Candidates for LA County Supervisor Hold First Televised Debate

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Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks and State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas traded barbs in their one and only televised debate last night. They're campaigning to replace retiring County Supervisor Yvonne Burke. Her district includes Culver City, Inglewood, South LA, Compton and Carson. KPCC Morning Edition host Steve Julian spoke with Frank Stoltze, who covered Thursday night's debate.

Steve Julian: Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks and State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas traded barbs in their one and only televised debate last night. They're campaigning to replace retiring County Supervisor Yvonne Burke. Her district includes Culver City, Inglewood, South L.A., Compton, and Carson. KPCC's Frank Stoltze covered last night's debate. Frank, why's this such an important one?

Frank Stoltze: Steve, it's important of course to the two million residents of the second district. It's also especially important to African-Americans. Both candidates are black, and the winner will become one of the most high profile black officials in the region at a time of diminishing black political power.

And then, it's important because it'll determine whether the five member board of supervisors has sort of a conservative leaning majority, or a more liberal one. Parks, a former LAPD Chief, is considered more conservative and business friendly than Ridley-Thomas, a one-time head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and who has the backing of labor unions, even though both are Democrats, and it is a nonpartisan race.

Julian: And, the two candidates have very different backgrounds and styles, and both showed up pretty quickly last night.

Stoltze: It did show up fast. The two were asked early about their differences; here's Parks, and then Ridley-Thomas.

Bernard Parks: I have worked within an agency for well over 38 years as the police officer. I've worked in this city's streets. I protected people's homes, so I have a particular view about what it takes to resolve issues. I've not been a person that has been controlled or been supported by special interest groups. I've been independent.

Stoltze: Parks was referring to the Democratic Party's and labor union support for Ridley-Thomas. Here's the Senator responding:

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 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: Steve?

Julian: Hmm. Ridley-Thomas also took Parks to task for opposing the federal consent decree that forced reform at the LAPD.

Stoltze: He did, and in fairly sharp words.

Ridley-Thomas: There was one chief of police who has to ultimately bear responsibility. Accountability means to face up and accept responsibility for one's actions.

Stoltze: Parks, who served as chief of the LAPD for five years, blamed the city council for failing to support reform at the LAPD and said he opposed the consent decree, because he didn't feel like the department needed the federal government to change.

The fate of troubled Martin Luther King Junior/Harbor Hospital is one of the big issues in the district. What do the two say about that?

Stoltze: It is a huge issue in the 2nd district, and a sensitive one. That's why Parks' accusation that Ridley-Thomas supported its closure stung.

Parks: I'm the only candidate in the race that's been supportive of keeping it open it its entirety. My opponent's the only one I'm 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 to this broadcast an apology for misrepresenting the truth.

Stoltze: Steve, later, Ridley-Thomas conceded he supported the closing of the trauma center at the hospital, which federal officials said was endangering people's health. In the end, both candidates pledged to reopen the emergency room and inpatient services right now that's been scaled back to an outpatient facility. Parks said he would seek help from the governor. Ridley-Thomas said he would try to pressure university and private hospitals in the region to help.

Julian: Frank, the two were also asked about who they supported for president.

Stoltze: Yes, they did, and this was perhaps the most humorous part of the debate. They tried to outdo each other on that question.

Ridley-Thomas: Obama. 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.
Moderator: You will each–
Ridley-Thomas: Hello?
Moderator: Your time is diminishing. You will each have 30 seconds–
Ridley-Thomas: I love Obama.
Moderator: – for a summation.

Stoltze: Steve, it's worth noting that the 2nd district seat that both want has a large number of African-American voters, so you might understand why they were trying to outdo each other. The election, the primary election is June 3rd. There are seven other candidates. If no one gets a majority, then it'll go to a November runoff.

Julian: And what I heard is Hillary Clinton is also running.

Stoltze: She is running, and so is John McCain, but you wouldn't have known it last night.

Julian: Thanks, Frank.

Stoltze: Thanks.

Julian: KPCC's Frank Stoltze reporting from downtown Los Angeles.