The call to lead
Candidates Kennedy, Trone and Benson explain why they would best replace former Councilman Chris Holden
By André Coleman 01/23/2013
‘The council itch’
When Pasadena resident Michael Kennedy found out that then-District 3 City Councilman Chris Holden was not running for re-election so he could run for the state Assembly, he implored his younger brother, John, to run. But John wouldn’t hear of it.
After more prodding from his brother, however, along with further encouragement from his sister, Lena, a major Democratic Party fundraiser and a friend of Michelle Obama, John began to reconsider. It was in May, shortly after Michael died following a brief illness at 59, that John decided he would run.
“I kept fighting it,” Kennedy told the Weekly. “I thought I had gotten rid of the council itch.” But, he said, “If I am going to do it, I am going to do it now. What [Michael] thought and the other people who came to me and asked me to run thought was that leadership I have previously displayed would be good for the council.”
John Kennedy, 52, is no stranger to local politics. At 25, he became the youngest president of the Pasadena NAACP in 1987. During that time, he worked as a consultant for several city departments, including the Pasadena Police Department, the Department of Water and Power and the City Attorney’s Office.
Kennedy, who now serves as a senior vice president with the Los Angeles Urban League, is endorsed by an impressive array of local leaders, past and present, that includes: Pasadena Unified School Board President Renatta Cooper; former Pasadena City College Trustee Jeanette Mann; former teacher and past NAACP President Delano Yarbrough; Randy Ertll, head of El Centro de Accion Social; and longtime community activist Dolores Hickambottom.
Kennedy’s life of public service, however, has seen its share of controversy.
On Aug. 30, 1993, he was arrested and charged with felony assault with a firearm after shooting then 20-year old Jonathan Thomas, a man whom Kennedy had been mentoring from the time Thomas was 15, in the stomach with a .22 caliber pistol. Kennedy was later acquitted.
Kennedy will talk about the case, but it’s clear he doesn’t like doing so. He doesn’t mention Thomas by name, saying the whole thing was 20 years ago. Nevertheless, he explained in a recent interview that “someone had a gun and they were attempting to make it safe and it had some issues. I took him to the hospital immediately and he recovered. There was no intent to harm him.”
In 1995, Kennedy left Pasadena for Richmond, Va., where he became deputy police chief under former Pasadena Police Chief Jerry Oliver, who had just taken over as head of the Virginia law enforcement agency.
In Kennedy’s opinion, the biggest issues facing District 3 include public safety. He favors the purchase of stealth helicopters to help protect neighbors and reduce noise. He also supports placing more police officers in local schools “to identify young people who are going in the wrong direction and help move them back to the right direction,” he said.
Kennedy also favors using the Rose Bowl, but only if it benefits the city. “I favor use in the context that we have a community agreement, a binding agreement, which says if there is additional use the city and the residents who live here benefit,” Kennedy said.
‘It’s for everybody’
In 1967, Ishmael Trone’s mother, Madelyn, packed her seven kids into the family’s Chevrolet and left Alabama for Pasadena. A year later, she married a local barber and opened F&M Bail Bonds on Orange Grove Boulevard and Summit Avenue — one of the first bail bonds companies in Pasadena, located in one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods.
As Trone grew up working in the family business, he couldn’t help but be affected by the violence and drug use occurring in the neighborhood. Those dangers became all too real, as four of his siblings died after getting hooked on drugs.
“As a young person, I could see depravity in that neighborhood, and I didn’t see anyone doing anything about it,” said Trone, 52. “At that point, I told myself I was going to dedicate a great deal of my life to improving the quality of life in the neighborhood.”
And Trone did just that, chairing the Fair Oaks Project Area Committee, and serving as vice-chair of the Community Development Committee and as a member of the Rose Bowl Renovation Local Hiring Committee. He has also worked to renovate local parks.
Trone also runs a summer internship program, which places local students with businesses across the region, including the Los Angeles Sparks pro women’s basketball team.
Father to two daughters, 20-year-old Rhiana and Naomi, 16, Trone readily admitted he was once fined in 1997 for taking a gun into an airport. He said he bought the weapon after his parents were robbed at gunpoint several times.
He, too, believes public safety is a major issue, along with affordable housing, transportation, relations with police, gang violence and local hiring.
“There is a perception out there that local hiring is only for African Americans. It’s for everybody. What we have to do is go to the first source local hiring ordinance and give it more substance. If you are going to build in Pasadena and develop, you should be prepared to hire people living in Pasadena.”
Also like Kennedy, Trone, who has Holden’s support in the election, favors using the Rose Bowl to its maximum benefit, including allowing an NFL team to play there on a temporary basis while a permanent football stadium is built in either downtown Los Angeles or City of Industry.
Regarding the gun incident, Trone called it a “mental error.”
“I had a gun in my attaché case for protection because of my business, and I was late for a flight and forgot to remove it,” he said. “It was a misdemeanor, and I was fined.”
The Rev. Dr. Nicholas Benson
The Rev. Dr. Nicholas Benson doesn’t like what he sees when he travels into Old Pasadena.
“When you go beneath Walnut [Street] or Colorado [Boulevard], it’s like going into another city,” Benson said of the economic disparities he sees between his neighborhood, located just a few miles north of one of the trendiest dining and shopping destinations in the country, and the much more affluent southern portion of the city.
“We need to come together and put resources in all parts of the city,” he said.
Born in Zimbabwe, Benson, 56, grew up there and in South Africa. He and his wife, Yvette, have been living in Pasadena for the past 30 years.
Their two adult children, Norman, 32, and 29-year-old Tandy, still live in the district, and the couple has two children living at home — Joshua, 15, and Caleb, 11.
Benson has been doing his part to bring people together since becoming the senior pastor of the Summit Evangelical Free Church of Pasadena in 2005. Four years ago, he was named president of the Ministerial Association of Pasadena and Altadena.
“Pasadena does not need politics,” Benson said. “What we need is leadership that can get people engaged to work together.”
Benson, too, recognizes the need to create jobs and more affordable housing while stopping the gang violence that permeates neighborhoods throughout the district. He also supports a more expansive use of the Rose Bowl as a way of generating jobs for unemployed people in the area.
“I am running because I feel Northwest Pasadena needs a lot of help. It’s where I live. Because of that, I can’t just sit back and look at what’s going on without being involved. I’ve got to be involved. I’m running because I feel I have capabilities and leadership. That’s what we really need in Pasadena,” he said.
“The problems we have cannot be resolved by anyone from the outside,” he continued. “The neighborhood needs to come to a place where it says enough is enough. I can bring people together and will say let’s solve it.”
Although his two opponents have gun-related incidents in their pasts, Benson chooses not to focus on that.
“The guys who are running are good men. I don’t want to get into it, because I understand they have dealt with it. What I am concerned about is solving problems in Northwest Pasadena,” he said. “I am not perfect. I am living by the grace of God.”