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Parks vs. Ridley-Thomas

The candidates for supervisor have five more months to campaign. Here's what they should focus on.

June 05, 2008

Tuesday's county supervisorial election among Bernard C. Parks, Mark Ridley-Thomas and seven other candidates failed to end a months-long campaign that too often focused on the power of labor unions, the clout of business interests, statements from old news stories taken out of context and image over substance.

Ridley-Thomas was the top vote-getter, but he came up short of the 50% plus one he needed to wrap up the race. That means there must be a Nov. 4 runoff and five months more of campaigning. The two men have a choice about what to do with that time. So do the rest of us.

Parks and Ridley-Thomas could concentrate on raising money for attack mailers to undermine each other's reputation. Parks could continue to allow his business supporters to dismiss Ridley-Thomas as a willing tool of big labor, thus shifting attention away from county government's incapacity to serve its constituents. Ridley-Thomas could continue to let labor do the heavy fundraising and campaigning for him, leaving voters to suspect that he might well come into office owing favors to unions.

The candidates could talk behind each other's backs about who really supported Barack Obama first. They could posture on Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Medical Center instead of proposing a comprehensive plan for better healthcare for the all-but-abandoned people of the 2nd District.

But it doesn't have to be that way. The candidates could instead remind voters that the victor will be a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority with power to ease gridlock, provide better public transit and fight for federal funds. What are their priorities?

They could grapple with the pipeline of county dependency that, especially in the district, sucks in children of broken families, inadequately follows their progress in foster care, fails to divert them from drugs and gangs, and all too often turns them into clients of county programs dealing with mental health, homelessness, probation or jail. They could demonstrate, right now, their strategies for minimizing the tension inherent in the district's shifting ethnic makeup.

They could talk about the abysmal way the county has been governed. Is the new chief executive putting the government on the right track? Is a more sweeping overhaul in order? Should Los Angeles County be split into three? Are the candidates even thinking about these issues?

Their constituents, too, have power to direct the campaigns over the next few months. So do political supporters and journalists -- simply by asking questions that demand substantive answers. Los Angeles County will get the elected officials it deserves. We should let Parks and Ridley-Thomas know that we deserve the best.

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