Whether Bernard Parks or Mark Ridley-Thomas wins the Los Angeles County 2nd supervisorial district election June 3, one point is certain: The sleepy board may actually wake up.
Years ago, I used to cover the supervisors. In recent times, I have been spared that duty. All I know is what I read in the papers and what I am told by various reporters who have been sent to the county building to report on the five enigmatic supervisors.
From those observations, I surmise that the supervisors go through their paces every Tuesday, voting on matters that have been previously approved by their staffs in sessions held somewhere out of the public’s eyes. The meetings are pretty boring unless Gloria Molina yells at an unfortunate department head. The board’s main accomplishment this year is keeping Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital closed, denying hospital care to Los Angeles’ poorest and sickest residents.
Neither Parks, a Los Angeles city councilman, nor Ridley-Thomas, a state senator, are get-along, go-along types who will blend into the present board’s way of doing things.
Ridley-Thomas is a challenge to reporters and colleagues. He likes to argue. He always thinks he is right. And he’s rough on those who disagree with him.
When he was pushing the Staples arena project through the City Council, I was writing columns demanding public disclosure of the lease. He didn’t like those columns. At the height of it, he came up to me and said I was just trying to revive my failing career. Later on, after I was promoted to city editor, I sought him out. “It worked,” I said.
When Parks was police chief, he’d go after any reporter who crossed him. In his mind, trying to dig out a story amounted to crossing him. We had long arguments, once in public , another time in his office. He’d never conceded he was wrong. In his mind, he never was.
I enjoyed arguing with both Ridley-Thomas and Parks. They never backed down and neither did I. That was OK. They had a right to complain. I had an obligation to listen, and the right to reply in kind.
From my experience, neither is cursed with the supervisorial state of mind—a peaceful somnolence more suited to a retirement home than the governance of LA County. I hope the winner never adopts it and retains his testy, argumentative ways. And I truly hope the new supervisor figures out how to re-open Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital..
Two events in the 2nd Supervisorial District pointed up some of the immense difficulties facing politics and government in Los Angeles County, and the possibilities of overcoming them.
The district, where Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks and State Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas are competing to replace retiring Supervisor Yvonne Burke, reaches from upper middle class, predominantly white stretches of West Los Angeles across Los Angeles County to the struggling Latino and African American working class neighborhoods, such as Watts Willowbrook. The candidates, both African American, are competing for an electorate that is strongly black
One of these events occurred roughly in the middle of the district. It was at the University of Southern California, where one of the indomitable forces in California political life, Carmen Warschaw, announced her gift of $3 million to endow the Carmen H. and Louis Warschaw chair in practical politics. A search is now on for a professor to fill the chair.
The other occurred a day later, at a smaller school, Beethoven elementary, several miles west of USC in the West Los Angeles neighborhood of Mar Vista. At Beethoven, Ridley-Thomas and Parks debated over the kind of practical political problems that the new Warschaw professor will try to teach students to solve.
Carmen and her late husband, Lou, helped shape the California Democratic party and the careers of many of its leaders. They were teenage sweethearts, attended USC together and immersed themselves in politics as volunteers, donors and in leadership positions. Carmen has played politics tough and hard. She is unforgiving to enemies, generous to friends and has always tried to fill political offices with the women and men she thought would do the best job.
In announcing the award, she said she didn’t believe much in political theory, no doubt chilling the academics in the large audience of faculty, her friends and family. She believes in the nuts and bolts of politics, from lawn signs in her early days to today’s computerized methods of identifying voters, and from shaking hands at campaign fund raisers to providing constituent services while in office.
She talked about the pre-term limit days and wished they were back. Never a fan of political reformers, she put in a good word for lobbyists. And, she spoke of the difficulties facing the winner of the supervisorial race. “How do you represent a district of two million people,” she asked.
That’s the question Parks and Ridley Thomas tried to answer at their debate at Beethoven school.
There are a lot of issues in this campaign but the most important is how to reopen the badly needed public hospital in Watts Willowbrook, once known as King Drew, then King Harbor and now closed after the poorly trained and incompetent staff failed to pass federal inspections. A huge area, home of L.A. County’s poorest, has been left without a hospital.
Neither Parks nor Ridley Thomas offered satisfactory solutions. Parks blamed cuts in federal and state funding for medical aid to the poor, and he said he wanted to get the University of California medical system involved. That’s a great idea. Maybe someone from the UCLA hospital will teach the King people how to sell confidential information to the tabloids. It also makes no sense with USC located in the district. Ridley-Thomas proposed convening a group of high-level officials to talk about how to re-open the place. Perfect. Another committee.
Neither talked about the real failure at the hospital. It was for years a job-creating machine for the African American community around it. The largely African American staff and African American political and community leaders were a powerful force in protecting the hospital and its workers. The 2nd District supervisor, Burke, who is African American, did little. Her four colleagues, who left the mess to her, are just as guilty.
USC, a few miles north of the old hospital, should be part of the solution. For generations, USC has produced some of our area’s best political leaders and government experts. Now, with the creation of the Warschaw professorship for practical politics, it is in a better position to tackle failures, even those as extreme as King hospital. The new professor can’t do it alone. But there are many other resources at SC in the schools of medicine, public policy, law, social welfare, gerontology and athletics, where football coach Pete Carroll has repeatedly shown his commitment to South LA. The Warschaw professor can be a real leader in the effort.