SANTA MONICA — Hundreds of friends, dignitaries and elected officials packed a Santa Monica church April 5 to celebrate the life of former Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, hailing him as a public servant with a zest for life and an open door to the rich and poor alike.
Rosendahl died March 30 at age 70 after a four-year battle with cancer.
City Councilman Mike Bonin, who served as Rosendahl’s chief of staff and ultimately succeeded him representing the 11th District, asked attendees at St. Monica’s Church to pray for Rosendahl, “a cherished friend and exemplary public servant, beloved partner, a brother, an uncle, a mentor, a colleague, a boss, a role-model and an inspiration.”
Former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who delivered the eulogy, invoked one of Rosendahl’s favorite catch-phrases in describing his former colleague.
“Billy was great, great, great, great, great, great, great!” he said, prompting applause from mourners.
Villaraigosa said Rosendahl had an “unbridled enthusiasm for life” and was the type of man who welcomed people of all backgrounds into his home.
“You could go to Billy’s house and see a billionaire and a homeless person there, and Billy holding court,” he said.
Rosendahl once also “found a place to live” for Zuma Dogg, a well-known City Hall gadfly, Villaraigosa said.
“Zuma Dogg would beat us all up, he certainly beat me up!” he said.
“He would beat Billy up from time to time. But that was Billy. He was a man [who] embraced love and embraced people. He was someone committed to working for the homeless, someone who understood that to whom much is given, much is expected.”
One of Rosendahl’s legacies was in bringing the “safe parking concept to Los Angeles,” which would have allowed those who are homeless to park and live in their vehicles in a lot overnight, Villaraigosa said.
He said the idea was “foiled by petty politics and bureaucracy,” but there is now another chance to implement this idea under Rosendahl’s successor, Bonin.
“We owe it to Bill’s legacy to make it happen this time,” Villaraigosa said.
Villaraigosa also hailed Rosendahl for his ability to be civil, even in the midst of political debate.
“Even when we argued he made sure we did it with civility and respect,” he said. “It was never personal for Billy. And in this political season when too much is personal, not enough of our debate is civil, we should think about Billy. He made me proud and I know he made you proud to have him as a colleague.”
Rosendahl, a former cable television executive and public affairs broadcaster, served on the council from 2005 to 2013, when he retired to fight stage-four cancer. Toward the end of his tenure in office, Rosendahl was an ardent supporter of medical marijuana, which he used to fight the side effects of his cancer treatments.
He was often referred to as the “conscience of the City Council.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti, who could not attend the Catholic mass service because he was traveling back from a trip to Washington, D.C., is expected to speak at another event honoring Rosendahl, a celebration of Life,” which is set for 2 p.m. April 16 at Mar Vista Park.
The public is welcome to RSVP for the service and make donations to three organizations in lieu of flowers at http://www.11thdistrict.com.
“The organizations, which serve the homeless, are Safe Place for Youth, New Directions for Veterans and the Jeff Griffith Youth Center at the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center.
In July 2012, after collapsing suddenly, Rosendahl was diagnosed with cancer of the ureter, a tube that connects the kidney to the bladder. He was told he did not have long to live.
He said that for several months, he would suffer from delirium and underwent numerous chemotherapy treatments, which reduced him from a hale 225 pounds to 170.
It was only after his doctor suggested he use marijuana to help him ease the pain and get more sleep that he began to recover. The extra rest helped save his life, Rosendahl said in 2013.
He resumed his City Council duties in September 2012, throwing himself into getting a medical marijuana law passed and becoming the only council member to oppose a plan to expand an LAX runway closer to some of his constituents. In April 2013, Rosendahl announced he was in remission.
“The amount of love I’ve gotten has been phenomenal,” he told his colleagues on his first day back from medical leave. “People have brought food to the house. People have prayed with me, people have sung with me. They put all kinds of positive energy toward me.”
Rosendahl was at one time a vice president of communications company Adelphia and arrived on the council to represent the 11th Council District in 2005 after years as a cable channel host covering public affairs. Prior to that, he worked on presidential campaigns for Robert Kennedy, Fred Harris and George McGovern.
Rosendahl ran for office as openly gay, which was something that had never been done before. Two previous council members, Jackie Goldberg and Joel Wachs, came out after they were elected.
Rosendahl came out as gay in 1995 when his partner, Christopher Lee Blauman, died of complications of AIDS.
Rosendahl is survived by his partner, Hedi El-Kholti; brother Thomas and sister-in-law Sheila, and their sons, Robbie-Paul, Ricky-Luke and Arthur; brother Steven; sister Mary LeMothe; sister Helen Davoren; and nephew Christopher.