Pale and fragile from his three-year battle with liver cancer, Santa Monica City Councilman Ken Edwards pledged to "keep going" as friends and colleagues honored the former mayor for his political contributions.
The emotional tribute, which concluded a two-day conference of Assemblyman Tom Hayden's Campaign for Economic Democracy, came on Edwards' 44th birthday. With a few hundred people looking on Saturday, Edwards was hailed for bridging the gap between Santa Monica's deeply divided political factions.
Hayden, whose actress wife Jane Fonda was in attendance, called Edwards a man of "splendid achievements" and a great leader. He said Edwards combined dreams for the future with a strong sense of reality.
"Kenny Edwards has been a significant leader for many years at the state and local level," said Hayden (D-Santa Monica). "He has a strong spiritual power along with a sense of how people really are. That's Kenny."
Hayden was followed by Jack Nicholl, the executive director of the Campaign for Economic Democracy. Nicholl called Edwards "a teacher and a leader who taught people how a group of government people should work as a majority." Nicholl also credited Edwards with the passage of Proposition Y, a 1984 ballot measure that shifted Santa Monica election dates to coincide with national elections.
Active in Politics
A native of Cleveland who was educated in California schools, Edwards moved to Santa Monica in 1971. He is a probation officer and has been active in Democratic party politics for several years. He headed the Santa Monica Democratic Club and served on the city's Planning Commission before being elected to the City Council in 1981 with the largest number of votes in the city's history.
As a member of Santa Monicans' for Renters' Rights, Edwards also served as one of the leaders of the city's rent control movement. During his 1983-84 stint as mayor, Edwards was best known for his efforts to calm tensions between members of his organization and the rival All Santa Monica Coalition.
Running in last year's council race, Edwards again received more votes than any of his fellow candidates. He lost the mayor's seat, however, when Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights failed to retain the council majority.
After the election, Edwards remained a strong advocate of progressive social and political policies. But in recent months, health problems caused him to miss several meetings. Speaking for her colleagues, former Santa Monica City Councilwoman Cheryl Rhoden said Edwards remains a "real leader for all of us in the truest sense."
The most emotional comments came, however, from City Councilman James Conn, an Edwards ally and minister at the Church in Ocean Park. Conn recalled that Edwards was the first homeowner to take a leadership role in Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights, a group composed mostly of senior citizens and tenants.
"During that time, the first alliances were made and it was because of Edwards," Conn said. "Ken Edwards' type of leadership takes a great deal of courage."
Conn was the only speaker to mention Edwards' battle with cancer. The room became silent as he talked about the illness and said that Edwards had "taken (the disease) out of the closet and shown what it means to live and lead and continue to give leadership against impossible odds."
Edwards, whose table companions included actress Margot Kidder, received a standing ovation at the conclusion of the ceremony. Leaning on his wife, Sue, for support, Edwards climbed up to the podium and gave a brief speech.
"I just want to say thank you," Edwards said. "In this life, these kinds of battles aren't won or lost by individuals." Turning to his wife, Edwards added, "If it wasn't for her encouragement, support and help during these times, this thing would have been over a long time ago. We'll keep going as long as we can and we'll all work together."