Herb Wesson Named 1st Black President of L.A. City Council: Why Did the Other Black Council Members Stay Home?

Herb Wesson Named 1st Black President of L.A. City Council: Why Did the Other Black Council Members Stay Home?
Herb Wesson (left) Jan Perry (top right) and Bernard Parks (bottom right)

Los Angeles City Councilman Herb Wesson made history on Nov. 23 when his colleagues voted unanimously to name him the first African American president of the City of Angel’s council since it was established in 1889.

The story made the front page of the LA Times, partly because of its historic aspect, but also because the only other black council members, both of whom have had strained relations with Wesson in recent weeks, did not show up for the scheduled vote.

Former LAPD chief of police, Councilman Bernard C. Parks, had been asked whether he intended to cast his ballot for Wesson, but he declined to answer in the days before the vote. Parks called in sick on the 23rd, leaving the question permanently unanswered.

Councilwoman Jan Perry received permission for an excused absence, but she declined to inform her colleagues where she would be instead of the council meeting.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl called the situation “unfortunate,” saying he believed Wesson, 60, would make a great president. Councilman Richard Alarcon, who served in the Legislature with Wesson, said he would let the public form their own opinions on the absence of Perry and Parks.

“I don’t think it’s significant,” Alarcon said. “Herb Wesson will be the next president, and I think it may be that their absence is in recognition of that. I don’t read more into it than that.”

Wesson said of the historic occasion, “If I could look at the front row and see my mother, it would be a perfect day.” His mother, Gladys, passed away last summer.

Wesson also expressed sadness about the absence of his two colleagues. “I just thought they should have been there,” he said. “But hey, life goes on.”

Perry was asked if she had issues with Wesson. Her response: “I’m not going to say.”

Parks’ son, who also serves as his chief of staff, insisted that his father really has the flu. He said Parks went home early on Tuesday.

“It’s his second sick day in 46 years, so I think he’s due,” said Bernard Parks Jr.

Given the historic nature of the vote, it is a shame there wasn’t more unity among the African American members of the Council. But the reality is, all black folks are not obliged to like or agree with each other all the time. The absences may have been preferable to a non-unanimous vote in a history-making moment. –kathleen cross

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