Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

City Council Colleagues Remember Tom LaBonge

Photo from former City Council Member Herb Wesson’s public statement about the passing of Tom LaBonge.

On Friday, we published a series of comments remembering former City Council Member Tom LaBonge, from a wide variety of community members who knew and worked with him over the years, including current CD4 representative Nithya Raman.  Since then, we’ve seen a number of other remembrance statements from current Council Members, and we also had a chance to talk personally with former City Council Member Herb Wesson, who was one of LaBonge’s closest friends in city government for several decades.

On January 8, Wesson posted the following statement about his friend on his Facebook page:

“I’m still in shock and could not sleep last night when I heard the news about Tom LaBonge’s passing. Tom has been my friend since 1987. He was a fountain of institutional knowledge, incredibly helpful to me when I was a staffer, and continued to be to all young staffers working in the building. His excitement and love for Los Angeles was infectious. When I was elected President of the Council, making Tom the Assistant President Pro Tempore was an easy choice. I will deeply miss his surprise appearances at events. My heart is very heavy. I will miss my dear friend.”

We spoke to Wesson on Friday evening, and he said he was still reeling from the news of LaBonge’s death.

“I’m still not right from last night and I can’t explain it – like my body is not firing on all cylinders,” Wesson said.  “He was a force.  His handshake.  You just didn’t expect anything happening to him.”

Wesson, who had been friends with LaBonge since their early days in city government, when Wesson worked for Nate Holden and LaBonge for John Ferraro, said he has  many “priceless stories” about LaBonge.

For starters, he said, “Who else drives around with trash bags and shovels in their truck?”  Wesson said LaBonge once called him from somewhere on south Western Ave. (in Wesson’s district) to say there was a lot of trash lying around.  “But don’t worry,” LaBonge told him, “I cleaned it up.”

“He was just that kind of person, always willing to help,” Wesson said. “And you didn’t have to worry about it.”

In another trash-related story, Wesson said that LaBonge once  wanted to promote a new bulky item pickup program, so they met for a photo op on a street where their two districts met, with one side of the street in LaBonge’s district, and one side in Wesson’s.  There was a big piece of furniture there, awaiting pickup, and – according to Wesson – LaBonge said “We’re going to pick this dresser up, and boom boom, put it in the truck.”  So they put on their city vests, and LaBonge said “1..2..3!” and heaved up one side of the dresser. But Wesson didn’t find it so easy.  “Oh, s**t, I almost got a hernia…and this guy picks it up like it was a feather! It was the heaviest damn thing I ever felt in my life!”  Wesson said the incident taught him to rehearse well in advance any future stunts LaBonge proposed.

But Wesson said he also got the better of LaBonge on at least a couple of occasions.  For example, when Wesson became president of the city council, he said LaBonge grabbed him by the forearm and said, “Be sure you put me in a good place.”  “So I made him Assistant President Pro Tempore.”  But then,  “One day he calls me up and said, “Herb, I just figured out why you gave me this job. You gave me this so I couldn’t talk!”

Also, Wesson noted that when evening council meetings were first televised on channel 35, the council members needed to sit in assigned seats, so the cameras could find them easily.  But LaBonge was notorious for sitting in other people’s chairs…until Wesson finally said, “I will not recognize you until you put your butt in that chair.  I broke him of that!”

Wesson also has keen memories of LaBonge’s sartorial style.  “He was the one council member whose ties were uglier than Paul Koretz’s, and that’s saything something,” Wesson said, laughing. “I’d say, Tom, that tie is just hideous!  Once I threatened to cut one.”

And, like countless others, Wesson was also a many-time recipient of LaBonge’s famous pumpkin-bread giveaways.  In fact, Wesson said that when he was first elected to the City Council, in 2005, LaBonge gave him a loaf of pumpkin bread.  And “I don’t know how many loaves he gave me over the years.” But  for some reason, Wesson said, he never actually ate any of the bread.  Until “the last loaf he gave me, I took it home…and it was really good!”

In short, Wesson said, LaBonge was simply “One of the best guys I ever met in my life.  I’m blessed to ever have known him.  He like to sing.  He couldn’t sing.  He liked to dance.  He couldn’t dance. He was a force of nature.  Some guys are just there like the furniture.  But not Tom.  Not Tom.”


Public Statements from Other Council Colleagues


Paul Koretz – City Council Member District 5

Photo from Paul Koretz’ public statement on Tom LaBonge’s passing.

Los Angeles has lost two of its greatest goodwill ambassadors within 24 hours who, coincidentally, had LA in their hearts and in the center of their names – Dodgers hall of fame baseball manager Tommy Lasorda and my dear friend Tom LaBonge, former Los Angeles City Councilmember. Their loss is being mourned citywide.

My friend Tom LaBonge was not only a councilmember, he was the ultimate goodwill ambassador and informal Los Angeles historian. A ball of energy, he was a super-nice guy who would give walking tours of historic City Hall to random visitors he would meet. He paid attention to great detail and remembered every councilmember’s high school (including their mascot.) He was the role model for how to provide amazing constituent services. He loved everything about Los Angeles, from Griffith Park to our historic eateries and hang-outs such as Pink’s and Musso & Frank. But more than that, Councilmember LaBonge was a man who recognized every human being and exuberantly loved people. He had a knack for making them feel appreciated. I can’t imagine the City of Los Angeles without him. My staff and I are so deeply sorry and send condolences to his family Brigid, his wife of 41 years, his son Charles, and his daughter Mary Cate, friends and the entire City of Los Angeles.

Both Tom and Tommy were the City’s ultimate cheerleaders, and I was thrilled to share time with both greats at City Hall when I hosted a birthday celebration for Lasorda’s 90th. At least Tommy Lasorda lived to see the Dodgers win the series again after he led them to the World Championship twice in the 1980s. I can imagine them having a ball playing catch in the Dodger blue sky.


Mark Ridley-Thomas – City Council Member – District 10

Photo from Mark Ridley-Thomas’ public statement on Tom LaBonge’s passing.

Tom’s passing is sad and unfortunate news. I’ve had the good fortune to know him for more than 40 years beginning as appointees to the late Mayor Tom Bradley’s Youth Advisory Commission (1975). His commitment to community and his investment in the City of Los Angeles is unmatched. His nickname as “Mr. Los Angeles” was well earned. Not only did we serve together on the City Council, but we also worked together as colleagues on the Coliseum Commission. At this moment, I most of all want to think about Tom’s family, and I join in sending my deepest sympathies to a life well lived.


Mitch O’Farrell – City Council Member – District 13

Photo from Mitch O’Farrell’s public statement on the death of Tom LaBonge.


No one loved Los Angeles more than Tom and we loved him back. No one knew more about the workings and history of our city, its people, and its institutions. Last night we lost a force of nature and goodness. Tom was the ultimate ambassador for Los Angeles where he brought into sharp focus his zest for life, his tireless pursuit of service, and his firm belief that anything was possible. Our city was what he dedicated his life to and for that I will be eternally grateful. Thank you Brigid, Charles, and Mary Cate for sharing him with us all these years. Today the Angels exalt with joy as they welcome him in Heaven.



UPDATE:  For even more, and more personal, remembrances from these and other current City Council Members, see the video from the Tuesday, January 12, city council meeting, when each member present spoke movingly and at length about their former colleague LaBonge.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Latest Articles

.printfriendly { padding: 0 0 60px 50px; }