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
It’s as close to a free ride as a candidate can get.
If he waits, he runs headlong into Villaraigosa, who promised not to run in 2005 but, if he doesn’t, surely will make a play for 2009. Plus, at 60, he is the council’s oldest member, its senior statesman, a father figure who commands respect. In 2009, he would be collecting Social Security — except that, as a lifelong public employee, he is ineligible.
“The police chief is larger than life,” says Loyola political-science professor Fernando Guerra. “Always has been and always will be. He’s as much a personality as anything. And [Parks] has that presence. He’s tall and imposing, like Tom Bradley was. The cards are there for him to make a viable run this time. I think he’s got a chance to win.”
Others scoff. It’s all about money, one observer says, and Parks will never be able to raise enough to compete against Hahn. But what’s money for? It’s to boost your name recognition. And everyone in town already recognizes the name Bernard Parks.
The question is, Is that name a positive or a negative outside of CD 8? Parks presided over the Rampart corruption scandal, insisted on keeping the probe in-house, resisted the imposition of a consent decree for federal supervision. He got into a nasty and childish battle with former District Attorney Gil Garcetti over access to police data. He was portrayed in the media as an unyielding martinet. And Rampart has not gone away.
In Budget and Finance, and again in the full council, Parks must periodically recuse himself from closed sessions at which settlements are proposed for lawsuits brought by former officers who said then-Chief Parks unfairly targeted them in disciplinary actions. And Parks has refused to speak to attorney Connie Rice’s blue-ribbon panel probing what really happened in Rampart.
“The thing’s been looked at about five times at least,” Bernard Parks Jr., press spokesman, explains of Rampart and his father’s decision not to talk. “Our constituents and people we represent know he was out there talking about Rampart when it was at its ugliest. For all intents and purposes, it’s been resolved.”
The impression that he has something to prove, which is part of what drove him to achieve so much in his police career, continues to follow Parks. There have been plenty of times when he felt cheated out of his just due. A sort of glass ceiling had been put on the LAPD at lieutenant for black officers like Bradley. Parks kept going, even though he was bitterly disappointed when Willie Williams came in from Philadelphia after the 1992 riots to beat out Parks as the LAPD’s first black chief. He hung in there after Williams demoted him, relying on his political savvy and ties to get the council to do something absolutely extraordinary — go over Williams’ head and vote to sustain Parks at his higher level of pay.
It likely wasn’t the money that meant so much to Parks, observers say now, but the fact that the council move was a rebuke to Williams and the beginning of the end of his tenure as chief. Not long after, Williams was rejected in his bid for a second five-year appointment, and there, ready to take over without so much as an “I told you so,” was Bernard C. Parks. The City Council was Parks’ friend, and he thanked every single member that day in 1997 when he pinned on the chief stars he had gotten hopefully for himself five years earlier.
He ran the LAPD the way he thought it should be run, with no quarter for shoddy work or problem officers and no patience with civilian overseers. But then came Rampart, and officers not just troublesome but criminal, and oversight from the U.S. Department of Justice.
In his 2002 speech to the City Council, Parks spoke for 38 minutes before mentioning Rampart, then for another 10 before getting to what he said was the point of his presentation: Voters are fed up with city politics as usual. Valley secession “is another voter revolt that is directed toward the governance of this city,” he told the council. “They are not asking to be separated from their police department. They are asking to be separated from their governance.”
Parks shot a glance toward each council member and told them he had exceeded every standard of performance but one. “There’s only one standard I do not meet,” he said, “and that’s the political standard.” It was an accusation, not a prognostication. Parks, so far, has met the political standard just fine.
He assured the council members their paths would cross again “in a much more positive light,” and, again, he was right, and may already have been planning his move to the 8th Council District.
And he closed with a statement that was pure Bernard Parks, open to possible interpretation as droll wit, caustic irony, or simply a stilted and silly choice of words on a day he was asking the council to keep him on as chief.
“If there’s no questions,” he told the council, “I’ll retire.”
Bernard C. Parks, retire? Don’t bet on it.