LOS ANGELES—A group of Council District 10 residents and faith leaders protested outside Los Angeles City Hall on March 4 to call for the reinstatement of Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who was suspended following his indictment in a federal corruption case.
The group of about 20 people held a large sign reading “you stole our vote!!!” outside a parking garage on the Main Street side of City Hall. They also chanted “You stole our vote” as people drove into the garage.
The Rev. K.W. Tulloss, president of Baptist Minister’s Conference Los Angeles, told City News Service the group is protesting to get Ridley-Thomas reinstated and to show opposition to the process being run “behind the scenes.”
“We’re demanding due process, we’re demanding a seat at the table to really discuss many of the issues of transparency, civil rights being violated,” Tulloss said. “We want Mark Ridley-Thomas to be reinstated. He is who the people has placed in office.”
On Feb. 22, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously appointed former District 10 Councilman Herb Wesson to temporarily represent the district, either until Dec. 31 or until Ridley-Thomas is acquitted or the charges are dropped.
But two days later, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel issued a temporary restraining order blocking Wesson from filling the council seat, at least until a March 17 preliminary injunction hearing. The order was part of a lawsuit filed by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California (SCLC) aimed at reinstating Ridley-Thomas to the council.
Wesson represented the 10th District from 2005 to December 2020 and also served as the president of the council from 2012 to 2020. The lawsuit notes that Wesson is “termed out” and alleges he cannot lawfully assume the council seat because he already represented the district for three terms.
Ridley-Thomas, who was the executive director of the SCLC’s Greater Los Angeles chapter from 1981-1991, was suspended from the council in October 2021 following the federal indictment, which stemmed from alleged actions while he was serving on the county Board of Supervisors.
“The residents of the 10th Council District want and deserve a voting voice, and they overwhelmingly wanted Herb Wesson. From that, this council unanimously voted to appoint Mr. Wesson,” Council President Nury Martinez said in a statement after the appointment was blocked. “This entire situation over the past four months isn’t fair to Council District 10 residents. In fact, they are in this situation through no fault of their own. It is my intention to ensure this district has a voting member. I stand by giving the residents a vote and a voice on the City Council. At this time, we are in discussions with the city attorney and we will determine our legal options.”
Since Ridley-Thomas’s suspension, the 10th District has been overseen by caretaker Karly Katona, who does not have voting authority. The council’s vote to suspend Ridley-Thomas passed with three council members in opposition: Councilmen Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Mike Bonin, and Curren Price. Price said before the vote that his office had been inundated with calls of support for Ridley-Thomas from South L.A. residents.
The trial for Ridley-Thomas and former dean of the USC School of Social Work Marilyn Flynn is tentatively set to begin Aug. 9. The defendants are charged in a 20-count indictment alleging a secret deal whereby Ridley Thomas—when he was a member of the county Board of Supervisors—agreed to steer county money to the university in return for admitting his son Sebastian Ridley-Thomas into graduate school with a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship.
Flynn allegedly arranged to funnel a $100,000 donation from Ridley-Thomas’s campaign funds through the university to a nonprofit to be operated by his son, a former member of the state Assembly. The donation prompted an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles that remains open, prosecutors said.
In exchange, the indictment contends, Ridley-Thomas supported county contracts involving the School of Social Work, including lucrative deals to provide services to the county Department of Children and Family Services and Probation Department, as well as an amendment to a contract with the Department of Mental Health that would bring the school millions of dollars in new revenue.
Both defendants have strongly denied any wrongdoing and promised that evidence will clear their names.