Published : Wednesday, May 11, 2016 | 4:44 AM
Agreeing on most points of discussion, the five candidates seeking to fill the upcoming vacancy in Los Angeles County’s Fifth Supervisorial District met Tuesday evening at Pasadena City College to discuss children’s issues.
The evening, hosted and sponsored by Southern California Grantmakers and The Chronicle for Social Change, featured candidates Kathryn Barger, Antonovich’s former Chief of Staff; Gang Prosecutor Elan Carr, LA City Councilmember Mitchell Englander, Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, and public policy executive Darrell Park. Candidate Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian, did not participate.
The forum was moderated by Alex Johnson, Children’s Defense Fund of California; Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, past president of the Alliance for Children’s Rights; and Daniel Heimpel, publisher of The Chronicle for Social Change.
The Fifth District, with more than two million residents, is the largest district in the county, spanning over two thousand square miles in area, including all or part of the San Gabriel, Pomona, San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope Valleys, including the City of Pasadena. Supervisor Michael Antonovich has held the office since 1980.
Five of the candidates for the non-partisan office are Republican, while candidate Park is a Democrat.
All of the candidates criticized the current juvenile justice system, as well as the county’s foster children program, with one candidate, Park, vowing to “tear it down and rebuild it.”
Carr began the evening saying that public safety is the number one issue in the county, stressing his background both in prosecuting gang members and in protecting young people from crime as well.
Englander emphasized his own difficult childhood, in a family that lost its home when he was a teenager. Both his brother and sister were emancipated minors, he said, and his hardscrabble childhood experience pushed him toward a career of public service, as a police officer, a city council member and a volunteer working with at-risk youth, in the same neighborhood where the uncle who raised him was killed by young gang members.
Barger served for many years as the director of children’s services under Antonovich, she said, eventually moving into the position of chief of staff, which she held for 15 years.
“We changed that department from children’s services, to family and children services,” she said, “and I remember moving children in dependency court out of criminal courts, for example, where they had less than substandard equipment and toys. I look at where we’ve been and where we need to go, and I know we have made great strides, but there is still much to do, and I am excited for the future and my vision.”
Huff related that his mother worked for many years at Juvenile Hall, saying, “Often she would bring foster kids home to stay with us, one stayed for a year, another stayed for two years, and it created in me a heart for those who don’t have the same resources the rest of us do. We were a big family, and we could feed another mouth, but its an attitude that you have, a society of taking care of those who don’t have the advantages that others do.”
Park also shared memories of his childhood, saying that he was raised by “really nice, but really hippie-ish parents” who, between his birth and his leaving for college, took in 19 foster children.
“I saw in that system some of the same problems we have here. The money that was paid was never enough, but everything else in that system worked. That system worked to produce kids who were going to be responsible adults. What we have in LA County is a system that is much more like a third world country,” said Park.
Park related his work in the office of Management and Budget in the White House, saying “We balanced the budget four times, not on the backs of anyone, but we balanced the budget because we solved problems. When you solve a problem you save money.”
Each of the candidates also spoke out in favor of public/private partnerships to help with foster care, including working with faith-based organizations, along with the importance of education in preventing youth crime.
“You can’t fight crime without education,” said Carr.