Farewell, con­trast­ing coun­cil­men


Los An­ge­les City Coun­cil­man Bernard C. Parks marked the end of his leg­isla­tive ca­reer miles from City Hall, clutch­ing a jack­ham­mer as it pul­ver­ized a bro­ken side­walk near Martin Luther King Jr. Boule­vard.

Parks man­aged to rip into the city bu­reau­cracy at the same time, say­ing L. A. of­fi­cials had failed to spend money put aside for side­walk re­pair. Too of­ten, he said, of­fi­cials have been un­will­ing to hire less- ex­pen­sive con­trac­tors to get the work done.

That same week, Coun­cil­man Tom LaBonge had a far more sen­ti­men­tal send­off, reach­ing for the tis­sues at a tear­ful two- hour farewell on the coun­cil f loor. His col­leagues praised him as “Mr. L. A.,” then called for an in­ter­sec­tion in Los Feliz to be named in his honor.

Parks and LaBonge will re­tire from pol­i­tics this week, pushed out by term lim­its. Both worked for decades in city gov­ern­ment — LaBonge for nearly 40 years, Parks for 50 — yet their good­byes were strik­ingly dif­fer­ent. That’s be­cause their ap­proaches to gov­ern­ing were worlds apart.

LaBonge, the larg­erthan- life back­slap­per, is known city­wide as a bois­ter­ous am­bas­sador for all things Los An­ge­les. Parks, sharp but un­der­stated, built a rep­u­ta­tion for speak­ing his mind, con­se­quences be damned. LaBonge, whose dis­trict in­cludes Hol­ly­wood, is ea­ger to make friends. Parks, a for­mer chief of the Los An­ge­les Po­lice Depart­ment, has not been shy about mak­ing en­e­mies.

“Two more dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties,” said for­mer Coun­cil­woman Ruth Galanter, “are hard to imag­ine.”

There was a lot of talk this elec­tion year about in­sid­ers and out­siders, and the ques­tion of which is needed more ur­gently at City Hall. By the end of their ca­reers, LaBonge and Parks, more than most on the coun­cil, had come to rep­re­sent those op­pos­ing ends of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum.

Parks, a fis­cal con­ser­va­tive, rel­ished his role of naysayer, go­ing against the grain un­til he was al­most com­pletely iso­lated from his col­leagues. LaBonge, ever the team player, worked ami­ably on the coun­cil f loor, recit­ing the les­son of his high school football coach: move 10 peo­ple down the field un­til there’s a touch­down.

Parks, 71, ex­co­ri­ated his col­leagues three years ago for carv­ing USC and nearby neigh­bor­hoods out of his South Los An­ge­les dis­trict, part of the once- a- decade process of re­draw­ing coun­cil bound­aries. Af­ter he de­clined to sup­port Herb Wes­son as coun­cil pres­i­dent, Parks was bounced from the bud­get com­mit­tee.

By con­trast, LaBonge took one for the team dur­ing the redistricting process, ac­qui­esc­ing as Wes­son and his col­leagues stretched his dis­trict like taffy, from Sil­ver Lake west to Sher­man Oaks. Months ear­lier, he as­cended to the coun­cil’s lead­er­ship team, serv­ing along­side Wes­son. This year, Wes­son and most other coun­cil mem­bers backed LaBonge’s cho­sen suc­ces­sor, his for­mer aide Carolyn Ram­say, who ul­ti­mately lost.

On his way out, La- Bonge, an avid pho­tog­ra­pher, spon­sored a farewell photo ex­hi­bi­tion on the third f loor of City Hall — one with a gi­ant im­age of the coun­cil­man at the Farm­ers Mar­ket, beam­ing and clutch­ing a vanilla ice cream cone. Of­fi­cials even named a city trash truck af­ter LaBonge — a nod to his drive to re­move aban­doned fur­ni­ture. “It’s been a tremen­dous, up­lift­ing end­ing,” he said.

Parks, for his part, de­clined an of­fer from Coun­cil­man Paul Koretz for a City Hall farewell cer­e­mony, telling re­porters he didn’t like such rit­u­als. “It makes me ner­vous when you have to ask peo­ple to come and say ‘ I ap­pre­ci­ate you,’” he said.

