AV Press: Deja vu all over again for Mike
By: Dennis Anderson
LOS ANGELES – It may have been Sister St. George – the Catholic nun who is aunt to County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich – who put it best, taking her cue from the wonderful crushed phrases of legendary ballplayer and coach Yogi Berra.
Paraphrasing Berra, she said, “It was deja vu all over again … nine times all over again.”
Antonovich, who has served as county supervisor to millions of people during a span that began in 1980, was sworn in Monday at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration before a nearly packed chamber of hundreds of friends, supporters and well-wishers.
Sister St. George Skurla, his aunt, put it succinctly: “He must be doing something right.”
Among the notables who supported that assessment for Los Angeles County’s longest-serving supervisor were Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, who leads the Los Angeles Archdiocese and gave the invocation.
Also there to help out was former President Ronald Reagan’s eldest son, conservative commentator Michael Reagan, who gave the Pledge of Allegiance. Also in the honors department was retired California Supreme Court Justice John A. Arguelles, who administered the oath.
The master of ceremonies was Antonovich family friend George Cheung, a Hollywood actor-producer, a career “heavy” character player who has grimaced at audiences in dozens of films and TV episodes including “Rambo: First Blood Part II” and “Walker: Texas Ranger.”
“Celebrities in Hollywood have the illusion of how great and grand we are,” Cheung said. “It is an illusion. It is public service is where the real heroes are.”
Archbishop Gomez, leader of the largest archdiocese in the nation and lead clergyman to more than 5 million Catholics, asserted that Antonovich, 32 years in the supervisor’s chair, has a profound understanding of his mission.
Gomez said Antonovich understands “the basic truth, that we are all under a higher authority and that government exists to serve the dignity of man.”
It was Antonovich’s aunt, Sister St. George, wearing the nun’s traditional habit, who the supervisor asked to make a few remarks.
Humorously, she said she didn’t think people wanted to listen to “the natterings of an old lady.”
More seriously, she recalled that Antonovich began his career as a history and government teacher, and that her nephew understood “the most enlightened and ethical public official cannot succeed without an enlightened electorate, dedicated to the common good.”
She then said to the audience, “I have a homework assignment for you. Go read the Declaration of Independence, and our Constitution again.”
In taking the oath, Antonovich, who is 73, was joined by his son, Michael Jr., 13, and daughter, Mary Christine, 12. His wife, Christine, a former Mandarin actress and film star, was still flying in, on return from a trip to Beijing.
The supervisor said his son and daughter hated to be taken out of class and some tests Monday, but that they would find a way to make do.
After prayers, the Pledge to the flag, and administration of the oath, the nephew who was the subject of the ceremony noted that his aunt, Sister St. George, “was the smartest one in the family,” and that she also taught history at St. Mary’s College.
The well-wishers came from across the far-flung 5th Supervisorial District. The district includes Pasadena and the Antelope Valley, Santa Clarita, San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys, a district with about 2 million people living in 2,838 square miles.
A contingent of Antelope Valley supporters drove the 65 miles to downtown Los Angeles, including Judy Cooperberg from Mental Health America of the Antelope Valley; Lena Grand-Weber from Lancaster Rotary West, and Ann Hill from the Antelope Valley Chambers of Commerce. Also attending were Antonovich’s longtime Antelope Valley aide, Pat Russell; his current field deputy, Norm Hickling; Marta Brown from the AV chapter of the Building Industry Association; and Dixie Eliopoulos, whose family has played host to the Antonovich barbecue and birthday fest for three decades.
“I think he is representative of the kind of moral fiber we need,” Eliopoulos said.
Cooperberg lauded the supervisor’s championing of safety and services for at-risk young people, the homeless and mentally ill. Although he is a conservative Republican, Antonovich during his long tenure in the nonpartisan office has rallied support across the political spectrum.
Antonovich spent a few moments after the swearing-in contemplating aloud what, by law, may well turn out to be his final term on the board.
He recalled that when he was first elected in 1980, gas cost $1.27 a gallon, and that local representation for the Antelope Valley at county level consisted of a telephone answering machine.
That, he said, was the way of it when former newscaster Baxter Ward, his predecessor, supervised the 5th District. The district is larger in area than all four other supervisorial districts of Los Angeles County.
Ward, he said, was “AWOL” (absent without official leave) on a number of issues, ranging from failing to restore the earthquake-shattered Olive View Medical Center, to leaving constituent service in the Antelope Valley to an answering machine.
“We did rebuild Olive View Hospital and we did recruit a full-time staff from the community in the Antelope Valley,” Antonovich said.
Other achievements the supervisor cited included: formation of town councils for unincorporated communities, beginning in the Antelope Valley; establishment of the L.A. County code restaurant rating system, which the County Health Department credited for reducing ptomaine poisoning cases in the county by 70%; telephone call box service on the Antelope Valley 14 Freeway for stranded motorists; new fire stations and sheriff’s stations and the Antelope Valley courthouse, named for the supervisor; establishment of Metrolink rail service by the Metropolitan Transit Authority; the High Desert Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center in Lancaster, improvements for the Antelope Valley Freeway and state Highway 138, a planned “high desert corridor.”
In the immediate future, Antonovich said Los Angeles County, and its Sheriff’s Department, still need to come to grips with the so-called prison “re-alignment” program.
The program, he said, has brought 12,000 convicted felons into the county, of whom nearly 2,000 have already been re-arrested. The county jail system, he said, is holding felons sentenced originally from 16 to 42 years in facilities that never were designed for prisoners over the long term.
One of the most important projects, he said, is to improve the rail bed for the Metrolink trains that travel from the Antelope Valley to downtown Los Angeles, extending the line to San Diego, a $9 billion project scheduled to begin in 2013 that will greatly cut commute time to-and-from downtown.
“We haven’t accomplished everything, but we’ve made some progress,” the supervisor said.
In the Hall of Administration, several hundred well-wishers traveled in from the Antelope, Santa Clarita, San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys, covering a wide spread of ethnicities, social interest and faith groups.
“It’s heartening,” Antonovich said. “It’s heartening to see the diversity of our district, and all the people coming from the four corners.”