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Eviction of nonprofit blocked

Mayor steps in after Parks says group was doing political work.

September 25, 2008|John L. Mitchell | Times Staff Writer

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has asked the city to block the eviction of a nonprofit organization from a city-owned building that City Councilman Bernard C. Parks said was illegally being used by the group to organize voters against his bid for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

For eight years, Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education's headquarters has been at 1715 W. Florence Ave. in a 10,000-square-foot building under a $1-a-year lease negotiated with the city's Department of General Services.

Anthony Thigpenn, the group's founder and president, said the nonprofit specializes in organizing residents around issues of employment, poverty and public policy.

"We are audited and every year we receive a clean bill of health," Thigpenn said. "It is nonpartisan and nonprofit."

But Thigpenn, a veteran of political campaigns, said he independently ran a field operation for an alliance of groups, including labor unions, that pumped millions of dollars into state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas' bid to defeat Parks and others in the June primary. He also worked on Villaraigosa's 2001 bid for mayor.

Parks said he suspected the building was being used to organize political campaigns.

"We saw it with our own eyes," he said. "Twenty or 30 cars parked around the building and people told us they were involved in political campaigns, and that is not appropriate on city-owned property."

Parks said he felt there were better -- more profitable -- uses for the property and decided that the easiest way to resolve the matter was to evict the nonprofit, which was renting on a month-to-month lease.

"That's absurd," said Thigpenn of Parks' accusation. "I'm very careful to separate my political involvement from my nonprofit."

He said he took a leave of absence as president of the nonprofit while running the independent labor operation in support of Ridley-Thomas. And he said he had no agreement to run a labor operation in support of Ridley-Thomas against Parks for the Nov. 4 general election.

In asking that the eviction order be rescinded, Villaraigosa, in a letter to the Department of General Services, wrote that nonprofit organizations like SCOPE "generally provide important public services in the areas of healthcare, education and the arts."

Thigpenn said he received a notice that the eviction was rescinded.

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john.mitchell@latimes.com

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