Stand­ing near the jack- ham­mer last week, Parks voiced fears that the coun­cil, led by Wes­son, will do ev­ery­thing in lock step af­ter he leaves. Parks, who has been on the los­ing end of some 14 to 1 votes, wryly pre­dicted law­mak­ers would have the “no” but­ton at their desks ripped out once he’s gone.

The zingers were sharper in an in­ter­view with L. A. Weekly, in which Parks mocked LaBonge and his col­leagues. Us­ing col­or­ful lan­guage, he por­trayed LaBonge as some­one with lit­tle in­ter­est in pol­icy de­tails.

LaBonge, 61, said last week that he hadn’t read the story but had an idea of what Parks’ mes­sage was: “He prob­a­bly thinks he’s bet­ter than ev­ery­body.”

Parks, it should be noted, isn’t shy­ing away from his own splashy cel­e­bra­tion. On Tues­day, his last day in of­fice, he and his sup­port­ers will screen “Bi­og­ra­phy, Bat­tles and Bernard,” a doc­u­men­tary on his life, at Bald­win Hills Cren­shaw Plaza. The two- hour film chron­i­cles Parks’ rise through the ranks of the LAPD and his skir­mishes with city em­ployee unions, for­mer Mayor James K. Hahn and many oth­ers.

Parks’ son and chief of staff sug­gested the coun­cil­man, a fre­quent pres­ence on ca­ble news shows, may have another act in store, pos­si­bly on na­tional tele­vi­sion. “It re­ally does de­pend on how much he wants to work,” Bernard Parks Jr. said in an email.

LaBonge and Parks did have one thing in com­mon this year — dis­ap­point­ment with this year’s elec­tion re­sults, said Der­mot Givens, a Los An­ge­les po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant. Vot­ers de­cided they didn’t want Ram­say, LaBonge’s fa­vored can­di­date, to rep­re­sent them. They chose self- de­scribed out­sider David Ryu, whose only sup­port on the coun­cil came from Parks.

In South L. A., vot­ers re­jected Parks’ fa­vored can­di­date and went with Mar­queece Harris- Daw­son, a non­profit ex­ec­u­tive who had the back­ing of Wes­son and most of the City Hall es­tab­lish­ment. Parks’ con­stituents con­cluded that an in­sider could ac­com­plish more, Givens said.

“The way to get things done is to get eight votes,” he added. “And you’re only go­ing to get eight votes if the coun­cil pres­i­dent al­lows you to get them.”

Both de­part­ing coun­cil mem­bers had de­trac­tors. LaBonge’s crit­ics say he lacked fo­cus and a city­wide per­spec­tive. Parks’ foes called him stub­born and even venge­ful. Yet many said they also had com­ple­men­tary roles to play: LaBonge as the en­thu­si­as­tic cheer­leader, Parks as the voice of cau­tion.

LaBonge showed “a pal­pa­ble love of Los An­ge­les” that an­i­mated ev­ery dis­cus­sion on the coun­cil f loor, Coun­cil­man Mike Bonin said. Parks, on the other hand, pro­vided a skep­ti­cal voice on fi­nan­cial mat­ters. “I rarely agreed with him,” Bonin said, “but it was im­por­tant to have his voice in the room. It made me think twice about a lot of stuff.” david. zah­niser @ latimes. com Twit­ter: @DavidZah­niser

Katie Falkenberg Los An­ge­les Times

BERNARD C. PARKS dons a vest and hel­met be­fore us­ing a jack­ham­mer to break up a sec­tion of bro­ken side­walk on Brighton Av­enue in Ex­po­si­tion Park. On the City Coun­cil, Parks rel­ished his role as naysayer.

Ge­naro Molina Los An­ge­les Times

TOM LABONGE hugs his wife, Brigid, at a cel­e­bra­tion of his 40- year ca­reer in city gov­ern­ment June 23 at City Hall, where col­leagues praised him as “Mr. L. A.”

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