‘Disenfranchised,’ yet again

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South L.A. activists ‘Disenfranchised,’ yet again say Ridley-Thomas’ suspension leaves them unrepresented

By Cynthia Gibson

Contributing Writer

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Activists in the 10th City Council District are feeling disenfranchised and unrepresented with the suspension of City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Ridley-Thomas is facing federal charges including conspiracy and bribery in connection with his son receiving a scholarship and teaching position at USC in exchange for Ridley-Thomas steering lucrative county contracts to the university when he was a county supervisor.

The City Council voted to suspend him from council duties while he awaits trial and activists in the district are speaking out about their lack of representation at City Hall with Ridley-Thomas sidelined.

The Rev. William Smart, president of the Southern California chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, used the platform of a screening of the 2014 film “Selma” Nov. 3 to raise the issue and another group conducted a press conference Nov. 8 at Southern Missionary Baptist Church to voice their opinion.

Smart said he purposely selected to show the film “Selma” at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center  because he wanted to show the nexus between voting issues that were fought for in the 1960s and what’s happening now in Los Angeles.

The film depicts Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign to secure equal voting rights with an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.

“There is so much aggressiveness against voting and I wanted people to be aware of that,” Smart said. “I wanted to energize them for the next level and the next steps.”

Following the movie screening, Joy Atkinson, executive director of the Los Angeles African American Women’s Public Policy Institute; and Rev. K.W. Tulloss, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles and Southern California, spoke about the ongoing fight for equal representation and voting rights.

“Each generation is going to have to carry the banner,” Atkinson said. “That’s what we’re seeing in this movie and in the lives of the leaders that have gone before us, as well as right now. It’s inspirational and daunting to know that we’ll have to always keep it up.”

Tulloss used the parallel between the fight for voting rights depicted in Selma and loss of representation in the 10th district to rally those in attendance to take action.

“I believe that [what] we can take from films like this is that we’ve done it before, we can do it right now,” Tulloss added. “We don’t have to sit back. We don’t have to allow them to continue to run over us. We don’t have to allow them to take our vote as a community. We can let them know enough is enough,”

Voices of the Tenth, a coalition of residents and stakeholders, took action to demand that their priorities be represented and taken into account as the City Council redraws the council district maps in the upcoming weeks.  

The group held a press conference in the parking lot of Southern Missionary Baptist Church Nov. 8 and staged a rally on the steps of City Hall on Nov. 9 to express their concerns.

“We have one simple message for L.A. City Council: Leave CD 10 alone,” said community activist Diane Robertson.  

Robertson and several other residents reiterated the coalition’s other demands for the City Council that included voting against any motion that diminishes Council District 10 and disenfranchises its residents. They also asked the council to approve the recommendation of the city Redistricting Commission for the boundaries of the 10th District and to refrain from any self-interested redrawing of district boundaries without regard for voices of the residents.

Council members have introduced 38 motions to transform the draft map submitted by the Redistricting Commission and voted 14-0 to create an Ad Hoc Redistricting Commission to lead its efforts to make adjustments to the map.

“Any attempt at carving out portions of [the 10th District] is nothing more than a power grab,” Robertson said.  “The Voices of the 10th are not going to stand for it.”

The 10th District is one of the city’s most culturally diverse areas and includes Leimert Park, Koreatown, Mid-City, Baldwin Village, Arlington Heights and Grammercy Park.

City Council President Nury Martinez has appointed Ridley-Thomas’ chief of staff Karly Katona to serve as a caretaker for the district, a position that lacks voting power. Katona has worked for Ridley-Thomas since 2008 and has been is chief of staff for the past year.

“We will continue addressing the diverse needs of constituents and advancing an equity-based agenda that reimagines public safety and community well-being across the district,” Katona told the Los Angeles Times in an email.

Meanwhile, Ridley-Thomas and Marilyn Flynn, the former dean of the USC School of Social Work who is charged with him, made a brief court appearance by Zoom Nov. 8.

During the 10-minute hearing, the judge heard a summary of the prosecution’s case and requested that both sides stipulate that a previously set December trial date be canceled. As part of the status conference, U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer asked both sides to file papers indicating a new date was needed.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ruth C. Pinkel told the court that her office has produced 35,000 pages of evidentiary material, with more to come. She said the prosecution’s case at trial would last about two weeks. The defense did not offer a time estimate.

Both defendants have strongly denied any wrongdoing and promise that evidence will clear their names.

City News Service contributed to this story.

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