Ed Edelman died in September at age 85. The Larchmont Chronicle asked local resident Zev Yaroslavsky to share the eulogy he gave at the funeral.
In this era, when political vulgarity is de rigueur, it is hard to imagine there was a time when political discourse could be intelligent and civil. Well, there was such a time, and it was personified in the life of our colleague, representative and friend, Ed Edelman. Los Angeles has lost a giant of a man, a dedicated public servant and an incredibly decent human being.
It was my honor and good fortune to follow Ed in both the Los Angeles City Council and the County Board of Supervisors. Ed is one of L.A.’s most important and significant public servants in our city’s and county’s history.
On occasions such as this, it would be customary to say that we have gathered here today to celebrate Ed’s life, and we certainly have done that. It would also be customary to say that we have come to escort him to his final resting place. With all due respect, I take issue with that. This cemetery is not Ed’s final resting place. His rich and productive 30-year public service career is his resting place. His vision, his accomplishments, and his humanity are how he will be remembered by us and by future generations.
Ed was a passionate liberal. After all, the presidents in the early part of his life were Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson. These were our nation’s leaders when Ed politically came of age. So, it is not surprising that he saw government as a powerful tool in creating a fairer and more just society. And, when he got the opportunity to serve in government, he didn’t squander it.
As a councilman and as a supervisor, Ed focused on those on the margins of our society. Abused and neglected children, those with mental illness, the homeless and persons with AIDS consumed the largest portion of his time and his political and intellectual resources. From the Children’s Court in Monterey Park which bears his name, to the many community based health clinics which expanded on his watch, to the first centralized AIDS effort of any major public health system in the country; all of these and much, much more have Ed’s fingerprints all over them. Indeed, they wouldn’t have happened but for Ed.
As our region grew, so did its traffic congestion problems. Ed teamed up with Mayor Tom Bradley in commencing to build the subway and light rail system we increasingly enjoy today. He was an influential member of the County Transportation Commission and its successor agency, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).
Ed was a passionate advocate for arts and culture. He was the political force behind securing the site for the Walt Disney Concert Hall. He launched what became a 20-year upgrade of the Hollywood Bowl. He loved to play the cello, and he funded Sunday night broadcasts of chamber music on KUSC long after he retired from public life. He resurrected the old Pilgrimage Theater in Cahuenga Pass and turned it into one of this nation’s most eclectic venues for performances representing the myriad cultures of our nation and region. And, he honored his predecessor, once removed, by naming the theater for John Anson Ford, who himself played a pivotal role in the arts.
These, and many more, are Ed Edelman’s resting places.
The Bowl, Disney Hall, Westwood Park, the Edelman Wilderness in Topanga Canyon, the Santa Monica Blvd. parkway between Beverly Hills and the 405 freeway, our emerging public transit system, the Colburn School, Pan Pacific Park, and the beat goes on.
One of his legacies is me. But for his election to the Board of Supervisors in 1974, I would probably be a retired CPA right about now. Thank goodness he won that election. Ed was a mentor of mine, not by what he said, but by what he did. I navigated my career by watching how Ed did it, especially at the beginning when I knew very little about this business. I learned from his secretaries how he structured his office; how he handled his constituents; how he organized his day. I learned from civil servants with whom he worked how he handled tough decisions and controversial issues. And, I learned from his colleagues what his leadership principles were and how they were manifested. In short, he was the lighthouse against which I navigated much of my public service career. It is not a coincidence that many of the issues Ed cared about, I cared about, too; largely because I followed Ed’s lead. Yes, he was a mentor, indeed. Thank you Ed, from the bottom of my heart!
In closing, let me say that Ed’s greatest legacy is the manner in which he conducted himself as an elected official. He led through inspiration, not intimidation. He never berated a bureaucrat or a constituent. I can’t recall a time when he raised his voice, either publicly or privately. Whether it was in a political campaign, a policy debate in the halls of government, or a private negotiation, Ed treated his adversaries as well as his friends with the same respect he would have wanted for himself. He was a man of great personal, professional and political integrity.
Mari, thank you and your family for sharing Ed with us all these years. And, thank you for your love and caring for him during these last years. Ed’s legacy is assured for future generations. May his memory be a blessing.
By Zev Yaroslavsky
Zev Yaroslavsky served on the Los Angeles City Council from 1975 to 1994 and on the County Board of Supervisors from 1994 to 2014.