To put current charges of Los Angeles political corruption in perspective, consider the picture more than five decades ago.
When I was in my teens my great ambition was to become a Los Angeles police officer. I had known officers and admired them.
Then the image of the police department--and local politicians--came into question. A great upheaval happened in Los Angeles, following discoveries by a brave man, Clifford Clinton. He was researching corruption in local government, having hired--and paid for--a private investigator. The investigator's car was bombed; the culprit turned out to be a police captain, Earl E. Kynette, who was convicted and sent to San Quentin.
More scandals followed, revealing mammoth political corruption in Los Angeles. Superior Court Judge Fletcher Bowron, in charge of the Grand Jury, looked into the police department to discover that hirings and promotions were based on bribery.
Police Captain Peter Delgado was charged and indicted. While on bail he escaped to Mexico and later ran a resort hotel.
The brother of Mayor Frank Shaw and several people working with him carried corruption into City Hall.
The climax was a recall election. Old guard out; new brooms in. Fletcher Bowron became mayor and Los Angeles has enjoyed an essentially incorruptible city government since.
Looking at the current criticism of Mayor Tom Bradley and other city officials, anyone who remembers the past may realize that the transgressions by my old Police Academy classmate are relatively minor compared with what we saw 50 years ago. I am not defending Tom--he has admitted having made mistakes--but in long perspective we can be generally proud of the cleanliness of local government, in this city and this state.
When I was chief of police, my officers felt the biggest problem in the department was the quality of sergeants. I would smile and say our sergeants certainly aren't perfect, but I had a problem: Sergeants are selected from the ranks of policemen. I think the same thing applies for the '90s in the selection of politicians--whether mayors, legislators, governors or Presidents. We must select our politicians from among the citizens of our society. We will never get perfect politicians until we have perfect citizens. We can continue to fine-tune politics with ethical reforms and make improvements, but at the same time we should recognize having the best example of democracy in history and celebrate the quality of public servants selected over the last two centuries.