BY KAREN OCAMB | Bill Rosendahl was overwhelming. Big, boisterous, unbounded joy spouting out of his aura like a spiritual eruption of Old Faithful. He loved people and people loved him back. But he could be just as fiercely critical of crassly immoral discriminators—whether it was the Catholic Church calling gay people “intrinsically evil” or a rich man casually snubbing a homeless vet ashamed of his outstretched hand. Bill Rosendahl cared so much, it sometimes got him in trouble. But he didn’t mind: he trained in the campaign of his social justice hero, Robert F. Kennedy, and bowing to the underserving powerful would be letting Kennedy and his own conscience down.
Bill died Wednesday morning, March 30, 2016, of cancer. He was 70, though evergreen in his winning attitude of gratitude.
Bill shared his profound dedication to humanity with the many he mentored, including me. He introduced me as an openly gay guest, a pundit, on his highly-regarded cable talk shows where famously the first rule was to respect one another, despite our differing opinions. He was close with both former mayors, Republican Richard Riordan and Antonio Villaraigosa.
He recruited me to the board of the Los Angeles Press Club (among others, such as Mary Moore, pictured above with Bill and his longtime partner, Hedi El-Kholti) and encouraged us to shake things up in the staid old institution. I forced them to add sexual orientation to their bylaws, among other ventures. He saved the Press Club.
Patt Morrison, (above) LA Times columnist, KPCC host and former Press Club president who Bill adored:
“I visited Bill [recently]; he had a bit of whiskey and I had a bit of wine and although his voice was weak, his spirit was not; we had a dandy time talking about the things he so loves — politics, animals and Los Angeles. As a pioneering cable public affairs host, LA Press Club president and city council member, he’s been at the bold forefront of everything he has done. In the city named for angels, he is one.”
Fellow Press Club board member, senior editor at Variety, Ted Johnson:
“Bill was a mentor — not just in the media business but in life. His enthusiasm was infectious, especially when you would tell him what you were up to and he would say, ‘Great, great, great, great.’ But he also gave great guidance, and by example these past few years he’s shown that life has its real challenges, but it’s also something to be celebrated through an optimistic spirit and a dedication to service.”
Bill also loved being of service during the marriage equality battle – at the renewal of their marriage vows with marriage activists Robin Tyler and Diane Olson (above) and performing the marriage of then-West Hollywood City Councilmember and now Los Angeles County Accessor Jeff Prang and Ray Vizcarra at WeHo City Hall (below).
I wrote an extensive personal essay about Bill when he retired in 2013, which he liked a lot (below with family at his swearing in).
I concluded thusly:
“Bill Rosendahl came out as gay on his cable show after his longtime partner Christopher Lee Blauman died of AIDS in 1995. He came out again in an interview with me for Frontiers. He considers being gay an intrinsically good aspect of his character. God makes no accidents, he always says. And by taking up Bobby Kennedy’s mantle and bearing witness and sharing his authentic truth with others, Bill Rosendahl seeks to prove God right.”
Here is wonderful obituary written by his close friend and mentee, Mike Bonin, who succeeded Bill in the L.A. City Council:
Bill Rosendahl, the well-loved and larger-than-life former Los Angeles City Councilman, public affairs broadcaster, and cable television executive, passed away early this morning after a four-year battle with cancer. He was 70 years old.
Widely known for his beaming smile and a booming voice, Rosendahl befriended both the powerful and the downtrodden throughout his lifetime and during his eight-year stint representing the Westside on the City Council.
Often called the “Conscience of the City Council,” Rosendahl focused on seeking solutions to the problem of homelessness, promoting mass transit, curbing overdevelopment, and giving neighborhoods a greater voice in city decision-making. He was the first openly gay man elected to the Los Angeles City Council, and served from 2005 to 2013, when he retired to battle a stage four cancer that was diagnosed in the summer of 2012. Toward the end of his tenure in office, he became an outspoken advocate for medical marijuana, which he used to combat the side effects of cancer treatments.
Rosendahl was an atypical politician. He embraced his fiercest critics, championed the hot-button issues that many avoided, and almost always spoke extemporaneously, giving long speeches that routinely skewered sacred cows and even his fellow politicians. He rewarded constituents and cajoled fellow elected officials with fresh eggs from the dozens of chickens he raised at his Mar Vista home. Gifted with a boundless sense of optimism, Rosendahl imagined a politics of endless possibility, and was known by his signature exclamation: “Great! Great! Great! Great! Great!”
