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Riordan Remark Is Still Causing Trouble

Times Staff Writer

Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally said Friday that he was suspending a top aide over a canceled news conference that had been called to criticize state education secretary and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan for a comment made last week to a 6-year-old girl.

The Compton Democrat abruptly called off the conference Thursday, the day it was supposed to take place. Dymally said his staff director, Warren Quann, had scheduled the event without his permission and would be suspended for the rest of July.

In an interview, Dymally, 78, said he had told aides at a staff meeting that he wanted to refer the issue to the California Legislative Black Caucus. He said he was surprised to find out later that he was the event’s sponsor. Quann could not be reached for comment Friday.

The suspension is the latest twist in a much-publicized episode that began last week, when Riordan, a member of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Cabinet, showed up at a Santa Barbara public library to read to a group of children.

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One girl, whose first name is Isis, asked the 74-year-old former two-term mayor if he knew that her name meant “Egyptian goddess.”

Riordan, venturing a joke, said: “It means, uh, stupid, dirty girl.”

The children laughed, as did Riordan, who said: “No, what does it mean?”

“Egyptian goddess,” Isis said.

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Riordan said that was “nifty.”

In a story published Thursday in the San Jose Mercury-News, Dymally was reported as saying he was “outraged” by Riordan’s remark. The assemblyman told the newspaper that Schwarzenegger should call upon Riordan to resign.

“This was a little African American girl,” Dymally said in the article. “Would he have done that to a white girl?”

Isis is white. Dymally later told The Times that the girl’s race was not the reason he canceled the news conference.

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“I’m one of those black politicians who doesn’t think about race,” he said. He added that a local clergyman told him Riordan had apologized and that he was prepared to forgive. He said he had no opinion as to whether Schwarzenegger should fire Riordan.

One civil rights organization, the California branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, wants Riordan to step down. Alice Huffman, president of the California State Conference of the NAACP, said she did not know if Dymally scuttled the news conference because the girl is white, but said: “That’s a sad commentary if that’s true.” She said she believes Dymally canceled to “curry favor” with the Schwarzenegger administration.

“I would simply believe that Merv saw the light from the governor’s perspective and used whatever rationale they could drum up,” Huffman said.

Of suggestions that race may have caused him to drop the event, Dymally said: “I don’t know how they could get into my head without my permission.”

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A spokeswoman for Riordan said Friday that he had no plans to resign and had not been asked to do so by the governor. For her part, Isis’ mother, 27-year-old Trinity Lila, said she did not believe that Riordan should quit.

“He’s already apologized, and I’m hoping he’ll be more careful in the future,” Lila said.

What did her 6-year-old make of the encounter with the governor’s main education advisor? Lila said her daughter chose not to scold him after the exchange.

“Her exact words were that she didn’t want to hurt his feelings,” Lila recalled. “She said, ‘I don’t think he’s very smart.’ ”

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