Councilman Finn Stricken, Dies at Age 68

Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles City Councilman Howard Finn died Tuesday, a few hours after he suffered sudden chest pains while conducting a meeting of the council Planning and Environment Committee at City Hall.

Finn, 68, was taken by Fire Department ambulance to White Memorial Medical Center, where he reportedly was able to converse with doctors and members of the staff while undergoing examinations to determine the cause of his illness.

He was subsequently moved to the heart catheterization laboratory, in the hospital's surgical suite, where he died.

A hospital spokesman said the immediate cause of death was a ruptured aorta.

Finn's wife, Anne, from whom he had rarely been separated overnight during the 44 years of their marriage, was at the hospital at the time of death, as were one of his daughters, numerous friends and several council colleagues.

City Legislative Analyst William McCarley said it will be up to the council whether to call a special election to replace Finn or to appoint a replacement. The 1st District, which Finn represented, takes in the northeast part of the San Fernando Valley, including Shadow Hills, Pacoima, Sun Valley, and Sunland-Tujunga.

Mayor Tom Bradley, who was in Indianapolis, Ind., attending a fraternity convention when informed of Finn's death, called the news "shocking" and added:

"Howard Finn was one of the most dedicated servants of the people that this city has been blessed to know. All of us feel a deep sense of loss. Our heartfelt condolences go to his wife, Anne, and his family."

Councilman David Cunningham also expressed shock and said the councilman "will be greatly missed by the city, by his district, by his longtime partner (wife) Anne, and by his family."

Loved His Job

Planning Commissioner Suzette Neiman said Finn "loved what he was doing," and "devoted his life to the City of Los Angeles."

Finn, an exercise advocate and marathon walker, had no known prior history of heart disease, a staff aide said. The aide called the councilman "the healthiest person you ever saw."

Earlier in the day, Finn had sat through a marathon council session where various members were hotly debating whether gasoline-powered leaf blowers should be banned from the city. He showed no outward signs of discomfort during that meeting. He spoke in opposition to the leaf blower plan, and even offered amendments to the proposed law, and it was later defeated.

Later, during the Planning and Environment Committee meeting, he had turned aside for a moment to talk to Councilman Joel Wachs, when those nearby noticed signs of distress.

"All of a sudden he seemed to get this pain in his chest," said Officer Tony Radavich, who stands guard during council and committee meetings. "He stood up and he looked ill."

Radavich helped the councilman to a room at the back of the council chamber while others summoned paramedics, who administered oxygen and moved him at once to the hospital.

Medical Problems

After Finn's death was announced, Dr. Herman Ricketts held a brief press conference, in which he said Finn appeared to have been suffering from hypertension and the early effects of arteriosclerosis.

Finn was born Sept. 20, 1917, in Holyoke, Mass. When he was 14, his family, which had operated a grocery store, came to California in search of new opportunities. He received a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1939, but got his first job as a statistician studying human migration into California for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Agricultural Economy .

When World War II broke out, Finn worked in Britain as a civilian military intelligence analyst with the Foreign Economics Administration, involved in economic warfare--which included buying up supplies that the enemy needed.

After the war, Finn returned to California and started designing and building homes.

Generally regarded as an expert in city planning, Finn was a successful construction consultant and land-use activist when he made his first active entrance into politics in the 1970s.

Changing Affiliations

A former Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-registered-Independent, the gray-goateed Finn was a mild-mannered man who preferred discussions of such practical matters as garbage and sewage to more general political topics.

But he could be a shrewd political tactician, too--as opponents discovered.

Finn's 1973 and 1977 campaigns for City Council posts were unsuccessful, but he served as chairman of the Board of Zoning Appeals and on the Mayor's Committee on Affordable Housing, and in 1981 was ready for another attempt.

Campaigning for the 1st District (San Fernando Valley) seat vacated by Bob Ronka, he ran second to former Assemblyman Jim Keysor in the primary, but won handily in the June 2 runoff, and subsequently became chairman of the council's powerful Planning and Environment Committee, vice chairman of the Public Works Committee and a member of the Transportation and Traffic Committee.

He was also a member of the board of directors of the Independent Cities Assn., an alternate member of the executive committee of the Southern California Assn. of Governments; chairman of the San Fernando Valley Area Mobility Policy Committee and Small Quantity Hazardous Waste Generators Project Advisory Committee.

Liked by Colleagues

Well-liked by his colleagues in the council, Finn rarely engaged in vicious personal attacks that sometimes characterize council debates.

His most telling impact on city affairs came in his role as chairman of the Planning and Environment Committee, where the more combative side of his nature came into play in confrontations with environmentalists, who claimed he was pro-development.

Finn denied the charge, calling his critics "elitists."

His legislative accomplishments included sponsorship of a law making it difficult to open new liquor stores in the city, and of legislation to protect horse owners, many of whom live in his district, from encroachment of new housing.

In a recent Times interview, Finn said he considered his efforts leading to establishment of a one-stop building permit processing center that he contended would reduce housing costs to be the "top accomplishment" of his council career

"I like to take credit," he said in another Times interview, "but I get more done if I don't take credit . . . my No. 1 goal is to get the job done. If I have to let somebody else take a little credit, I do it. I feel good so many people can steal from me."

In addition to his wife, the former Anne Volk, he leaves three daughters, Bonnie Hakell, Jocelyn Wyma and Melinda Marchuk, and three grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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