Guess what song was on the radio when I got into Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge’s car for his exit interview?
Of course it was Randy Newman's "I Love L.A." And love LaBonge or hate him, nobody loves L.A.. more than LaBonge, and nobody better knows his district, which stretches from Sherman Oaks to Toluca Lake to the Silver Lake Reservoir to Olympic Boulevard, and includes Hollywood, Griffith Park, and the Miracle Mile.
(Council District 4 is highlighted in yellow. City of Los Angeles graphic)
But now, after decades as a council aide, then 15 years as city councilman, Tom LaBonge is in his final month in office (his official last day in office is June 30). He's termed out and will be replaced by David Ryu, who will be the city's first Korean-American council member.
"When I was serving the city, I wasn't writing legislation. You know, sometimes I get criticized, and they say I'm not a visionary. I'm an absolute visionary, and the vision comes from people, and how people feel about their city." — L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge
The idea for the interview was that we'd drive all over his district, but President Obama was in town, so we stayed in the Los Feliz-Silverlake area. Still, there were plenty of signature LaBonge moments: he handed out maps of Griffith Park to tourists at the Observatory and gave one of his photo calendars to a constituent, chastised smokers in the park, opened a gate to a maintenance yard for a worker who'd forgotten his key (of course, LaBonge has one), and negotiated with a resident whose retaining wall and sewer are being ruined by a street tree.
The only thing he didn't do was fill a pothole or clear a storm drain, both of which I can confirm he's done, even when nobody was looking.
"Jon Stewart, when he announced (he was quitting "The Daily Show"), he said I'm told I have a great family. And everybody laughed. My family, my wife Brigid, my children, Mary-Catherine and Charles, they don't like going out with me; they want to go out with me when I'm just Dad, and that's something I've got to do better at. This is not a family job." — L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge
Some kids start cooking when they're kids and become chefs. Some kids are loudmouths and become radio journalists. The way LaBonge tells it, as a kid he was "infatuated" with the city itself and the people who made it run: the hospitals, the firefighters, the high school teachers, the architects and garbage men. He even knows which street lights in his district were the first to be wired underground, decades ago. So it was natural for him to become a public servant.
Either LaBonge truly doesn't know what his next job will be, or he wouldn't say. But in an age of term limits, when every politician seems to be positioning themselves for the next gig, LaBonge stands apart. This is the job he wanted, and this is the job he loved, in the city he loves.