While Rosendahl represented some of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods, his proudest accomplishments involved helping the marginalized, the outsider, and the underdog. He boasted of: approving permanent supportive housing; creating a program that housed more than 100 people living in their vehicles in Venice; opening Fisher House, a home for families of veterans receiving treatment at the Veterans Administration campus in West LA; halting expansion of Los Angeles International Airport into nearby neighborhoods; and approving a citywide Bicycle Master Plan. He was perhaps most proud of securing the reburial of the remains of more than 1300 Gabrielino Tongva Native Americans discovered during the construction of Playa Vista.
Prior to his election, Rosendahl was the award-winning producer and moderator of critically acclaimed public affairs television shows. As host of Local Talk, Week in Review and Beyond the Beltway, Rosendahl created a needed forum for the discussion of public affairs. An advocate of empowering people through information, Rosendahl produced more than 3,000 programs during his 16 years working in journalism, opening the airwaves to all viewpoints and steering thoughtful dialogue on the most complex and controversial issues affecting people’s lives. He was well-known for his cheerful sign-off to each of his programs – “God Bless and bye-bye!”
Rosendahl’s public service journalism won him the Cable Ace Award, The Diamond Award, the Freedom of Information Award, the Los Angeles League of Women Voters Public Service Award and the Beacon Award for Cable’s Free Air Time Project. While producing and hosting the programs, he also served as a cable television executive, serving in senior positions with Adelphia Cable, Century Cablevision, Group W, and TelePrompter.
The sixth of eight children born to German immigrant parents in Englewood, New Jersey, Rosendahl yearned to travel the planet. He led a life that took him around the world, shaping events through the force of his will, the size of his heart, and the warmth of his hugs.
Rosendahl was immensely proud of his international travel, and regaled friends and acquaintances with tales of traveling around the planet, including through Africa, where he walked the length of the continent, often sleeping under the stars. He also cherished his frequent visits to gay resorts in Acapulco, Mexico and on the Russian River in Northern California. He made new friends wherever he went, regularly handing out cash or opening his home without second thought to anyone in need.
Rosendahl had a giant heart and tremendous spirit. Raised Catholic, he became fiercely ecumenical, embracing and incorporating elements of multiple faiths into a personal belief system that celebrated all people and saw God in all things. Each morning, he would soak in his view of the Pacific Ocean, touch a fragment of redwood tree, and pray to a pantheon of friends and family members who had passed but whose memories and spirits gave him strength.
In 1968, Rosendahl worked for the presidential campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy. In 1972, he worked as a fundraiser for George McGovern, traveling around the country with the Democratic Party nominee. In between presidential campaigns, Rosendahl served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1971, spending a year as a psychiatric social worker, counseling troops returning from combat. As special assistant to the commanding general at Ft. Carson, Colorado, he won national recognition for reorganizing the base and boosting morale of the service people. He later served as a White House appointee to the State Department as Chief of Operations for the U.S. Trade and Development Program, and worked as an associate in philanthropic work for John D. Rockefeller, III.
Rosendahl came out publicly as gay in 1995, when his longtime partner, Christopher Lee Blauman, died as a result of AIDS complications. Decades later, he would mourn lost friends and would angrily rail about the ways the Reagan and Clinton administrations betrayed the gay community. In his later years, he relished his role as a gay role model. In 2008, he received the Man of the Year Award from Christopher Street West. In 2013, he received the Morris Kite Lifetime Achievement Award from Christopher Street West, and in 2015 he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement from the Stonewall Young Democrats.
Rosendahl held many positions of civic leadership. He chaired the California Commission on Tax Policy in the New Economy under Governor Gray Davis, served as president of the Los Angeles Press Club, as chairman of the Cable and Telecommunication Association and was a member of the education fund of the Los Angeles League of Women Voters. After his retirement from the Los Angeles City Council, he served as president of the City of Los Angeles Health Commission.
Rosendahl earned a Master of Social Work (MSW) from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science & Economics from Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
He is survived by his longtime partner, Hedi El-Kholti; his brother Thomas Rosendahl and sister-in-law Sheila Rosendahl, and their sons, Robbie-Paul, Ricky-Luke and Arthur of Westchester; his brother Steven Rosendahl of Highlands Ranch, Colorado; his sister Mary LeMothe of Apex, North Carolina; his sister Helen Davoren of Westfield, New Jersey; and his nephew and caregiver, Christopher Rosendahl of Mar Vista.
Funeral and memorial arrangements are pending, but will include a Mass of Christian Burial at St. Monica’s Church in Santa Monica, and a lovely and colorful memorial service and celebration of life at Mar Vista Park.
In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory can be made to any of his favorite organizations helping the homeless; Safe Place for Youth; New Directions for Veterans; and the Jeff Griffith Youth Center at the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center.