The first televised debate between the two leading Democratic candidates for the 2nd District Supervisor erupted into a boiling point half way through the hour verbal presentation when it was revealed that Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas supported the closing of the trauma center at King/Drew Hospital in 2004.
Moderator Mark Brown of KABC 7, which televised the debate that was sponsored by the Los Angeles League Conser-vation Voters, asked both the candidates “what are you going to do to get our hospital back.”
Responding first to the question, which is a critical issue to the African American community and its voters, was Senator Ridley-Thomas.
Last week during the debate he admitted that “I believe that the reopening of the Martin Luther King Hospital has to be of the highest priority [that the next 2nd District Supervisor assumes] because it is a threat to the entirety of the county’s safety net to have that hospital closed,” said Ridley-Thomas during the debate with Councilman Bernard C. Parks.
However, Ridley-Thomas was quoted in the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 14, 2004 as stating, “It’s about time that the Board of Supervisors faced up to their responsibility, and has chosen to take the appropriate action, albeit unpopular,” he said then. “There’s no expert in the area of public healthcare worth his or her salt who would deny that Martin Luther King hospital was indeed in need of radical intervention.”
The article written by L.A. Times writers Tracy Weber, Charles Ornstein and Mitchell Landsberg appeared on the front page of the newspaper and was obtained by the Sentinel this week.
When presented with the information during the debate by Parks, Ridley-Thomas became agitated and demanded that his opponent “produce the single document that I have supported to close Martin Luther King Medical Center or offer the viewers an apology.”
However, the published article was evident that Ridley-Thomas was in agreement with the Board of Supervisors to close a portion of the community treasure that resulted in the loss of 3000 jobs and prevented thousands of severely ailing patients from being treated.
In direct contrast Parks has been on the main-line in opposing the closure of any parts of the hospital and recently crafted a letter to the governor outlining a plan to reopen the facility.
Tim Watkins, a long time Watts resident and head of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee said this week that he too recalls when Ridley-Thomas suggested closing the hospital.
“What I recall is that Mark Ridley-Thomas was in support of closing King in order to give it an opportunity to be restructured and eventually reopened. I have been opposed to that when he suggested it. My position has been that we can’t make it better by making it worse.
Watkins said that he frequently stood side by side with Parks at the Board of Supervisors meetings with Rep. Maxine Waters, Council-woman Janice Hahn and the late Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald.
Even as recently as Aug. 13, 2007, the City News Service quoted Mark Ridley-Thomas as saying, “This hospital, while doing some good, has too often failed to meet even basic standards of care, a pattern that has continued unabated for a number of years.”
“It was one of the most extraordinary public examples I have ever seen of a candidate repeatedly denying their own position on an issue so central to this campaign. Mark Ridley-Thomas can rewrite his position, he just can’t rewrite history,” stated Parks.
“Ridley-Thomas called the hospital a failure and stated, unequivocally, that closing the trauma center was appropriate. That’s not the kind of advocacy residents of the 2nd Supervisorial district deserve,” added John Shallman, Parks’ Chief Campaign Strategist.
Phone calls made to reach Ridley-Thomas were not returned.