LOS ANGELES — County Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe, who together have more than 55 years of service on the Board of Supervisors, attended their last county board meeting Nov. 29.
Colleagues and constituents praised the accomplishments of both men, while Knabe and Antonovich each tried and failed at times to hold back tears.
“They’re both legends,” Supervisor Hilda Solis said. “They have forever changed the landscape of their districts, Los Angeles County and the lives of their constituents.”
Antonovich and Knabe are registered Republicans and widely viewed as the most conservative members of the five-member board. But those who worked with them stressed the nonpartisan nature of county service and noted successes that defied political labels.
Antonovich, who has served on the board since 1980, was recognized for fighting on behalf of Porter Ranch residents displaced by the Aliso Canyon gas leak, a battle that will continue beyond his tenure with a civil lawsuit against Southern California Gas Co.
The Fifth District supervisor has also added thousands of acres of open space to protected lands.
Though Antonovich is known as a law-and-order politician, a farewell video highlighted his compassion and work as a fervent champion of foster children and homeless animals.
“Foster children need help, need a direction,” Antonovich said in the video, urging private sector players to offer opportunities for children aging out of foster care.
“This man has a big heart,” Solis said, calling Antonovich “the dean of the board” and adding that she identified with his tenacity in “fighting on behalf of the underdog.”
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said when he joined the board he had been warned he would never get along with Antonovich, “a caricature of the right wing” just as Ridley-Thomas was “a caricature of the left wing.”
But Ridley-Thomas said the two had “gotten along famously” and Antonovich always had his back “when it came down to issues that matter the most.”
When Antonovich said his goodbyes, he choked up when thanking “my good brother Mark.”
Knabe, who has served since 1996, was honored as a champion of the Safe Surrender program for unwanted newborns and combating child sex trafficking, an issue he said was the most shocking of his tenure.
One young woman, a survivor of the streets who now has a daughter on her way to Harvard, said of Knabe, “He changed the way I view politicians … the things that government can do.”
Ridley-Thomas said inroads made against child sex trafficking and the success of the Safe Surrender program — which began with Knabe reading the story of a baby thrown in a dumpster and has taken in 149 newborns since 2001 — were synonymous with Knabe.
A video created by staffers also highlighted Knabe’s success in saving Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitative medicine, which now boasts the Don Knabe Wellness Center.
The post of Los Angeles County supervisor is “one of the best political jobs in America,” Knabe said in the video, later adding, “I think the thing that I’ll miss the most is being able to pick up the phone and make a difference.”
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said that when Knabe identified a problem, he marshaled all his clout and resources behind a solution.
“One of the things that I love about Don is that he’s a softie inside,” Kuehl said. “But the bigger truth about him … is that he’s really a protector.”
Kuehl also hailed Knabe’s work with her on coastline issues, saying he focused beyond the needs of his own Fourth District.
Both men received standing ovations from the crowd assembled in the board room.
Antonovich said he was confident about the state of the county.
“We have a balanced budget. We have a credit rating higher than the state of California,” Antonovich said, before making a pitch to leave the structure of the board alone. “Five people can represent an area, with a good staff, and come to reasonable decisions. And we have a proven track record.”
Knabe quoted legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, saying, “You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you,” adding, “That’s county government.”
Then Knabe joked about Ridley-Thomas’ role as the only man on the board once Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger are sworn in as supervisors next week.
“I hope you grew up with a lot of sisters,” Knabe said, laughing. “You’ve got some work ahead of you.”