By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Photo by Robert Yager
“Ernie! Ernie!” “Mr. Bernardi! Mr. Bernardi — sit with us!”
The old folks at the Ernani Bernardi Multipurpose Senior Center were calling out to their center’s namesake, the former city councilman, who, at nearly 90, responded to their greetings with a practiced campaigner’s wave and chitchat. It was the first week of May, that time in Los Angeles’ political season when high-flying runoff candidates begin migrating toward the center and lame-duck mayors head south of the border while their henchmen lobby to have libraries renamed after them. This afternoon, the Van Nuys seniors were gathered for their daily round of bingo games but quickly found themselves spectators to mayoral politics, as Bernardi introduced candidate Antonio Villaraigosa.
The scene was part of the great vaudeville of American democracy, one of dozens of performances by both Villaraigosa and his opponent, Jim Hahn, that will be staged over the next month at multipurpose centers, day-care complexes and Little League games, as the candidates strive to show they are multipurpose men capable of being all things to all people. Angelenos are a tolerant bunch during campaign season and view these minor disruptions to their daily routines, like movie shoots, as necessary inconveniences.
There are, of course, unspoken ground rules to such goodwill visits: no policy bombshells, and the selected audience is expected to behave itself. When OffBeat asked Mr. Bernardi if he planned to vote for Villaraigosa, he showed that time had not dimmed his diplomatic skills: “This is a nonpolitical facility,” he said, as Villaraigosa’s operatives and reporters swarmed around the bingo tables. “I don’t want to get anyone in trouble!”
Still, when the games had been held up for 15 minutes, the seniors had had enough.
“Let’s play bingo!” one man shouted. “I’m with you, Ray!” a woman hollered back. Ever attuned to the popular will, Villaraigosa announced, to much applause, “I’m not going to make a big long political speech!” Moments later, surrounded by a small media detachment, he joined a group of seniors for a couple of rounds, both of which were won by people sitting at his table.
“Thank you for playing with us,” one of his tablemates said. “You brought us luck!”
With this aura of victory clinging to him, the candidate waved to the assembled and withdrew to the center’s front portico, where he swore no one was tougher on crime than he, denounced Hahn’s TV ads and said that if elected he would build more places like — well, like this one. As the press began dispersing and his own people prepared his departure, Villaraigosa momentarily found himself alone — or as alone as a candidate for chief of the nation’s second largest city can ever be. Pumped by the campaign and the reporters’ interrogations, he couldn’t quite downshift from the overdrive he’d been in and began shaking hands with the media who lingered in the hot sun. “Hello,” he said, crushing their hands in greeting, “I’m Antonio Villaraigosa!” Finally he relaxed, stepped into a midnight-blue Ford Expedition and was whisked to a Westside engagement. Inside the senior center the games continued as they had before his visit, and as they will no doubt after the June election.
Playing by the rules of political etiquette may be considered “cricket” in England, but here “bingo” better describes the status quo, by-the-numbers campaign strategies of candidates and their handlers. If so, Villaraigosa, 48, and Hahn, 50, may do well to heed a placard with the players’ philosophy in the Bernardi Center’s lobby: “Old Age and Treachery Will Overcome Youth & Skill!”
Local fringe culturist David Woodard has tried to insert himself into a number of high-profile deaths and calamities, from the accidental killing of a tourist on Angels Flight to a threatened hunger strike by assisted-suicide doctor Jack Kevorkian. Now, it looks like Woodard will be a part of the circus surrounding Timothy McVeigh’s execution — with a personal invitation from McVeigh, no less.
Los Angeles–based Woodard managed to get a couple of newspaper articles published about his quest to get inside the Terre Haute, Indiana, Federal Prison yard May 16, the date of the execution, to play McVeigh a musical “prequiem” he composed. (“A prequiem is a memoriam for ‘the nearly dead,’” Woodard says.)
Prison authorities turned Woodard down. But the composer’s published statements caught McVeigh’s eye — particularly Woodard’s praise for McVeigh’s oft-quoted statement that the 19 children killed in his 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City were “collateral damage.”
“The media underestimates and insults the intelligence of the public by denying or turning attention from McVeigh’s brilliant, sturdy sense of humor,” Woodard had told a Kansas City weekly. “His ‘collateral damage’ line . . . is pure Mark Twain, not an example of blundering inhumanity. McVeigh is an intuitively skilled, savvy media figure.”
On April 19, McVeigh wrote Woodard, inviting him to present his musical composition at a religious vigil outside the prison, and thanking him for his “insightful” comments. “With your recent interview . . . you became the first person I’ve heard of (or from) that has figured me out,” McVeigh wrote. “With your reflections on ‘collateral damage,’ I breathe a huge sigh of relief — maybe there is hope yet for this species! (I would suggest you apply the same ‘collateral damage’ insights to analysis of my motivations re: televised execution . . .)”