In the race for the Second District Seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the theme of business versus labor– or more specifically– L.A. City Councilmember Bernard C. Parks versus California State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas, has been steadily beaten into the heads of the voters.
The pundits have positioned Parks as the fiscal watchdog and Ridley-Thomas as the champion of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, winning support of its brass– and most significantly, its money. But the race isn't that simple.
First, this race will determine how the health, safety and quality-of-life needs of the biggest and most diverse group of minority communities in the entire county will be met for the next 12 years. That along with the fact that this same area is taking the brunt of a healthcare crisis of immense proportions, further explains why it is dangerous to categorize this election as a simple contest of "us against them."
In this race Mark Ridley-Thomas has shown he is not who he claims to be. Ridley-Thomas proudly boasts the endorsement of the Democratic Party, but that is an automatic designation coming from being the chosen union's candidate. However while attempting to paint Parks as the "Republican" in the race, behind the back of Democratic Party; Ridley-Thomas purchased spots on Republican slates during the primary. One slate praised former President Ronald Reagan and implied that Ridley-Thomas was apart of a "Republican Revolution". When Bernard Parks rushed to defend his fellow democrat, Senator Barack Obama, when "The New Yorker" magazine depicted both he and his wife as terrorists in a racially-insensitive manner, Ridley-Thomas he was no where to be found.
Ridley-Thomas personally brought Wal-Mart into the Eighth Council District before he left the office in 2002. While this action was against what the unions wanted because of Wal-Mart's reputation for offering poor benefits, poor pay and overall poor treatment of workers, the Union leaders now who support him have erased the action from their memories. The store opened its doors at the Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Plaza on January 22, 2003– almost two months before Parks' election to the City Council but still "Wal-Mark" Ridley-Thomas has tried to lay the blame of the store's opening on him.
"Wal-Mark" Ridley-Thomas told the L.A. Business Journal on February 14, 2000 that Wal-Mart would, "bring significant foot traffic that will be of benefit to the entire mall." In a recent issue of the L.A. Times, the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, Maria Elena Durazo said it was Parks who "allowed Wal-Mart in". Unable to defend her candidate's support of Wal-Mart, she must think that the community in particular union members have forgotten what really happened and by trying to revise history, she's hoping they will vote for Ridley-Thomas despite his having taken such a huge anti-union position.
The legal problems that Union leadership is dealing with have been well documented in stories in various newspapers. Not surprisingly, because Ridley-Thomas has received the benefit of $7.1 million in independent expenditures from the unions he has remained silent about the misuse of funds that should have be been used to benefit some of the lowest wage union members. One of the leaders under investigation was reported in the L.A. Weekly on October 17 to have bragged to outgoing Supervisor Yvonne Burke that he had "recruited" Ridley-Thomas to run for the seat she is vacating. While the law forbids campaign coordination with the Union independent expenditure committee, a few weeks ago Ridley-Thomas found time to attend an event by the Carson-Torrance Branch of the NAACP honoring the Union leader who hand picked him. Voters don't expect this behavior from someone claiming to be "Working for Change." It's more like politics as usual.
Anyway, Ridley-Thomas' Wal-Mart debacle and his dealings with Union leaders aren't the only two reasons working-class families should take a closer look at his so-called labor-friendly platform. Would a friend to labor promise union members that he would vote against a Native American compact aimed at expanding Indian gaming only to change his mind without explanation and vote for it? "Wal-Mark" Ridley-Thomas did. In addition, as always, "Wal-Mark" Ridley-Thomas' support didn't come cheap. In exchange, the Native American group mass mailed literature praising "Wal-Mark" Ridley-Thomas as he concluded his campaign for state senator.
Unfortunately, for the senator, workers at Martin Luther King-Harbor Hospital don't hold him in the same high regard. By applauding the closure of the emergency room and trauma center at the hospital in a September 14, 2004 L.A. Times article, "Wal-Mark" Ridley-Thomas was in effect endorsing the elimination of several hundred union jobs. So, what do you suppose Union leaders supporting Ridley-Thomas have to say about that? If elected, the unions will likely be even more disappointed with Mark. Due to the state's financial crisis, he will have a very tight county budget to manage. Since he has no big budget experience, finding the funds to meet the unions' contract expectations and deliver mandatory and critical services to the people of the district will be difficult especially for someone who has not done it before. How will union officials explain all of the money they poured into the Ridley-Thomas campaign and have nothing to show for it?