City Councilman Herb Wesson was elected president of the panel on Wednesday. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)
Los Angeles City Councilman Herb Wesson made municipal history Wednesday, with his colleagues agreeing unanimously to make him the council's first African American president.
That vote may appear in the history books with an asterisk. Wesson's two black colleagues, both of whom have had strained relations with him in recent weeks, did not show up — providing the only no-shows during the vote.
Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who for days refused to say whether he would back Wesson, called in sick Wednesday morning. Councilwoman Jan Perry received permission for an excused absence. But when called by The Times, she would not say where she needed to be during the council meeting.
Councilman Bill Rosendahl called the situation "unfortunate." Wesson, who spent six years in the Legislature, said after the vote that he was "sad" about his two missing colleagues.
"I just thought they should have been there," he said. "But hey, life goes on."
Wesson's statement drew an angry comment from Bernard Parks Jr., the councilman's chief of staff. Parks Jr. said his father has never discussed Wesson's absences or sick days and said Wesson should do the same. The exchange provided the lone discordant note to an otherwise jubilant ceremony, which drew figures such as Police Chief Charlie Beck, former City Councilman Nate Holden and real estate developer Shaul Kuba, principal of CIM Group, which is building a shopping center in Wesson's district with $34 million in city assistance.
Also in attendance were Assemblyman Mike Davis, who is running for Perry's council seat in 2013, and Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, who is running in the district represented by Councilman Ed Reyes.
Wesson, 60, thanked his colleagues and promised to use the presidency to lead City Hall "out of the financial darkness." The vote was followed by a buffet that included tamales and an entire roasted pig.
Wesson, a former Assembly speaker, will take his post Jan. 2, replacing Council President Eric Garcetti, who is running for mayor in 2013. The council also voted to make Reyes its president pro tem, replacing Perry, another mayoral candidate.
Perry abruptly stepped down three weeks ago from the council's No. 2 leadership post, complaining that deals were being worked out behind the scenes for both the presidency and the upcoming process of redistricting, which involves the drawing of new boundaries for 15 council districts.
Parks, for his part, was unhappy with the fact that Andrew Westall, a high-level aide to Wesson, was appointed to run the 21-member commission that will redraw the district maps. Two weeks ago, Parks Jr. told the Redistricting Commission that Westall is a key witness in a case involving outstanding bills from Parks' unsuccessful 2008 campaign for county supervisor.
Commission President Arturo Vargas said the city's lawyers concluded that that issue did not pose a conflict for Westall.
Despite that disagreement, Parks' son insisted that his boss had the flu. After the vote, he said the councilman also injured himself Tuesday night at a turkey giveaway — and will need surgery next month.
"It's his second sick day in 46 years, so I think he's due," Parks Jr. said.