Today's question: Two Democrats with key differences -- Bernard C. Parks and Mark Ridley-Thomas -- are vying to succeed Yvonne B. Burke on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Who's the better choice for L.A.? Click here to read Monday's installment from this week's Dust-Up.
What the 2nd District needs, and what Ridley-Parks offersPoint: Eric C. Bauman
Mike, the 2nd Supervisorial District of Los Angeles County is at the center of today's dust-up. The 2nd District needs many things. It needs jobs, healthcare, better schools, cleaner streets, investment, affordable housing, policing, loving -- in short, it needs a bit of everything.
Recently, I was walking down Jefferson Boulevard with several friends and discussing how best to mobilize voters in this critical area for Democrats. A friend summed it up simply: "Deliver what you promise and what the community needs." Always looking for the magical key to increase voter turnout, I asked the obvious question: "What exactly does the community need?" The answer surprised me. It was simple, to the point and affordable: "We need someone to listen to us; to ask us what we need and want; and to ask us to be part of the solution to our problems."
That answer was provocative for me. It made me think about the extraordinary choice facing the voters of the 2nd District next Tuesday. For the uninitiated, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors has its first vacancy in nearly 20 years, and it presents voters a distinct choice between two good Democrats: Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks and state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas.
On the one hand, you have Parks, the former L.A. police chief -- tall, proud and authoritarian -- who is well trained in the art of fast and unilateral decision making. On the other hand, you have Ridley-Thomas, a former high school teacher turned civil rights activist, later elected to the L.A. City Council, the state Assembly and most recently to the state Senate. Ridley-Thomas has made his name by talking and listening; by bringing people together, involving and engaging them. It is easy to make a case for either of these talented men, but my friend's comment really drove it home.
That's the calling card of Ridley-Thomas. He created the Days of Dialogue in 1995 to help the community come together amid racial tensions after the O.J. Simpson verdict. In 1992, long before there were Neighborhood Councils in Los Angeles, Ridley-Thomas created the Empowerment Congress for his City Council district, which brought the resources of government into the hands and control of the community and its people -- he listened to what they said they needed and tried to deliver. He understands that public safety is a top priority for 2nd District residents and he has focused on helping create safer communities. That's why Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, the Los Angeles Police Protective League and the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs all support Ridley-Thomas.
Though he is strongly supported by labor unions, many in the business and community-development fields support Ridley-Thomas. They've worked with him at City Hall and Sacramento, and they know that he understands that you can't improve a community's economy without good jobs and housing. And for the thousands of county employees who reside in the 2nd District, Ridley-Thomas promises to fight to preserve their middle-class jobs and benefits.
Mike, the range of problems, frustrations, opportunities and needs in the 2nd District is extraordinary, but as my aforementioned friend pointed out so very simply, the solution begins by electing a supervisor who will listen, empower and put the needs of the community above all else. When the dust has settled, it's obvious that Ridley-Thomas is the guy who would do just that.
Eric C. Bauman is chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The 2nd District needs action, not loveCounterpoint: Mike Spence
Eric, you are quite correct that there is a dust storm over the 2nd District's seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Because Parks and Ridley-Thomas are both Democrats, as a very partisan Republican I have a chance to look more objectively at a very exciting race. I agree that the 2nd District needs many of the things you list, Eric, though I'm not sure it needs more love. It is clear that the billions in government money poured into the district haven't given its residents more jobs, better policing, affordable housing or improved schools.
While working on a previous campaign, I met with doctors at the former King/Drew Hospital (now the Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Medical Center). They didn't complain about their level of funding; rather, they complained about the lack of focus on their hospital's improvement and the dysfunctional nature of county government. What the 2nd District needs is a leader, not a lover. But I do agree with you, Eric, that the district needs someone who will listen.
When I look at the candidates, they appear very different. Yes, both Parks and Ridley-Thomas have served Los Angeles in various capacities, but their experiences are different -- as are what each will do and to whom each will listen if elected. I'm concerned about the $4 million poured into the race by labor unions in support of Ridley-Thomas, almost eight times the amount he has raised on his own. Considering that, I must ask myself: To whom will Ridley-Thomas listen first? The guys with $4 million, or the barbershop owner who is trying to make a living and the mother worried about her kids and gangs?
With the county facing pension shortfalls and employee benefit issues amid a declining economy, the 2nd District and the entire county would be better served by someone more independent. Parks is definitely independent. His endorsements are more diverse, with former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, County Supervisor Gloria Molina and prominent businessman and community activist Danny Bakewell all on the same page. That diversity tells me that Parks wouldn't be beholden to just one type of group.
Parks is also willing to buck political correctness, as he has done on the issue of illegal immigrants who commit crimes. Ridley-Thomas' silence on the issue hurts every resident of the 2nd District.
The issues facing this district scream for someone of action. Ridley-Thomas may indeed focus on "bringing people together," Eric, but that doesn't really create jobs, fight gangs, improve schools or reopen a hospital. It may feel good, but the residents of the 2nd District need more -- they need action. Like him or not, Parks is very action-oriented. His track record shows that he can make difficult decisions.
It's obvious to me that the 2nd District would be better off represented by a Republican; that won't happen this time. But I do think voters will see through the $4 million in special-interest money and choose the more action-oriented, independent Parks as their supervisor.