The Mayor Plays 'I've Got a Secret' on Proposition 187

The Honorable Richard Riordan


City of Los Angeles

200 North Spring Street

Los Angeles, Calif. 90012

Dear Mayor Riordan,

There's something you're not telling us, and it's something we want to know. You owe it to the citizens of Los Angeles, and especially to those of us who voted to make you mayor. And for the record, Your Honor, that includes me.

So what gives? Are you voting yes or no on Proposition 187?

Don't be shy. The question doesn't bite, and a single word will do. Either you're in favor of 187 as a means of addressing illegal immigration, or you think it's a mistake. Yes or no.

Now, if you decide to let us in on this secret before Tuesday's ballot, some elaboration would be helpful. You could say: "We need to send a message that illegal immigration is wrong and blah blah blah." Or perhaps: "Proposition 187 isn't the answer. It hurts children and blah blah blah."

Instead, we're stuck with lame explanations of why you won't tell us. Your poor press secretary, Noelia Rodriguez, has to repeat them over and over.

"Whenever I've been out with the mayor," she told me the other day, "he will usually say something to the effect that he's not going to take a stand, because doing so will be divisive for the city." She also said you consider your stand "a highly personal matter."

Now, Mr. Mayor, "a highly personal matter" is whom you sleep with. Your political bedfellows, your political views--those are public matters. You can't endorse Feinstein for Senate and Wilson for governor and then say: "Prop. 187? Why, that's personal!" And since Feinstein and Wilson disagree on 187, it's all the more reason for you to take a position.

And this business that taking a stand might be "divisive." Well, don't flatter yourself. Do you think your opinion of Proposition 187 is more significant than the measure itself? Your silence hasn't stopped neighbor from turning against neighbor, and it hasn't stopped student protests.

It's not hard to understand your dilemma. After all, you're a Republican, and your party and Gov. Wilson are supporting 187. But you're also a Catholic, and your church and Cardinal Mahony oppose it. Whatever you do, your decision will disappoint a lot of people.

The funny thing is, I thought you tipped us off months ago. Early in this campaign, you warned that illegal immigrants shouldn't be the scapegoats for California's economic woes. Your press secretary reminded me that you've been critical of the federal government's efforts to enforce existing immigration laws, and that you believe the federal government should compensate states for the cost. Moreover, Ms. Rodriguez emphasized that you don't "believe that anybody, especially children, should be denied such basic human services as education, health and nutrition."

Now, all of this sounds suspiciously like a no vote. But maybe not. Maybe you'll vote yes because you think fears of 187 are overblown and you want to "send a message." Perhaps you agree with the full-page pro-187 ad that ran in the Daily News the other day that warned of Mexican "agents" and asked: "Is Mexico working to retake California?" Perhaps you agree with Washington pundit Pat Buchanan, who in The Times' Op-Ed pages on Oct. 28 wrote ominously of UC Berkeley Chancellor Chang Lin-Tien's prediction that by the year 2050, "the majority of Americans will trace their roots to Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Pacific Islands."

Funny, but Lin-Tien's words would have described my high school 20 years ago, and they've described Los Angeles for many years. Seems to me that most of us Americans with European roots aren't as fearful as brother Buchanan. What about you? Do you share his concern that Southern California may someday secede from the union? Or does that strike you as fear mongering of alarmist, even paranoid, proportions?

One reason we elected you was that you weren't a traditional politician, so it's sad to see you acting like one. Wilson and Feinstein couldn't dodge it because their names are on the ballot. But we didn't elect you to arrive at a fork in the road and then stop in your tracks. We elected you to take the high road--and we thought you might know which is which.

But maybe you're reading this with a knowing smile. Perhaps, like a savvy poker player, you've been sandbagging, letting the chips pile up, hoping to make the maximum impact. If you hold a press conference Saturday to display a little moral courage, a little leadership, it will be on TV that night and make the front page of the big Sunday papers. Perhaps you'll be on TV Sunday morning, chatting with Brinkley, Donaldson and Will.

But I doubt it. My money says you'll fold that hand, that you'll say it's "personal." And as you know, Your Honor, that's just a polite way of saying you're chicken.


Scott Harris

Scott Harris' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Readers may write to Harris at the Times Valley Edition, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, Calif. 91311. Please include a phone number.

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