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Parks defends his pension at South Los Angeles candidate forum

February 19, 2011 |  5:41 pm

Los Angeles Councilman Bernard C. Parks and opponent Forescee Hogan-Rowles traded jabs Saturday at a candidate forum in Leimert Park, where Parks defended his six-figure pension and compensation package and Hogan-Rowles brushed off accusations that she was a pawn of organized labor.

Hogan-Rowles, who has received heavy backing from city employee unions, has emerged as a strong challenger to Parks, who is seeking his third term representing the 8th District in South Los Angeles. The election will be held March 8.

Parks has questioned Hogan-Rowles’ readiness for the job as well as her grasp of the severity of the city’s budget crisis. In his latest campaign mailing, the former city police chief accused Hogan-Rowles of being the puppet of the Los Angeles Police Protective League -– a group that Parks has long quarreled with. The police union, which represents about 9,000 rank-and-file officers, has spent nearly $125,000 to boost Hogan-Rowles’ candidacy.

“I don’t see any strings here,” Hogan-Rowles told the members of the Cherrywood/Leimert Block Club inside a meeting hall of Transfiguration Catholic Church on Martin Luther King Boulevard. “I am nobody’s puppet.”

The two candidates appeared at different times, avoiding a face-to-face confrontation like the one last weekend hosted by the Park Mesa Heights Community Council. At that debate, they were joined by a third candidate, Jabari Jumaane.

Hogan-Rowles spoke first Saturday, repeating charges that it was hypocritical of Parks to call for scaling back city pension benefits for future hires, while collecting his own $265,000 police pension and a $178,789 council salary.

An audience member gave Parks a chance to respond to those attacks later when he asked whether the election was about candidates’ salaries or what they were going to do for the public. The district includes roughly 260,000 residents.

Parks, 67, called the criticisms “ludicrous” and noted that he didn’t set council salaries or the pension he was awarded from his service in the police department. When Parks asked how many people in the audience would be willing to “start from scratch” -- giving up their pension and benefits when they moved to a new job, only one man raised his hand.

“I worked 38 years in the police department.  I think I deserve the pension I earned,” said Parks, as some of his listeners nodded. “I think I should not leave it to the side and tell my family -- ‘Don’t worry about that, we’ll give it away because I’m young enough and healthy enough to keep working.’ ”

Parks and Hogan-Rowles, who runs a nonprofit that offers financial services in low-income communities, also debated whether the councilman had done enough to recruit new businesses, including to the 22-acre project known as Marlton Square -- at the site of a former shopping plaza that has been a community eyesore for decades.

During Parks’ time on the council, Hogan-Rowles said, Marlton Square has remained “a dump right in the middle of our district.” Parks noted that the project, once the site of Santa Barbara Plaza, was approved before he was elected to the City Council and has been tied up in bankruptcy proceedings.

“We had a developer that actually went bankrupt and his bank went bankrupt,” Parks said. “But we didn’t sit on our hands. We spent over $30 million of city money to buy most of the property along King Boulevard. ... We have the ability now to be a firm partner with equity in the project.”

Several residents complained to Parks about buckled sidewalks and overgrown trees -- services that have been drastically curtailed citywide because of budget constraints. The city is facing a $530-million budget deficit next fiscal year.

Parks said the city has not been able to afford sidewalk repaving for two years. Before that, the city was averaging about five miles of repairs annually, he said, adding that his office had used discretionary funds to try to fix “the worst of the worst” in the 8th District.

“There’s some really bad sidewalks we can’t fix,” Parks said. “We don’t like to see the black top in the community or throughout the city, but sometimes that’s the only temporary repair. ... We’ve maximized every dime we have.”

Mary Stewart, a state worker and the former president of the 4th Avenue Block Club who told Parks that his office had not responded to her complaints about a bulging sidewalk on her street, said she was not satisfied with the councilman’s response.

“We need a new start,” said Stewart, who is voting for Hogan-Rowles. “I believe she will listen to us. This guy has totally ignored the community.”

After hearing both candidates Saturday, Doris James, who is 85 and lives in Leimert Park, said she would vote to re-elect Parks. She called the criticism of his pension and his salary “ridiculous.”

“He deserved everything he got,” she said. “I think they should leave the man alone.”

-- Maeve Reston

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