David S. Cunningham, Jr. (Dave), was born on June 24, 1935, in Chicago, Illinois, the second of three children, to David, Sr., and Eula Mae (Lawson) Cunningham. David, Sr.’s first-born child from a previous marriage, Elnora, was a loving older sister to both Nancy and David, Jr., and a sweet stepdaughter to Eula Mae, but the precocious namesake son was outnumbered and outmaneuvered by the powerful female caucus.

The birth of his younger brother, Ronald (Ron), in 1936, provided a welcome respite from the dollhouse brigade, and a much-needed ally, forging a lasting bond of brotherhood which cemented the tightknit family through several relocations resulting from David, Sr.’s calling to a career as an ordained minister in the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church.









Life as a Preacher’s Kid- or ‘PK’ for short- presented young Dave with several interesting challenges: a strict upbringing, rigorous household chores, disciplined school lessons and constant moves to new hometowns. By the time Dave graduated in 1952 from Sumner High School in St. Louis, MO, the Cunningham Family had lived in Freeport, IL, for four years beginning in 1939, followed by a three-year stint in Decatur, IL which began in 1943, and finally, the sojourn to St. Louis, beginning in 1949. Along the way, Dave collected fond memories of his days attending E>A> Gatsman Elementary School while studying piano and bass fiddle at the Conservatory of Music at Millikin University, developing a lifelong passion for jazz and classic music.





Later, Dave would often speak of his pride growing up as a PK, remembering how his mother kept him nattily dressed, how his mother gave him a love of singing hymns, watching his father eloquently orate before his parishioners, joining his parents in service to the congregation and the community, inspired by his parents’ courage and commitment to civil rights and economic justice. As a result, Dave was honored with a prestigious Danforth Scholars Award in 1952, enabling him to briefly study at Washington University.






Completing an Associate of Arts Degree from Stowe Teachers College in 1954, Dave served in the United States Air Reserve, later joining the United States Air Force, deploying to England, serving as a cartographer. Not wanting his tall, nearly 6’4” frame to go to waste, the US Air Force quickly recruited Dave to play basketball for the West Drayton Wildcats. A frequent fixture in the Stars & Stripes sports section, Dave consistently averaged 29 points per game, leading his team to frequent tournaments. He remained an avid basketball fan, often heard yelling above the din at frequent LA Lakers games during his tenure as a Los Angeles City Councilman.



In 1954, Dave met a comely, charming young lady, the former Bessie M. Cosey (Tiki). The couple soon married and in 1955, became first- time parents to a son, David S. Cunningham, III. While Dave and Tiki began adjusting to military life at March AFB in Riverside, CA, Dave joined a band, playing bass fiddle and occasional jazz piano at popular venues around Southern California. Life as a touring band musician and military specialist left the young husband and father stretched beyond the needs of his fledgling family. Tiki returned with her toddler son to live in St. Louis with David, Sr., and Eula Mae, embarking on what turned out to be a long and successful career in Early Childhood Education.



Newly single, Dave threw himself into his music and military careers. Encouraged by his parents, Dave returned to his love of active community service, quickly immersing himself into Civil Rights activities with the local NAACP. A change in bandmates brought Dave into frequent contact with their older sister, a cute and effervescent school teacher named La Fern R. Harris (fern).






The couple married in 1960 and produced two daughters, Leslie and Robyn. That same year, Dave was selected for the first time as a delegate to the historic 1960 Democratic National Convention, inspiring him to pursue a later career in politics. He decided to enroll at the University of California at Riverside, graduating in 1962 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Political Science. Following completion of a Coro Foundation Fellows Program in Public Affairs in 1963, Dave moved with his family to Lagos, Nigeria, West Africa as the West African Regional Manager for the DuKane Corporation.





The Nigerian Civil War forced DuKane employees to leave Lagos. Nigeria in 1967. Dave traveled through Europe with his family, returning to Los Angeles, taking a position as a Manager of Community Relations with the Hughes Corporation. In 1968, Dave founded Cunningham, Short and Berryman and Associates, providing management consulting services to government and small business entities. Dave went on to earn a Master of Arts degree from Occidental College in Urban Studies in 1973.



