Los Angeles City Councilman Robert Farrell, confirming that he will not seek reelection to the City Hall post he has held for 17 years, explained Wednesday that he is bowing out in order to spend more time with his family.
"Work at City Hall has been the priority in my life for half of it--almost 27 years of appointed and elected service, from 1964 to date," Farrell, 54, told a packed news conference at City Hall. "I want to now give the priority of my time to my family."
While Farrell expressed confidence that he could have been reelected, some of his colleagues and other political experts suggested that his withdrawal from the nascent race was motivated in part by shifting political realities.
"He faced a very tough reelection campaign and he realized it," said council President John Ferraro. "It was going to be an expensive campaign, and Bob's never been a great fund-raiser."
With Farrell's departure, there will be no incumbents running in two of the city's three predominantly black council districts next April. Death claimed Councilman Gilbert Lindsay, 90, last week, and the special election to decide his 9th District successor will be held in conjunction with the regularly scheduled municipal election for even-numbered council districts, including Farrell's 8th District.
"These are very exciting times for black voters," said Councilman Nate Holden, the city's only other black council member. "There are two open seats and lots of contenders."
Farrell also announced Wednesday, as expected, his endorsement of Mark Ridley-Thomas, 36, as his successor, calling the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference "one of the voices of conscience in the city of Los Angeles."
Ridley-Thomas said he had not intended to run for the 8th District seat until Saturday, when Farrell first told his closest confidants of his decision not to run.
"Philosophically, Robert Farrell and I are soul mates," Ridley-Thomas told reporters.
Kerman Maddox, a former aide to Mayor Tom Bradley who has been preparing to run against Farrell for the last four years, contended that Farrell's endorsement would do his opponent more harm than good. At a news conference on the City Hall steps, Maddox, 36, also said he believed that he and his followers could claim some credit for Farrell's decision not to run.
Maddox was instrumental in organizing an unsuccessful recall of Farrell shortly after he won reelection in 1987. The recall drive was powered in part by Farrell's support of a measure to impose a special property tax on South-Central residents to support additional police patrols. It failed for a lack of signatures, but the recall drive was a catalyst for opposition to the councilman, and his political fortunes had been on the wane ever since.
"When 12,000 people sign recall petitions against you, that's astounding. That's a lot of people," Holden said.
Last spring, Farrell came in a distant second in a state Assembly race, managing 35% of the vote in the Democratic primary.
Also dogging Farrell for the last two years has been an unresolved district attorney's investigation of allegations that he misused tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer and campaign funds to underwrite a social services agency run by his ex-wife, Essiebea Farrell.
Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner, said Wednesday that the investigation is still going on. "It's still under review, but it's very close to something being done about it," Gibbons said.
Farrell said he does not intend to retire completely from politics, and added that he will announce his plans later. He did say that he is looking at possible opportunities in print and television journalism.
Next October, as Farrell turns 55, he will become eligible to receive a yearly city pension worth about $27,000.
Farrell said one of his reasons for stepping aside now was to "move forward with a progressive agenda" that he initiated and that includes the formation of several "neighborhood districts" for residents to become more involved in the governing of the 8th District.
"As I take my leave, take it as an indication that something new is happening in the black community," Farrell said. " . . . The African-American community has sufficiently matured as we go into the '90s and its political leaders need not only be elected officials."
Mayor Bradley and some council members had praise for Farrell's role in focusing political attention on issues important to blacks, although some critics suggested that his interest in broader issues hampered his service to constituents.
"Over the years, I have seen the tremendous leadership Councilman Farrell has shown his community and I have admired his adroit ability to place the concerns of Los Angeles' black community on the City Council agenda," Bradley said in a statement.