LOS ANGELES -- Vice President Dan Quayle's attempt to place morality and family values at the center of the debate over urban policy in post-riot Los Angeles ran into a snag yesterday during a visit to a South-Central junior high school.
Before an audience that included many youngsters being raised by single mothers, Mr. Quayle told 100 Latino and black students at Bret Harte Middle School that there were "too many children born out of wedlock."
"We should promote the idea of marriage," the vice president said during an "Ask Dan Quayle" session. "If you are considering having children, think of marriage. That is the preferred way. And I think the child is going to be better off."
Although Mr. Quayle also took pains to praise the heroic efforts of single-parent families, his remarks drew some angry responses.
"I don't understand why he would say something like that when most people here have single mothers," said Jermario Jordan, 14, himself a member of a single-parent family.
"What would you prefer?" Vanessa Martinez, 14, asked rhetorically after the vice president had departed. "A single mom, or a dad who gets drunk and beats your mom?"
Mr. Quayle's statements came after sixth-grader Janae Burris, the student-body treasurer, asked him to expand on his remarks about the "Murphy Brown" television series, in which the title character chose to bear a child out of wedlock.
"My complaint is that Hollywood thinks it's cute to glamorize illegitimacy," Mr. Quayle told reporters outside the South-Central school, located in a community ravaged in the recent rioting.
"Hollywood just doesn't get it. . . . They're out there in the world of comfort. They ought to be with me where the real America is."
His "Murphy Brown" comments did not find a particularly receptive audience at Bret Harte.
"I don't think a lot of thought was given to his statement," said school counselor Irma Primus. "A lot of the kids were upset. We think our mothers are doing good jobs."
Asked later whether he knew that many of Bret Harte's students are from single-parent families, Mr. Quayle said, "I know there are one-parent families. I have the greatest respect for single-parent families raising children. They are heroes and an inspiration."
Mr. Quayle sat on a stool surrounded by students in the school library. They peppered him with questions about the riots, school budget cuts and other issues.
Shirley Kennedy, 14, asked the vice president how he would feel -- and what he would do -- if he were a young black male living on welfare in South-Central.
"I would hope he would have the attitude that, 'I can do it if I stick to it, if I stay in school,' " Mr. Quayle said. "Stay off of drugs, stay away from crime, stay away from the gang activities."
Although the Bret Harte students were polite and respectful to Mr. Quayle they felt free to criticize him after he left.
"He seems like an average type of man," Vanessa Martinez said. "He's not, like, smart. I'm not trying to bag on him or anything, but he has the same mentality I have -- and I'm in the eighth grade."