Editor’s Note: I had the pleasure of meeting Tom LaBonge for the first time at a reception given at the home of J. Russell Brown in the Hollywood Hills in August 2003. The popular Los Angeles councilmember was speaking at Brown’s restored landmark Villa Manola designed by Paul R. Williams. As LaBonge addressed a large audience of about 300 Hollywood personalities in the home’s elegant courtyard. I was impressed by the number he seemed to know on a first name basis, acknowledging the contributions that each made to the community. It was the influence of that evening, and the relationship that I developed with Russ Brown that sparked my personal involvement in community activism, running for (and being elected to) the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council in September 2003, founding the Silver Lake Beautification Committee in 2003, and serving as SLNC Vice Chair in 2004. Ultimately, that led to the establishment of my community website, The Silver Lake News and serving as Silver Lake Correspondent for the Los Feliz Ledger. That is my personal testimony how a single event or meeting one person can ultimately change the direction of your life.
The story of Tom LaBonge’s life might start off being entitled, Local Boy Makes Good! as Tom began life right here in the neighborhood, born at the old Queen of Angels Hospital overlooking the Hollywood Freeway (now the Dreamcenter) on October 6, 1953. He was seventh in a lineup of eight boys born to and Robert and Mary Louise Learnihan LaBonge. Tom attended local public schools including Ivanhoe Elementary, Thomas Starr King Middle School before graduating from John Marshall High School in 1971, where he was a standout football player and captain of the team. He would later play for Los Angeles City College and Cal Poly Pomona. His enthusiasm for his hometown was sparked as a teenager when he had the opportunity to serve on Mayor Tom Bradley’s Youth Council. He would later reflect how good it felt, helping someone out. I just new from the very beginning that this was going to be my life’s work-serving the people of Los Angeles any way I could..
After graduating from Cal State LA, he joined the staff of Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson, in 1976, and in 1978 joined Council President John Ferraro’s staff. With Ferraro as mentor, LaBonge learned the complexities of civil service, serving as Chief Field Deputy for 15 years, before being asked to join Mayor Richard Riordan as Special Assistant. After serving the mayor�s office for seven years, he was named Director of Community Relations for the L.A. Department of Water and Power. His record of service within the city council, the mayor’s office and the DWP were exemplary, as evidenced by the many projects he spearheaded and a commitment to getting the job done. He was first elected to the Los Angeles City Council in October 2001, completing the term of John Ferraro, who passed away on April 17, 2001. He was reelected by an overwhelming majority in 2003, and ran unopposed in 2007. He is one of the most popular political figures in Los Angeles with a special, ennobling gift of seeing the importance of every person. It is not unusual to see LaBonge assisting a street maintenance crew with shovel in hand, clearing a mudslide, or stopping by a senior citizen’s meeting to listen and act on a stakeholder’s concern. Even with a non-stop schedule, he seems to find the time to drop by a block party or a neighborhood get-together. Many of us feel lucky to know him personally. His love for the big park in our backyard (Griffith Park) is another reason people are drawn to the man. His stewardship and enthusiasm is evidenced by the frequent community hikes and potlucks he leads into the park, and his response to the devastating fire of May 2007, in which over 800 acres of the historic park were burned.
He is also very much involved in the Los Angeles River Master Plan and envisions the river as one of our greatest undeveloped recreational resources in a city starved for parkland. “My love for Los Angeles knows no limits and I strive each day to be the most responsible and responsive representative at City Hall helping to develop and execute initiatives that will maintain, enhance and beautify our unique communities- both for the 4th District as well as the city at large” he said.
Tom is married to Brigid Manning LaBonge. They live with their two children, Mary-Catherine and Charles in Silver Lake, only a few blocks away from his childhood home. In 2015 LaBonge retired from the Los Angeles City Council due to term limits; in all, he served the city for 39.6 years, fourteen on the city council.