Councilman Bernard Parks traded attacks with his union-backed challenger, Forescee Hogan-Rowles. at their first debate this morning.
Parks set out to highlight his opponent's inexperience, while Hogan-Rowles attacked his record on job creation and on managing the city budget.
"Do we need four more years of Bernard Parks?" she asked. "I believe we need change."
Parks recited a list of accomplishments from his eight years in office, and looked for every opportunity to correct Hogan-Rowles about the district and about how city government works. He also cited her tenure on the commission of the Department of Water and Power, during which time water rates went up.
"When you look at your water bill, remember her name," he said.
Hogan-Rowles, meanwhile, attacked Parks for criticizing public pensions while he collects $440,000 a year from the city from his police pension and council salary.
"We've had layoffs and furloughs, but he doesn't shorten his own paycheck," she said. "If I were budget chair, I would not have had to balance the budget on the backs of employees."
A third candidate, Jabari Jumaane, also challenged Parks' record at the debate at Angeles Mesa Elementary School, near Leimert Park. But Parks ignored him and concentrated his fire on Hogan-Rowles, aware that unions have spent $250,000 so far on her campaign.
When asked about crime, Hogan-Rowles noted that she has the endorsement of the L.A. Police Protective League. Parks shot back: "There's no doubt why the PPL endorses my opponent. They want to keep working 12 days a month. They want to work three days a week while you and I work seven."
When Hogan-Rowles attacked him for failing to redevelop Marlton Square, a blighted retail center, Parks put the blame on his predecessor, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is supporting Hogan-Rowles' campaign. "In a private moment with Mark Ridley-Thomas, you might ask him why he gave that to a developer that went bankrupt."
Hogan-Rowles argued that Parks has had a top-down leadership style, and has alienated community groups and city departments, which has made it harder to get city services in the South L.A. district.
"We can identify money to fix the sidewalks. But when you have a disconnected relationship with the department because you've been attacking them for eight years, they're not going to come and fix things," she said. "There has to be a dialogue with the people and the council office working together, not adversarially."
The school auditorium was packed with partisans from each side, so it wasn't clear whether the debate changed anybody's mind.
"I think Mr. Parks has done a good job," said Cheryl Dotson. "There's no reason to retire him from the council. We can't train anybody on the job. The issues are too vital."
Arnetta Mack, who was wearing a "Forescee" pin, argued that she had gotten the better of the debate.
"She has fresh ideas, and she's connected with the community," she said. "Parks has served his term. It's time for a change."
Willeta Thompson said she liked Hogan-Rowles, but wished she would talk more about her own plans, rather than attack Parks. She said she was unsure about how she would vote on March 8.
"She has a lot of ideas for the future, so do we go with the future or continue with the improvements that I can see now?" Thompson asked. "I have to go home and pray, and say 'God, who do you want?'"