In a carefully arranged marriage of thinking globally and acting locally, the Los Angeles City Council voted Friday to oppose unilateral war in Iraq but made sure to tuck a plea for the city's homeless into the small print.
The compromise -- aimed at quelling criticism that local lawmakers have no business dabbling in foreign policy -- came after weeks of wrangling that split the council and unleashed a spirited debate on how the nation's second-largest city views itself.
In an era of terrorism and economic uncertainty, ought city leaders concern themselves with global affairs? Or should they stick to the meat-and-potatoes neighborhood issues many of them campaigned on, from untangling traffic congestion to thwarting gang violence?
"We have great needs in our cities, and we should not be spending our federal tax dollars bombing and killing other people in other countries," Councilman Ed Reyes told the approximately 300 peace activists who jammed the council chambers for the decision. "We're not a bunch of crazy councilmen. All we're saying is, 'We are echoing the sentiments of those who are hurting.' "
Mayor James K. Hahn signed the antiwar resolution late in the day, making Los Angeles the biggest city to take a stand against a unilateral U.S. invasion of Iraq. About 100 other cities, including Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia, have approved similar measures.
An earlier vote on Councilman Eric Garcetti's resolution opposing a war without United Nations support fell one vote short of passage Tuesday, setting the stage for Friday's sequel.
This time, Councilwoman Jan Perry smoothed over the peace versus potholes clash with an amendment pledging greater efforts to seek federal funding for homeless people. After a short discussion -- with those lawmakers who opposed the measure keeping conspicuously quiet -- the council approved the antiwar resolution on a 9-4 vote.
"Thank you!" screamed an elderly woman in a canary-yellow T-shirt as the audience erupted in wild cheers. Another demonstrator, sporting a "No Blood for Oil" message across her shirt, blew kisses at the council members.
"It's very bold of the city to do this," said Fred Greissing, 42, a music video director who had slashed holes in his clothes, roasted them on his barbecue and splattered them with fake blood for the occasion. "Local government is easy to reach, closer to the people. I mean, I don't think we could have walked into the back of the White House and done this."
Although the City Council typically deals in police reform, street paving and other strictly municipal matters, it occasionally ventures into national or global affairs.
Twelve years ago, the council overwhelmingly voted to support the first Gulf War against Saddam Hussein's regime.
It urged the Clinton administration to strike down its ban against gays openly serving in the military. And in 1985, after a long and emotional debate, it narrowly adopted a resolution declaring the city a sanctuary for Central American refugees.
"We're one of the preeminent global cities of the world," said Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles. "I think to duck the tough issues ... is kind of ludicrous. We have a very cosmopolitan population that reflects much of the world and has many ties to other countries."
"This is not some inconsequential water policy in Tanzania," agreed Parke Skelton, a veteran Democratic strategist who has had a hand in many local races. "Certainly war in Iraq will have municipal consequences. There's a huge deficit at the national and state level, and you're talking about $200 billion to reconstitute Iraq? That's a major commitment."
But Perry, whose district includes downtown's skid row, initially opposed the resolution on the grounds that Los Angeles should first attend to its large homeless population, about 20% of them veterans of the armed forces. She challenged her colleagues to tackle homelessness with as much gusto as they denounce war.
"It just [angers me], these people who purport to care about people who are less fortunate," she said after the vote. "Let's see them put their money where their mouth is. They need to take a look at why they were sent here and how those policies impact people living on the street."
Earlier this week, only seven council members voted for the measure. But then Perry threw her support behind the revised resolution, and Councilman Nick Pacheco, who was absent Tuesday, backed it as well.
Only council members Alex Padilla, Jack Weiss, Wendy Greuel and Dennis Zine opposed the measure Friday. All four were elected in recent years after promising greater attention to basic neighborhood services amid a backdrop of Valley and Hollywood secession threats.
"I didn't run on a foreign policy agenda," Weiss said after the vote. "I ran on a Los Angeles agenda. I certainly have heard from a lot of my constituents ... that there needs to be more of a focus on local issues. I didn't get nearly as many calls on this [resolution] as I did on burglar alarms, which tells me something."
On a related vote, the council unanimously approved a Weiss proposal urging the federal government to increase funding to help the city guard against potential terrorist attacks.
After the vote on the antiwar resolution, the audience poured onto the steps of City Hall, bellowing antiwar chants. They were joined by about 200 students who had staged a walkout from the nearby Downtown Business Magnet High School.
Amid their enthusiasm, ex-Marine Don Cararie shook his head in frustration.
"Are they Americans?" Cararie, 63, said incredulously. "These are a bunch of showboating infidels."
Cararie, who wore a "God Bless America" sweatshirt, criticized the council resolution as a "paper tiger" that only served to distract lawmakers from their local responsibilities.
"The City Council should not be fooling with this. I'd like to know how much money they wasted today," he said, gesturing toward a phalanx of police officers circling the protesters.
"Wouldn't it have been better to take that money and buy some groceries for the homeless?"
Copyright 2003 Los Angeles Times