The First “Free Pass” of Campaign 2005 – Bernie Parks!

There seems to be a tradition now amongst the press to give any potential candidate one “free pass” at the beginning of a campaign season. That is, a nice, safe, polite feature that allows the candidate one shot at some halfway decent press before the onslaught starts (or doesn’t start, depending on who it is).
Last week there was this article in the LA Weekly profiling former Police Chief, and current City Councilman Bernie Parks and his potential bid for Mayor of Los Angeles against an increasingly troubled Mayor Hahn.
The piece is well researched in terms of giving us a picture of the daily political life of Councilman Parks, and it certainly brings up some points in his favor. But like any political prospectus this early in the game, its emphasis on some glittering generalities only fuels the false hopes of anyone backing someone like Parks for Mayor, and glosses over some fairly large hurdles in the way of Parks becoming anything but Councilman-for-Life in his safe Council seat.
Many people make note of the fact that in his first run for Council, he raised a lot of money ($500,000) and did well enough in the primary that no runoff was necessary for him that year. That’s all well and good until you look at the field – it was Recently Kicked Off the Force Bernie Parks (with the all powerful “name ID” people covet these days) vs. four complete unknowns, with a combined budget equaling what most people spend on lunch at the taco stand for a month. In other words, it was a cakewalk for Parks, who had the overall anger (is that too strong a word?) by people in his district over his firing by Hahn not too long before the election.
Thus, the Parks Prospectus fails one test – a battle-tested political campaign operation. Whenever you start reading about Some Bigwig Politico making his (or her) next Big Move Up, you have to realize that in most cases, people who’ve served in one particular office for a long period of time usually don’t have to do much to get elected, especially if they represent an area of cohesive political thought. Parks hasn’t served in his current office a long time, but it’s a bit of a stretch to think that he has to do too much to keep his job – he certainly didn’t have to do much to get it in the first place.
Up against an experienced campaigner like Mayor Hahn (who has counted master political strategist Kam Kuwata of Venice as one of his top advisors in past races), and other people who’ve built real political operations over the years, it’s hard to see how Councilman Parks can be expected to do well. Even with a base in the African American community (which is not guaranteed to go with him 100% they way they did for others in the past), he will still be pressed to run a hard fought, bitter, and personal campaign. Can Parks stand the heat? That remains to be seen.
However, there’s a bigger elephant in the living room this article (and many pundits) fail to discuss or even acknowledge when discussing the prospects of a Parks candidacy – the fact that in the one major, citywide, executive job he had, Parks was a failure – his tenure as Police Chief of Los Angeles. There’s no mention of it in the Weekly article, and discussion of the 2005 Mayor’s race seems to ignore it altogether.
This I find fascinating. Parks received a vote of no-confidence and a recommendation to remove him as Chief by the Police Commission and the City Council. They didn’t do this out of some racist conspiracy theory some would have us believe – they did it because frankly, he was a lousy Chief.
Under his watch murders went up, morale on the force went down, and confidence by Los Angeles residents in the ability of the Chief to effectively run the department was shattered by his zigzags as Chief. TO think that somehow he could run for a citywide office and not have any of this come up is ludicrous. It’s as crazy as thinking that President Bush could run for re-election and not speak one word about anything he’d done as President these past four years. (We know that won’t happen, right?)
One only has to look at the work current Chief William Bratton has done in the short time he has been on the job to see what a contrast in management style and accomplishments the department had under Parks vs. what we have today. Crime is down, police morale is up, and the public has a renewed sense of confidence in the management of the department.
Chief Bratton is not perfect, nor is anyone. However, there wouldn’t be this dramatic a shift in fortunes at the LAPD had Parks’ work there been as stellar as he’d have us believe. That is if he even talks about it – although it’s hard to conceive of how many  11 x 17 brochures could talk about Parks’ executive leadership and fill more than a few inches of copy between them.
I’ll be taking a look at the prospectuses (prospectii??) of Sen. Richard Alarcon and other declared candidates as they come out of the woodwork with a similar critical look at their pros and cons.
However, I can say this much – if I’m was a betting man I’d holding back on putting any of those $500 chips on anyone just yet – and I would not put any on Councilman Parks until I saw something that could make a significant change in the realpolitik landscape he faces in 2005.
PS: Tomorrow will mark my official one-year anniversary living in Venice Beach. Strange, it still feels like I just got here….
UPDATE: Mr. Parks now has a campaign website at – take a look at it and see where you might wanna bet your $50 chips on this race.
© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at

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