Ernani Bernardi, RIP

For a notorious scold, Ernani Bernardi was such a nice, cheerful guy. Former Supervisor Ed Edelman and I were waiting to tape an editorial rebuttal at KNXT. Bernardi was there for the same reason; he was a walking rebuttal. Anyway, while Ed was getting made up, Bernardi regaled me with stories of playing with the big bands on the same soundstage, and using the same makeup rooms. I did not realize until today how distinguished was his jazz career. He arranged “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” for Tommy Dorsey? That’s a classic recording.

He was such a contrarian, opportunities to work with him were rare. I wonder how many people in City Hall really got to know him. He was feared. Anyone in City Hall who wanted to spend money on a project, however worthy, hoped Bernardi would not notice. If he noticed, he might call it as a special. And if he called it as a special, he could kill it.

In today’s Times obituary, Bernardi is quoted as saying:

“I think I can take credit for the council questioning things,” he once said. “When I joined the council in 1961, things were pretty routine. Council meetings lasted for only about 20 minutes. Things passed without question.”

All true, but that didn’t entirely thrill his fellow councilmembers. They impatiently endured the hectoring from every-meeting gadflies like Leonard Shapiro. Bernardi would hang out with them, call on them, and got some of his ideas from them. As the discussion on a matter proceeded at great length, the late City Council President John Ferraro would look around the horseshoe, hoping no one else wanted to talk. On would go Bernardi’s light. I can still hear Ferraro’s doomed sigh: “Mister Bernardi…”

When the National Football League finally comes to realize LA won’t put a dime of taxpayers’ money into building a stadium for one of their fatcat owners, Ernani Bernardi will smile, wherever he is.

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