LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — After a 40-year political career that saw him serve on the Los Angeles City Council and then the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Zev Yaroslavsky is retiring.
Because of term limits on the Board of Supervisors, Yaroslavsky, 65, could not run for re-election earlier this month and attended his last meeting this week.
KCAL9’s Dave Bryan talked to Yaroslavsky about his work, his legacy, his retirement and the people he met along the way. Their began their conversation in the hallway at Yaroslavsky’s office, looking at a photo of the supervisor with the president of China.
“This is the president of China when he came to Los Angeles, Chang Zi Min, in 1998, and he’s pointing his finger at me and saying ‘You speak Russian,’ ” I’m pointing my finger at him, saying ‘You speak Russian,’ ” Yaroslavsky recalled. “Only in America could the president of China meet the son of Russian immigrants to Los Angeles and converse with him at the airport in Russian.”
The walls of Yaroslavsky’s office hallway are a history lesson of the last 40 years in photographs and newspaper headlines.
And Monday, Yaroslavsky will officially step aside.
“I’ve been looking forward to this day, actually,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time. Four decades is enough for anybody to serve as an elected official.”
Yaroslavsky was a driving force on transportation and environmental issues and, in 2002, his countywide ballot Measure B to raise funds for county hospitals passed with flying colors.
“It’s a great day,” he said at the time. “Yesterday, we were talking about closing hospitals. Today, we can talk about how to keep them open.”
In 1988 as a councilman, Yaroslavsky teamed with Councilman Marvin Braude to pass a ballot measure that banned oil drilling in Pacific Palisades.
He says he greatly admired former Mayor Tom Bradley, but they had some epic disagreements about development and other things, like this exchange in 1994.
“And if I felt strongly about jobs here in Los Angeles and America, ” Yaroslavsky said, “I would insist that — Mr. Mayor —
“Mr. President, I have to correct this gentleman who is absolutely in error on this issue of removal of Nate Holden,” Bradley responded, speaking over Yaroslavsky.
Yaroslavsky was often the swing vote on the Board of Supervisors on budget and finance issues, and often took on the employee unions.
“I’m not a lapdog for anybody, whether it’s labor or whether it’s my own kids, I’m not a lapdog for anybody,” he said. “In that respect, I think it’s just counterintuitive that a progressive Democrat like me or (the also termed-out) Gloria Molina would not be a rubber stamp for anything labor wanted, but we weren’t, and I hope that the new supervisors will assert, and exert, some independence as well. It’s the right thing to do.”
Yaroslavsky has plans for his retirement.
“I’m going to write a memoir that I believe strongly in,” he said. “I’m going to stay involved in public-policy issues, pick and choose those issues. I may do some teaching.”
And something on the lighter side you may not have known about Yaroslavsky: Back in the day, he was a poker player as a college student and often earned his weekly spending money by playing cards, which he says he stopped when he was sworn in as an elected official.
And as for the poker face …
“The weekend after I had gotten elected, I spent a couple of hours, made 15 or 20 bucks. Got up to leave, and one of the the ladies said, ‘You know the girls and I have been talking and we think you’re gonna be an honest politician,’ and I said ‘How do you know that?’ And she said ‘Because we’ve been watching you, and you didn’t bluff once. ‘ And I said to myself, ‘Not that they were aware of. …’”
Yaroslavsky will be replaced on the board as the District 3 representative by former state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, who he said he believes will do an excellent job.