L.A. council fails to pick a replacement for Ridley-Thomas, exposing a divide at City Hall

The drama just doesn’t stop in Los Angeles’ 10th borough.

Ten months after Councilor Mark Ridley-Thomas was indicted on federal corruption charges, the City Council remains at odds over what to do with its ward – who should represent it and how that person should be selected.

Council President Nury Martinez on Tuesday was hoping to persuade her colleagues to appoint Heather Hutt, who has been the district caretaker since mid-July, when a judge sidelined the council’s previous caretaker election, former councilman Herb Wesson.

But five of Martinez’s colleagues blocked that proposal, using a procedural step to prevent it from being dealt with in Council – sending it to a committee instead.

Martinez’s motion to accept Hutt’s nomination required 10 votes but stalled at nine. Its failure leaves the 10th, which stretches from Koreatown to Leimert Park in South LA, without a voting representative for now.

Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, who opposed a vote on Hutt, said the council moved too quickly in its latest attempt to fill the seat – she picked Wesson only to have two judges conclude he was due to term limits are not eligible. Councilor Bob Blumenfield had similar concerns and said he only learned on Thursday that Hutt was being considered.

“What makes me very uncomfortable,” he said, “is the speed at which we’re doing this.”

Council members Mike Bonin, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Nithya Raman joined Rodriguez and Blumenfield in having the nomination barred from consideration. The proposal was referred back to the Council Rules Committee, which Martinez chairs.

Martinez quickly scheduled a vote on Hutt’s nomination for Wednesday to keep her on a fast track. She also apologized to Hutt and said she would keep fighting throughout the council meeting to get her in the seat.

“I’m sorry that some didn’t have the courage to have this conversation and address the merits of this black woman who is here today,” Martinez said, referring to Hutt.

After the vote, Hutt issued a statement saying she remains committed to the district. “While I am disappointed with today’s decision, I will continue to fight to provide the resources and services our constituents need,” she said.

Residents of the 10th have been on and off without proxy since last fall, when Ridley-Thomas was charged with bribery, conspiracy and fraud in a case involving allegations that he funneled public funds to USC in exchange for a job and full scholarship for his son. He has pleaded not guilty.

Supporters of Heather Hutt at Tuesday's Los Angeles City Council meeting.

Supporters of Heather Hutt at Tuesday’s Los Angeles City Council meeting.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

The council suspended Ridley-Thomas by a vote of 11-3. Martinez selected Karly Katona, Ridley-Thomas’ chief of staff at the time, as the non-voting caretaker.

Residents in the district protested that the move had stripped them of their right to vote, as Katona had no voting rights.

In February, the Council selected Wesson as an interim post. But those efforts were challenged in court by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and district residents who aligned themselves with Ridley-Thomas. Two judges sided with these plaintiffs, and Wesson resigned last week.

Since Martinez announced Hutt’s nomination, political debate over the district’s future has expanded, with a growing number of candidates, elected officials and interest groups from across the city joining the fray.

Labor organizer Hugo Soto-Martinez, who is now running to oust Councilman Mitch O’Farrell in the November 8 election, urged the council to do so take more input to the appointment. O’Farrell signed the proposal to appoint Hutt last week.

Councilwoman-elect Eunisses Hernandez, who defeated councilor Gil Cedillo in June but won’t sit until December, also weighed in, saying the election of a provisional councilor shouldn’t be left “in the hands of a few.”

Cedillo, in turn, said the district deserved to have a voting representative immediately. “Delayed democracy is denied democracy,” he said.

For some, dealing with the temporary vacancy in the 10th District has become a referendum on Martinez’s tenure as council chairman.

Rob Quan, a frequent Martinez critic, accused her of choosing Hutt to remain Council President as part of a broader strategy. Several of Martinez’s allies on the council will resign later this year when the presidency is voted on.

“She takes care of a voice,” said Quan, who is part of the group Unrig LA. “And that’s in January 2023 when they vote for the Council President.”

Suspended Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas shown in 2020.

Suspended Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas shown in 2020.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Martinez called the allegation “insulting” and said she acted because the 10th Circuit needed a proxy. If critics want new leadership, “then put the votes up and take me out whenever you want,” she said.

“I’m not afraid of that,” Martinez added.

Dallas Fowler, who lives in the 10th Precinct Mid-City area, praised Martinez for moving to fill the seat. Appearing before the council, she berated council members who blocked the vote on Hutt, calling it “an insult to every woman in this district”.

“For over 200 days, this district has gone without a voting member on this council, and you would never allow that in North Hollywood or Sherman Oaks,” said Fowler, who wore a T-shirt that read “Black Women Are Watching.”

On Tuesday, Martinez and Councilor Paul Krekorian filed a motion asking for a report on the process of calling a special election if Ridley-Thomas’ seat becomes permanently vacant — a scenario that would play out if he were elected by a jury would be convicted.

Bonin, Harris-Dawson and Rodriguez have offered a separate plan that would direct city officials to return in 60 days with eligibility criteria for a provisional appointment. That timeline would force the council to make a decision a few weeks ahead of Ridley-Thomas’ trial, which is set for mid-November.

Bonin said Monday his search process need not take a full two months. Meanwhile, even some who opposed voting on Hutt said they didn’t want to wait 60 days.

Harry McElroy, who lives in Leimert Park, said councilors should hold two rounds of hearings to find a replacement, allowing multiple candidates to apply for the post.

“I don’t think it should take more than a week or two,” he said. “It shouldn’t take that long if we get it right.”

Bev Rowe, who lives in the West Adams section of the Ridley Thomas district, said residents should be given the opportunity to investigate Hutt, who served as an aide to Vice President Kamala Harris when Harris was in the US Senate.

“We don’t know anything about Heather Hutt,” she said.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-08-30/council-members-fail-to-get-enough-votes-to-appoint-heather-hutt-to-the-city-council L.A. council fails to pick a replacement for Ridley-Thomas, exposing a divide at City Hall

Alley Einstein

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