Los Angeles mourns the passing of one of this extraordinary city’s most extraordinary men, Bill Rosendahl.
Most Angelenos know him as the City Councilman who represented Venice, Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades between 2005 and 2013, where he was a passionate champion of the 99%, including the 1% – the homeless people for whom even the liberal residents of the beach cities sometimes muster little sympathy. At six foot three, with a bright, bursting smile and a bear hug the wingspan of a 747, Rosendahl was an imposing force, unwavering in his principles, and yet wore his enormous heart proudly on his sleeve – the kind of person you never meet among the elected class.
I first met him back in the late 1980s, when he took a management position at what used to be called Century Cable (three or four mergers ago). This was back in the day when cable companies were required to provide a modicum of public programming as a condition of their franchise. Usually that meant some pretty shabby broadcasts in the wee hours of the morning. But working out of a modest brick office building in an industrial area on Nebraska Avenue, at the east end of Santa Monica, Bill convinced his superiors to let him create an hour-long public affairs show covering state and local issues.
He called it “Week in Review.” On the “Meet the Press” style-set, with two cameras and an expert staff, each of the show’s three or four guests would debate public policy and politics with Bill and a panel of local experts recruited from news media, non-profits and academia. This was long before the brash, 24/7 hysterics of the cable news shows that currently constitutes public discourse. That’s not to say passions wouldn’t rise on the program: Bill knew how to select lively and provocative participants. But he brought a gentle presence to the table, introducing his panelists with warmth and genuine interest, steering the discussion toward clarification not obfuscation, rarely intervening or interrupting – and everyone followed his cue.
“Week in Review” was a surprise hit. Later, Bill added other shows, including special “election editions” covering candidates and causes on the California ballot. For advocates like me and my colleagues at Consumer Watchdog, it was an opportunity to shine a bright light on some of the more unsavory aspects of state politics that would otherwise have remained in the shadows, whether it was an anti-consumer ballot initiative backed by big corporations, or a corrupt insurance commissioner. An appearance on Bill’s show always led to lots of calls from irate citizens who wanted to join our latest crusade.
Bill's powerful voice amplified so many important causes that in 2002 at its inaugural Rage for Justice Awards dinner, Consumer Watchdog presented Bill with its first Broadcaster of the Year Award. We haven't conferred that honor upon any journalist since.
Eventually, Bill’s programs were syndicated to other cable outlets statewide, and the little studio on Nebraska Avenue became a required stop for candidates for state or federal office, including two men who served as Vice President. I’d be amused to find their limousines lingering outside. Every guest waiting to appear on the show would have to squeeze into Bill’s six by five foot “green room,” which sometimes felt like it was the foyer outside the Oval.
After 3,000 or so broadcasts, the bean counters at Adelphia cable decided California didn’t need quality public affairs programming any longer. We offered to wage a campaign on his behalf, but Bill demurred. Seventeen years of television journalism had made him a household name, and the Los Angeles City Council beckoned. I think Bill himself was surprised that the arc of his life had placed him on the inside of electoral politics. But he enormously embraced it.
I last saw Bill at his home in Mar Vista, late one afternoon as he was recovering from a round of chemo. It is no legend that his home was open to all, and I could tell that some of the people he enthusiastically greeted were meeting him for the first time. Bill himself was resting shirtless in a Barcalounger positioned in the middle of his living room, facing two giant patio doors, between which the California sun was setting. Bill was smiling, and full of gratitude.