An attorney, assemblywoman, congresswoman, and county supervisor, she led the way and opened new doors for a generation. Now she prepares to turn the reins over to Councilman Bernard Parks.
Bernard Parks will bring to the supervisor's office a vast array of talent, experience and community service that is unmatched by his rival. He has worked in the community, lived in the community and has served the community for over 40 years. He was described as the only candidate with a unique ability of having the administrative experience as the general manager of one of the nation's best-regarded police departments; and that was considered rare in a candidate for political office. With these abilities and experience, Parks will be able to focus on important issues such as gang prevention, education, healthcare and the welfare of the community–issues that will demand the fullest of attention.
After serving in Congress, Yvonne B. Burke returned to California to run for the state's attorney general, and though she had won the primary, she was defeated in the general election by George Deukmejian. Of that race, Burke said, "It was an interesting race and the issues against me were death penalty and busing. I wasn't supporting busing so much but it was an emotional issue. It was a statewide television campaign, and this was the first time the people in the state had the opportunity to see a Black woman run for state office. It was easy to categorize me as a liberal. The other party ran horrible ads. I came very close, but I did lose and then I was appointed to the Board (of Supervisors) here in the fourth district," the first woman to be on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
In a signed letter to the community, Parks has outlined his 'Courage to Lead' plan stating, "As your supervisor, I will create more job training and apprenticeship programs for young people and expand the Gang Alternative Program (GAP) to all local area public schools to educate 4th graders about the dangers of gang and how to stay out of them." As a former police officer, Parks has the know-how and the skills to combat the issues that are vital to the community, and the health and safety of families and children will be his number one priority as supervisor.
Since 1992, Burke has been Supervisor of the second district, one of the most powerful elected positions in the country. Unlike her previous time on the Board, she has been elected to four consecutive terms and has served as the chair on three occasions. She has been providing progressive leadership for constituents in her changing district through her public projects and policies. Burke has also faced some crises: the MTA strike in 2000, the unresolved King/Drew fiasco and most recently, the Baldwin Hills community standards district for future oil production activity.
Because of his experience in the executive (police chief) and legislative areas, as supervisor, Parks will be able to handle the rigors of the job from day one. He is capable of handling the challenge and the responsibility that came with the endorsement. He concluded, "You have to be very pleased to get that endorsement but realize after that endorsement, you still have to go out and win the election and then do the job. So it's great to get the endorsement, but you still have to win it on your merit, and sustain it on your merit."
"I'm going to look at something else," Burke said about her post-retirement, "I'm not going back to practicing law, I may go back to school and develop new skills and go into something else. I might want to go into dispute resolution and mediation."
One thing is certain: she has left her footprints on the Los Angeles political landscape like few other politicians and she has done so with her reputation intact and without any scandals.
The Sentinel took a random sampling from members of the community whose lives the venerable supervisor has touched and some who have worked with her.
Councilman Herb Wesson (D-10th): "She's been a great trailblazer who has touched many lives, especially mine. A lot of people have helped me along the way, but no one invested the amount of personal time in being my mentor. I would not have succeeded without her guidance and support. We hate to see her retire from public office. However, she leaves us an extraordinary legacy of service and commitment to our community, our state and our nation."
Charisse Bremond Weaver, president of the Brotherhood Crusade: "There will never be another Yvonne Burke; she moves with a quiet diplomacy and displays grace, style and an urgency of commitment be it to the Brotherhood (Crusade) or to her constituents. She is a class act and a wonderful example of true womanhood in all respects. She was very well-liked during her career in politics."
Professor Darnell Hunt, director of the Ralph Bunche Center at UCLA: "She has certainly been around a long time–the first Black congresswoman from California and early in her career, she served on the McCone Commission after the Watts Riots. As a Supervisor, she's been involved in a lot of different issues and developments. The (Bunche) Center honored her in 2006 as the Thurgood Marshall lecturer. Health care for poor people in South L. A is a very important issue for her. My impression of her as a Supervisor and a leader is she is someone who has always strived to be build bridges."
Tony Wafford, community activist: "The best way to describe Supervisor Burke is a 'quiet storm.' She did a lot, got a lot done and made a major difference in the community without a whole bunch of fanfare and without taking all the credit that she deserves."
One of her constituents anonymously wrote: "Citizens would do well to ponder the enormous contribution that she has made to the community and to nationwide political leadership. It may be some time before we see another elected official of her stature."