LOS ANGELES — When Tom Bradley gave up his Los Angeles City Council seat in 1973 to run for mayor, the person he backed to replace him in the 10th District Council seat was David Cunningham Jr.
The gamble worked out for both men. Bradley became the city’s first African American mayor and Cunningham replaced Bradley on the City Council, serving until 1986.
Cunningham died Nov. 15 at the age of 82.
“He was a good guy, and it is a big loss,” City Council President Herb Wesson, who now represents the 10th District, told City News Service. “He was one of the special ones.”
A stern advocate for social justice, Cunningham left a long trail behind him that displayed his leadership in the city, including pushing for affordable housing for low- and moderate-income individuals and families. A champion for equality, Cunningham once led the charge for the city to shut off money going into the Los Angeles Unified School District because of segregation.
A proponent for the environment, Cunningham was a leader in the fight for cleaner air and pushed to keep oil drilling off of the Santa Monica coast. He also was a giant on the City Council.
Perhaps his biggest victory was securing millions of dollars in housing grant monies through the Grants, Housing and Community Development Committee, which Cunningham was in charge of. From 1973 until he resigned his seat in 1986 to join a securities firm, Cunningham was a force to be reckoned with on the Los Angeles City Council.
“Dave Cunningham served his community with passion and dedication — and never lost sight of why the people of the 10th District elected him to succeed Tom Bradley, and sent him to City Hall to represent them for more than a decade: to keep up the fight for equal justice, equal access, and equality in services,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement. “His strong advocacy made history in our city, and my thoughts today are with the council member’s family and all who loved and admired him.”
“Los Angeles has lot a great leader,” U.S. Rep. Karen Bass said. “I’m saddened by the passing of Mr. David Cunningham, a champion for accessible, affordable housing and a true community leader. My thoughts are with Mr. Cunningham son, my friend Judge David S. Cunningham III, and the rest of Mr. Cunningham’s loving family and friends. The guidance and community wisdom will surely be missed by not only myself, but also those fortunate enough to cross paths with Dave on his journey.”
Wesson said Cunningham was a close ally of Bradley’s during his time on the council.
“During Bradley’s day you saw downtown grow, you saw the beginning conversations on some kind of a train system in L.A., and so Dave was part of all of that,” Wesson said.
“Mayor Bradley was I want to say the second African-American mayor elected to a major city and a very good one, and David was a very, very strong ally.”
Cunningham later worked as a consultant and lobbyist through his firm, Dave Cunningham & Associates, Wesson said.
“He also always made time to work with and advise nonprofit organizations and organizations that had like zero money. He was a soft touch for that depending on the cause,” Wesson said. “You know, once a public
servant always a public servant.”
His son, also named David, followed Cunningham into the public spotlight, serving on the Los Angeles Police Commission at one time and now serving as a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.
Funeral services were held Nov. 20 at First African Methodist Episcopal Church.
City News Service contributed to this story.