Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke, who nearly two years ago announced she would retire from one of the region's most powerful elected positions, endorsed Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks on Thursday in the hotly contested race to succeed her.
The veteran politician's endorsement of Parks, whom she called "dedicated and thorough," comes as the former Los Angeles police chief competes with state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles), who has the backing of the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
"Bernard is a person known for his integrity and not afraid to make a tough decision if it is in the best interest of his city and its people," Burke said at a news conference. "He understands that it's the little things that often make the difference."
Although both are Democrats, Parks and Ridley-Thomas offer voters in District 2, which covers much of the south part of the county, substantially different choices.
The outcome of the election could tilt the five-member board from a liberal-leaning majority to a more conservative one.
Parks, 64, is considered fiscally conservative and pro-business, a city councilman who joined the ranks of Los Angeles politics in 2003 after being denied a second term as police chief by then-Mayor James K. Hahn.
Ridley-Thomas, 53, is regarded as a liberal legislator who made his imprint as a civil rights activist before winning a seat on the Los Angeles City Council and moving on, after serving the allowable two terms, to the state Legislature.
The primary is June 3. If no candidate wins a majority, the two top voter-getters will compete in a November runoff. With the Thursday deadline for entering the race looming, political observers do not expect that any of the other potential candidates so far could muster the campaign funds and other resources to have much of an effect on the contest.
Parks said Thursday he is ready for a tough race. "It's one of those things that you can't take anything for granted," he said. "It's a tough race until the election is ours."
Labor leaders, who have identified this race as their top priority, said they still are developing their strategy.
"We're pretty much in planning mode to figure out how much we need to put in this race," said Mary Gutierrez, a spokeswoman for the labor federation. "This is the largest race that we've had here in a very long time, and it's very important to us. It could very well be very expensive."
Burke, a trailblazer in African American politics, first in the state Assembly and later in Congress, said Parks is better prepared to take on the vast challenges that face the county.
Supervisors "have legislative responsibilities in the unincorporated areas, but our daily challenge is providing services to the people," she said.
The county's five supervisors oversee a $21-billion budget and a range of programs, including public health, probation, local welfare and children's and family services.