NORWALK — With his long career as an elected official winding down this year, Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe did not discuss political issues but answered questions regarding his 36 years in public office at a luncheon of the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce April 8 at the Arts and Sports Complex here.
Knabe was elected to the Cerritos City Council in 1980 and to the county Board of Supervisors in 1996, representing the Fourth Supervisorial District stretching from Diamond Bar on the east, making a “U” across southeast area cities all the way to the Pacific Ocean and out to Catalina Island.
“I credit my father for my work ethic,” Knabe said. “He was an engineer. Our home [in Lemoni, Iowa], always had a drawing board in the basement.”
Knabe responded to questions from the audience that were collected and posed by Chamber President Julie Emerson.
Of his favorite pastime, Knabe said, “my heart has always been in music. I even like rock and roll. I wanted to be a disc jockey. I still enjoy music.”
Politically, Knabe said he learned much from former Gov. George Deukmejian.
“He was a little more conservative than I, but he was dedicated to the people,” Knabe said. “He and I worked together with many legislative leaders, such as Willie Brown.”
He said he gained much satisfaction from a job program for youths worked out with Deukmejian in the west part of his district.
“Our program taught life skills. We had a 98 percent job placement,” he recalled
To another question, he said, “My motto has always been to do the right thing for the right reasons. Be true to yourself. I kept my word.”
He said is most challenging time as an elected official came in September 1986 when he was the mayor of Cerrritos.
Two planes crashed in the skies above the city, with both planes falling to the ground in a residential neighborhood killing 82 people, including 15 people on the ground, and demolishing several homes.
“I was mayor at the time,” Knabe said. “There was no established guidelines for handling something like that and what came out of it. It was a life-changing experience.”
Asked what he planned to do with his free time after he leaves office, Knabe said with a laugh, “whatever the hell I want to.”
He continued: “I am keeping my options open. I have had several job offers but I don’t want to work full time,” adding he would spend more time with his family and that he and his wife Jule may travel.
They have been married for 48 years, have two married sons and four grandchildren.
Knabe voiced concern about politics and public service in today’s world, saying the current political climate was turning off some of the good office holders and public administrators of today.
“We are losing a generation,” he said. “I want to encourage good candidates and administrators to serve the public.”
Although the subjects never came up, Knabe has been a leader in efforts to halt child prostitution and established the Safe Surrender Program where unwanted newborn babies could be turned over to officials at any hospital or fire station with no questions asked if the infant showed no signs of abuse. More than 140 infants have been saved since the program started, Knabe said.
He received praise from Norwalk Mayor Mike Mendez, who noted Knabe’s efforts to share grant funds among Norwalk and other cities in the county.
“You are the greatest supervisor L.A. County has ever had,” agreed Norwalk City Councilman Luigi Vernola.
Knabe also received congressional level-praise from Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Cerritos, who said, “you are my favorite supervisor. Working with you has been one hell of a ride.”
Concerning local representation, Knabe said, “you cannot forget where you come from. You have to know who you represent.”
His parting message was, “Be true to yourself. Remember who you are.”