Mark Ridley-Thomas, one of the City Council's most influential members, endorsed council colleague Michael Woo for mayor Sunday, a move that could go a long way to solidify the African-American support that Woo sees as crucial to his election hopes.
But as Ridley-Thomas said Sunday with Woo standing at his side, his endorsement did not come cheaply. Only after Woo had committed to a 10-page single-spaced "agenda for South Los Angeles" was Ridley-Thomas willing to throw his weight behind a candidate that he has not always regarded as a potentially strong mayor.
Ridley-Thomas made it clear, speaking at the opening of Woo's South-Central campaign office on Vermont Avenue near Manchester, that he expected more of the candidate than words on paper.
"Now, Mr. Woo, this is not a free ride," Ridley-Thomas told an audience of about 100 people. "We have come here for business. We expect clear priorities aimed at making the quality of life better in South Los Angeles."
At the same time, Ridley-Thomas praised Woo as "someone with whom I can work," adding: "No one has worked more consistently on issues affecting South Los Angeles than Michael K. Woo."
The audience included several ministers and community leaders, many of whom expressed their support for Woo and some of whom, such as lawyer and civil rights activist Melanie Lomax, said they had not made up their minds.
Woo's agenda for the part of town Ridley-Thomas represents, a large section of South and South-Central Los Angeles, includes proposals for economic development, transportation, public works, public safety and neighborhood development.
It is not the first time in this election that a candidate for mayor has tailored an agenda for a certain part of town. Candidates Joel Wachs and Richard Riordan, among others, have made a point of endorsing the breakup of the Los Angeles Unified School District, a cause celebre in the San Fernando Valley, home to about 40% of the city's voters.
Although some of Woo's agenda restates citywide proposals he has made to voters across Los Angeles, there are a several new elements.
Woo committed to implementing a program to tie development to major thoroughfares in the inner city, such as Central Avenue, Exposition Boulevard and Crenshaw Boulevard. He pledged to "insure" subsidies of transportation rates for low-income users of public transit. He called for "leveraging local resources to relocate businesses to inner-city neighborhoods."
In partnership with the Clinton Administration, Woo said he would create community development banks to increase the availability of capital in the inner city and provide job training and retraining for inner-city workers who have lost jobs in shrinking industries. Woo said he would "support a targeted job tax program," which he did not explain, to help draw businesses to South-Central.
"I will propose the use of city funds to guarantee to leverage more bank loans coming into South Los Angeles," Woo said. In past speeches, he has talked about tapping $5 million in city funds to guarantee loans to small businesses throughout Los Angeles.
"I will use the clout of the mayor's office to persuade businesses to recognize their stake in closing the gap between the haves and the have-nots," he said. "I will directly ask business to reinvest in the inner-city communities."
To get the job done, Woo said, he would work closely with Ridley-Thomas. Such a partnership could be very beneficial to someone such as Ridley-Thomas, whose help has never been as crucial to Mayor Tom Bradley as it was to Woo.
"The council and particularly the African-American members like Mark were sort of overshadowed by Bradley," said one observer Sunday. "Bradley didn't need them. But their stars could rise under a mayor who needs them in order to succeed."
Although Ridley-Thomas' endorsement is important, several other factors will influence the battle for votes in South-Central. There are two African-American candidates, lawyer Stan Sanders and Councilman Nate Holden, with close ties to the community. Then there is the always important role played by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), who has been on the opposite side of Ridley-Thomas in several recent political contests.
Waters has not announced her intentions, but it would not be a surprise to see her joining forces with Assembly Speaker Willie Brown in support of the mayoral candidacy of Assemblyman Richard Katz.