By Sue Favor
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Almost two months after City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas was suspended by his City Council colleagues, his staff continues to manage the affairs of the 10th Council District while his seat remains unfilled.
The City Council voted to suspend the longtime politician Oct. 20, after federal prosecutors indicted him on conspiracy and bribery charges. While serving on the county Board of Supervisors, Ridley-Thomas is alleged to have conspired with the former dean of USC’s School of Social Work to direct county money toward the school. Prosecutors say that in return, Ridley-Thomas’ son Sebastian was admitted to USC’s graduate school and given a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship.
Ridley-Thomas has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and a court date has not yet been set.
City Council President Nury Martinez appointed longtime Ridley-Thomas aide Karly Katona, who has been his chief of staff since he took the office a year ago, as the district’s caretaker. The council can name a temporary replacement for Ridley-Thomas, who can reclaim his seat only if he is found not guilty.
Sophie Gilchrist, a spokeswoman for Martinez, said the office is “looking at all options” in deciding whether to fill the seat, which represents the mid-city, Koreatown and South L.A. areas. The council could appoint someone or hold a special election.
Concerns about a loss of representation on the council have been voiced by constituents of Ridley-Thomas since he was suspended from his council duties.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundatable, said Ridley-Thomas’ suspension “effectively disenfranchised” the 10th District shortly after the suspension was announced.
A group called Voice of the Tenth also organized, representing voters and stakeholders in the district as the City Council completed the redistricting process.
A spokesperson for that group, community activist Diane Robertson, said the group was concerned that the 10th District would lose valuable assets during the redistricting process without Ridley-Thomas looking out the district’s interest.
“Any attempt at carving out portions of [the 10th District] is nothing more than a power grab,” Robertson said last month. “The Voices of the 10th are not going to stand for it.”
As caretaker, Katona doesn’t officially hold the seat and can’t vote. But she and Ridley-Thomas’ staff are working hard to fulfill their duties and carry out the initiatives that the councilman had prioritized, including addressing the homelessness crisis.
“The 10th District team is committed to serving the residents of the district and advancing an equity-based agenda,” said Katona, who served on Ridley-Thomas’ staff when he was on the county Board of Supervisors for 12 years. “We remain acutely focused on our top priorities: revitalizing Leimert Park Village and Marlton Square, advancing numerous park and library improvements, enhancing the livability of our neighborhoods, developing thousands of housing units, partnering with homeless service providers and civic agencies to link unhoused individuals across the district to suitable housing and services, and creating opportunities for civic engagement.
“There is much work to do — and we remain dedicated to getting it done,” Katona added.
Katona oversees daily operations at the 10th District office, which include duties like signing contracts and ensuring constituent services are provided. Staffers help coordinate homeless outreach services and produce the district newsletter.
“Our objective is to let folks know through our actions that we’re still here, the office is still operating, and we’re doing more work than ever,” a spokesman for the office said.
Right now one of the biggest endeavors of the office is planning the Dec. 17 “Snow in Leimert Park” holiday festival. Among the events at the free evening event will be sledding, an open market, live music, hot chocolate and other treats.
“We are committed to keeping things running smoothly,” the spokesman said.
Sue Favor is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers, who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.