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The real Bradley effect: Ridley-Thomas and Parks

The candidates for county supervisor appeal to different sides of the late L.A. mayor's power base.

October 19, 2008|John L. Mitchell | Times Staff Writer

In the battle for the 2nd District seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas and Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks are waging a political tug of war that -- at its roots -- can be traced to the late Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley.

Ridley-Thomas and Parks are both heirs to the Bradley legacy, emerging from different sides of his black base of support, according to Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton and author of "Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles."

"A Ridley-Thomas victory is really a step forward for a younger generation of African Americans -- including those with closer ties to organized labor -- liberals, and Latinos," he said. "A Parks victory would reaffirm the enduring strength of the older black political establishment that built itself during the Bradley years and is very cohesive."

The Nov. 4 election will determine which generation can lay claim to the seat being vacated by Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke, whose culturally and ethnically diverse district stretches from Culver City and Mar Vista to South Los Angeles, Watts and Compton.

Ridley-Thomas' campaign has the strong backing of black ministers in the district and of organized labor, a bridge to the Latino community.

Parks' support comes from the business community and leaders of the black political establishment: Burke, former Lakers star-turned-businessman Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles). Considered a fiscal conservative, Parks also has support from county supervisors Mike Antonovich and Gloria Molina.

Both 2nd District candidates have strong roots in the community.

Parks rose through the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department, becoming chief in 1997. After he was ousted in 2002 by Mayor James K. Hahn, his political star began to rise and he won a seat on the City Council in 2003.

Ridley-Thomas started out as a high school teacher and became a civil rights leader as executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles. In 1991, he was elected to the City Council; he later moved on to the state Assembly and then to the state Senate.

Thus far, the two candidates have waged one of the most expensive campaign fights in county history. According to recent campaign filing reports, Parks has spent about $1.8 million on the race, while Ridley-Thomas reported spending more than $1.1 million, not counting the millions spent by unions supporting his campaign.

A committee formed by several union locals, called Alliance for a Stronger Community, has reported spending $5.7 million so far on behalf of Ridley-Thomas. The money was used for phone banks, radio advertisements and direct mail, campaign reporting statements show. The unions have amassed a total of $7.1 million to help Ridley-Thomas defeat Parks.

Since the primary, in which Ridley-Thomas won 45% of the vote over Parks' 40%, the state senator has been considered the front-runner. In addition to the strong backing of labor, his campaign is considered better organized. But Parks, whose second-place finish forced the runoff, still enjoys strong name recognition.

They agree that the district suffers from a lack of jobs, educational opportunities and healthcare. But the biggest challenge confronting the next supervisor is the failure of Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, which the county closed under pressure from state and federal regulators after years of failed reform attempts.

They both advocate reopening the hospital. Parks wants it to be run by the county; Ridley-Thomas advocates a public-private partnership.

Parks said the main thrust of his campaign heading into the election will be to reach as many voters as possible. He's set up a series of "issues only" town hall meetings throughout the 2nd District to meet with small groups of voters.

As part of the final campaign push, Parks questioned Ridley-Thomas' ties to Tyrone Freeman, who has been removed from the payroll as president of the Los Angeles local of the Service Employees International Union and is being investigated on allegations of misuse of funds.

Ridley-Thomas called on Parks to resign from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, accusing him of accepting $21,000 from contractors who do business with the agency.

One challenge for both candidates will come on election day, when a record number of voters is expected to turn out in response to the presidential contest.

"They have to convince the voters not to leave polls after voting for president," said Dermot Givens, a lawyer and political consultant on some South L.A. races.


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