For better and for worse, term limits are remaking the Los Angeles City Council. Six new members took office this summer. Newcomers will make up a majority of the 15-member council after special elections scheduled for September and December fill seats left vacant by a death and a resignation. This unprecedented turnover promises new ideas, but it also means the loss of deep-seated knowledge and institutional memory.
In the Sept. 11 election to fill the late John Ferraro's 4th Council District seat, Tom LaBonge offers an ability to bridge the new and the old. His combination of energy and hard-earned experience earns The Times' recommendation.
LaBonge knows the district inside out, from North Hollywood to Hancock Park and from Farmers Market to Silver Lake, not only as Ferraro's former field deputy but as a lifelong resident and longtime volunteer. He began leading nature hikes in Griffith Park before environmental activism was cool. He helped galvanize a popular movement to turn the concrete-lined Los Angeles River into a greenway. He fought to save Los Feliz's John Marshall High School, his alma mater, from the wrecking ball and saw it recognized as a historical landmark.
After 15 years with Ferraro, LaBonge worked for eight years as an aide to former Mayor Richard Riordan. In a "throw the bums out" world, his experience could count against him. It shouldn't. LaBonge has been a public servant in the best, almost corniest sense of the word.
The wide-open race has attracted nine other candidates. Of these, former state Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti has name recognition but has not articulated a passionate reason for running. Hollywood activist Ferris (SEE TOM'S E-MESSAGE) Wehbe's candidacy is puzzling given his leadership of the movement to make Hollywood a separate city. Good ideas are brought to the table by Denise Munro Robb, who works to protect renters' rights and promote historical preservation along the Miracle Mile; Richard L. MacMinn, who created a network to link fledgling neighborhood councils; Linda Lockwood, Ferraro's 1996 opponent, and teacher Susan Fong.
LaBonge's toughest opponent is Los Angeles Community College Board trustee Beth Garfield, whose impressive reforms helped turn around the troubled two-year colleges; she will be heard from again. But none of his rivals can match LaBonge's knowledge of and experience in the district.
If no candidate wins a majority, the top two vote-getters will face each other in a runoff Oct. 23.
Ferraro had represented the 4th District for 35 years--the last 18 as council president--when he died of cancer in April. District residents had increasingly grumbled that his long tenure as president distracted Ferraro from the district's day-to-day needs. LaBonge knows those needs and has worked tirelessly to meet them. His dedication to his district and to the city win The Times' endorsement in the Sept. 11 election.