Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana, the low-key telephone company engineer-turned-politician who defended county hospitals, supported privatizing county services and loved county beaches, died Thursday.
Dana, 78, had a heart attack Monday and was admitted to Torrance Memorial Hospital. He died there Thursday morning of heart failure.
For 16 years, Dana represented the 4th Supervisorial District, a huge swath that at the time of his election ran from Long Beach to Malibu and encompassed wildly divergent political views.
First elected in 1980, Dana was part of a conservative wave that swept Ronald Reagan into the presidency. Like Reagan, whom he deeply admired, he began his career in politics after having finished another.
For 27 years, Dana worked as an engineer at Pacific Bell -- a profession that seemed to fit his quiet, affable demeanor and utilized his experience in the Air Force as a communications specialist.
Former Gov. George Deukmejian, a longtime friend and political ally, described Dana as a “true citizen politician who was guided by his strong belief in the private enterprise system -- less government rather than more -- and fiscal responsibility.”
“He took his responsibilities seriously and he recognized the great importance of strong local government,” Deukmejian said.
Born in New York City in 1926, Dana moved with his family from the East Coast to the West, eventually settling in Long Beach where he met Deukmejian, also from Long Beach, said Dana’s son, Deane Dana III. It was a friendship that would last until Dana’s death.
Dana later moved to Palos Verdes Estates.
Although Dana worked as an engineer, his heart had always been in politics. Behind the scenes, he and his family were well known in Republican circles in the South Bay and on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
“He was deeply involved in local Republican battles between the more hard-core conservatives versus the more political moderates,” said Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican political consultant.
Dana worked on every Deukmejian campaign, beginning in 1962 with his run for the Assembly, Deukmejian said.
In 1980, Dana sought a candidate to unseat Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, a former congresswoman who had been appointed to the 4th District seat by then-Gov. Jerry Brown. She became the first woman and the first African American to serve on the powerful board.
After his search failed, Dana decided to run himself.
“I told him he was crazy,” his son said. “It was a real longshot running against a career member of the Congress, a very articulate woman. My dad was a businessman, and he wanted to bring his pro-business approach.”
Dana was not known as a gifted speaker; he occasionally mumbled, and sometimes was described as shy or awkward. But with a prized seat at stake, an aggressive campaign with racial overtones ensued.
The race took place as the city wrestled with the controversial issue of busing and the implications of school integration.
“Busing was what he ran on,” Burke said. “In that district, it was highly racial.” The campaign reminded voters that Burke was African American and characterized her as a liberal.
“I felt it was not a reflection of his own personal view, but perhaps of a campaign and the way the campaign was put together by the people who were organizing it,” said Burke, who described her working relationship with her former opponent as excellent. “I’ve never heard him make any racial remarks.”
Dana won the seat, and proved true to his pro-business stance. He angered residents in Malibu with his support of developers. He loved beaches and supported lifeguards and law enforcement. He also was a staunch supporter of the Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center in Downey.
But the makeup of the board he was elected to -- all white, all male, conservative -- would not last.
In 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a historic redistricting plan, bringing to an end a 2 1/2 -year voting rights case brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union and the U.S. Justice Department. The plan paved the way for the election of Supervisor Gloria Molina in the 1st District the same year, and in 1992 Burke was elected supervisor in the 2nd District.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, who served as Dana’s chief of staff for years, praised his former boss as a public servant whose concerns were expansive, and sometimes caused him to vote with more liberal officials on issues such as hospitals and general relief.
“A true partisan Republican would say ‘No way,’ ” Knabe said. “Deane would see the compassion of the issue and try to fix it and sometimes vote with” liberal supervisors.
Before announcing his retirement in 1996, Dana encouraged Knabe to run for his seat. Knabe ran with Dana’s moral and financial support, and has served on the board since.
“I owe it all to the opportunity that Deane gave me here,” Knabe said. “He was very affable; he was very accessible. He wasn’t overly impressed with his own power. I don’t know if it was his engineering background, but he really analyzed everything.”
Outside of work, Dana “was a dedicated family man” who loved camping, fishing, water skiing and scuba diving, Deane Dana III said.
Soon after his retirement, Dana began exhibiting signs of Alzheimer’s disease, his son said.
Besides his son, Dana is survived by his wife, Doris; daughters Margie Mattingly, Diane Dana-Welles and Dottie Lambrou; and six grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. April 29 at the Deane Dana Friendship Park and Nature Center in San Pedro.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Alzheimer’s Assn., 5900 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1100, Los Angeles, CA 90036.