Memo to Bernie Parks: You’re Four Years Too Late

It wouldn’t be a race for Mayor in Los Angeles without someone playing the race card to their advantage, and it seems Councilmember Bernie Parks has finally decided to do so. Right on, Bernie! Stick it to the man!
Lagging in the polls with a campaign organization that’s more quaint than effective, he decided to lambaste a Hahn advertisement from 2001 as “racist” at a recent forum, and came to the defense of fellow candidate, Councilmember Antonio Villaraigosa.
For those of you who have safely put out of your minds Campaign 2001, the ad criticized then Assemblyman Antonio Villaraigosa for sending letters out on behalf of a convicted drug dealer, asking for a pardon for the son of a politically connected local donor. Then-Speaker Bob Hertzberg also sent letter on behalf of said convict.
There’s no doubt that if you start talking about someone’s past actions, and that person’s not a white male, and you start making connections between them, drug dealers, and the like, it’s hard not to sound “racist.” But in this case, while I felt the imagery used was rather shocking, and probably not be what I would have chosen to do, I don’t know that it’s necessarily “racist.” To me it’d be racist if the charges were false, at the very least.
After all, then-Assemblyman Villaraigosa did write letters to the Clinton White House on behalf of Carlos Vignali. That’s not a made up charge – it is true. Just like the fact that then-Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg, and a host of other politicians did the same exact thing. (They, however have escaped ads with crack pipes in subsequent campaigns).
Heck, even Cardinal Roger Mahony and Sheriff Lee Baca sent letters in support of the pardon too.
Now, whether that’s relevant or not in a campaign for Mayor is for people to decide. There are probably a number of Angelenos who wouldn’t like the idea of a candidate, of any race, writing letters to President Clinton asking for a pardon of a convicted coke dealer. And there are probably just as many who could have decided to vote for or against Villaraigosa in 2001 for any one of a number of reasons too or could care less.
It’s easy to dismiss this as demagoguery – but then again, perhaps if the Villaraigosa campaign had responded differently to this situation four years ago, we’d be having a referendum on Mayor Villaraigsoa right now, instead of Mayor Hahn. Such is the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, four years after the fact.
In all fairness, it is very easy for outsiders, such as myself, to say that today, in 2005, but there may have been a perfectly logical reason for the way the 2001 campaign effort responded that made sense. Just because it didn’t work in that particular case is no indictment of the competence or integrity of Villaraigosa’s aides. Sometimes even the best plan, and the best message are derailed by things you can’t control.
Parks’ belated outrage demonstrates as much about his lagging standards, as it does for Mayor Hahn. When this controversy erupted in 2001, then Chief Parks was strangely silent on the issue. I searched desperately to find any instance where Chief Parks spoke out against this “racist” ad campaign.
I couldn’t find any.
I also couldn’t find any instances where Police Chief Parks spoke out in favor of asking for pardons for convicted drug dealers, or at least dismissed the idea as “no big deal” as he does here:
“The issue that a person writes a letter of recommendation, we do it all the time (emphasis added)  Parks said. “It is not even an issue that’s worthy of consideration in a campaign in my judgment.”
So it wasn’t an appeal for a pardon, just a “letter of recommendation” as if the guy was applying for an internship with his local Congressman? Hmm. I wonder if this is how Parks felt about the issue in 2001, or if this is a recent evolution of his views on the issue. And what does he mean by “we do it all the time”? Makes me a bit curious, to say the least!
Hearing Bernie Parks’ “outrage” today rings a little hollow. However, I began to realize why he was so quiet on this situation four years ago. Bernie Parks wanted to keep his job. Bernie Parks thought Hahn was going to win. Candidate Villaraigosa had criticized Parks’ performance as Chief during the 2001 campaign. Add it all up and you see why Parks was not about to raise any hackles about Jim Hahn’s 2001 campaign ads, regardless of how “racist” they were or were not.
For all of his thundering denunciations in 2005 of a Hahn campaign ad, at the moment in 2001, when he could have done something about this and made a difference as to who would win the election, Parks was silent.
That to me is as much of an indictment of his conduct four years ago on this “issue” as it is for Mayor Hahn.
PS: had a piece about the campaign four years ago that reminds us of some of the dynamics of the 2001 campaign. What a difference four years makes.
© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at

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