship with Willie Brown, who became Speaker in 1980, but also because of her doggedness and her ability to hold her ground in the back rooms when the long knives flashed.

And, though many of her ideas remained too liberal for her colleagues, she began to pass important legislation--bills setting minority contracting goals for state agencies; preventing strip-searches for nonviolent misdemeanors; significantly extending prison terms for drug dealers carrying weapons, and creating economic incentives for investment in low-income neighborhoods.

She accumulated positions on powerful committees--Ways and Means, Judiciary, the Joint Budget Committee. In 1984, she moved into the leadership, assuming the chairmanship of the Democratic Caucus. In 1986, after seven years of enormous struggle, the Legislature passed Waters’ landmark bill requiring the state and University of California pension funds to be divested of stocks in companies that invest in South Africa (although Willie Brown played a crucial intermediary role in the final negotiations with Gov. Deukmejian).

No one worked harder or battled more tenaciously. In the rough-and-tumble of bare-knuckled legislative politics, Waters found a commitment and fulfillment powerful enough to consume her. Here’s how she explained her success to a group of professional women that she addressed one night last spring: “Fortunately or unfortunately, this is what I do. I don’t sing; I don’t dance; I don’t skate. I am a politician and I work full time at my job. . . . I don’t do it part time. I do it all the time.”

Above all, Waters learned to squeeze out every possible advantage for her projects. She abundantly demonstrated these skills the day after she returned to Sacramento in mid-January. Everyone who came into her office looking for her help left with something she wanted them to do. When officials from the Economic Development Department sought her out about a potential problem with their budget, she asked them to examine whether federal funds could be used for remedial education at her Project Build centers. When a lobbyist for the Los Angeles school district came looking for help on a funding bill, she instructed him to summon school administrators to a meeting about a gang-related problem at Jordan High School. Like all great legislators, Waters never gives away anything for free.

“That is really the hidden secret of being in this position,” she says. “There is no secret to just introducing legislation, going to committees. The secret is how do you take everything that goes into this computer"--she points to her head--"and put that back out to solve problems.”

The Jesse Jackson Connection

LATE ON THIS SUNNY January afternoon, Waters runs through her upcoming schedule with Sarah Reinhold, her preternaturally efficient executive secretary. Reinhold hauls into the office a huge folder of invitations. Waters sorts through the deluge with a jaundiced eye. “Seven-thirty a.m. for a prayer breakfast?” she says when Reinhold hands her one invitation. “I’ll pray at home.” She scans another letter from a group that wants to hold a reception in her honor. “That,” she says, “is because their budget is in trouble.”

Amid the innumerable local requests are invitations from organizations in New York, Washington and the other major points on the political map. Waters frequently works with liberal groups around the country on issues from apartheid to arms control. Almost immediately upon her first election, Waters became a sought-after speaker for feminist and black political gatherings. But she first became a well-known national figure through her involvement in Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns.

Waters is probably closer to Jackson than any other elected official. Although the repeated challenges to Willie Brown’s speakership last year kept her tied to Sacramento, she ran Jackson’s California effort, traveled with Jackson, served as a surrogate speaker and spoke with him at least two or three times a week. “Maxine probably had as much influence over Jackson as anybody,” says campaign manager Jerry Austin, who disagreed with Waters over tactics late in the race. “She is there, and there is nobody in close second place. I think Maxine politically is his closest friend.” Inside the fractious campaign, Waters often took militant positions even to Jackson’s left, establishing one pole of the internal debate.

In the tense final negotiations between the Jackson and Michael S. Dukakis camps at the Democratic Convention in Atlanta, Waters played a major role. Having heard stories about her temper and intransigence, some Dukakis aides envisioned her as a cross between Adam Clayton Powell and Eldridge Cleaver. But, while forcefully representing the hard-line position in the Jackson camp, Waters ultimately impressed the Dukakis negotiators as a serious and grounded politician. “I saw her as someone . . . who was looking for ways to find agreement,” says Dukakis campaign manager Susan Estrich. “She was certainly not looking for a way to light the convention on fire. She was strong and determined but had a good sense as to how far you could push something.”

Waters’ political loyalty to Jackson is boundless. During the fall, she kept her distance from the Dukakis campaign because she felt that he wasn’t treating Jackson well. (Typically, the help she did provide came with a price: a $200,000 contribution from the Dukakis campaign to Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition voter registration and turnout effort.) If, as expected, Jackson runs again in 1992, she says, “I will be there.”

By then, it’s widely expected that Waters will have moved on from the Assembly. She has long been expected to run for Democratic Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins’ 29th District seat when the 81-year-old congressman retires or dies; lately, there’s been some talk she may seek to succeed ailing Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn when his seat opens. “That could be an interesting position,” Waters says. But “Congress is probably what I would do if the opportunity presented itself.”

The Waters Style at Work

IF POLITICS WERE A popularity contest, Maxine Waters wouldn’t be the force in California life that she is today. To her allies, she is loyal, fearless and often charming. “She is one of the few legislators up there people can be proud of,” says Harvey Rosenfield, chairman of Voter Revolt, the group that sponsored the insurance-rate-cutting Proposition 103 last fall.

But in Sacramento she’s a polarizing figure. Some insiders privately criticize Waters for viewing policy disagreements as personal affronts. Part of that antagonism, legislators say, can be explained by jealousy of her plum assignments. Still, some current and former legislators also feel that she exercises her power too imperiously; in 1982, when Democrats rushed to complete a a reapportionment bill before Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. left office, she thought nothing of holding up the deliberations to force the removal of white voters from Hawkins’ congressional district, a seat that she might someday seek. Her work behind the nomination of her son for an Assembly seat eventually won by the Republicans in 1986 (though reclaimed by a Democrat last fall) struck some caucus members as misguided, though no one felt secure enough to challenge her on it.

