LOS ANGELES—On Feb. 22, the Los Angeles City Council will consider appointing former Councilman Herb Wesson to represent the city’s 10th district as a replacement for Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who was suspended in October 2021 after being indicted in a federal corruption case.
“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 after announcing her motion to appoint Wesson last Wednesday.
“Mr. Wesson cares deeply about the communities he represents and knows the district better than anyone. The constituents of Council District 10 need a voting member who understands their community to represent them within Council Chambers.”
The appointment must be approved by a majority of the city council, according to Martinez’s office. Wesson represented the 10th District from 2005 to December 2020. He also served as the president of the council before Martinez, from 2012 to 2020.
If confirmed, Wesson will hold the position through Dec. 31, 2022, unless Ridley-Thomas is acquitted or the charges against him are dropped.
On Wednesday, several people called into the city council meeting pushing for Wesson to be appointed to represent the district, noting that residents have not had a voting representative since Ridley-Thomas’s suspension on Oct. 20, 2021.
In a statement to City News Service, Ridley-Thomas’s attorney Michael Proctor opposed the appointment, calling it “premature” and “anti-democratic.”
“Since day one, Mark Ridley-Thomas has pledged his commitment to continue serving the constituents of District 10. The Council President’s ‘process’ has lacked transparency, inclusivity or input from the voters. Those voters are thus being deprived of their first-order constitutional rights of representation. Mark Ridley-Thomas’ concern is for those constituents—and an appointed representative beholden to Nury Martinez does not resolve this denial of representation.”
Meanwhile, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California—for which Ridley-Thomas served as the executive director from 1981–1991—has filed a lawsuit aimed at getting Ridley-Thomas reinstated to the Los Angeles City Council rather than replaced. The lawsuit also seeks to prohibit the city council from appointing Wesson or any other temporary replacement to the 10th District.
Pastor William Smart, president of the group, told City News Service last Wednesday that he wants Ridley-Thomas to be put back onto the city council.
“First of all, I’m good friends with Herb, however, I really feel … that the seat is not unoccupied. I still feel that it has been occupied legally by Mark Ridley-Thomas,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that they’re moving in this direction.”
In Ridley-Thomas’s absence, 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 councilmembers in opposition: Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Councilman Mike Bonin, and Councilman 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 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.
People can watch the city council meeting on Tuesday at clerk.lacity.org/calendar.
Joyce Kuo contributed to this report.