Bill Boyarsky
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Edelman and Hahn: Two of a kind yet different

On my way to the courthouse for some interviews Tuesday, I glanced across the plaza at the county administration building and thought of two terrific county supervisors, Edmund D. Edelman and Kenneth Hahn.

Edelman came to mind because Steve Lopez had called me about him the night before for his column, which appeared Wednesday, on the affectionate and informative documentary made by the retired supervisor’s wife Mari Edelman. The documentary, “The Passion and Politics of Ed Edelman,” will be shown on KOCE’ PBS SoCal at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Thinking about Hahn is unavoidable. The county building was named for him after his death in 1997, the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration.

The hall reflects the secretive nature of country government. A Mussolini architect in Fascist Italy or one of Stalin’s favorites could have designed it. It is severe, unimaginative and massive, with long hallways inside that make it hard to find public officials. And when I reported from there about a quarter century ago, it was all but impossible to get those officials to share information with reporters or the public.

Hahn was different. He loved publicity. His agenda was often set by hot stories on page one of the Los Angeles Times. When his colleagues, who didn’t much like him, were doing something he considered wrong, he ignored secrecy customs and told reporters of the foul deeds. I was the beneficiary of a couple of instances of his defiant sharing.

He accomplished much for his south LA district, where he was a white politician beloved by his black constituents. In an area without hospitals, he built Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital, a jewel when it opened even though it has been degraded by later generations. And in an area without adequate public transit, he sparked the building of the Blue Line light rail.

Edelman also accomplished great things but he was different than Hahn. He accepted the county tradition of secrecy and personally did not seem to enjoy publicity. I disagreed with him on a secrecy issue, when he and the other supervisors met behind closed doors to draw up a reapportionment plan that would drastically change the boundaries of Edelman’s district to make it easier for a Latino to win. One of our reporters was thrown out of a meeting room where, as he had discovered, the supervisors were plotting.

But Edelman, now seriously ill, got a lot done behind those closed doors. Patiently working with his supervisorial colleagues, some of whom were incredibly bull headed and backward, he pushed through one of the most important reforms in county history, the children’s court, where children, caught in the juvenile justice system, face the judges in surroundings that are much more child friendly and humane than they were in the past. It’s named after him.

And today, as the U. S. Supreme Court ponders same-sex marriage, it’s timely to remember how he stood up for gays and lesbians in a time when they hovered in the shadows. A great civil libertarian, he forced the West Hollywood sheriff’s personnel to stop their overbearing, often brutal treatment of gays and lesbians, who were scorned or ignored by most political leaders.

All that’s part of the dynamic, often tense social history of Los Angeles County and Mari Edelman captured it well in her documentary.

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