Gilbert W. Lindsay, the first black Los Angeles city councilman and self-proclaimed "Emperor of the 9th District" for nearly three decades, died Friday of cardiac arrest. He was 90.
The veteran politician's death at 2:11 a.m. at Queen of Angels-Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center followed nearly four months of hospitalization for a paralyzing stroke that left him unable to speak.
Lindsay once ruled the inner-city 9th District with a brash arrogance that some compared to the imperious style of Chicago's late political boss, Richard J. Daley.
He was a short, feisty man who liked big buildings and beautiful women.
But the incapacitation that followed his Sept. 2 stroke left Lindsay unable to conduct city business and touched off a divisive City Hall battle over whether to replace or remove him.
Lindsay had been plagued by failing health for the last two years. He suffered an earlier stroke in 1988 and was briefly hospitalized last June after collapsing in an underground parking garage at City Hall. Critics said then he was unable to represent his constituents.
A tearful Mayor Tom Bradley called Lindsay "a beloved public servant, one who declared on many occasions that he was going to be emperor and councilman for life. He got his wish."
Bradley ordered that all city flags fly at half staff in observance of Lindsay's death.
Mike Antonovich, chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, praised Lindsay for his "lifelong dedication to the City and County of Los Angeles" and also ordered flags at county facilities lowered to half staff.
"We have all lost a good friend," Antonovich said.
City Council President John Ferraro, who appeared with Bradley in a joint press conference Friday, said he will request a special election be held during the upcoming April primary to select a successor to Lindsay, whose term expires in 1993.
The council is on holiday vacation until Jan. 2. Bradley said he favors Ferraro's plan.
Unresolved at Lindsay's death is a lawsuit filed by his stepson, Herbert Howard, alleging that Lindsay's former girlfriend, 39-year-old Juanda Chauncie, clandestinely gained the deeds to six residential properties owned by the politician.
Howard, named conservator of his stepfather's estate earlier this month, had recently moved Lindsay from an Inglewood hospital to Queen of Angels-Hollywood Presbyterian to block any attempt to oust the councilman.
A technicality in the City Charter allows the removal of a council member absent from the city for longer than 60 days, unless the member's absence is officially excused. The Inglewood hospital is just beyond the city limits.
Lindsay was born Nov. 29, 1900, on a cotton plantation in Jasper County, Mississippi. After serving in the Army in the 10th Calvary and 25th Infantry in Arizona, he moved to Los Angeles. He applied for a job with the city and, despite some college credits taken through the Army, he was offered a job as a janitor.
He accepted the post, but in his spare time he enrolled in business and government classes at the University of Southern California and gradually moved up in the clerical ranks of the city government.
In 1952, he worked on then-City Councilman Kenneth Hahn's successful campaign for county supervisor and was named Hahn's deputy. On Jan. 28, 1963, he was appointed to fill a vacancy in the City Council, becoming the first black councilman in the city's recorded history. He overwhelmingly defeated 11 opponents in an election held five months later. He won every ballot thereafter, relying largely on the predominantly black constituency of a district stretching from Chinatown to South-Central Los Angeles.
Lindsay remained a staunch advocate of growth and an ally to developers in an era when growth was being increasingly criticized for crowding out the poor and creating too much traffic and smog.
While praised for revitalizing downtown, he was also accused of neglecting the southern half of his district in South-Central Los Angeles, an area rife with crime and unemployment.
Lindsay was also a champion of civil rights, and his appointment to the City Council paved the way for other minorities, including Bradley, who became the city's first black mayor.
"If anybody knew Gilbert Lindsay and didn't love him, something must have been wrong with them," Ferraro said.
"The legacy Councilman Lindsay leaves behind is one of care, compassion and commitment to all 9th District constituents with whom he shared a very special relationship," Ferraro said. "The 'Emperor of the Great 9th' is dead, but he will always remain in our memories, in our hearts and our love."
Lindsay's power base eroded over the years, however, as Latinos increasingly approach the numbers of blacks in the 9th District.
Lindsay aide Bob Gay, accused by critics of being too eager to assume his boss's job, is a likely candidate for the now-vacant seat.
Others most mentioned as possible successors are Brad Pye, an aide to Hahn. Both Gay and Pye are black.