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L.A. County labor federation endorses little-known election challenger to Parks

Group backs Forescee Hogan-Rowles — a former mayoral appointee to the DWP board — over L.A. Councilman Bernard C. Parks, a fiscal conservative who heads the city's budget committee and has often been at odds with labor unions.

January 25, 2011|By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times
  • Forescee Hogan-Rowles greets supporters as she kicks off her campaign to unseat Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks in the 8th District.
Forescee Hogan-Rowles greets supporters as she kicks off her campaign… (LIZ O. BAYLEN, Los Angeles…)

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor endorsed a little-known election challenger to L.A. City Councilman Bernard C. Parks on Monday night, raising the odds that labor could wage an expensive battle against him in his South Los Angeles district.

Parks, a fiscal conservative who heads the city's Finance and Budget Committee, has long had a rocky relationship with Los Angeles labor unions. In 2008, the federation spent at least $8.5 million to defeat him when he ran against then-state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas for the 2nd District seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and the two sides have been increasingly at odds as the city's budget crisis has worsened.

Maria Elena Durazo, the federation's executive secretary-treasurer, said in a recent interview that the group would decide by the end of January whether to weigh in with independent expenditures on behalf of Forescee Hogan-Rowles, a former appointee of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to the Department of Water and Power board who heads a South Los Angeles-based nonprofit.

"Our biggest concern about Councilman Parks, generally speaking, is that his starting point is an anti-union starting point," Durazo said. "We walk in with our ideas not taken into account on a level playing field … and that's not what we expect from our leaders."

Though rumors have swirled around City Hall that labor unions are preparing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars against Parks, the two-term councilman and former city police chief declined to speculate on the threat.

"This is the same group of people that spent $10 million to buy a puppet in the 2nd District, and now they are trying to buy one in the 8th District," Parks said when asked Monday afternoon about the federation's expected endorsement of Hogan-Rowles. "All we can do is run our campaign. I think the public is smart enough in the sense that they are not going to let folks from special interests pick their representatives."

The federation's backing of Hogan-Rowles follows her endorsements from the powerful International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, which represents more than 8,600 DWP employees, and Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents civilian city workers.

Independent expenditures by those groups on behalf of Hogan-Rowles could give her a much-needed boost in name recognition in the 8th District. When she ran against Parks in 2003, he won with 78% of the vote to her 4.88% in a five-candidate contest. (Parks ran unopposed in 2007.)

By the end of last year, Hogan-Rowles had raised $17,744 to Parks' $123,000, according to the most recent filing available through the City Ethics Commission, and she has yet to receive matching funds. Another 8th District candidate, city firefighter Jabari S. Jumaane, raised $3,121.

Parks and Hogan-Rowles are already at odds over a number of city budget issues.

Last year, Parks joined the majority of the City Council in authorizing as many as 4,000 job cuts to deal with the city's burgeoning shortfall (fewer than 370 city workers have been laid off so far). And most civilian city employees are taking between 16 and 26 furlough days a year. Hogan-Rowles said she would not have supported either layoffs or furloughs as a budget-cutting measure.

"I always think there is a better way," Hogan-Rowles said. "I think that more focus, more tedious work from the budget committee that he leads should have happened to identify these other ways" to balance the budget.

"She has no proposals to the alternative," Parks said. "Ninety-five percent of our budget is personnel, so if you're not going to support layoffs and furloughs, then where are you going to balance the budget?"

Parks also said Hogan-Rowles would need to answer for her record as a DWP commissioner: "The people's water and power rates have gone up higher than any time in history," he said, adding that DWP's pension costs are consuming a rapidly growing portion of that budget. "That's an indication of how she would manage the budget for the city of L.A."

Parks angered IBEW leaders this fall by advancing a proposal that would have given the City Council more control over pension benefits for employees at the utility. Thousands of water and power workers showed up at City Hall to protest, and Parks ultimately withdrew the proposal.

In a statement explaining his union's decision to support Hogan-Rowles, Brian D'Arcy, the business manager for IBEW Local 18, praised her work on job creation through her firm, Community Financial Resource Center. The center helps business owners in low- and moderate-income communities secure loans and other financial services.

"Forescee Hogan-Rowles has been a trailblazer in breaking down barriers and expanding opportunity for our community," D'Arcy said.

maeve.reston@latimes.com

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