The Los Angeles City Council appointed former District 10 Councilman Herb Wesson to temporarily represent the district on Feb. 22 while Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas is suspended due to federal fraud charges.
The council unanimously voted to appoint Wesson to the position until the end of the year, or until Ridley-Thomas’s suspension is lifted in the event his charges are dropped.
“With over 30 years in public service representing the residents of Council District 10, there is no better choice at this time than former council member Herb Wesson,” Council President Nury Martinez said in a statement last week.
Councilman Mike Bonin attempted to delay the vote on the appointment until after the council received a full report on options to fill the seat, including a report from the city attorney on eligibility requirements for potential appointments and a report on the logistics of holding a special election for District 10 residents.
While the council voted 8–6 to adopt Bonin’s amendment for the council to receive such reports, Bonin’s second amendment to delay the vote by one week until after the reports arrived failed 7–7.
Ridley-Thomas was indicted on federal charges of bribery and fraud in October 2021 and suspended by the city council shortly after, leaving his district without representation.
For four months, District 10’s community leaders have been calling on Martinez to address the empty District 10 seat, expressing frustration with the district’s lack of representation in the city council on key matters.
Martinez introduced the motion to appoint Wesson as interim city council leader on Feb. 16, with Councilmen Mitch O’Farrell, Gil Cedillo, and Paul Koretz signing the motion.
Wesson represented District 10 from 2005 to 2020 and served as council president before Martinez from 2012 to 2020.
District 10 residents called into the Feb. 22 meeting ahead of the vote to express their support for Wesson’s appointment and urge the council to act quickly.
“I would like to see you have a no-delay vote today,” one resident said. “We can speak for ourselves in the 10th district … We’ve been without representation for four months, and we don’t want this to go on another 6 to 12 months. We need representation, we need a vote at the table.”
Another resident said it’s “urgent for us to have some time of representation” in order to continue key community projects.
“I think that the move by other politicians to … wait a bit more … is unnecessary, especially since this has been an ongoing process,” he said. “It just feels too much like a political play.”
Some residents expressed their support for Wesson’s appointment, but said they thought it was unfair of the council to suspend Ridley-Thomas ahead of his trial.
“[District 10] has been disenfranchised and without representation since Oct. 20 [when] Mark Ridley Thomas was removed from his seat,” one resident said. “What happens to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty?”
Civil rights group Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California (SCLC) filed a writ in court on Feb. 18 (pdf), alleging that “the decision to suspend [Ridley-Thomas] contravenes the bedrock presumption of innocence guaranteed under California law,” according to a statement.
The group’s president, Pastor William Smart, called the suspension “morally wrong, politically indefensible and patently illegal.”
“We will not accept an unelected being imposed on us as a community … we operate, as SCLC, in the 10th District and I live in the 10th District,” Smart said in a statement. “We believe that the councilman was ousted out and we want him to get his position back.”
Ridley-Thomas was the executive director of the organization’s Los Angeles chapter from 1981–1991.
After the lawsuit was filed, Ridley-Thomas’s attorney Michael Proctor released a statement Feb. 18.
“Mark Ridley-Thomas … believes that the right to accountable and elected representation is paramount to our democracy,” the statement reads. “It seems that that is what the SCLC’s lawsuit is about. As he has said from the beginning, he has served and is willing to continue to serve as an accountable, elected representative to the voters of District 10.”
In 2018, Ridley-Thomas, who then served on the LA County Board of Supervisors, allegedly conspired with Flynn to provide Ridley-Thomas’s son, Sebastian, with benefits including admission to USC’s graduate school, a full-tuition scholarship, a paid professorship, and a “mechanism to funnel Ridley-Thomas campaign funds through the university to a non-profit to be operated by the relative,” according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
In exchange, Ridley-Thomas, in his role as a county supervisor, allegedly “steered new contracts” that would generate millions in new revenue for the school, according to the U.S. attorney statement.
Both Ridley-Thomas and Flynn have denied the allegations and said the evidence will clear their names.