For the first time in more than a decade, a high-stakes race is under way for a Los Angeles County supervisor seat in an election that could significantly reshape the region’s longtime political power base. While still months before voters hit the polls, Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks and state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas already have launched what are widely expected to be fierce campaigns for the post being vacated by the retirement of Yvonne Brathwaite Burke. The race is the first highly competitive contest for the Board of Supervisors since Burke battled Rep. Diane Watson in a bitter 1992 campaign to succeed the late Supervisor Kenneth Hahn. “It’s going to be a humdinger,” said Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles. “We don’t know who else is going to be in the race, but these are the two headliners who are probably scaring everyone else away.” “It’s a very important race. And that’s why the unions are evaluating the two candidates so early because there is so much at stake.” Also at stake is the future of 2 million residents who live in Burke’s district in the South Los Angeles region, and whether the shuttered emergency room at Martin Luther King Jr./Harbor Hospital will be reopened. But perhaps even more significantly, the race stands to reshape the balance of power among the nation’s most influential Board of Supervisors, which represents 10 million people and whose members are now limited to three terms in office. Since Burke was elected in 1992, the three Democrats on the board – Zev Yaroslavsky, Gloria Molina and Burke – have generally banded together, often voting as a bloc and overpowering the two Republicans, Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe. But political analysts say that would shift significantly if Parks – who is viewed as a moderate to conservative Democrat – is elected. “This is a pivotal seat in that whichever way the person who wins it leans will make up a majority of the voters, either on the liberal side or the conservative side of the board,” Regalado said. “Yvonne has almost always been considered on the liberal side. But Bernie is much more conservative, both on the fiscal issues, labor-management issues and issues about community investment and victimization.” Since serving as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and winning a City Council seat in 2003, Parks has been anti-crime and business-oriented, said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. “He would tend to possibly vote with Antonovich and Knabe at times, whereas Ridley-Thomas would traditionally be with Molina and Yaroslavsky,” Stern said. “So (Parks) in a sense could be a swing vote on the board.” With the high stakes, Parks’ and Ridley-Thomas’ campaign machines are gearing up to begin raising the maximum $1.5 million in $1,000 contributions for the June 3 primary election. Any candidate who receives more than 50 percent of the vote in June will win, otherwise, the candidates will duke it out on the Nov. 4 presidential election ballot. “The stakes are huge,” Regalado said. “They are huge on the business side, who see Bernie primarily as their champion. I think they see Bernie as even more business-friendly than Yvonne was. “And on the other side, Mark is regarded as the champion of labor. In some ways, this will be the classic labor-vs.-business race.” Ridley-Thomas, a Los Angeles Democrat who has a doctorate in social ethics and policy analysis from USC, started out as a high-school teacher and spent a decade as executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference founded by Martin Luther King Jr. First elected to the Los Angeles City Council in 1991, he served a dozen years there and was elected to the Assembly. He won a seat in the state Senate in 2006. “What’s at stake here is the balance of power on the Board of Supervisors,” Ridley-Thomas said. “And the extent of what I’m prepared to say is any views that emerge, I have an obligation to listen to the expression of those views and to evaluate them carefully based on a lot of experience, pretty considerable amount of insight into public policy and pretty substantial training in the area of policy analysis, and then I vote.” Parks, who has a master’s degree in public administration from USC, spent 38 years with the LAPD and rose through the ranks to become chief in 1997, serving until 2002. “I don’t think it’s proper, in my judgment, to stereotype how folks vote,” Parks said. “I think I look at things on an issue-by-issue basis. If you look at how I’ve voted on the City Council, I’ve been very thoughtful as it relates to money issues and how the city spends its funds. “I don’t quite know where I’ll fall on each issue, but from what I can assess of my past, each issue requires a very thorough evaluation and I don’t believe I’ve shown a trend to vote based on any overall or overarching support for one group over another.” Burke said the outcome of the race is key as the county faces a variety of issues including a public health system strained by the closure of public and private hospitals, a worsening housing crisis, a stressed social services system, declining tax revenues and potential state funding cuts. “I think mostly you have to have a person who is dedicated to the county and the kind of issues we have to resolve – someone who is really concerned about people issues, about public safety and welfare, issues of children and someone who is willing to look at the very complex financial situation we have in the county and keep it strong and viable,” Burke said. Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, said the race gives voters a rare opportunity to significantly influence the future. “It’s important for people to have a choice,” Pitney said. “Competition is at the very heart of democracy and that’s especially true for supervisorial elections because county government is so large and the districts are bigger than a lot of states.” [email protected] (213) 974-8985160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWhicker: Clemson demonstrates that it’s tough to knock out the champPolitical observers had speculated that Rep. Maxine Waters – a longtime friend of Burke’s – might seek the seat, but she announced last month she would not. The deadline to file to run in the election is March 7. But Parks, 64, and Ridley-Thomas, 53, have already begun raising money and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor is convening Wednesday – about three months earlier than usual – to begin deciding whom to endorse. The election comes in a politically charged year in which 350,000 workers will renegotiate their contracts – the largest number in the history of the Los Angeles labor movement. “It’s historic because the last time there was an open seat was in 1992,” said Maria Elena Durazo, secretary-treasurer of the federation, which represents about 800,000 workers, including 200,000 county employees and home-care workers.