That Time Ed Buck Stood Up for MLK Day

Noted Democratic Party donor Ed Buck has been facing scrutiny since mid-summer because a young African-American man was found dead of a methamphetamine overdose at his West Hollywood apartment. Buck first made a splash in politics in 1987 when he launched a campaign to recall Arizona's then-governor, Evan Mecham.

Radio personality Tom Leykis remembers Buck's transformation from an insurance services executive and former fashion model to crusader against Mecham, a far-right, Trump-like outsider who owned a suburban-Phoenix car dealership and who'd tapped into the Mormon vote to take the governorship the previous year. Buck, Leykis said, called into his KFYI talk radio show and identified himself as "Ed from Phoenix."

It was the first weekday after Mecham's Jan. 1, 1987, swearing in, and Buck was livid because the new governor's first major directive was to cancel the state's recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday, Leykis says.

"It was his first platform," Leykis says of Buck's appearances on his show. "At that point when he first called in, all we knew about Mecham so far was his rescinding the MLK holiday. So that's what Ed was squawking about. As the host, I told him that his task was impossible to pull off, but I also told him that I would have him in the studio to promote his campaign."

Buck ended up being a frequent guest that year, Leykis says. The recall campaign never went full-term, but it did inspire a movement against the governor that ended in 1988 with impeachment and a grand jury conviction based on an investigation of campaign-finance violations.

Leykis says the late Mecham, who also once defended his use of the racial epithet "pickaninny," fought back against Buck's campaign by publicizing his sexual identity as a gay man, something the radio host says was not well known. "People said at the time they didn't know he was gay," Leykis says.

Conservatives began to attack Leykis and target his advertisers with threats of a boycott because he offered a platform for the campaign against Mecham, he says. "They tried to get me off the air, they went after my advertisers," he says.

"I was at the center of the controversy."

Buck was also a Republican, but he would later convert to the Democratic Party, move to West Hollywood and become a noted mover and shaker by donating campaign cash — ostensibly proceeds from success in the insurance business — to dozens of politicians. He also ran unsuccessfully for City Council.

The radio host, who moved to Los Angeles in 1988 to work at KFI, said he didn't even know what became of Buck, who now lives near him, but after reading about the donor in the Weekly and in the Los Angeles Times,  Leykis remembered him immediately as "Ed from Phoenix."

Meanwhile, back in L.A., some African-American supporters of the family of Gemmel Moore, the 28-year-old found dead at Buck's apartment July 27, say he was one of a number of young black men who said they've been to Buck's residence. Nana Gyamfi, the civil rights attorney who represents Moore's mother, LaTisha Nixon, says she's provided two witnesses to sheriff's investigators — witnesses who have been interviewed about their experiences with Buck.

Nixon says her son was afraid of Buck, a contention supported by a passage in a journal said to have belonged to the young man and published on the website of political commentator Jasmyne Cannick: "I’ve become addicted to drugs and the worse [sic] one at that. Ed Buck is the one to thank, he gave me my first injection of chrystal [sic] meth. It was very painful but after all the troubles I became addicted to the pain and fetish/fantasy. … I just hope the end result isn’t death."

Coroner's officials initially listed Moore's cause of death as an accidental overdose, but after news reports quoting Nixon's concerns, the Sheriff's Department decided to investigate further. Buck's attorney has maintained his client's innocence.

Cannick, who has helped Nixon navigate Los Angeles media, says that it's ironic that Buck gained entree into the Democratic world by opposing Mecham's deletion of the MLK holiday in Arizona. "He's no friend of black people, not acting like this," she says.

"You could never tell what's in someone's heart," Leykis says. "Why do people run for office or donate to charity? Buck certainly spent a lot of his own money on the recall, apparently to no benefit to himself — other than to get attention."

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