By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
He is secure enough now in his place on the council that he can poke fun at himself over his lost chief’s job at the same time he’s tweaking Padilla — and hinting that the story is not over. In a letter, published as part of the American Diabetes Association’s political “roast” of Padilla, Parks wrote that the council president’s youth has not stopped him from making great decisions.
“Wait a minute, didn’t you vote against me once?” Parks asked. “That’s okay, almost everybody else did too! Yeah, I guess you guys really showed me.”
Parks also drew praise for political skill when he immediately forged a relationship with Antonio Villaraigosa, whom Hahn defeated for mayor in 2001. “He’s our chief!” Villaraigosa said when introducing Parks last fall at the city’s birthday celebration. The comment probably meant nothing. But Parks beamed.
His political contacts include crucial members of the Richard Riordan machine, which he joined when Riordan named him to succeed Parks’ nemesis, Willie Williams, in 1997. But they go back even further, to the era when his father, an émigré from Beaumont, Texas, circumnavigated the racism and anti-Catholic bias of his era and became an officer on the city’s harbor police force. The elder Parks managed to become fishing buddies with white power players like Valley Councilman Bob Wilkinson.
A scan of Parks’ monumental list of political donors reveals an intriguing number of Valley backers for his South Los Angeles election. The man has contacts, and he knows what he’s doing.
Parks also brought on, as his chief of staff, Joe Rouzan, a former colleague from the LAPD who later became executive director of the Police Commission and the city manager of Compton and then Inglewood. There’s not much Rouzan hasn’t seen. He is godfather to Bernard Parks Jr., who calls him “the Obi-wan Kenobi, the all-knowing all-seeing person.” One City Hall observer calls Rouzan the only person Bernard Parks actually listens to, other than his wife, Bobbie Parks.
Although he appeared stiff in his police uniform, Parks is at ease and at home on the council floor. He sits next to Jan Perry, and tries to hold a straight face while covering her desktop button to keep her from voting. He cracks jokes that sometimes are so subtle his colleagues don’t get them until he sits down.
On July 1, after he was sworn in as a councilman for the second time in four months, it was picture time. Parks stood behind Councilman Dennis Zine, former director of the hated Police Protective League, target of a failed disciplinary procedure brought by Parks and his LAPD brass. As the camera was about to click, Parks stuck two fingers over Zine’s head, like a ninth-grade class clown. The dour ex-chief already was a distant memory.
Much has been made of the new progressive City Council and the expected reforms that are to come from a body now made up for the first time of a majority of ethnic minorities. But the observation misses the mark. In many ways this council is conservative, at least for a group dominated by Democrats, and its progressive accomplishments so far rarely have extended beyond purely symbolic actions like denouncing the Patriot Act or the U.S. attack on Iraq.
This council, for the first time, has three police officers, if you count reserve officer Greig Smith along with Zine and Parks. It is stacked heavily with pragmatic former council staffers. And with Valley Republicans Smith and Zine absent from the Housing Committee, where many of the progressive initiatives are discussed, it is the moderate Democrat Parks pressing pro-business views generally heard only from elected officials north of Mulholland.
Housing chair Eric Garcetti has been working for more than a year to craft a motion that would ban Wal-Mart and other big-box stores from selling groceries. His colleague, Ed Reyes, has devoted his entire career in public service to spreading benefits and burdens of affordable housing to every neighborhood in the city by mandate, an effort now crystallizing in an initiative known as inclusive zoning. The committee endorsed a plan to strengthen the city’s rent-control law.
But in the 8th District, once led by the champion of progressives, Mark Ridley-Thomas, a district in desperate need of high-quality affordable housing and high-paying union work, Parks is leading the charge against these reforms.
And it’s hard to say he is out of step with his district. A year ago, residents cheered when an empty department-store space in the Baldwin Crenshaw mall was filled by the world’s first three-story Wal-Mart and hundreds of people from the 8th District lined up for jobs. In nearby Inglewood, enough residents signed petitions to force the city to put a Wal-Mart project on the ballot instead of simply rejecting it outright.
Assemblyman Ridley-Thomas still gets cheers from his constituents, and their neighbors to the west just elected progressive Karen Bass to the Assembly over Parks’ choice, lawyer Rickey Ivie. But something may be going on in South Los Angeles that Parks represents best.