OffBeat was chilling down on the Venice boardwalk last Sunday, when 20 young men began to brawl. The fight soon escalated, with glass flying; one rowdy was hit so hard with a bottle it shattered against his chest as he fell. When a vendor screamed that somebody had a gun, the busy strip turned into the running of the bulls. OffBeat took off down the beach with hundreds of tourists and strollers. What seemed like years later, a police beach patrol arrived and the gang members scattered. A foot chase ensued, but had to be aborted when the officers realized they had forgotten to put the patrol unit in park. Police barely managed to stop the vehicle from hitting a vendor, a mother and her screaming child.
When peace descended again, an irate bicyclist asked the four officers what had taken them so long. “It was just a gang-on-gang thing,” an officer shrugged. A badly shaken OffBeat decided to call the LAPD to see whether this type of thing happened often. Lieutenant Mike Menza of Pacific Division thought at first that OffBeat was calling about a fight that had occurred earlier that day on the basketball courts.
“The violence you witnessed is typical of the gang problem,” Menza said. “It happens, but it doesn’t happen on a recurring weekend basis. [Sunday] being the first hot day, we would usually have had a lot more assets out there.” Menza, who seemed to know precious little about the gang fight we saw, said that if the police had realized the severity of the situation, they would have closed down a portion of the strip as they did during an alleged public disturbance that broke out at a Venice hip-hop event several months ago. One vendor, who was surprised that they hadn’t shut it down, blamed the slow response time on the LAPD’s habit of spending time harassing street vendors instead of dealing with public safety.
The unlikely endorsements keep stacking up for incumbent City Councilman Nate Holden, who — pending a final vote tally — is headed for a June runoff against challenger Madison Shockley. First, in a story broken by OffBeat, Holden surprised people on both sides of the River Styx by trumpeting a deathbed endorsement from former mayor and longtime rival Tom Bradley. Bradley family members deny any last-minute reconciliation and endorsement.
Last week, however, there was no contesting the validity of Holden’s surprise endorsement by Scott Suh, who’d just finished third running against Holden in this month’s primary. Suh’s finish was impressive but not enough to get into the runoff. Instead of closing ranks behind runner-up Shockley, Suh opted to back an incumbent he had just trashed as being unfit for office.
Holden has a knack for this divide-and-conquer tack. Four years ago, he nabbed a key endorsement from youthful Deputy District Attorney Kevin Ross, who also had finished a surprisingly strong third in his primary bid versus Holden and fellow challenger Stan Sanders. At the time, politicos surmised that Ross was clearing the decks for a future campaign, because Holden indicated he wouldn’t run again, whereas Sanders would just be starting his period of incumbency.
Holden won, and lo and behold, decided he’d run again this year after all. Ross, meanwhile, became a Municipal Court judge in Inglewood. Suh at least has a shot at playing heir apparent — because term limits prevent Holden from yet another bid. In the meantime, OffBeat wonders if Holden is just getting started. There was that rumored deathbed conclave last year with the late Sheriff Sherman Block, who was then paralyzed by a major stroke — wasn’t that eyebrow flutter a clear indication of support? And where does Gandhi stand in this race?
OL’ DIRTY’S DILEMMA
The young rap artist affectionately known as Ol’ Dirty Bastard, currently one of the top names in hip-hop, hired O.J. celebrity attorney Robert Shapiro this week to press what could be the first — and best — legal challenge to a statute banning the use of body armor by ex-felons. Bastard, birth name Russell Jones, the lead rapper in the Wu-Tang Clan, was charged in February with violating the state law inspired by the bloody 1997 bank shootout with police in North Hollywood. The arrest came after police allegedly approached Bastard for parking illegally on a Hollywood street and found him in a “Second Chance” bulletproof vest. The LAPD ran a computer check, discovered Bastard’s 1993 conviction for second-degree assault in Richmond, Virginia, and charged him with violating the new “possession of body armor” law.
Now, Bastard ain’t no choirboy; in fact, his rap sheet could make him the poster child for Burbank Assemblyman Scott Wildman’s anti-armor bill. This week alone, Bastard appeared in three separate L.A.-area courtrooms on charges ranging from an alleged death threat against the mother of his 1-year-old child to death threats against three House of Blues security guards. (The Compton mother case was dropped for lack of evidence, and Bastard, who pleaded not guilty, faces a May trial in the House of Blues case.) The rapper spent the first part of this year beating accusations that he and a cousin attempted to shoot New York City police officers when they were pulled over for a defective headlight. No gun was ever found, but Bastard was wearing a bulletproof vest. Since then he has had two more run-ins with New York authorities, for allegedly driving with a suspended license and misdemeanor crack possession. An appearance in the crack case made him a day late for his first hearing in L.A. Deputy District Attorney George Castello sent a ripple of laughter through the courtroom on Monday by suggesting with a smirk, “Perhaps [Bastard] should stay here in Los Angeles to avoid new arrests.”
On the other hand, Bastard’s record brims over with the type of suspiciously flimsy charges that are common for young black men: traffic stops that escalate to serious charges, phantom police “shootouts” that vanish in the light of day, personal beefs blown up into criminality. Bastard was shot and robbed in a Brooklyn apartment last summer, and friends say someone is trying to kill him, in the vein of slain rap stars Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. “I don’t know what anybody’s trying to do to me, but I can’t allow no conspiracies against me. I won’t allow them,” Bastard commented earlier this year. Under the Wildman law, Bastard could have petitioned the chief of police for special permission to wear the armor — but did he know about this provision? Where are the civil libertarians when purely defensive armament is banned? And in a city where Biggie Smalls’ 1997 Wilshire District murder remains unsolved, should a hip-hop star be punished for defending himself? Bastard didn’t seem too worried Monday; he napped in the courthouse hallway before greeting Shapiro and entering a not-guilty plea. He faces a possible five-year prison term.
THE BUCK STOPS HERE
Last week’s school-board election gave Mayor Richard Riordan most of what he wanted and maybe more — a strong shot at a mayoral-backed majority to mount education reform, but no more excuses if L.A.’s dismal school performance remains unchanged. (Two Riordan-funded challengers won outright; Riordan-supported board member David Tokofsky is holding a narrow lead in a still-undecided race, and Riordan-endorsed Genethia Hayes forced a runoff against incumbent Barbara Boudreaux.) The winning candidates say they will not be mouthpieces for Hizzoner, but money talks. And in this election, Riordan’s greenbacks spoke loudly.
OffBeat took a peek at campaign reports for the four Riordan-backed candidates and discovered that the mayor and his political cash mill, Coalition for Kids, doled out 80 percent of the loot used collectively in all four races — a total of $2.2 million. IBM executive Caprice Young, who beat incumbent Jeff Horton in District 3, received 90 percent of her $620,000 campaign coffer from Coalition for Kids.
In the 7th District, first-time candidate Mike Lansing raked in campaign contributions six times the amount of incumbent George Kiriyama — and smashed him. At last count, 95 percent of Lansing’s campaign treasure chest came from the pockets of Riordan and his millionaire buddies. His funding total of $815,000 is unheard-of for a school-board race and works out to $55.49 a vote.
OffBeat agrees with Mayor Riordan that increased education spending is the right thing to do — just not on corny television ads and mindless political mailings. Next time Riordan & Co. are in the mood to shop, OffBeat has a list: Just half of what Coalition for Kids contributed this time around to campaigns could purchase 25,000 new textbooks, 1,000 new personal computers, 30 scholarships for teachers to obtain advanced degrees at UCLA or nearly 4 million pencils.