LOS ANGELES—A federal judge ruled on Dec. 9 that Mark Ridley-Thomas, the suspended Los Angeles city councilman, will go to trial for his corruption case on Aug. 9, 2022, as residents of his district grow frustrated with their lack of representation.
Ridley-Thomas, who oversaw district 10, was suspended from office by a divided Los Angeles City Council on Oct. 20 after he and Marilyn Flynn, former dean of the University of Southern California’s (USC) School of Social Work, were indicted on 20 counts of bribery and fraud on Oct. 13. In November, a federal judge heard a summary of the prosecution’s case and requested that both sides agree on a trial date.
Ridley-Thomas’s suspension from the city council means that his constituents have been left without representation since October.
Karly Katona, Ridley-Thomas’s chief of staff, was appointed “caretaker” of the district on Nov. 1 in Ridley-Thomas’s absence. Katona, however, does not have the ability to vote in the city council on matters concerning the district.
Gina Fields, chair of the West Area Neighborhood Development Council, told The Epoch Times that Katona and the rest of the district’s staff have been “doing a great job” at keeping up programs initiated by Ridley-Thomas, including those that help house dozens of homeless in her neighborhood.
However, Fields said that she and other residents are frustrated with the district’s lack of representation, especially during last month’s vote on council redistricting.
“It’s just egregious that [the city council] yanked [Ridley-Thomas] out of office without a plan,” Fields said. “[His suspension happened] right in the middle of … picking what goes where. We’re trying to get the assets and trying to keep our communities intact. And suddenly our councilmember was gone and could no longer vote and help to negotiate deals.”
Fields said that she and other neighborhood councils have been asking the city council to appoint someone to represent their district.
“The plan cannot be to leave 250,000 people disenfranchised for the next eight months,” Fields said. “How do we get a voice? My letters have gotten no response [beyond] a kind of generic response of, ‘you’ve been heard.’ Okay, but what are you going to do?”
Fields said that they offered Nury Martinez, the city council president, several options: reinstating Ridley-Thomas until his trial, appointing an interim councilmember, or reinstating former Councilmember Herb Wesson, who represented the district until Ridley-Thomas took over in 2020.
Fields said the LA Metro K Line will open up through Crenshaw in the coming year, and thus her neighborhood wants to be prepared for the business and traffic that will come with the new line and guard against gentrification, which can be difficult to do without representation in the city council.
“[Ridley-Thomas is] a son of South LA. He’s a son of Leimert Park and Crenshaw Manor. So without someone who understands the unique cultural sensitivity of our area there to defend our area …, we stand a chance of losing something really beautiful and really special in our neighborhood, and we stand a chance of losing … the African American hub.”
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.
A spokesperson for Nury Martinez declined to comment. Karly Katona didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.