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Candidates battling for recognition

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Times Staff Writer

For months, the battle for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has found state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) and City Councilman Bernard C. Parks crisscrossing 160 square miles of urban landscape, knocking on the doors of neighborhood activists, chatting up local officials and attending church services -- sometimes as many as three on any given Sunday.

Ridley-Thomas and Parks are the leading candidates in the June 3 election for the 2nd Supervisorial District seat that Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke is vacating after 16 years.

The jockeying for positioning and money in this diverse district of 2 million people has ignited an intense rivalry beyond the city of Los Angeles, where both Parks and Ridley-Thomas enjoy strong name recognition. More than 40% of district voters live in more than a dozen unincorporated slices of the county and nine independent cities, including Inglewood, Culver City and Compton.

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With roughly one-third of the district’s 700,000 voters expected to go to the polls, both candidates have made attendance at multiple church services a key element of their election strategies.

“A house of worship should not be viewed as a battleground for votes,” Ridley-Thomas said. “But it is a significant sector of the community where support, as well as solace, is sought.”

Both Ridley-Thomas and Parks said they try to stay for the entire service.

“The people are very appreciative when you stay and listen to the pastor [for the whole sermon],” Parks said.

But Pastor John Deron Johnson at Phillips Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in South Los Angeles said simple campaign appearances are not enough to win support in a district that has tremendous needs when it comes to healthcare, safety, education and economic development. Johnson invited Parks and Ridley-Thomas to a men’s breakfast meeting last month to discuss their plans for the area.

“They are not strangers to us,” Johnson said. “We’re used to getting calls from politicians. This time we initiated the call. We didn’t want a meet-and-greet.”

The church at 43rd Street and Central Avenue -- where Burke attended services and sang in the choir as a girl -- has a long history of social activism.

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“This election is history-making,” Johnson said. “Our congregation is evenly split. The older, more conservative members lean toward Parks, and the younger guys want Ridley-Thomas. But there is some groundbreaking history here. We have two black males poised to be the first African American male to represent the district.”

Parks, 64, is considered the front-runner in the race with the backing of Burke, Supervisors Gloria Molina and Michael Antonovich, Sheriff Lee Baca and six members of the Los Angeles City Council. Parks ran for the City Council in 2003 after then-Mayor James K. Hahn declined to give him a second term as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. He chairs the council’s powerful Budget Committee and is known as a pro-business fiscal conservative.

Ridley-Thomas is a liberal Democrat who was a civil rights activist in his early years, running the Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference before joining the City Council and, later, the state Legislature. Ridley-Thomas, 53, has been endorsed by several unions, including police and firefighters and the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which has called his election its top priority. He has the backing of several influential ministers and is supported by many in the state Legislature, including incoming Assembly Speaker Karen Bass.

Both Parks and Ridley-Thomas have vowed to reopen Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital and to shore up support for local health clinics and Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

“The No. 1 issue is healthcare,” Ridley-Thomas said. “It’s no secret that the 2nd District has significant concerns, and that’s not limited to King Medical Center, but [also] Harbor-UCLA and Robert F. Kennedy,” the medical center in Hawthorne that was closed in 2004. “People in Culver City are concerned about Brotman Medical Center.”

Parks has greater name recognition in the district because of his years in law enforcement, and Burke’s backing has given him an edge in communities outside Los Angeles.

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“Parks has Burke, and that is no small thing,” said USC political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, who lives in Ladera Heights, which is in the district. “The perception is the race is Parks’ to lose. Part of the reason is that Mark Ridley-Thomas is not widely known outside the city. He is in Sacramento. He’s not as visible in the community and hasn’t been for a while.”

Gardena Mayor Paul Tanaka, who is also assistant L.A. County sheriff, supports Parks.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for his leadership,” Tanaka said. “He’s done a fine job in everything he has touched, and I believe he will continue to do a fine job.”

But Steve Bradford, who has been on the Gardena City Council for 11 years, supports Ridley-Thomas.

“We need to get beyond personality and popularity,” he said. “When it comes to leadership, deliverability and track record, without a doubt, Mark has been there.”

In Lynwood, City Councilwoman Aide Castro approached Ridley-Thomas and offered her support last month.

“People in my circle of influence are supporting him,” she said. “I saw him at a Martin Luther King Day parade and I said, ‘I heard you were running, and I would love to support you.’ We’ve spoken on the phone a couple of times. He’s more approachable. He’s more for the people, more for the community, more grass-roots.”

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Culver City Mayor Alan Corlin said his support for Parks stems from working with him on transportation issues that affect his town and Parks’ council district.

“He comes to the meetings and he knows his stuff,” Corlin said. “He’s clear in what he wants. He would make a good supervisor.”

If no candidate gets a majority of votes cast on June 3, the two top vote-getters will face off during the general election on Nov. 4.

Other candidates in the race include Antonio Avarez, a real estate agent; Martin Luther King Aubrey, a painter; Drew Fenton, a physician; Morris Griffin, a community activist and maintenance technician; Thomas Neusom, an attorney; Delaney Smith Jr., a physician; and Florian Thompson, a dentist.

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john.mitchell@latimes.com

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