Of the nine candidates to succeed Yvonne B. Burke on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, two -- Bernard C. Parks and Mark Ridley-Thomas -- have the ability and experience to make the most of the position. In the hard-fought match between two qualified candidates, The Times opts for Parks.
The career Los Angeles police officer and chief and now second-term councilman has shown a steady hand chairing the City Council's budget committee, and would bring similar care to the much larger county government. He has deep roots in South Los Angeles, which forms the heart of the 2nd Supervisorial District. As he has noted since entering political life in 2003 -- to succeed Ridley-Thomas on the council -- his career in the LAPD allowed him to observe firsthand the results of government failure. As a county supervisor, he would be well positioned to correct those failures and make the government of the nation's most populous county more effective and efficient.
Parks also offers something rare in a candidate for political office: He has administrative experience, having been in effect the general manager of one of the nation's best-regarded local law enforcement agencies. Parks' term as chief was wracked by the Rampart corruption investigation, but the corruption that led to a federal consent decree happened before he took over the LAPD. Critics properly challenged his handling of the aftermath -- Parks sometimes stubbornly resisted public and political scrutiny -- but acknowledged that he was untainted by the criminal activity of disgraced officers.
Parks' views on business and economic issues generally coincide with the market-based approach favored by this page. But we note with concern the focus placed on the business-versus-labor aspects of this race -- a focus that comes primarily from business and labor groups themselves. True, several prominent business groups back Parks, and unions are largely with Ridley-Thomas, but neither candidate is a one-note shill for interests that support him. Ridley-Thomas, for example, has support from business and development interests that appreciate the hard work he has done in the City Council and in the Legislature. He was instrumental in the recovery of South Los Angeles after the Rodney King unrest, and helped defuse potentially destructive tension with his Days of Dialogue series. He established the Empowerment Congress, which put his constituents more firmly in command of their government resources.
For his part, Parks has shown tough-mindedness and independence, holding his ground on issues involving public employee contracts and resisting the council stampede into such questionable areas as dictating a special minimum wage for workers at hotels near Los Angeles International Airport. As a frequent critic of LAPD Chief William J. Bratton, Parks has been the chief's nemesis, but he also has offered promising hints of his supervisorial potential, namely his defense of open records and proceedings, two areas in which the LAPD today is less forthright than it was under Parks.
More important, the demands of the position will require the next supervisor to demonstrate intellectual, legal and political skills that transcend a right-left or business-labor approach. The supervisor, with his board colleagues, must work to break the chain of human misery that county government is charged with resolving. He must be an independent and flexible thinker unafraid to upset the status quo, willing to upset managers, employees and interest groups in the name of better serving the clients of county departments such as Children and Family Services, Probation and -- especially -- Health Services. We are counting on Parks to resist the county's tendency toward mediocrity.
Both Parks and Ridley-Thomas are up to the job. Either would make a good county supervisor. Either, to be fully effective, would need the support of his constituents and even an occasional push, given the secretive nature of county government and the propensity of any elected official, once in office, to conform himself to the contours of the job as it has been conducted in the past. Either, when elected, is likely to hold the post not just for the next four years but for 12.
The Times gives the edge to Parks based on his experience as a patrol officer, police chief, manager and budget watchdog.
For previous Times endorsements in the June 3 election, visit www.latimes.com/news/opinion/elections.