Bush Arrives in L.A., to Tour Riot Area, Seek Answers
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ President Bush flew to this riot-torn city on Wednesday and said he was heartened that ″calm has returned to the city.″ He vowed intensive federal government help in rebuilding.
″We met the first mission - I salute those who participated in it,″ Bush said in brief remarks as he arrived at Los Angeles International Airport.
He said that the people of Los Angeles now ″are free to come out from behind those closed doors.″
″I’m thankful to see that calm has returned to the city,″ Bush said.
To those who helped restore order and who began the cleanup, he said: ″Thank God for what you did. You did more than simply save a life; you gave a nation great cause for hope. And you proved amidst the hate and the horror that this is still the City of the Angels.″
Bush said he hoped to learn a lot during his two-day visit.
He said that when he meets with victims of the riots and community leaders, ″I will assure them, as I will all the citizens of Los Angeles, the federal government is committed to help this city - to help this city rebuild.″
Bush arrived late Wednesday and immediately met at the airport with members of the presidential task force he had sent here to coordinate federal relief efforts. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and California Gov. Pete Wilson also attended the meeting.
″We’re to help,″ Bush told them, adding: ″We’re not going to posture out there.″
A crowd of protesters, many of them Korean-Americans, gathered outside Bush’s hotel in downtown Los Angeles, waving signs proclaiming themselves to be the chief victims of the rioting. ″We Need Money Now,″ said one sign. ″Mr. President - If You Won’t Help, Clinton Will,″ said another.
Democratic front-runner Bill Clinton visited riot areas on Monday.
Earlier in Washington, Bush said he was looking for ways to assure tranquility in the nation’s inner cities. He sadi he was not satisfied with past government responses - including Great Society anti-poverty programs.
″I think we can do better,″ he said at the White House.
But he added, ″This is no time to play the blame game.″ He said all Americans want ″to see that what happened in Los Angeles never happens again. We all want to solve the problems.″
Bush continued to tread lightly on the politically charged issue of government spending for social programs.
Administration officials have said that money is not the answer to urban ills while also trying to defend against accusations that the Reagan and Bush administrations helped foment urban unrest by trying to cut programs for the poor.
″The fact is, in the past decade spending is up, a number of programs are up,″ Bush said. ″And yet, let’s face it, that has not solved many of the fundamental problems that plague our cities.″
Bush said he would make new proposals after surveying the situation in Los Angeles, but he declined to be specific. His press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said earlier that the Los Angeles crisis would bring ″a renewed effort to get passage″ of proposals already put forward by the administration.
Bush referred to his proposals for tenant housing ownership and for incentives to bring businesses into inner cities, saying, ″It is far more important to give people a piece of the action than simply to have the federal government dump largesse on them.″
The president, speaking at a White House news conference and later by satellite to the American Newspaper Publishers Association convention in New York, repeatedly refused to echo Fitzwater’s recent assertion that the Los Angeles riots were a product of the failed programs of Democratic presidents.
″We’re not trying to assign blame,″ he said.
But when a reporter recalled that Bush himself had said a year ago that Great Society programs generated racial animosity, the president replied:
″If I said a year ago that these programs weren’t working, perhaps I have been vindicated.″
Bush said he wants new programs and new ideas.
″We have put forward some, and we may have others to put forward. But there’s no point trying to convince the American people that programs that have not worked is the answer to this problem.″
The Great Society programs, created by Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s to fight urban poverty and reduce racial inequality, became a political target for Republicans. On the other hand, Bush and Reagan have been criticized for scaling back urban assistance.
Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York, a frequent administration critic, raised the issue in a letter to Bush on Wednesday.
″For the past 12 years, our country has been lulled into the belief that the free enterprise system, left alone, would assure an equitable distribution of essential services to all citizens. It didn’t,″ Rangel said.
He urged Bush to ″ensure access to essential human services like adequate housing and medical care.″
The Los Angeles violence ″has created a national consensus that we must act,″ Rangel said.
Bush said his goals in Los Angeles are:
-An end to ″wanton looting and pillaging.″
-Short-term aid to victims of the riots.
-Longer-range programs to assist in ″rebuilding and harmonizing.″
On his two-day trip, Bush is to view the damage in Los Angeles, and meet with local officials and members of a federal task force he has dispatched there.
″We’ve got to begin the healing process and we also have to find answers that will guarantee tranquility in these cities.″ he said.
Bush repeated that one of his foremost goals is to ″find ways to strengthen the family.″
Last week’s riot, looting and arson spree in Los Angeles was touched off by the acquittal of four white police officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King.