Some star power was added Thursday to Bernard C. Parks' campaign for county supervisor, when former basketball phenomenon turned respected businessman Earvin "Magic" Johnson endorsed the Los Angeles city councilman.
At the long-troubled Marlton Square Center at the foot of the Baldwin Hills, Johnson, flanked by several other City Council members, said Parks was the clear choice to turn around blighted corridors, such as Marlton.
There, the once-promised model of urban revival has become a symbol of a bureaucratic blunder that turned the development of housing and chic stores over to a developer unable to complete the project. Dilapidated storefronts now sit vacant in an empty parking lot that is mostly surrounded by a chain-link fence.
"We're tired of lip service," said Johnson, who was initially picked to develop the shopping center but was unable to interest businesses in the site. "The people deserve action. They deserve somebody who is committed to making sure that this piece is developed."
Parks, who has been endorsed by business interests, including the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the L.A. Business Federation, is in a tight race against state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) to replace retiring 2nd District Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke. Ridley-Thomas, a former assemblyman and city councilman, is backed by the powerful public employees unions, which have raised more than $2 million on his behalf.
The endorsement of Johnson, revered as a basketball legend, has been important in past campaigns. The former NBA star has become a successful entrepreneur, building a veritable franchise empire of Starbucks coffee shops, Washington Mutual banks and Loews movie houses.
"I would say any time you get the endorsement by someone like Earvin 'Magic' Johnson, you should consider that as a good day for the campaign," said Kerman Maddox, a political consultant who is not associated with either campaign. "He appeals to young people, old people, white people, black people, rich people, poor people. If you use this endorsement properly, it can influence some undecided voters."
The district stretches from Culver City and Mar Vista to Watts and Compton, Lynwood and Carson. Johnson said he will appear on radio spots urging voters to elect Parks.
One political observer said Johnson will need to do more than one public appearance to sway voters. "Is one press conference enough to introduce Bernard to those people in the district who have no connection to Bernard?" said Dermot Givens, a political consultant who has worked for both candidates but is not involved in this campaign. "I really don't think so."