Begin Anew With Open Arms

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony is archbishop of Los Angeles

One of the first priorities of those about to assume their newly elected city offices should be to unite the diverse constituencies they were elected to represent.

Political campaigns by definition have become tools of personal destruction, and the lingering effects of this are witnessed in the continuing division among various communities and in cynicism about the political process.

As power shifts in post-election Los Angeles, we find another opportunity to shed the politics of exclusion that has no place in contemporary political discourse. The change of elected officer offers hope for a new beginning.

The challenge for leadership in a city as large and as diverse as Los Angeles is to put forward a vision that is inclusive of all communities, that inspires the disenfranchised to reclaim their civic responsibilities, that promotes a genuine understanding of the responsibility we each have to one another and that strengthens relationships between racial and ethnic groups.

The leadership of Los Angeles is uniquely positioned to provide that vision. It is incumbent on each public official to promote a genuine politics of inclusion.

Much is being made about the physical renaissance of Los Angeles, led by new construction projects that include the Staples Center, the Disney Concert Hall, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and increased downtown housing. But the physical renaissance must be joined by initiatives to increase civic participation, heal divisions along racial and ethnic lines and bridge the gap in wealth and income that plagues the region.

The future of the city and region is dependent on our ability to forge a vision in which no one is left sitting on the sidelines. Toward that end, specific steps can be taken to help move us forward as one community of many peoples:

* As civic leaders assume office in the coming weeks, they must put action behind their words. This should be evident when they make key staff appointments and propose budget priorities.

* Every commission, board and committee must weigh how its policies and priorities will help or hinder the healing of past and lingering wounds. The strengthening of bodies, such as the county and city human relations commissions, would be a key symbolic and substantive step. In addition, mechanisms should be put in place that measure the social impact of policies and programs.

Just as standards are set to gauge the environmental costs and benefits of specific initiatives, we need parallel mechanisms to measure the costs and benefits to racial and ethnic unity, to close the economic gap and to increase levels of participation.

* Our churches, synagogues, temples and religious centers must address the problem of racial and ethnic disharmony. Religious institutions could form a joint human relations commission to work with counterparts in government.

A top priority for such a body would be promoting dialogue and developing skilled leaders in conflict resolution and in cross-cultural competencies. We must be creative and bold in assisting our congregants in naming the evil of racial and ethnic divisions and in forging new and progressive models of understanding and unity.

No other city in the U.S. has the rich diversity of peoples that we enjoy. As other cities become increasingly diverse, they are looking to L.A. as a model. It is a responsibility that we cannot shirk.

In a just and harmonious society, inclusion and participation are the means of eradicating the persistent presence of racism and discrimination. What a marvelous opportunity to work together to create a vibrant community where each person is respected, included, involved and made a productive partner in our mutual destiny.

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