They brought the roasted pig out in a cardboard box. And even if it was a “victory” party, all in attendance knew that their Los Angeles County Second District candidate, Bernard Parks, was cooked.
The money from the other side had been too much. In the pitched battle over a district that has 2.5 million residents and shares in a $22.3 billion countywide budget, there was no stopping Mark Ridley-Thomas. Buoyed by a record $8.5 million in union money, the state senator’s bid for the Second District was backed by a sophisticated barrage of mailers and ads that raised the profile of Ridley-Thomas and weakened the image of Parks, L.A.’s first black police chief. Parks got beat by a vote of 61 percent to 39 percent.
In a reminder of the disparity in money spent, Parks’ requiem was held at his Crenshaw Boulevard headquarters. Between the unpainted walls and under the exposed ceiling insulation, a few score of supporters huddled around a TV to watch the national elections. In an adjacent room, the Parks faithful manned phone banks until 8 p.m., desperately calling the last of their backers among the district’s 770,000 registered voters.
“We weren’t running against Mark Ridley-Thomas, we were running against the unions,” says Parks campaign director, Mike Hernandez, repeating the phrase he has uttered many times. “And if they want to throw parties in Century City, that’s what they get to do with their money.”
Hernandez was soon shouted down by supporters elated by Barack Obama’s win. Outside of the Parks headquarters, far from Century City and the Ridley-Thomas victory celebration, three black youths ran through the strip mall parking lot yelling, “We did it!”
But Parks had not.
At the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel, under high-rises diurnally peopled with lawyers, the scene was entirely different. The crowd was markedly more upscale and pale: Actress Mischa Barton fussed about being turned away at a side entrance by a security guard named Dave, who said the fire marshal wasn’t letting anyone else in.
Inside, a Ridley-Thomas supporter said Parks wasn’t at the Hyatt Regency because “he didn’t have the money” and immediately took it back when told she was speaking to a reporter.
The Ridley-Thomas venue grew stuffy as his backers took the stage. The only odd man out was embattled LAUSD Superintendent David Brewer III, who has increasingly been seen hobnobbing at political events — something Superintendent Roy Romer tried to avoid. Nearby was L.A. City Council member Richard Alarcon and Maria Elena Durazo of the powerful 800,000-member union umbrella organization the Los Angeles Federation of Labor. “Labor, labor for MRT [Mark Ridley-Thomas],” Durazo yelled from her stump at dozens of union volunteers proudly wearing their purple SEIU and white Labor Federation tees. Celebrant Marcos Garcia, 23, said Ridley-Thomas is now expected to “make it better for us.”