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Renaissance Man 

Wednesday, May 1 2002
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Photo by Ted Soqui

THEY CLOSED ADAMS BOULEVARD BETWEEN NORMANDIE and Western for W.'s visit Monday. Inconvenienced residents hadn't heard the president was in the hood that day, although those sharpshooters on the roof of the First AME's Renaissance Center should have told them the occasion wasn't one of the center's Tom Bradley business breakfasts. In any case, there were no organized protests or even the kind of grizzled conspiracy prophets and T-shirt vendors who usually materialize at L.A.'s big-hype events like sea gulls following a tuna boat.

Bush's appearance before an assembly of inner-city community leaders was a political toll-charge he and his motorcade had to pay on their way to the day's real objective, a Century City fund-raiser for Bill Simon, the latest GOP martyr to run for state office here. There was no way around the detour: This week marked Los Angeles' aluminum anniversary of you-know-what, and it wouldn't look good to preside over Simon's Millionaire Man's March while ignoring the people most likely to suffer under a Simon governorship -- the same people, actually, who are the most ignored under the Bush presidency.

And thus Bush's two hours of brow furrowing, pain sharing and peckerwood dissembling. He didn't waste anyone's time offering funds from the Federal crumb cake. Instead, Bush spoke of the need for government to get out of folks' business and the necessity of churches to provide social services -- something that used to be high on the government's chore wheel. Bush is fond of faith-based initiatives, which would relieve his administration of the obligation to provide for its needier citizens and let him get to the guy stuff he was almost elected to do -- fightin' terrorism and redistributing the wealth upward. It also puts the onus on churches to administer funds so, when the inevitable breakdowns and embezzlements occur, his administration will not be blamed.

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Bush's vision of faith-based operations is not confined to religious groups -- he's all for turning over the country's energy policy to the oil industry and its park system to mining interests. And so, while he made a P.C. effort to not call the events of 1992 "riots," he also didn't make mention of "looting," possibly because his government embodies the looters' republic par excellence, a regime dedicated to raiding the treasury on behalf of the country's wealthiest corporations and individuals.

WHAT MUST BUSH HAVE THOUGHT AS HIS PROCESSION wheeled down Western and onto Adams, when he looked out at the Renaissance Center's cyclone fence and its placards advertising sobriety and cell phones? One thing he couldn't have read was an appeal, written with a black marking pen on Day-Glo orange paper, by Phil Pote. A retired Fremont High School teacher and coach who works as a baseball scout for the Seattle Mariners, Mr. Pote had come bearing a very specific petition. His note read: "MR. PRESIDENT, PLEASE CONSIDER A PRESIDENTS COUNCIL ON YOUTH -- PRIV. FUNDED AND APOLITICAL LEADERSHIP -- NOT LEGISLATION. CAN DO MUCH TO HELP A TROUBLED GENERATION AND RAISE MORAL & SOCIAL YOUTH FITNESS, AS WELL AS DECLINING PHYSICAL FITNESS."

There was more, but essentially Pote, a white man, wanted the president to restore the youth-fitness programs of the Kennedy-Johnson years, especially in the inner city. He had come to Adams and Western in hopes of catching Bush's eye should the president suddenly break free of his handlers and begin chatting with his Renaissance Center audience -- Pote had engaged Bill Clinton during just such a moment years ago and, then, Clinton had said he would look into the matter. But now this was out of the question, since Pote had no chance of gaining entry to the overflow-capacity event.

The old scout, like many who couldn't get inside the center, took his bad luck in stride before leaving for a baseball game in the Valley. Not everyone here was so forgiving, though, especially when they learned they couldn't walk down this stretch of Adams as long as Bush was performing his pantomime across the street.

"I didn't even vote for the muthafucka," muttered one man when a cop turned his back. "What's Bush ever done for us?" another called out.

By all accounts the president was well-received inside the Renaissance Center, though it's hard to believe many took him seriously. His pep talk was just one of those secretly understood, intuitively rehearsed compassion rituals, a meaningless ceremony that even a Republican chief executive must endure before the big fish fry at the Century Plaza Hotel. Some later accounts estimated that Bush would raise $4.5 million for Simon during his two fund-raising stops in California. That figure happens to be the exact amount of tax dollars it took to establish the Augustus F. Hawkins Natural Park, eight and a half acres of sycamores and oaks tucked along Compton and Slauson. It's a tiny preserve created on an old DWP storage yard, but its mere existence represents a victory in the hard-fought war to bring some trees and grass to the city's barren parts.

The lush greenery raised by Bush this week probably made many in the state GOP feel just fine, yet his party would have earned a lot more goodwill from buying another South-Central park instead of throwing the money at Simon's kamikaze campaign. But then, if they did that, they wouldn't be Republicans.

Reach the writer at smikulan@laweekly.com

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