Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks and State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas engaged in a feisty debate last night. Parks and Ridley-Thomas are the two leading candidates to replace retiring County Supervisor Yvonne Burke. Her district includes Culver City, Inglewood, South LA, Compton and Carson. KPCC's Frank Stoltze has more on last night's exchange.
Stoltze: When asked what differentiates him from his opponent, Parks referred to his nearly four decades on the LAPD. He was chief for five years.
Bernard Parks: I worked on the city's streets. I protected people's homes, so I have a particular view about what it takes to resolve issues. I have not been a person who has been controlled or been supported by special interest groups. I've been independent.
Stoltze: Parks aimed to point out that labor unions and the L.A. County Democratic Party back Ridley-Thomas. The state senator said he's proud of their support, and dismissed Parks' experience.
Mark Ridley-Thomas: My experience is broad, from being a teacher to a civil rights activist to a legislator. And it seems to me that the fundamental difference is a narrow path of training over and against a broad path of training.
Parks: I would just like to rebut that in the fact that I don't think you can get any broader experience than being a police officer in a city that deals with all of the failures of all of our social systems.
Stoltze: The barbs continued, with Ridley-Thomas chastising the former police chief for refusing to support the federal consent decree that mandated reforms for the LAPD.
Ridley-Thomas: There's one chief of police who has to ultimately bear responsibility, and accountability means to face up and accept responsibilities for one's actions.
Stoltze: Parks said the LAPD didn't need the consent decree to change its practices, and he blamed the City Council for failing to support reform. Parks and Ridley Thomas are Democrats in a nonpartisan race.
But the former chief-turned-city councilman casts himself as friendlier to economic development. His election would give the five member board of supervisors a conservative bent. Last night, Parks told the debate audience that green space comes at a price.
Parks: It's just not about parks and open space. It's about having the ability to create housing and revenue sources that allow you to then take an active role to create open space, enhanced parks, and new parks.
Ridley-Thomas: Well, my response would be essentially this: if you want a healthy environment for youngsters to thrive, you can't be constrained by the funds that are not in existence. You have to argue for and create opportunities for these things to happen.
Stoltze: The fate of Martin Luther King Junior/Harbor Hospital is a major issue in the district that the two hope to represent. Parks accused Ridley-Thomas of wanting to pull the plug.
Parks: I'm the only candidate in the race that's been supportive of keeping it open in its entirety. My opponent is the only one I am aware of that publicly wrote an article in the paper that said close it down.
Ridley-Thomas: Well, it would seem to me that you would have to produce any single document that I have said to close the Martin Luther King Medical Center. But if you can't produce it, you owe every person who's listening an apology for misrepresenting the truth.
Stoltze: Later, Ridley-Thomas said he supported closing only the hospital's trauma center. Federal health officials had said it was endangering patients' health. Both candidates pledged to work to fully re-open the hospital, but they offered no new ideas about how they'd do it. The debate's last question focused on a bigger election: who do you support for president?
Ridley-Thomas: Senator Barack Obama. Yes we can.
Parks: I'd just like to say, I'm the first elected official in Los Angeles that supported and endorsed Obama two years ago.
Moderator: OK, that is it. Thank you. Now, you will each have 30 seconds–
Ridley-Thomas: And I registered 25,000 voters for Obama.
Stoltze: It's worth noting the second district is heavily African-American.
Moderator: Your time is diminishing. You will each have 30 seconds–
strong>Ridley-Thomas: I love Obama.
Moderator: – for a summation.
Stoltze: Parks and Ridley-Thomas are among nine candidates competing for the seat. The primary election is June 3rd.