In 1973, Dave campaigned against a large field of candidates, succeeding Tom Bradley as Councilman of the 10th District. Newly single, Dave transformed the landscape of the 10th Council District, mentoring young politicians and consulting with states across the nation as a foremost authority on grantsmanship. Dave increased his international travel activities. Authoring several landmark pieces of legislation, Dave served as State Chairman of the California Delegation to the Democratic National Committee in 1976.



In 1977, Dave married his lovely wife, Sylvia A. Kapel, celebrating 40 years of marriage, producing three children, Amber, Sean and Brian. Following his retirement from the Los Angeles City Council in 1986, Dave joined Cranston Securities as Senior Vice President of Public Finance. From 1988 to 1991, Dave served as Senior Vice President of Community Housing Equity Corporation.



In 1991, Dave formed Dave Cunningham and Associates. Since then, he has served on numerous boards and commissions, including the UC Riverside Board of Trustees, Chair of BAPAC, Chair of Board of Governors of The City Club, member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and much more.



David S. Cunningham, Jr., passed away Wednesday, November 15, 2017 at the age of 82 at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Los Angeles. He was preceded in death by his sisters, Nancy Jane (Cunningham) Freeman and Elnora (Cunningham) Hammond. He is survived by one brother, Ronald, his wife Sylvia, three sons, David Surmier III, Sean Kingsley and Brian Alexander, three daughters, Leslie June, Robyn Elaine and Amber Brittany, two grandchildren, Christiane Chanel and Surmier Telafaro, two great- grandchildren, Lola Elise and Lily Pearl Chanel, cousins, nieces, nephews and a host of loved ones.

(Photos: E. Mesiyah McGinnis & File)






Notable Quotes:

“David Cunningham was a great friend to my family and me.  But more importantly, he was a friend to our community. Dave unapologetically always moved the agenda of Black people forward. Whether he was fighting for equality and access for African Americans in city hall or after he retired and was working as a businessman, lobbyist, or in his philanthropic works at UC Riverside, he always fought to insure African Americans were represented and had opportunities. He was a dedicated husband, father, grand-father, friend and mentor.

He is and will always be loved and truly missed.”

— Danny J. Bakewell, Sr.

Chairman & Executive Publisher,

Los Angeles Sentinel & L.A. Watts Times Newspaper


“Los Angeles has lost a great leader. I’m saddened to hear of the passing of Mr. David Cunningham, a champion for accessible, affordable housing and a true community leader. Among his major contributions to our city, Mr. Cunningham served on the Los Angeles City Council for 13 years in the 1970s and 1980s and represented many Angelenos, including myself, at that post. One of the first African American elected leaders in the city, Mr. Cunningham served his multiple terms in the City Council with distinguished honor and dignity, as he did as Chairman of the Black American Political Association of California. My thoughts are with Mr. Cunningham son, my friend Judge David S. Cunningham III, and the rest of Mr. Cunningham’s loving family and friends. The guidance and community wisdom will surely be missed by not only myself, but also those fortunate enough to cross paths with Dave on his journey.”

— Congresswoman Karen Bass


“Dave Cunningham served his community with passion and dedication — and never lost sight of why the people of the 10th District elected him to succeed Tom Bradley, and sent him to City Hall to represent them for more than a decade: to keep up the fight for equal justice, equal access, and equality in services. His strong advocacy made history in our city, and my thoughts today are with the councilmember’s family and all who loved and admired him.”

—    Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti


“Dave Cunningham was a lion on the Los Angeles City Council and a mentor to every up and coming elected official.  There will never be another statesman of his stature.”

— Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer


“Councilmember David Cunningham Jr. left behind an enormous legacy as a giant for social justice. His tireless leadership, passion, and dedication on issues, like affordable housing and divestment for apartheid South Africa are still needed in today’s world. He will truly be missed.”

— Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson


“David Cunningham was a true gentleman in politics and life, and a mentor to me and many more. But what I remember most was the gentle grip of his large hand. It was a grip of a golfer. Gentle enough to control, but never overpowering! I will miss his sly grin and great stories”

—    Senator Steve Bradford


Category: Cover Stories