With the next Los Angeles municipal election more than a year away, more than a dozen people have already stepped forward to compete for seats held by two of City Hall’s most prominent political veterans: Councilmen Bernard C. Parks and Tom LaBonge.
Political aides, activists, attorneys and one medical marijuana dispensary owner have filed the paperwork to raise money in the 2015 campaign to replace LaBonge and Parks, who are leaving after decades of public service in an array of city posts.
Parks and LaBonge, the only city lawmakers slated to step down next year under term limits, are among the council’s most distinctive personalities. Parks is an outspoken fiscal conservative, a sharp-tongued former police chief whose political influence shrank after Council President Herb Wesson removed him from the budget committee he once ran. LaBonge, on the other hand, is an effusive civic cheerleader, said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles.
“Parks has been seen as the budget conscience of city government, so he’s an important character,” Sonenshein said. “And Tom LaBonge speaks with great enthusiasm for the history … and great assets, natural and human, of the city. He’s been the city’s greatest fan.”
LaBonge represents several affluent neighborhoods stretching from Hancock Park to Sherman Oaks. Parks serves some of the poorest sections of South Los Angeles. Paul Jonathan Scott, who owns a pot dispensary in Westchester, said Parks’ district has seen a lack of improvement even as other parts of the city enjoy “a renaissance.”
“It’s almost like a desert out here,” Scott said. “The same mom and pop liquor stores are still here. The same crime is still here. The same lack of infrastructure is still here.”
Four others have signed up to run in Parks’ district, which stretches from the West Adams neighborhood on the north to Imperial Highway on the south. They are community advocate Leonard Delpit; Bobbie Jean Anderson, a former state legislative aide; and two nonprofit group executives: Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Forescee Hogan-Rowles.
Anderson, who worked for former Assemblyman Mike Davis, is closely aligned with Parks, having served as his representative on the city’s Redistricting Commission in 2012.
Hogan-Rowles, who heads a group that provides small business loans and other services, ran against Parks in 2011 and almost pushed him into a runoff, thanks in large part to the financial backing of the city’s public employee unions. Harris-Dawson runs the Community Coalition, which became known for its success in reducing the number of liquor stores in South L.A. in the wake of the 1992 riots.
Parks’ son and chief of staff, Bernard Parks Jr., is considering a run but has not made a decision. “I’m keeping my options open,” he said.
Council seats are highly coveted, offering power and an annual salary of more than $181,000. To win a successful primary bid, candidates, who are limited to contributions of no more than $700 per donor, frequently need at least 12 months to raise the $300,000 that is typically required for a successful primary bid.
In LaBonge’s Silver Lake-to-Sherman Oaks district, the field has swelled to nine so far: Tara Bannister, an executive with the National Apartment Assn.; Teddy Davis, a one-time aide to former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; developer and advertising agency owner Sheila Irani; Wally Knox, a former state assemblyman; Joan Pelico, chief of staff to Councilman Paul Koretz; real estate broker John Perron Jr.; Carolyn Ramsay, LaBonge’s chief of staff; Oscar Winslow, president of the Los Angeles City Attorneys’ Assn.; and Steve Veres, an aide to state Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles).
“We always knew it would be an enormous field for a race like this,” said Davis, the first to submit fundraising paperwork for the LaBonge seat.
Attorney Greg Smith filled out the fundraising paperwork but has decided not to run.
Veres, who lives in Sherman Oaks, said LaBonge’s district is filled with “classic neighborhoods,” such as Hancock Park, Hollywood and Los Feliz. But its residents increasingly feel suffocated by traffic and are anxious about real estate development, he said.
“People work hard to buy homes here and afford to live in these neighborhoods, and they fight to ensure that the quality of life stays at a higher level,” said Veres, who also serves on the Los Angeles Community College District board.
Perron, president of the East Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, is hoping to distinguish himself as one of the few candidates not employed by a politician. Winslow is assembling a campaign even as his group, the city attorneys’ union, pursues two legal challenges to the city’s handling of the budget crisis.
One of those lawsuits challenges the council’s decision to impose furloughs, or unpaid days off, in a budget crisis. If the union prevails, the city could be liable for $22 million, said City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the high-level budget analyst.
Winslow would not say whether he considers the figure to be accurate but noted his group filed the lawsuit to bring the city to the negotiating table. “We don’t always agree with the numbers that the city puts out,” he said.