Nelson Mandela’s planned visit to Los Angeles is considered one of the most important stops on his U.S. tour, but the number of Angelenos who will get to see the South African anti-apartheid leader may be no more than saw him at a single street rally in New York City.
If 30,000 people show up as expected to hear Mandela speak outside City Hall at noon Friday, and if the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is sold out for an evening rally, a maximum of about 100,000 people will see Mandela at the two events, the only ones open to the general public.
By comparison, close to a million New Yorkers saw Mandela during his visit to that city, 100,000 of them in Africa Square, a well-known intersection in Harlem.
Los Angeles organizers concede that the numbers here will be small compared to some of the other stops on Mandela’s eight-city U.S. tour.
But they say that on another important measure--fund raising--the Los Angeles stop should be a winner.
The Los Angeles committee organizing the Mandela visit hopes to raise at least $1 million for the African National Congress, the organization of which Mandela is the deputy president. Similar goals were set for New York and Washington.
Organizers point to several distinctions that separate Los Angeles from some of the other big-city stops on the tour--distinctions that help contribute to a reduced crowd size.
They note, for example, that no venue larger than the Coliseum was available in Los Angeles and that Mandela will be here for less than 24 hours, compared to three days in New York and two in Washington.
They also noted that the largest crowd to date--an estimated 750,000 people--saw Mandela during a ticker-tape parade. No parade is planned for Los Angeles.
“Sure we are a little disheartened. We wish 500,000 could see him in Los Angeles,” said Darlene Donloe, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Nelson Mandela Reception Committee. “But we don’t have a Popemobile and the Coliseum holds only so many people.”
On Tuesday, comparative crowd size was of little concern to the local organizers and city officials as they began putting final touches on preparations for the Los Angeles stop--the next to last for Mandela in the United States.
Those preparations included getting ready for the huge numbers of out-of-town and local journalists who will converge on the city to cover the event, making arrangements and contingency plans for what could turn out to be a massive traffic jam downtown during the City Hall speech and selling the remaining 20,000 tickets for the Coliseum rally and concert.
The rally will be preceded by a march down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard by thousands of college and high school students.
After an afternoon rest period, the 71-year-old ANC leader will attend a fund-raising dinner and reception at the Armory in Exposition Park. He will travel from there to the Coliseum rally. He leaves town the next morning, heading for Oakland.
The all-volunteer reception committee, which was formed six weeks ago by Assemblywoman Maxine Waters, will be Mandela’s official host, but the city’s office of protocol and Mayor Tom Bradley’s office are in charge of the first half of Mandela’s day in the city.
That includes his scheduled 10:30 a.m. arrival at Los Angeles International Airport, his motorcade from the airport to City Hall, a brief welcoming ceremony in City Council chambers and his first speech in the city on the 1st Street steps of City Hall.
Mandela’s plane will land in a remote part of LAX for security reasons, airport manager Stephen Yee said. Only an official welcoming group and a limited number of journalists will be allowed near the plane.
The cost of the police motorcade and the activities at City Hall will be minimal, said Beatrice Canterbury Lavery of the office of protocol, and will come out of the city’s general fund.
The city is also providing police officers for traffic control and backup security throughout Mandela’s visit, but Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Lt. Fred Nixon would not say exactly how many officers will be needed and how much it will cost the city.
About 300 officers will be required for the Coliseum rally and the preceding student march, according to other estimates.
Most of the LAPD’s duties will involve handling traffic around City Hall and providing backup security for the U.S. State Department, which is in charge of Mandela’s security while he is in this country.
Martin Ludlow, a union business agent who was tapped by the reception committee to “build” a crowd for the City Hall speech, said he and his volunteers will have passed out 300,000 flyers by the time Mandela arrives.
On the morning of Mandela’s visit, Ludlow said, his volunteers will converge on City Hall from several directions in sound trucks, urging downtown workers and shoppers to go hear Mandela.
Nixon of the LAPD said handling a crowd of 30,000 around City Hall would present no extraordinary problems for police. There are several contingency plans to handle traffic congestion, he said.
“If there are 30,000 extra cars downtown, then you have a problem, but if that is not the case it shouldn’t be too bad,” he said. “No worse than Dodger Day or Laker Day.”
Vallee Bunting, a spokeswoman for Bradley, said 1st Street, Spring Street and one lane of Main Street will be closed to traffic throughout the morning and until after the City Hall speech ends.
Some traffic problems will also be created by the 3.7-mile student march from Rancho Cienega Park, police said, but the scope will depend on the size of the crowd. The march is being organized by the Los Angeles Student Coalition and other groups. The park is in the 5000 block of Rodeo Road.
The march is scheduled to end at the Coliseum about the time doors open for the rally. Because 20,000 seats will have to be removed for Mandela’s security and to build a stage, 70,000 of the arena’s 90,000 seats will be available.
The crowd will be treated to a two- to three-hour concert featuring African, Caribbean and African-American music.
As of Tuesday, the list of confirmed acts included South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, South African singer Letta Mbulu, and other gospel and rap performers. The program is being directed by television, movie and stage director Oz Scott and musician-composer Quincy Jones.
The committee has asked local grass-roots organizations and churches to charter buses and buy blocks of tickets to be used by people who otherwise would not be able to afford the $10 ticket price. As of Tuesday, 50,000 tickets had been sold, Donloe said.
Brenda Shockley, coordinator of the reception committee, said she expected a sellout for the rally.
The Southern California Rapid Transit District last Friday announced that it will deploy 40 extra buses on five lines that run near the Coliseum to help carry people to the rally.
Of the thousands who are expected to see Mandela during his Los Angeles visit, few will have an opportunity for a close-up view.
Lavery will be the first city official to greet Mandela, joining him on the plane as she would a head of state. Assemblywoman Waters and Mayor Bradley will be at the head of the reception party greeting him on the Tarmac.
At City Hall, City Council President John Ferraro will be waiting on the curb for the Mandelas to arrive. Inside City Hall, Mandela will meet briefly with the mayor and then rest before going into council chambers, where an estimated 270 people are expected to gather.
Hollywood celebrities, Los Angeles politicians and religious leaders will be among the chosen few to sit beside Mandela when he makes his speech outside City Hall.
Gold-embossed invitations will admit 90 people to the VIP platform where Mandela and his wife will accept keys to the city from Bradley, Lavery said. Actor Gregory Peck will emcee a program featuring a gospel choir, Latino dancers and a Japanese drum band.
There will be a limited number of seats for the public.
At the Coliseum, a block of seats will be set aside for about 100 reception committee volunteers and about 1,000 big spenders who are expected to shell out from $1,000 to $50,000 to attend the Exposition Park reception and dinner.