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Sweet Revenge 

The reincarnation of Bernard Parks

Thursday, Mar 25 2004
Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov

Councilman Bernard C. Parks looked out at an audience of more than 100 applauding constituents and flashed the most relaxed, bashful but good-natured grin you can imagine. “So how’d I do?” he asked the crowd, which gathered recently at the former 1932 Olympic Swim Stadium at Exposition Park to hear their councilman deliver his first-ever “State of the 8th” address. Things are looking up, he told them. Lights at Crenshaw High, development on the way, a new can-do spirit among district residents. The audience cheered. Parks broadened his smile.

But he spoke too long. No time for questions. His chief of staff, friend and confidant, Joe Rouzan, shooed him off the stage as Parks playfully insisted, “Just one question?”

The scene was typical. The councilman comes off as a cheerful gray-templed grandfather, an avuncular pol, dignified but chatty. Nowhere does he look more at home than on the City Council floor, introducing a constituent to his colleagues.

It’s hard sometimes to realize that this is the same man who seethed at the council-chamber door two years ago as his future colleagues rambled for an hour about whether to give him time at their precious podium. When they finally sat down, up strode a far different Bernard Parks, ramrod straight, in full uniform, sidearm strapped to his belt, tie knotted with military precision, LAPD badge polished, talking points printed, bound and properly distributed, grudge on his sleeve.

“I’m very sorry it took so long to debate this, this morning,” intoned the chief that April day. Translation: Shame on you for making me wait so long. Parks proceeded to take more than an hour of his own, hurling contempt at the people and unseen forces that had just conspired to deny him a second five-year term in his dream job, as Los Angeles’ chief of police. He barely mentioned the Rampart police scandal that brought down his department. The real scandal, he charged, was the backroom maneuvering of the police union and a monumental betrayal by Mayor James Hahn.

He accused the council, calling each politician by name, challenging them to buck a corrupt City Hall and override Hahn’s Police Commission. But the disgust that dripped unmistakably from his words made clear that he knew the council, too, would cut him loose. And they did.

When Parks walked out of the chamber, presumably forever, hundreds of his black supporters followed, taking with them their once-unwavering fealty to Hahn. But those who knew Parks best knew he would be back, even if it meant grabbing a seat in the very heart of the structure he had just branded as corrupt.

He pulled up stakes to move into the city, and into the available 8th Council District. He raised an astonishing $500,000, chasing one rival into another district and frightening off several others from even trying. He walked away with more than 75 percent of the vote, and took his seat in the council chamber a year ago.

He has been all about service to his long-beleaguered district, and about support for business and jobs and a watchful eye on the city budget.

Outside his 8th District, though, he is followed by a certain presumption: This is still a man with a bone to pick, a chip on his shoulder the size of his lost office on the sixth floor of Parker Center. Grabbing a place on the council and being a thorn in the mayor’s side can’t possibly be enough. He will run for mayor, he will try to send Hahn into retirement, the same as Hahn did to him, and Parks — and those who support him and once supported Hahn — will be vindicated. The same way he was vindicated when Willie Williams passed him up for chief, then demoted him. Williams was denied his second term and Parks got his job. Sweet, sweet revenge.

Public demand for such compelling political theater clouds a clear picture of who Bernard Parks really is. His roots in City Hall are deep. They go back beyond his 38-year career as a police officer and into the past with his father, who learned the ways of the bureaucracy and hobnobbed with the powerful. He has been an enormously quick study on the council, tireless in his quest to understand (and protect) the city budget, relentless in his zeal to fill the shockingly large and numerous empty lots that line large commercial streets running through South Los Angeles.

He’s not just one of the last high-ranking black L.A. officials, or just another ex-cop. He embodies a potent political force barely noticed in these times of the Latino-labor-left coalition, and amid the drive for subsidized housing mandates and resolutions supporting striking grocery workers. Parks likes business. He wants market-rate housing. He preaches more personal responsibility, less regulation. In the new L.A., Parks is old school. And old school is big.

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