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Riordan Reassured L.A. Will Get U.S. Funds for Police

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fears that bureaucratic mathematics might keep Los Angeles from using federal money to hire scores of new police officers were laid to rest during two days of lobbying here by Mayor Richard Riordan, who declared Tuesday: “I don’t have this worry anymore.”

But hopes that the city might win much-needed federal tax breaks to help revive some of its sweeping zones of poverty appeared less certain, Riordan said during his first visit to Capitol Hill since the new Republican majority took control of Congress.

“We got sympathetic ears but no promises,” said the mayor, who flew east this week with Los Angeles City Council President John Ferraro to press their case on behalf of a Los Angeles made needy by an economic recession and a dizzying string of disasters.

The visit was also Riordan’s first since Los Angeles was denied designation as an empowerment zone under a new federal program that would have pumped millions of dollars and tax credits into areas from Watts to Pacoima. Los Angeles’ exclusion was particularly stunning because the program was created partly in response to the city’s 1992 riots.

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Riordan--in back-to-back private meetings with Washington’s political Establishment, including a 90-minute tete-a-tete with powerful House Speaker Newt Gingrich--was here to make sure his city would not be overlooked again.

“We have to keep a constant face back here,” Riordan said in an early morning interview before heading into snow flurries to breakfast with Los Angeles’ congressional delegation.

At the top of the mayor’s long agenda was the city’s intention to hire 500 more police officers this year by tapping into an $8.8-billion, six-year program authorized under last year’s federal crime bill. Although the Justice Department insisted that Los Angeles faced no problems, city officials--skittish since the empowerment zone debacle--wanted stronger assurances. Riordan seemed to leave Washington convinced that he had them, although a team from his office was set to meet with Justice officials again today to make sure nothing would be overlooked.

“The worry was--and I don’t have this worry anymore--that because we were very responsible in setting a long-term plan for more police, that this might penalize us. It’s sort of a Catch-22,” Riordan said.

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He and others had worried that the Justice Department might assess the city’s need for federal help in hiring more police based on the number of officers projected in the budget, rather than the number actually on the streets. The city budget for 1994-95 projects a force of 8,410, but because of attrition and other factors, the city had only 7,812 officers as of last month.

“We are very optimistic that we will be able to work things out with the attorney general,” Riordan said.

But he was less confident about the city’s chances of winning business tax credits that President Clinton has promised to include in his budget as an extension of the empowerment zones.

Riordan came looking for assistance in a Washington in no mood to give. Although the Republican majority favors empowerment zones in concept, Clinton’s proposed tax credits--which would primarily benefit Los Angeles and Cleveland--might be seen as an unpopular expansion of government.

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“We did a lot of lobbying on that, and I can’t tell you where that’s going to come out,” Riordan said. “It’s a slam dunk in terms of the President, but not in terms of the Congress.”

Still, Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach)--fifth in line in the new Republican leadership--noted that not a single city west of the Mississippi was designated an empowerment zone, which he called “abominably and monumentally stupid.”

Cox, who spent two hours over breakfast with Riordan on Monday, assessed as “very good” the chances that Congress will correct the imbalance to Los Angeles’ benefit. “It is a great embarrassment for the (Clinton) Administration. . . . The notion that poverty exists in America but only east of the Mississippi is an absurdity on its face,” the congressman said.

Riordan has been to Washington many times, but never a Washington like this one--controlled for the first time in 40 years by a Republican Congress. He was received by Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.). Word of his visit quickly spread through the political grapevine, and Los Angeles was on the lips of Congress’ most influential members Tuesday.

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“I met twice today with Gingrich and once with Dole,” Cox said, ". . . and Dick Riordan’s visit came up, as did the issues he was interested in. . . . His message quickly got sent to the Senate.”

Although some local lawmakers sense that Washington is growing weary of paying for yet another California crisis, Riordan said the state’s political clout is too formidable for Congress to ignore, potentially good news for a Los Angeles worn out by recession, defense cutbacks, natural disasters and that includes 170 square miles of poverty.

“We’re one of the first (presidential) primaries. We have the most electoral votes,” the mayor said. “I think we’ll get a little attention.”


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