L.A. City Council splits on how to fill indicted Councilman Ridley-Thomas’ seat
Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez on Friday called for a new replacement for indicted Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, days after a judge torpedoed the council’s previous choice.
Martinez, along with four of her colleagues, said council aide Heather Hutt should become a voting replacement for Ridley-Thomas, who was suspended by the council last year.
“The 10th District deserves to have not just a voice, but a vote, on the critical issues that matter to them,” said Councilman Kevin de León, who has spoken with Hutt and signed Martinez’s proposal.
Martinez did not say when the council would vote on her proposal. Meanwhile, three other council members offered a separate proposal asking for extensive reports on the replacement process, which could take two months to complete.
Ridley-Thomas has pleaded not guilty to bribery, conspiracy and fraud charges. His trial is set for mid-November.
Hutt, who served as a political aide to Vice President Kamala Harris during her time in the U.S. Senate, has spent the last month as the nonvoting caretaker of Ridley-Thomas’ district, which stretches from Koreatown to Leimert Park in South L.A.
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Hutt, in a statement, said she would be “a voice the residents of the 10th District can depend on” if confirmed by the council. Hutt would no longer hold the office if Ridley-Thomas is acquitted or if the charges are dropped, the motion states.
In February, the council selected former Councilman Herb Wesson to serve as a temporary voting replacement. A judge ruled Monday that he cannot be seated pending a trial over his eligibility for the seat.
Wesson resigned from his position Thursday, telling the council that district residents deserve “a voting voice.”
Martinez’s strategy drew pushback from some of her colleagues.
Council members Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Mike Bonin and Monica Rodriguez put forward a separate motion Friday that would instruct city departments to look “all options” before filling the seat, including the calling of a special election.
The motion also asks for city officials to report back in 60 days on the eligibility requirements for the post, and provide information on ways of gathering public input on a proposed appointment.
Bonin, in an interview, said that he and the other council members who signed the motion are asking for a “clear and transparent process.” The decision, he said, should be “left to the full council, not to the council president.”
Asked about Bonin’s proposal, Martinez accused the councilman and other members who signed his motion of treating the process of filling Ridley-Thomas’ seat differently from the way the council filled seats previously held by Councilmen Jose Huizar and Mitchell Englander, both of whom were also charged with federal crimes.
In his resignation letter, Wesson stepped down as an interim replacement for the indicted councilman, saying “the community needs representation.”
Martinez also noted that the district has never been represented by a Black woman.
“Leadership is stepping up during a challenging time,” she said in a statement. “That is what Heather Hutt has done as caretaker and what I know she will do as the council member for the 10th District.”
Over the last few days, Hutt has reached out to council members to let them know she is interested in serving as the district’s interim voting representative.
Councilman Paul Koretz, who signed the proposal to appoint Hutt, said he spoke with Hutt about the appointment earlier this week. Koretz also said he does not believe an extensive series of hearings is needed before the council makes an appointment.
Ridley-Thomas’ trial is three months away and if he is convicted, the council would quickly call for a special election so voters can choose a replacement, Koretz said.
“I think the community wants somebody in place, and she’s very capable,” he said of Hutt.
Diana Dean, who lives in the district, told council members Friday that the 10th has become “ugly, filthy, dirty” and has “nobody to work for us or represent us.” She said she worries that Hutt’s appointment will also be tossed out by a judge, leaving the district without a voting member yet again.
“An election would give us more options,” she said in an interview.
Ridley-Thomas didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. However, city lawyers have repeatedly argued that a special election should not be called, since Ridley-Thomas may be acquitted and then seek to return to his seat.
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