Former LA Councilman Tom LaBonge, 'Mr. Los Angeles,' Has Died At 67
By Emily Henderson and Libby Denkmann
Former L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge, known as "Mr. Los Angeles" for his knowledge of and love of the city, has died at age 67.
His death was first reported late Thursday by ABC7.
"Nobody loved this city more than Tom LaBonge and I don't know if anyone ever will," L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn said of LaBonge in a tweet. "May my dear friend rest in peace."
LaBonge represented the 4th District from 2001 to 2015, when he was termed out. By then, he had worked for the city for nearly 40 years. Before running for office, he worked as a field representative or council aide to Councilmember Peggy Stevenson, Council President John Ferraro and Mayor Richard Riordan.
LaBonge was legendary, Hahn said of her former city council colleague, for rolling up his sleeves to help with problems large and small — like clearing a blocked storm drain, pruning a tree or removing bulky trash from the curb.
He liked to hop on tour buses in Hollywood, grab the microphone to welcome everybody to Los Angeles and then guide them on his personal tour of city sights.
"I think if every elected official took a page out of the playbook of Tom LaBonge, there would not be one constituent who felt frustrated or disenfranchised," Hahn added.
LaBonge's greatest legacy may be Griffith Park, where he hiked every day and enthusiastically greeted tourists and locals making their way up dusty trails.
He was "the best friend Griffith Park ever had," said Griffith Observatory director Ed Krupp. LaBonge was instrumental in securing funding for the renovation and expansion of the Observatory through city and county ballot propositions, Krupp said.
"Without Tom, it wouldn't have happened," Krupp said. "He was always knitting one element of the community with another, finding points of intersection."
"Every single one of my neighbors in Silver Lake has a story about how Tom personally resolved an issue they were facing in their community," City Councilmember Nithya Raman said in a statement. Raman was elected to LaBonge's former council seat in November, and soon after, LaBonge dropped by with congratulations and one of his signature gifts: pumpkin bread baked by cloistered nuns at the Monastery of the Angels in the Hollywood Hills.
"The example he set in running his office leading with his sincere love for the city and his love for Angelenos is one I've taken to heart, and one that my office hopes to emulate as we move forward," Raman added.
In a 2015 interview, LaBonge told our newsroom's John Rabe that he believed in serving at the local level.
"As a councilmember or a supervisor, you can do things for people, I mean really do things for people," he said when he was asked about why he'd never pursued state or national office.
"When I was serving the city, I wasn't writing legislation," he said. "You know, sometimes I get criticized, and they say I'm not a visionary. I'm an absolute visionary, and the vision comes from people, and how people feel about their city."
Former colleagues and longtime friends are sharing condolences on social media:
For over a decade, Tom LaBonge and I worked together, as colleagues and neighboring Councilmembers.— MayorOfLA (@MayorOfLA) January 8, 2021
We often said that while we shared a border, there was no dividing line between us, our work, and our districts.
Griffith Observatory is deeply saddened at the passing of former LA Councilmeber Tom LaBonge, a stellar public servant and a champion of the City of Angels. Griffith Park and its many visitors had no better friend. He was a shining star for all that was good in Los Angeles. pic.twitter.com/ESCmfNXvSZ— Griffith Observatory (@GriffithObserv) January 8, 2021
In a City of 4 million, Tom LaBonge was Mr. Los Angeles. As a Councilmember, he took care of his constituents and was a champion for one of LA's greatest treasures, Griffith Park. Tom LaBonge loved Los Angeles and Los Angeles loved him right back. Our hearts are heavy tonight. pic.twitter.com/L24hbWiKQM— Nury Martinez (@CD6Nury) January 8, 2021
My heart goes out to the family of Tom LaBonge. He was so much more than an elected representative—he was the ultimate goodwill ambassador, public servant, historian for his City of Angels, a& an icon. He led w/ his heart & truly loved the men & women of the LAPD.— Chief Michel Moore (@LAPDChiefMoore) January 8, 2021
Rest In Peace pic.twitter.com/LSBQR3DQCb
Listen to LaBonge's 2015 exit interview with KPCC's Off-Ramp
This story has been updated.