By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — The City Council is expected to approve Heather Hutt as the permanent representative for the 10th District in the aftermath of Mark Ridley-Thomas’ federal fraud conviction, a move drawing moderate opposition from some community leaders who are demanding a special election.
Hutt is expected to receive enough support to remain in the 10th District seat until the next scheduled election in June 2024. The City Council will vote on Hutt’s status April 11.
“There are no plans for a special election,” Ninth District Councilman Curren Price told The Wave. “I respect the folks who feel we should have an election much sooner, but Heather has done an excellent job. There’s a growing consensus to keep Heather in the seat.”
Hutt was appointed interim council member last September after Herb Wesson was forced to step down because of term limits. Wesson hired Hutt as his chief of staff while serving as interim councilman for the district after the City Council voted to suspend Ridley-Thomas after he was indicted in October 2021.
Ridley-Thomas’ conviction on March 30 opened the door to speculation about the status of the 10th District seat. Ridley-Thomas was convicted on charges of bribery, conspiracy and mail and wire fraud when he was a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
According to the Los Angeles City Charter, the City Council has the option to initiate a special election if a council member is convicted of an alleged crime. The decision by City Council President Paul Krekorian to forego a special election has drawn support and criticism from community leaders.
The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, headed by Earl Ofari Hutchinson, accused Krekorian of “dictatorial control” for not pursuing a special election to give 10th District residents more input in their representation.
“Krekorian and the council’s refusal to call for an immediate special election for the 10th District seat continues the pattern of City Council cronyism,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “The result is the continued effective disenfranchisement of 10th District residents and stakeholders for yet another year.”
After Ridley-Thomas’ conviction, Krekorian told City News Service that a special election “would cost taxpayers about $8 million” and would lead to more instability in the 10th District.
When Ridley-Thomas was suspended, the 10th District went more than eight months without formal representation on the City Council. The leadership gap also left the district with no voting privileges until Wesson was appointed.
Hutt has had voting privileges and the ability to present motions since her appointment. Many 10th District residents fear a special election could lead to another void in representation.
“We should wait until 2024,” said Rev. William Smart, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California and a 10th District resident. “There’s too much tax dollars involved to do an election. Heather has proven that she has the experience and ability to handle what needs to be done.”
Los Angeles Urban League President Michael Lawson expressed similar support for Hutt, who’s the first woman to represent the 10th District. Hutt’s appointment was preceded by many years of public service, including her role as state director for Vice President Kamala Harris when Harris was a U.S. senator.
“If there was a special election, I would be surprised if Hutt was not the frontrunner to win it,” Lawson said. “I have no concern with Hutt staying in that seat until there’s an election.”
Lawson and Smart are among numerous community and civic leaders who expressed support and gratitude for Ridley-Thomas after his conviction. Many leaders were adamant that the conviction should not erase the impact Ridley-Thomas has had on Los Angeles and the African-American community.
“Knowing Mark the way I do, I would not count him out,” Lawson said of Ridley-Thomas. “I expect he will come out of this stronger and even more focused on his commitment to our community.”
Smart was living in the 10th District when Ridley-Thomas was serving as the district’s council member. Smart said Ridley-Thomas’ legacy will be “everlasting.”
“The care, love and respect MRT has had for the 10th will carry on for a long time,” Smart said. “People in the 10th always knew we had great leadership.”
Ridley-Thomas’ attorneys indicated they will appeal his conviction on seven of the 19 allegations. Depending on the appeal process, Ridley-Thomas is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 14.
Ridley-Thomas and Marilyn Flynn, former dean of the USC School of Social Work, were alleged conspirators in a case where Ridley-Thomas was accused of funneling county funds to the USC program.
Prosecutors claimed Ridley-Thomas “donated” $100,000 to Flynn’s program in exchange for the admission of his son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, into USC’s graduate school with a full-tuition scholarship.
Flynn accepted a plea deal last year before the case went to trial. She did not testify during the Ridley-Thomas trial.
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at email@example.com.