Wesson waiting in the wings to make Los Angeles history

Stanley O. Williford | 12/14/2011, 5 p.m.

The first thing on Herb J. Wesson's agenda after his swearing-in as president on Jan. 3, could be whipping the Los Angeles City Council into shape, although those are not his words. Actually, what he wants to do is make the Council "run more smoothly--no multiple issues on the agenda, no lengthy debates and just work on streamlining things and making it more effective."

He outlined the president's role as presiding over the Council, setting the agenda (along with the city clerk's office), and placing members on certain committees, among several other duties.

"And when the mayor is out of town, I'm the man," said Wesson. "I just might rename the city Herbville," he said, laughing, but then quickly reminded the interviewer that he was just joking.

But it is no joke that the 60-year-old Wesson is proud to become the first African American president of the Council.

"It's way up there," he said when asked to rank it in relation to other important events in his life.

"It's a very historic honor. I would say that after the birth of my children and grandchildren, it ranks up there with being Speaker of the California State Assembly. It matters to us as a people.

It's one more American barrier that we've broken through, one more barrier that's been removed.

"The importance is equal," he said. "They are two critical posts. I'm still kinda shocked that in my lifetime I would be Speaker and president of Council. These are challenging times we're facing, but I'm looking forward to the challenge."

Current Council President Eric Garcetti, who nominated Wesson to succeed him in the post, will step down on Jan. 2. Garcetti is positioning himself to devote more time to campaign for mayor.

While Wesson's ascension to the Council presidency comes with an overwhelming vote of confidence by the legislative body, all is not well, especially concerning the other two African American councilmembers--Jan Perry and Bernard Parks--neither of whom was present to vote on the matter on Nov. 23. Parks called in with the flu and Perry had an excused absence. Both had earlier declined to say whether they would support Wesson.

Weeks before, Perry, who is also running for mayor, had resigned as president pro tempore in reaction to behind-the-scene-deals being fomented between Garcetti and Wesson. Parks was upset that a high-level aide to Wesson had been "appointed to run the 21-member commission that will redraw district maps," according to the Los Angeles Times.

On the other hand, among the large group in attendance were Police Chief Charlie Beck, former city commissioner Christopher Pak, African American current and former politicians, including Assemblyman Mike Davis, former state lieutenant general Mervyn Dymally and former City Councilman Nate Holden.

Wesson seems unperturbed. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm focused on the future and not the past," he said.

Wesson began his political career in the 10th District, and in 2005, wound up right back where his career began. But it wasn't a move backward. In fact, in some ways it was a huge move forward.