In City Hall, you go to the men's room and you're likely to see a constituent or a bureaucrat. In the Hall of Administration, you need to get cleared into the 8th floor. There's a certain amount of isolation. [And] there are five of us. It's not the best system: Five supervisors in Los Angeles County, where we have 10 1/2 million people. [There are] five supervisors in Mono County, where cows outnumber people 10 to 1. But that's what the constitution provides unless the people change their charter.
Development is a battleground here. Where's the balance?
Whoever said that Los Angeles is a collection of neighborhoods in search of a city said it right. Increasingly, you're seeing neighborhoods defined not only by name but by character. My philosophy really has not changed very much since the early '80s: When is enough enough? There always will be tension between real estate developers who believe they have the God-given right to do anything they want and raze anything in their way, and the role of the city, [which] is not to facilitate that march but to ration it and ensure that developers exercise their rights in a way that doesn't diminish the value of property and overall quality of life.
You backed Measure R, the half-cent sales tax for transportation projects. Now these projects need to go pedal to the metal to justify voters' support.
We've got to bring the projects to fruition as quickly as possible, both to make good on the promise we made and because we desperately need a transportation infrastructure. It's killing everybody. When I opened the Orange Line in 2005, I was going to be hanged in effigy. Now it's the "Valley's own." A woman walked off the bus, saw me standing there and hugged me — not something I'm used to. She said she lived in Van Nuys and worked in Long Beach, and the Orange Line cut her commute time by 45 minutes each way. We talk about transportation as an economic development tool, but this is how it impacts real people.
You're termed out. Is this your last campaign?
It's my last campaign for county supervisor!
So what about being mayor? You said long ago you'd love to be mayor, you just don't love what you'd have to do to get there.
I think that's probably true of most politicians. I guess I must be a decent politician because I've survived all these years in a very competitive [district], but politics is not what I spend most of my time thinking about. Policy is. People come up to me every single day and ask me to consider the mayor's race — some serious people, people you just can't ignore. People feel you really need somebody who, to use Dick Riordan's term, is tough enough to turn it around. I will consider it, but it's not first and foremost on my agenda.
[Not running against Tom Bradley in 1989] was the right decision for me. I've had a great opportunity at the city and the county: saving the healthcare system in the mid-1990s, the trauma tax which saved the trauma system, the role I've played in arts and culture in the county, Disney Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, LACMA, to mention a few. Even if you don't like ballet or classical music or opera, it's an economic engine, it puts people to work, and it pays well.
How is your diabetes doing?
It's doing fine. I get checked every four months, and so far so good. I have a history of diabetes in my family; it can be acquired genetically [or] through lifestyle, and everybody needs to know the genetic history of their family and be careful what you eat and get exercise. I jog 25, 30 miles a week. I wish I could tell you that I religiously adhere to every dietary principle that I espouse, but sometimes I don't. I was eating ice cream, chocolate cake, pastries galore; being diagnosed with diabetes probably extended my life 10 or 15 years.
Do you have a political hero?
If I had [to choose] one, it would be Henry "Scoop" Jackson, the late senator from Washington. He launched the  Jackson-Vanik amendment, which tied most-favored-nation status [with] the Soviet Union to freedom of immigration. He didn't have to do that politically; he did not have a significant Jewish [constituency]. He did it because he thought it was right. It produced freedom for a million, a million and a half people; we may still have had an Iron Curtain but for his efforts.
And John Kennedy — I went to see him [campaign] at the Shrine Auditorium. I took a stick from our yard and put a Kennedy bumper sticker on it. Because I was a little runt of 11 years old, the adults let me go right up front and wave my sign. He had to back away; he thought I was going to poke his eye out! He's probably one of the reasons I got into politics.
This interview was excerpted and edited from a longer taped transcript. An archive of Morrison's interview is online at latimes.com/pattasks.