By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — The City Council’s formal vote this week to install Herb Wesson as the interim 10th District representative had little effect on calming tensions in a community where many residents feel suspended Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas has not received “due process.”
Wesson, who represented the 10th District for 15 years until 2020, earned a 14-0 vote by the City Council Feb. 22 to fill the position through Dec. 31. Wesson is expected to attend his first City Council meeting next week.
Fully aware of divided feelings in the 10th District, Wesson reassured residents that his main objective is representing the community where he has lived since the 1970s.
“I love the 10th,” Wesson said in a statement to The Wave. “The 10th is my home. I am here strictly in a capacity of public service. I am here to represent my community and to ensure that my neighbors have the representation that they so vitally need and deserve.”
The 10th District has not had official representation on the City Council since council members voted to suspend Ridley-Thomas last October after his indictment on charges in a federal corruption case.
A lawsuit was filed Feb. 18 in Los Angeles Superior Court by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California in an attempt to block the City Council from replacing Ridley-Thomas with Wesson. Rev. William Smart, president of the SCLC chapter, remained hopeful of legal action overturning this week’s vote to approve Wesson.
“Our lawsuit points out that the removal of Ridley-Thomas came without any notice or any hearing from the 10th District,” Smart said. “It’s not an issue with Wesson. It’s about the way the suspension went down.”
John Sweeney, an attorney handling the SCLC lawsuit, cited the lack of input from community members as a primary reason for the lawsuit. Community members claim the City Council should have let Ridley-Thomas remain in his role until the case is resolved.
“The action taken by the Los Angeles City Council is not only disappointing and sloppy, but also is a slap in the face to the African-American community and our collective right to choose our elected representatives for ourselves,” Sweeney said in a statement.
The divided feelings have not gone unnoticed in the City Council. In perhaps the strongest stance yet in support for Wesson and this week’s vote, City Council President Nury Martinez reiterated why the 14 council members took the action they did in the aftermath of Ridley-Thomas’ indictment.
“I’ve made clear my policy on how I run this council as council president,’’ Martinez said in a statement released to The Wave. “If you are indicted for a crime, this council will move to suspend you. It’s plain and simple. Herb Wesson has dedicated 30 years to this community, and at this time, he is the best person for the job.”
Martinez continued with a direct message to District 10 residents.
“I have been very straightforward and transparent with the people of District 10,” Martinez added. “Everything I’ve done has been in lockstep with giving Mr. Ridley-Thomas a space to be cleared from the charges and return to council.”
Court proceedings in Ridley-Thomas’ federal corruption case are expected to begin in August. Ridley-Thomas and Marilyn Flynn, the former dean of the USC School of Social Work, are facing a 20-count indictment stemming from allegations of Ridley-Thomas funneling L.A. County funds to the USC program while he was a member of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
The indictment alleges that Ridley-Thomas donated $100,000 to the USC program in exchange for the admission of his son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, into USC’s graduate school with a full-tuition scholarship.
Ridley-Thomas and Flynn have denied the charges, which also include allegations of Ridley-Thomas securing county contracts for services provided by USC’s School of Social Work, the Department of Children and Family Services and the Department of Mental Health. The alleged influence from Ridley-Thomas with the agencies reportedly would have generated more than a million dollars in added revenue for USC.
Despite the charges Ridley-Thomas is facing, many residents in the 10th District believe he has not been treated fairly and still deserves to be on the City Council.
“The hasty rush to judgment by the City Council gives me reason to pause,” said Diane Robertson, a 10th District resident and Area 3 Representative for the Empowerment Congress West Area Neighborhood Council. “Every citizen should have the presumption of innocence before guilt. Until [Ridley-Thomas is] found guilty, I will continue to support the fact that he was not given due process.”
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.