To the residents of Los Angeles, Ed Edelman is nothing short of a legend.
During his thirty years of elective office, and his later years as a governmental advisor, Edelman produced a breathtaking list of accomplishments. A visionary leader, his mark is seen in almost every sector of the community. Throughout his years of public service, he demonstrated an unwavering dedication to humanitarian causes, as well as a profound commitment to the advancement of cultural life of the community and to the protection of the environment. Beyond that, he was known as a reformer in his efforts to modernize the structure of city and county government and to make government more responsive to the people.
For Ed Edelman, public service was, above all, about responding to human needs. A deep sense of compassion and social justice led him to champion the rights and protection of children, the disabled and disadvantaged; to advocate on behalf of the mentally ill and the homeless; to give a voice to gays and lesbians and the urban Indian; and to promote equal rights for women. His contributions include the creation of the first County Department of Children and Family Services in the country; the innovative and much emulated Children’s Court (Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court); a renowned mental health facility (Edmund D. Edelman Westside Mental Health Center); the first Commissions on Disability Rights; and the Status of Women and the Native American. Always an advocate for the protection of civil rights, he instituted mechanisms to minimize misconduct within the law enforcement sector. The Kolts Commission, which he established in 1992, successfully dealt with issues of abuse within the Sheriff’s Department and is still being used as a model to bring accountability to law enforcement.
Ed Edelman was an icon in the cultural life of Los Angeles, widely known for his dedicated and passionate support of music and the arts. Once a serious amateur cellist, he is credited with the re-establishment of the Pilgrimage Theater (renamed the John Anson Ford Amphitheater), establishment of the Sundays Live music series at LACMA, the Clark Library Chamber Music Series and the planning of Disney Hall. Additionally, he authored a bond measure that raised funds for renovation of the Hollywood Bowl and played a pivotal role in the successful completion of the new Colburn School of Music.
After the budget cuts that followed the passage of Proposition 13, Edelman came to the rescue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History by establishing a formula that guaranteed a secure revenue stream. His sensitive response to the concerns of the community diffused neighborhood resistance and made possible the building of the George C. Page Museum in Hancock Park. Edelman is credited with rescuing from destruction the home of Virginia Robinson and for persuading Robinson to donate her home and gardens for public use. He also saved the Lasky-DeMille Barn, used for the filming of the first feature length film shot in Hollywood, and arranged for it to be relocated across from the Hollywood Bowl where it was made into the Hollywood Heritage Museum. Recognizing the need for a year-round museum to display the history of the Hollywood Bowl to its many visitors, he launched the renovation of a teahouse on the Bowl premises to be used for that purpose. When Edelman left office, the museum was renamed the Edmund D. Edelman Hollywood Bowl Museum in his honor.
Throughout his political career, Ed Edelman had a special ability to transcend personal and ideological differences to bring unifying consensus. Even in a Republican dominated Board of Supervisors, he was able to win support from his colleagues for vital decisions and projects. Because of this well recognized talent for conciliation, both county labor and management frequently called upon him to avert or resolve potentially disruptive strikes. Former staff members tell of dramatic eleventh hour interventions by Edelman to prevent the occurrence of perilous public transit and hospital workers’ strikes.
Over his twenty-year term as Supervisor, Edelman represented a culturally, ethnically and economically diverse constituency—Jewish, Hispanic, Asian, Korean, Filipino, African-American, as well as the gay community of West Hollywood. An empathic individual, he had a rare ability to understand and speak to these constituencies; as a result, he enjoyed remarkable popularity in each of the communities.
As noteworthy as his accomplishments were the style and methods he used to build consensus for his causes. His former supervisorial staff members speak of his courage and readiness to take on unpopular stands and of his inclination to take on causes that others saw as impossible. These former staffers provide lively, inspirational and often humorous accounts of his leadership style and the strategies by which he shepherded difficult projects to fruition. One former deputy referred to him as a “godfather,” in the best sense of the term, implying that he had a unique ability to make things happen.
Public service did not end for Edelman when he left political office. Some of his finest accomplishments occurred in the years following his tenure as Supervisor. As a Senior Fellow at the RAND Corporation, he collaborated and advised on numerous public policy matters. In 1995, Edelman found vacant land and negotiated an agreement between the Community Redevelopment Agency and Richard D. Colburn, which ultimately led to Colburn’s donation of sixty million dollars to construct and endow a community performing arts school. Over a period of five years, he acted as facilitator/mediator in a collaboration between Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, California State University at Los Angeles, the LAPD and the California State Department of Finance to fund and build a $100,000,000 state of the art Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center at Cal State University.
In 2005, at the age of seventy-five, Edelman was hired by the City of Santa Monica to lead a regional effort to improve the plight of the homeless. Members of the Santa Monica City Council have hailed his success in coordinating governmental and community agencies to develop humane and cost effective treatment for the homeless population. He is credited with the initiation of a statewide conference to educate policy makers about the value of courts to assist the homeless–a conference which ultimately resulted in the creation of permanent local community courts, dedicated specifically to helping the homeless.
Now in his 82nd year, Ed Edelman is battling a debilitating neurodegenerative disease, Atypical Parkinson’s. The crippling disease has brought him closer to a cause he championed early in his career—the rights of the disabled. Despite his illness, he has, until recently, continued to have an impact in the community—serving on non-profit boards such as the Colburn Foundation, the Colburn School Board and as a civilian member of the LAPD disciplinary panel, the Board of Rights. He continued, until last year, to chair the Bollens-Reis-Hoffenberg lecture series at UCLA, which he created in 1990 in honor of his late political science professor, Jack Bollens.
Ed Edelman’s legacy is born out of integrity and compassion and out of a desire to enrich the quality of life of the community. His accomplishments encompass the broadest range of humanitarian and cultural endeavors; they have had and will continue to produce an enduring and far-reaching impact on the community. Edelman’s life and career can and should be exemplary to future generations of community leaders.