GUEST COMMENTARY - It all started in March of 2020 when Mark Ridley-Thomas couldn't gather enough votes to win in the primary election and was forced into a contentious runoff with attorney Grace Yoo.
When campaign reports were filed, Grace had pulled slightly ahead of Mark in donations and polling had her ahead at 56% to Marks 43%.
Our guess is that when Mark saw these numbers he didn't hesitate to pull out the stops, and mailboxes were suddenly inundated daily with attack ad after attack ad, dramatic and overwrought, stopping short of drawing horns on Grace's head. But Mark was asleep at the wheel when Grace realized he hadn't secured his website name and grabbed it, earning her a cease-and-desist letter from Mark accusing her of using it to spread defamatory lies.
What did she accuse him of? Corruption regarding the USC Scandal (which would eventually put him out of office) and the fact that he was running to use CD 10 as a stepping stone to the mayor's office, which, if he won, would only allow him to serve CD 10 for two of the required four years. This was a well-known wish of his, which he refused to deny when questioned by The Neighborhood News twice at campaign stops.
Why am I starting here? Because it was clear that CD10 was primed for a shift in leadership. Herb Wesson who had represented the district for nearly 15 years was playing musical chairs with Mark Ridley-Thomas, vying for his vacated seat as Supervisor while Mark went for Wesson’s recently vacated Council District 10 seat. But the demographics of CD10 weren't what they used to be and despite redistricting shenanigans during Wesson's tenure, (in an effort to make sure there were enough African Americans in CD 10 to ensure black representation) some constituents and newcomers to the district were more concerned with getting the best representation regardless of race. This was reflected in that 2020 campaign fight between Yoo and Ridley-Thomas that should have been an easy ride for Ridley-Thomas.
Mark Ridley-Thomas did prevail in that election and became the next CD10 representative at City Hall. But within a year, true to Grace’s concern, a week after he was indicted on federal corruption charges involving the funneling of county money to USC (in return for admitting his son Sebastian into graduate school with a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship) L.A. City Council voted to suspend Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas without pay. His trial is pending.
Now stay with me as I introduce another character into this soap opera. Council President Nury Martinez.
Wesson and Martinez (who represented the San Fernando district) had a tight relationship and in 2019 when Wesson stepped down from his position as City Council President to run his campaign for supervisor, Nury Martinez stepped up and in with unanimous support. So when the Mark-Ridley scandal broke, Martinez naturally turned to Wesson to fill the hole in Wesson’s old district until Ridley-Thomas sorted out his business. Some say it was also to secure added support on the council should she decide to run for Mayor.
In 2020 when Wesson was defeated in his run for Supervisor he had to find a civilian job outside of the high paying political jobs he had been used to for nearly three decades. You can imagine his relief when in the midst of trying to secure a contract between his new consulting firm and the city of Hawthorne to help them formulate a cannabis program, he got the phone call from Martinez. Did I mention that at $187,000 a year, councilmembers made more money than Washington congressional members?
So Wesson was back in the chips again.
But…Not so fast! Ridley-Thomas supporters, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California and several 10th District constituents filed a lawsuit claiming that Wesson could not have the job because having served CD10 to the legal limit of three terms, he was termed out. They also argued that the voters had no hand in the selection.
According to a FoxNews report:
“On Feb. 24, [Judge] Strobel sided with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California's challenge to Wesson's appointment, issuing a temporary restraining order that blocked him from serving. But she later vacated the order and declined to issue a preliminary injunction, saying that procedurally, the SCLC needed to obtain permission from the state Attorney General's Office to proceed with its legal challenge.”
In July 2022 - “With the AG's opinion in hand, SCLC attorneys filed papers Monday and went to court Tuesday seeking a new restraining order, which Strobel granted, blocking Wesson from performing any council duties.
She set a hearing on a possible preliminary injunction for Aug. 16, so Wesson will be unable to perform any council functions until at least that date.”
Now, one last character to introduce. Heather Hutt, who used to work for Kamala Harris, was picked to work as Chief of Staff for Herb Wesson. She has become our new non-voting representative placeholder until Wesson and/or Mark-Ridley sort out their business. Don't ever recall her hanging out in our district. At any Neighborhood Council meetings? Local events?
When Grace Yoo’s name was put forth to act as placeholder, (after all 38% of CD10 residents actually voted for her) she was told that she couldn’t be assigned because she was going to run to represent CD10 again. But word has it that Heather Hutt plans on doing exactly that. So….what…is…going…on????
In, Out, Out, In, Up, Down! CD10 residents, who are paying attention, are getting dizzy and nauseous from these political merry-go-round power plays by a handful of players. Isn’t it time to get rid of these old school politicians, their constant power moves at the expense of those they represent and the idea that only “they” can represent our district?
Wesson who lost his bid for supervisor by a large margin, Ridley-Thomas sidelined by a federal investigation into corruption, Nury Martinez assigning her old pal Wesson. Heather Hutt???
As mentioned CD10 has become increasingly diverse and the demographics are now non Hispanic Black 28%, non Hispanic White 10.6%, Asian 14%, Hispanic 44%, Native Hawaiian/Asian Islander .2% and American Indian/Native Alaskan .1%. The time of thinking that only someone from your particular race can address the problems of that race is old school and will not work in a district with this kind of diversity. Remember, the homeless situation grew under their watch. Why did these representatives ignore it until it was sitting on their doorstep and in the freeway exits on their way home and now they scramble to plug the dam with ineffective plans? Why do they keep getting reelected as the city continues to crumble under their watch and developers get to stomp all over our neighborhoods in exchange for a few affordable units? Why do they get to hand off their power to those they pick? When is the merry-go-round going to stop and let us off? Hopefully a change is coming in who we elect to represent us. Hopefully it isn’t too late.
Update; Aug.8 Judge Strobel has recused herself from sitting on the Aug 16 hearing.
City News Service: ““The court has received city’s opposition to the order to show cause re: preliminary injunction (and) for the first time in this litigation, the city argues that the legislative history of proposed changes to the city charter in 1999 are relevant to the issues in the preliminary injunction. Because the judge worked as a staff member for the elected Charter Reform Commission, one of the two commissions recommending those changes in 1999, the court recuses itself in the interests of justice.”
The case was reassigned to Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff, who will hear the SCLC’s request for a preliminary injunction on Aug. 17.”
I can tell you a story about judges being swapped out at the last minute when a politician was on the line. But I’ll save it for another time.
(Dianne V. Lawrence is publisher and writer for The Neighborhood News Online, where this article was published.)