PROFILE / RICK COLE : A Crusader Orchestrates Successful Compromise : Activist: For the second time, Pasadena’s mayor has changed the face of the Tournament of Roses. And his job has changed him.
The last time Pasadena Mayor Rick Cole mixed it up with the Tournament of Roses in a big way was two years ago, after a direct descendant of Christopher Columbus was appointed grand marshal of the 1992 Rose Parade.
Cole--a central figure in fashioning this week’s historic truce between the tournament and its black critics--led the criticism that time.
As vice mayor, he fired off a statement calling the aristocratic Columbus descendant a symbol of the “greed, slavery, rape and genocide” that the 16th-Century Spanish conquest had brought to the Americas. Cole also blasted “the extreme myopia of an organization totally controlled by aging white men.”
In the first of many compromises, the tournament wound up appointing then-Rep. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (D-Colo.), a Native American, to serve as a co-grand marshal.
It was a vintage performance by Cole, who, since his days as a student activist at Pasadena’s Blair High School, has been agitating the city’s stodgy conservatives like an Alka-Seltzer tablet roiling a glass of water. Until his Columbus statement, the tournament, revered as the institution that put Pasadena on the world map, had been immune from criticism by city officials.
But times and political necessity shape the man. And Cole, the fiery radical who had some conservatives muttering two years ago that he might not be “mayoral material,” was being congratulated this week as one of the key conciliators in bringing about the historic integration of the Tournament of Roses’ executive committee.
Under escalating pressure from local protesters and outside groups, including the Los Angeles City Council, the century-old tournament on Tuesday named the first minorities and women to its executive committee, the organization’s governing body.
“With today’s historic change,” Cole said, catching some of the contagious warmth of the event, “we can all take pride that the Tournament of Roses has come farther faster than any comparable organization in America.”
It was Cole, along with Vice Mayor Kathryn Nack, who convened a group of community leaders to hash out a truce in the latest tournament conflict, which threatened to end in New Year’s Day protests and disruptions.
“You just don’t know what will happen when you mix together half a million people, 1,200 police officers and an indefinite number of demonstrators intent on going to jail,” the mayor said, explaining his sense of urgency.
The very tangible threat of chaos meant that Cole could overcome the distrust of tournament old-timers by appealing to them on practical terms. He, in turn, came to realize that “the main obstacle to resolution was not the tournament’s intransigence, but their hurt feelings and apprehensions.”
Almost everyone knew that a change was inevitable in a city where more than half the population is black, Latino or Asian. But tournament officials feared that any concession on opening up the executive committee would subject them to a new torrent of demands, Cole said--perhaps that a minority be appointed almost immediately to the tournament presidency, a prestigious position that tournament volunteers spent decades working toward.
Although others also helped ease such fears, without Cole’s quietly persistent voice, “we might not be where we are” and people might still be glaring at each other, Nack said.
Rick Cole as peacemaker?
“It’s as good an example as anyone could find of the difference between being a council member and being the mayor,” Councilman Bill Crowfoot said.
In Pasadena, the mayor is equal with the other six members of the City Council, “but he sets the tone for the whole city,” Crowfoot said.
Cole, 40, a slight man with limp blond hair and a bottlebrush mustache, has changed a lot since he became mayor a year and a half ago. Everybody says so, from friends who laud his new maturity to enemies who decry his betrayal of his progressive principles.
This is the same Rick Cole who, in 1970, as president of the Blair High student body, led a walkout protesting the shooting of anti-Vietnam War demonstrators by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State. The same year, Cole led a group of teen-agers, shouting and firing cap guns, into a meeting of conservative school board candidates.
Cole became something of a crusader for lost causes, working in the 1972 presidential campaign of anti-war Republican Rep. Paul N. (Pete) McCloskey, in the unsuccessful congressional campaign in Brooklyn of anti-war activist Allard K. Lowenstein and in the failed 1979 reelection bid of Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich.
He was elected to the Pasadena City Council 10 years ago from a largely black and Latino district.
Cole acknowledges that he has tried a different tack in the year and a half since he was chosen by his council colleagues as mayor. His mandates, he said, were to lead the city through a deep fiscal crisis and bring people together during a period of profound racial divisiveness.
Sworn in two days after the Los Angeles riots, he helped put together a communitywide effort to quell anger in Pasadena’s black community over the verdicts in the first trial of the police officers accused of beating Rodney G. King, a resident of nearby Altadena.
But Cole has also contended with a hostile, grinding relationship with African American Councilman Isaac Richard, a former ally with whom he has had a falling out. The open dislike between the two has sometimes left their colleagues dismayed and embarrassed.
“I’ve had to call upon reservoirs of patience I didn’t know I had,” Cole said of his tenure as mayor.
The time as mayor has been hard on him, friends say. “He’s aged quickly,” said Judith Zitter, Cole’s field representative. “He’s taken very little vacation time, or even time to take care of himself.”
Cole is obsessed with the job of running the city to a point where some colleagues complained recently that he was trying to micromanage some departments, making decisions city staff should be handling.
But there still is an occasional flash of the old ideologue--including the flap in January, when he rode in the 1993 Rose Parade with a T-shirt, hidden under another shirt but spied by a reporter, emblazoned with the message “Tournament of Racism.”
“It was probably the low point of my mayoralty,” he says now.
He will wear an attire much more in Rose Parade tradition--riding gear--when he maneuvers along the route in the upcoming parade, atop a horse.
Profile: Rick Cole
* Born: June 27, 1953
* Residence: Pasadena
* Education: Bachelor’s degree in American studies from Occidental College, 1978. Master’s in journalism from Columbia University, 1979.
* Career highlights: Elected to Pasadena City Council, 1983. Chosen as mayor, May, 1992.
* Quote: “We can all take pride that the Tournament of Roses has come farther, faster than any comparable organization in America.”