But Supervisor Mike Antonovich had harsh words for Waters' performance at the hearing: "Pathetic," he said. "I was embarrassed for her, for her actions . She leads with her mouth instead of her mind. As a result of that you get demagoguery instead of solutions."
The board could vote as early as Tuesday on whether to close the trauma center. Officials said shuttering the unit, which served about 2,150 of the most severely injured patients last year, is a crucial step in the effort to reform the Willowbrook hospital, which has been beset with patient-care problems, including several deaths.
Waters and other critics say that closing the trauma unit would hurt the quality of medical care in South Los Angeles. They believe that the county can fix King/Drew's problems without such drastic action.
Many community members said Tuesday that Waters had helped energize the fight to keep the trauma center open.
"Maxine without a doubt is a catalyst," said Celes King IV, vice chairman of the California Congress on Racial Equality. "But had not the community wanted this, it wouldn't have made a difference . Other people are coming on board I'm sure because the name 'Waters' is there."
King said his group and others had been rallying around King/Drew for years and ratcheted up their efforts earlier this year. But he said Waters' outspokenness had magnified their impact.
"Maxine comes in with a preexisting infrastructure that she can readily tap into that she has built up over various struggles in South L.A., including neighborhood block clubs," said John Jackson of ACORN, a community group. Jackson credited Waters with bringing in people from Brentwood and the Westside, not just South L.A.
Waters and the other closure foes still have an uphill fight. Burke is the only supervisor to say she opposes the immediate closure. The four others have expressed some support for the proposal in the past but have said they are keeping an open mind.
Waters remains undaunted.
"We've got resources and connections we can pull together when needed," she said. "You haven't seen the half of it. We'll have half our entertainment and sports community out here if needed."
Times staff writers Jack Leonard and Tracy Weber contributed to this report.