No one ever likes to challenge Waters. Staffers and legislators still tell stories years later about her verbally stripping the skin from hostile witnesses before her committees. She is not shy about accusing those who disagree with her of being racist, or sexist, or both, often in language that suggests she left a tour as a stevedore off her resume. “Maxine has come to see a merit in intimidation,” one legislator says.

Her combative approach has propelled Waters this far, but it is not without cost. Because she is so tough on its representatives, the governor’s office tends to bend against anything she advances; to the Republicans, her name on a bill is a red flag. It is widely believed in the capital that ideologically compatible Democrats occasionally vote against her simply because she has angered them with some particularly pointed barb. “There are times when (her style) works and times it doesn’t,” says Democratic Assemblyman Richard Katz, who counts himself among her admirers. “I’ve been on the other end of the barrage, and it was the worst couple of hours of my life. Some people take it personally. Some people never recover from it. Some people say, ‘The good thing is I know she will display the same passion when she’s on my side.’ ”

And yet, civility isn’t the highest political virtue. Honesty ranks higher. So does effectiveness. No one questions Waters on either front. She delivers what she promises, fights unpopular fights and never gives in. “With Maxine, the fat lady never sings unless it sings for her,” David Cunningham says. That passion inspires not only exasperation but admiration, too--and not only in allies but among some of those Waters has crossed, such as former Assemblyman Lou Papan and Jackson campaign manager Austin.

“There are people who are not used to dealing with people like Maxine--people who are strong, assertive, aggressive,” Austin says. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and there are very few people I respect more than Maxine Waters. I would disagree with her a lot. But I think politics is not for the jet set and not for the crinoline set. It’s tough business; it’s war. When you go into war . . . I always want somebody like Maxine Waters standing right by me.”

Later that January day, I ask Waters if she cares whether her colleagues like her.

“I used to care not at all,” she says. “I think that as I grow older I make a little bit more of a conscious effort to be a little bit gentler.”

Perhaps, I suggest, we’re seeing a kinder, gentler Maxine Waters.

Well, that’s probably going too far. “I’m not as rough as I used to be. I don’t mind a fight. I try to go the direction of working things out. . . . If they don’t work, I’ll fight.” She pauses. “Yeah,” she says, and laughs.

Maybe Waters is softer than she used to be and maybe she’s not. The answer doesn’t matter much. Even people who don’t like her have to deal with her; no one trifles with Maxine Waters. For all her liberal ideals, Waters really belongs in the category of Machiavellian legislators personified by the late San Francisco Rep. Phillip Burton--ornery, bruising, dazzling masters of the game who can be despised but never ignored. An indefatigable fighter who gives no quarter and has no known weaknesses, Waters is the legislative equivalent of The Terminator. Her district is safe from electoral challenge; as long as Brown remains Speaker, she can’t be threatened with internal reprisal. She’s unafraid of confrontation. “People may hate her, man, but they fear her and respect her,” Richard Alatorre says.

Waters has climbed a long way from St. Louis. She wields power in California, shuttles to Chicago to advise Jackson, jets to Europe to meet peace activists, and lives a comfortable life, too. She dresses elegantly. Her paradoxical combination of ferocity and ease make her something of a natural target: a woman who speaks for the poor but is no longer poor, a woman preaching the politics of soak-the-rich whose second husband, Sidney Williams, sells Mercedes-Benz luxury cars. On this, as most things, Waters isn’t at all uncertain or defensive. “I think the greatest asset one has is to just be yourself and don’t try to pretend--don’t try to pretend that in order to understand the poor you’ve got to be poor,” she says. “I’m not poor, you know what I’m saying? I like to dress nice. And it’s all right. It’s all right.”

In all this, her affluence as much as her influence, Waters is a reminder of how much life has changed for black America since Martin Luther King first stepped into the pulpit at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., 35 years ago. She is at the forefront of a generation of smart, tough black politicians whose political faith was forged in the 1960s on the invigorating belief that organizing communities and electing officials could break the bonds of poverty and helplessness. With that conviction, they have achieved power, passed laws, helped others escape poverty and even competed for the presidency. But two decades later, Nickerson Gardens and Imperial Courts remain islands of desolation, bitter monuments to government’s imperfect ability to make life whole and to the stubborn resilience of suffering that we once believed the bright light of righteousness alone could burn away.

Even Waters has been forced to temper her expectations. That evening, I ask her what her greatest frustration has been. She speaks desultorily about an insurance bill that didn’t pass, a failed plant-closing bill, legislation that died stillborn. But that isn’t what really bothers her; it’s her inability to see a way out of the gang crisis. “I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I may not be around in this business (long enough) to eventually solve this problem,” she says.

There are ideas she wants to explore--new approaches to juvenile justice, job training, a cultural offensive. It will be difficult enough to influence those policies. But she has no illusions that, even if she can, they will add up to a miracle. “All that I see as pieces of long-term solutions that we can get started working on,” she says, leaning across the table. “But they are not going to happen over the next two, three, four years. This is long-term, serious stuff. It may take 10 years. I’ve never been discouraged by the length of time that it takes, but it has been hard for me to digest the fact that this is reality. I’ve got to live with it.” She turns away, as though struggling to envision the other side of the mountain. Then she turns back with a look that says she couldn’t. “I’ve got to live with it,” she says again, her words as hard and sharp as broken glass.


Advertisement