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A contrite mayor goes to the park

Times Staff Writer

It was Day Two of his Reconciliation Tour. And Los Angeles’ rock star mayor was on a roll.

He was contrite as he stood Sunday morning in a dark blue suit at the front of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels during a special Mass “of consolation and healing” for those affected by the May Day melee at MacArthur Park.

He was energetic and apologetic as he walked later in the day in casual clothes through dusty MacArthur Park to assure park users that they were safe.

“I come today with a heavy heart,” Antonio Villaraigosa solemnly told the cathedral’s audience of more than 1,000.

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“Nobody, nobody should be victimized in a way we saw women, children and families victimized just a few days ago,” he said.

It is time for “one Los Angeles to pray not just for peace, but for justice,” he said, adding: “It’s important in these times to reach out to understand one another.”

As church leaders ended the Mass and filed out of the cathedral’s 300-foot nave and ushers escorted out a yelling protester wearing a shirt bearing the words, “Fighting for justice, freedom and equality,” Villaraigosa lingered to greet churchgoers.

After a quick change into a short-sleeved pastel-colored shirt, the mayor had his entourage in tow as he swept onto the MacArthur Park soccer field where several teams of 11- and 12-year-olds were wrapping up a match.

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“I come here because Sunday is family day,” he told adults along the sidelines who were surprised to find the photogenic politician standing in their midst.

“For most of you it’s the only day you have to rest. You have every right to play here and the right to march peacefully,” he continued.

Pointing to City Councilman Ed P. Reyes, who represents the district that includes MacArthur Park, and Police Chief William J. Bratton, the mayor promised a full investigation into Tuesday’s altercation involving police, protesters and the news media.

“After the investigation there will be consequences for the abuse,” he said.

Villaraigosa spent about half an hour in the park, stopping at ice cream vendors and at the tables of picnickers such as Maria Sanchez and about 20 members of her extended family.

When he complimented Sanchez on the food spread, the 46-year-old woman pulled a tortilla out of a bag, layered it with refried beans, cheese, shredded chicken and salsa verde and handed it to Villaraigosa.

Cameras recorded each bite as he nibbled at it, raved in Spanish about its taste and insisted that Bratton eat a piece of tostada too. With a flourish, the mayor kissed Sanchez on the cheek while the police chief requested a napkin.

“The events of May 1 should not be seen as any reason not to come back to the park,” Bratton said. “I don’t want the events of one day to take away from the successes we’ve had at this park.”

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For his part, Reyes indicated that crowds have remained. “They’re still here. For the most part the feeling was what happened here last week was an anomaly,” he said.

Park visitors Sunday agreed. “We’re not afraid. More people are here today than were here last Sunday,” said Gaby Cruz, 15.

As he walked through the park, Villaraigosa signed $20 bills, soccer shoes and jerseys for children such as Oswaldo Sandoval, 11, and Brian Castillo, 9.

“I’m going to keep it forever. If my shirt gets dirty, I’ll just leave the dirt there. I won’t wash this shirt,” Brian said.

Unimpressed was park visitor Roxanna Gomez. Her younger brothers, Richard and Kevin Gonzales, 11 and 10, respectively, had declined to get the mayor’s autograph.

“He thinks people seeing him eating tacos here and signing shirts are going to forget about what happened here,” said Gomez, a resident of the nearby Pico-Union district. “It’s an insult. It’s just damage control. The streets around here are still filled with trash. And this is not the first time we’ve seen police violence.”

Villaraigosa continued on, stopping to call photographers over to the baby stroller being pushed by Octavio and Elana Rojas.

“Hey guys!” the mayor shouted. “This baby’s name is America!”

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One-year-old America Rojas blissfully slept through her encounter with a celebrity.

bob.pool@latimes.com


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