Oral Histories

Interview of Thomas J. LaBonge

4th District Los Angeles City Council member from 2001 to 2015.
Interviews not in a series, part two
Politics and Government
Biographical Note:
4th District Los Angeles City Council member from 2001 to 2015.
Nicolaides, Becky
LaBonge, Thomas J.
Persons Present:
LaBonge and Nicolaides.
Place Conducted:
LaBonge’s home in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Becky Nicolaides, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; Ph.D., U.S. History, Columbia University. Nicolaides has published a book and articles on the history of Los Angeles, has taught L.A. history courses at UC San Diego and UCLA, and has consulted on numerous cultural resources projects on Los Angeles history.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. LaBonge did not review the transcript, and therefore some proper names may remain unverified.
10.75 hrs.
Interviewee Retained Copyright
Irish and German ancestral roots and family roots in Los Angeles--Childhood in Los Angeles and Silver Lake--Large extended, Catholic family lives across Los Angeles County--Father, a newspaper reporter, takes kids around Los Angeles--Works in print shop as a teenager--Mother’s roots in Lincoln Heights--Father’s death in 1971 affects the family--Grows up in Silver Lake with eight brothers and large extended family--Importance of Catholic church in family’s life--Nuns, including LaBonge’s aunt, at Immaculate Heart Convent in Los Feliz play key part in community life--Grows up in a non-partisan household, though parents embraced John F. Kennedy--Religious diversity in Silver Lake during teenage years--Attends concerts around Los Angeles as a teen--Hippies congregate at the Griffith Park merry-go-round--Parents teach kids value of helping neighbors--Silver Lake as a haven for gay people--Ethnic and racial diversity of Silver Lake is reflected in the public schools LaBonge attends--Finishes high school early because of a school fight--Challenges and positive experiences in high school--Recalls day his father died of a heart attack--Plays football at Marshall High with some personal success--Camaraderie of football team, a diverse group--Avoids being drafted for Vietnam War because draft ends--Busing does not affect Marshall High School because it is already diverse--Holds odd jobs as a teenager--In 1972 attends first community meeting, which sparks his civic interest--Coaches football and runs gym at Marshall High, leading to job in Los Angeles Councilmember Peggy Stevenson’s office--Plays football at Los Angeles City College and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo--Former NFL player and Marshall High teacher Milt Davis mentors him--Works in summer youth employment program for Los Angeles cleaning up streets--Works 2.5 years as staffer for Councilmember Peggy Stevenson (13th district)--After traveling for 11 weeks, joins staff of Los Angeles Councilman John Ferraro (4th district)--Serves on Mayor Tom Bradley’s Youth Council for two years.
Neighborhood life in Silver Lake as a youngster--Develops interest in photography in early 1970s--Diverse student body at Ivanhoe Elementary School--Some race intermingling at schools growing up--Important role of Griffith Park since childhood--Photography becomes a passion--Participates in Mayor Tom Bradley’s Youth Council in 1974, a training ground for future Los Angeles politicians--Works for John Ferraro, serving constituent needs--Admires and learns from John Ferraro, a fellow football player--Redistricting of 4th District makes for easy transition because of LaBonge’s familiarity with remaining district, especially Silver Lake, Hollywood, and North Hollywood--Importance of proportionality for fostering responsive government--As a staffer for Ferraro, works on parks, libraries, and fire stations--Importance of personal relations in getting things done--Proposition 13 puts strain on services--Attends 1984 Olympics alongside Ferraro--Rodney King video and 1992 uprising--Tensions exacerbated by rift between Mayor Tom Bradley and Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Chief Daryl Gates--Works in the field during the 1992 uprising--Meets President George H.W. Bush--Joins staff of Mayor Richard Riordan in 1993--1994 earthquake helps Los Angeles come together--Importance of “elevated demand” of community members--Importance of keeping neighborhoods functioning well--Public-facing city workers, especially police and fire recruits, should get to know Los Angeles more thoroughly--Forces that fed into the 1992 riots--Development and housing issues in 4th district--Public-private partnerships in developments--Differs with Ferraro on building Wilshire Boulevard metro--After working for Mayor Richard Riordan, lands a job at the Department of Water and Power.