Ernani (Noni)'s Top Matches
About Ernani (Noni) Bernardi
From the Los Angeles Times
Political Maverick Ernani Bernardi Dies at 94
By Patrick McGreevy
Times Staff Writer
2:58 PM PST, January 5, 2006
Ernani Bernardi, a maverick politician known for battling government waste, hamstringing the city's controversial redevelopment agency and writing some of Los Angeles' landmark political reform laws during his 32 years on the City Council, died Wednesday. He was 94.
Bernardi died at his home in Van Nuys, according to his wife of four years, Eve Troutman Bernardi.
The onetime big band saxophonist retired from the council in July 1993 after serving eight terms — the second longest tenure after former council President John Ferraro's 35 years in office. Bernardi quit after making an unsuccessful run for mayor at age 81.
Bernardi, who represented an east San Fernando Valley district with fierce independence, was widely regarded as the naysayer of City Hall because of his predictable curmudgeonly "no" votes against projects he considered wasteful, tinged with political cronyism, or overly bureaucratic.
He was called the conscience of the council, raising questions that other members did not want to hear.
"He probably saved the city millions of dollars over the years with his questioning," the late City Council President John S. Gibson Jr. once said. "He has stopped the council from voting on issues it would have otherwise voted on without searching very deeply."
Bernardi, short, bald and bespectacled with a puckish sense of humor, relished his role as the maverick.
"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."
He was a contrary and unpredictable loner, one given to berating his colleagues in public and unwilling to cut political deals — and consequently was rarely a political force. Nonetheless, he had his share of victories.
He wrote a 1985 voter-approved law limiting campaign contributions in city races.
After working unsuccessfully for a decade to persuade his colleagues to adopt curbs on the flow of money from special interests into campaign coffers, Bernardi joined forces with the League of Women Voters and a rag-tag group of mostly retirees from his district. They gathered 128,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot. It was approved overwhelmingly.
But when even tougher restrictions on campaign financing were adopted by the voters a few years later, Bernardi sued unsuccessfully to block the measures because they included public financing of campaigns, which he opposed.
Bernardi also led successful campaigns to limit city pensions and wages.
Along with former Councilman Joel Wachs, he championed the city's rent control law. Bernardi also sponsored the first law of its kind in a big city requiring City Hall lobbyists to disclose their activities; a 1973 "truth in real estate" law requiring sellers of property to disclose liens and zoning restrictions on property and a 1974 ordinance requiring developers of five or more units to set aside 15% of those units for low-and moderate-income families.
As the council's leading critic of the Community Redevelopment Agency, he successfully sued to place a cap on spending for downtown renewal.
He was not without critics. A union leader once said: "He can sometimes be a shrill, cantankerous little guy . . . a knee-jerk negative vote for no good reason at all."
Bernardi once cast the only vote against a lighthearted proposal to allow reindeer-drawn sleighs to land on rooftops. "I don't think we ought to play jokes with ordinances," he harrumphed.
But this was the same compassionate man who one Christmas unlocked the City Hall kitchen to personally cook beans for the homeless.
He also was the only councilman to vote against a plan to increase security at City Hall, including the installation of "electronic surveillance equipment" in halls. "I just resent the fact that we have to lock ourselves in."
In the spring of 1989, Bernardi survived the toughest challenge of his political career to win reelection to his northeast San Fernando Valley's 7th District.
After being put in a largely new, heavily Latino district by the 1986 council reapportionment, he was forced into a runoff against Lyle Hall, a former firefighters union president. Even after state Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Brown stumped for Hall, Bernardi survived the battle but vowed it would be his last.
At age 81, he jumped into the mayor's race in the spring of 1993, largely to use it as a soapbox to rail against his favorite target — the Community Redevelopment Project. He finished far back in the field.
Even after retiring from office, he remained active in city politics, sponsoring a petition drive to block expansion of the Downtown redevelopment project.
In 2000, at age 89, Bernardi signed on to a ballot argument opposing a $532-million bond measure to build fire stations and animal shelters. He cited the city's failure then to deliver on a promised police station in the northeast Valley.
Despite health problems that put him in and out of the hospital, Bernardi led an active life in his latter years. On Nov. 17, 2001, at age 90, Bernardi married Eve Troutman, 88.
"I'm very happy," he said in an interview afterward.
The son of Italian immigrants, Bernardi was born in the living quarters of a small grocery store his family owned in Standard, Ill. He was raised by his grandmother and father, who taught him how to play the saxophone.
Performing under the name Noni Bernardi, he was a smooth-toned lead alto sax player during the 1930s with such big band leaders as Benny Goodman and Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey.
He wrote the arrangements for Tommy Dorsey's recording of "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" and Goodman's popular "And the Angels Sing." Bernardi came to California in 1940 with Kay Kyser's "Kollege of Musical Knowledge," a potpourri of music and gags.
In the late 1940s, he turned to custom-home construction.
His first attempt to win a seat on the council in 1957 failed. But when the incumbent, James Corman, was elected to Congress in 1961, Bernardi tried again and was successful.
In addition to his wife, Bernardi is survived by two daughters from his previous marriage, Joane Kent and Judith McRae, and two sons, John and Jimmy Bernardi, and seven grandchildren. Lucille, his wife of 59 years, died in October 1993.
Funeral arrangements are pending.