Wave Wire Services
LOS ANGELES — The city’s 10th Council District once again has a voting representative following the appointment Sept. 2 of Heather Hutt to serve as interim council member, filling in for the suspended Mark Ridley-Thomas.
The appointment came after a week of deliberations in which consideration of her nomination was initially blocked by five council members concerned about the speed of the process.
Hutt will fill the temporary vacancy unless the indicted Ridley-Thomas is acquitted or the charges against him in his federal corruption case are dismissed, or unless the vacancy becomes permanent. The council voted 12-2 to appoint Hutt, with council members Monica Rodriguez and Mike Bonin dissenting.
She is the first woman to represent the district and the first woman to represent South Los Angeles in a decade. She also becomes the fourth woman on the 15-member council, and just the third Black councilwoman in the city’s history.
“This is a historic occasion,” Hutt said after being confirmed. “I’m honored and I’m humbled to be in this space. As the first woman to represent CD 10 — although temporarily — and the first Black woman, I just want to put everybody on notice, I won’t be the last.”
Hutt was born and raised in the district. She lives in Baldwin Vista.
“I want to thank my colleagues for really putting in time and effort to be thoughtful about this appointment,” Hutt said. “To understand the needs of the people in CD 10, and knowing that having a voting member is the way to have their needs met.”
Hutt pledged to work “tirelessly” on issues, specifically on homelessness and to ensure that residents receive resources they need. She was previously the state director for then-Sen. Kamala Harris and a district director for former state Sen. Isadore Hall.
In 2021, she ran in a special election to fill a vacancy in the 54th Assembly Distrct, finishing second to Assemblyman Isaac Bryan in a six-candidate field.
Hutt has been serving as the 10th District’s non-voting caretaker and chief of staff for Herb Wesson. Wesson was appointed interim council member in February to replace Ridley-Thomas, but resigned last week, three days after a judge issued a preliminary injunction barring him from performing any official duties in response to a lawsuit challenging his eligibility.
That continued the uncertainty of who would represent the 10th District. Since July 19, the district, which stretches from Koreatown to Leimert Park in South Los Angeles, has not had voting representation on the council because caretakers cannot act as voting members.
James An, president of the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles but speaking in his personal capacity, told the council that his group has been helping 10th District residents receive government benefits during the pandemic.
“We’ve seen a lot of pain and suffering in our community,” An said. “I am not here to specifically endorse any single candidate. However, I think everybody would agree lack of representation in the city results in a lot of bad things.”
Most of the council chamber was packed with supporters of Hutt Sept. 2, holding signs that read, “Heather Hutt Now” and, “We don’t need a process, we need a vote.”
Hutt teared up while speaking, holding up a picture of her mother, who worked in City Hall when Tom Bradley was mayor.
“This is so ridiculous,” Hutt joked. “I will not be the crying council member.”
Hutt promised she would work hard, be diligent and make herself available to constituents.
“I’ve been a staffer for a really long time,” Hutt said. “I’ll learn to be a council member. I’m really excited and overwhelmed.”
But some detractors argued that the process moved too quickly, and that community members did not have a say in the council’s decision to appoint Hutt.
“This is not about any one candidate,” said Harry McElroy, a district resident and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that challenged Wesson’s eligibility. “In fact, it is to Ms. Hutt’s benefit if she goes through a process that has broad-based support. This is about a Game of Thrones. This is about a council president seeking power. We are not so naïve to ascertain otherwise.”
Grace Yoo, an attorney who lost to Ridley-Thomas in the runoff in the 2020 election for the 10th District seat but received over 36,400 votes, sent a letter to the council claiming she should have been appointed instead because she had been vetted by voters. Yoo told the council that Hutt would have an unfair advantage if she chooses to run for the seat in 2024. Hutt has not said whether she would seek a full term.
“It should be whoever is appointed should be kept from running in 2024,” Yoo said.
Council President Nury Martinez acknowledged Aug. 30 that a true democratic process would be for Ridley-Thomas to resign and a special election be held to fill the seat.
“We cannot do that,” Martinez said. “Our hands are legally tied at this time.”
Instead, she made a motion Aug. 26 proposing the council appoint Hutt. Five council members blocked considering the appointment at the Aug. 30 council meeting, voicing concerns over the speedy process by which Hutt was nominated.
But the next day, the council’s Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee unanimously moved Hutt’s nomination forward, clearing the way for the full council to consider it Sept. 2.
The committee was chaired by Martinez and also included Councilmen Joe Buscaino and Mitch O’Farrell, both of whom supported a hearing for Hutt earlier in the week.
With committee approval, Hutt needed just eight votes to be appointed to the seat when her nomination came before the council again.
Three council members who objected to considering Hutt earlier — Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Nithya Raman and Bob Blumenfield — supported her appointment this time, noting that their vote earlier in the week was regarding the process and not Hutt’s qualifications. But Rodriguez and Bonin still dissented, both lamenting that Hutt was the only candidate who was being considered.
“This process has been designed around one person, rather than designed around what’s best for the 10th District,” Bonin said.
In response, Martinez said that she takes any issues over the process seriously, but any council member could have also made a nomination for the seat. She called on the council to “come up with a mechanism” for a clear process when the council has to fill a temporary vacancy.
Ridley-Thomas was suspended from the council last October, following his federal indictment on corruption charges.
Ridley-Thomas and Marilyn Flynn, a former dean of the USC School of Social Work, are charged in a 20-count indictment alleging a secret deal in which 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.
At least one council member voiced support for Ridley-Thomas and would welcome him back if he is acquitted. Ridley-Thomas’ trial is set for November.
“This should not be taken as an affront to Mark Ridley-Thomas,” Councilman Paul Koretz said. “I hope that he is cleared, his name is cleared and that he is found innocent and that this is a temporary position.”
But Councilman Joe Buscaino, who spoke next, countered: “We should not be in this position today if the member of CD 10 was not facing a 20-count indictment. So for those who are listening in elected office, stay clear of any and all federal indictments.”
That statement was met with shouts of “Are you innocent until proven guilty?” from one member of the audience.
“This has been a divisive and an angry issue and I wish that it hasn’t been,” Bonin said. “It didn’t need to be. And if the process had been different, this could’ve been a time of consensus and healing and collaboration and celebration. But that’s not what this process created.”