January 19, 2019

Former L.A. Supervisor Ed Edelman, advocate for liberal causes, dies at 85

Ed Edelman, a champion of liberal politics in Los Angeles who spent two decades on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, died on Sept. 12 at age 85. His death followed a long battle with atypical Parkinson’s disease.

“We had a home filled with people and music and love,” his wife, Mari Mayer Edelman told the Los Angeles Times of his passing. “You couldn’t help but love this man. He cared so much about other people.”

[FROM THE ARCHIVES: Honoring Ed Edelman]

Edelman’s nine years on the L.A. City Council, from 1965 to 1974, prior to winning his county seat, and his time on the Board of Supervisors, from 1975 to 1994, produced a list of accomplishments that reads like a catalog of progressive causes: creating support systems for the homeless and mentally ill as well as a county commission on disability, a county department of Children and Family Services, setting aside hundreds of acres for parkland, substantial funding for the arts and more.

“There are hundreds of thousands of people in Los Angeles County and in this state whose lives are better because of someone whose name they never knew,” John Lovell, a former aide, said in a 2014 documentary written and directed by Mari Edelman titled “The Passions and Politics of Ed Edelman: An Untold Story of Leadership in Los Angeles.”

Ed Edelman approached politics with a style that favored results over rhetoric and collaboration over confrontation.

“When you’re talking about Ed’s integrity and his willingness to stand by his word — he was very reliable on that score,” Pete Schabarum, a colleague and longtime rival on the Board of Supervisors, said in the documentary.

But despite a willingness to work with political opponents, Edelman was far from quiet during his time in the political spotlight.

He championed gay rights in the city council and on the county board, urging the supervisors to take up the fight against AIDS; he lobbied for public transportation, resulting in the first subways being built under downtown L.A.; and he consistently agitated to support arts and music, paving the way for the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

“The worst thing you can have is power and either abuse it or not use it,” Edelman said in a 2009 interview.

Born Sept. 27, 1930, Edmund D. Edelman grew up on the Westside of L.A. , one of three children of Jewish parents. His father, Nathan, ran a liquor retail business, though according to the documentary never drank himself. The family attended Congregation Mogen David, a traditional synagogue; later, his mother’s work as his surrogate in the Jewish community would help him win election to the City Council.

As a youth, Edelman developed an aptitude for the accordion and cello. He would maintain his love of the latter instrument until he lost his faculties towards the end of his life.

After attending UCLA as both an undergraduate and for law school, Edelman’s entrée into elected politics came in 1965 when he beat Rosalind Wyman, a well-entrenched incumbent, for a seat on the City Council representing the Fairfax District and Beverly Hills. Soon after, he established a reputation for integrity on a corrupt and sclerotic council.

In 1974, Edelman defeated fellow Councilmember John Ferraro to win election to the Board of Supervisors, where he represented a diverse district that spanned East and West Los Angeles, including large Latino, white and Jewish constituencies.

While on the board, he watched the conservative majority erode, to be replaced by the Democratic control that has since held sway.

When he vacated council seat, and again his supervisor’s seat, his place went to another politician who would become a mainstay in L.A.’s Jewish political establishment: Zev Yaroslavsky.

Edelman’s time in politics left a number of namesakes dotted across the county, including as the Summit Valley Edmund D. Edelman Park in the Santa Monica Mountains, the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court in City Terrace and the Edmund D. Edelman Westside Mental Health Center.

His legacy continues to pay dividends even after his death: along with longtime L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley, he was among the earliest advocates for a subway to run beneath Wilshire Boulevard. Though his plan was eventually abandoned, the current Purple Line extension slated to reach Westwood by 2035 builds on his earlier ideas.

The overarching theme of Edelman’s political career, however, was his fight to help uplift others, particularly communities most often ignored or denigrated by society.

“Keep striving,” he said in the documentary. “Keep trying to improve yourself and your community. We need people that care for one another.”

As his health deteriorated and left him largely unable to communicate, he maintained his interest in the wellbeing of others.

“When he’s trying to articulate something, almost invariably, what he’s trying to do is ask how people are,” Mari Edelman told the Journal in 2013. “Did such a person find a job? Did so-and-so get out of the hospital? Are they going to be OK? Whatever it is, he wants to know how other people are doing.”

Edelman is survived by his wife Mari Mayer Edelman. The couple had two children, Erica and Emily, and four grandchildren.

The 2014 documentary can be viewed for free on the PBS website.