Mark Ridley-Thomas will be elected on June 7 to his third and final term as a Los Angeles County supervisor, representing the approximately 2 million people who live in the county's 2nd District. We can predict his reelection with such confidence because no one is running against him. Assuming a single person goes out to vote for him, he will win 100% of votes cast in his race, just as he did four years ago. Anyone thinking of registering a protest vote won't get the chance. There will be no general election runoff. It's a done deal. Ridley-Thomas is in.
That's both good and bad. It's good because Ridley-Thomas has helped move an often moribund county government into action, with better services for those people -- the poor, the homeless, the sick, the marginalized -- who rely on the county for their very survival. He has been good for his district, which previously had suffered from years of neglect. He's a good supervisor, and for whatever it's worth in a one-candidate race, The Times endorses him for reelection.
And it's bad, because no choices means no debate, little discussion and little public participation in the management of the county — a government that more directly affects more people's lives in Southern California than any city hall or school board.
Incumbents often argue that a lack of challengers is an ideal state of affairs, reflecting widespread satisfaction with the status quo. But it could as easily be argued that it is a signal of democracy in poor health.
Eight years ago it was different. Ridley-Thomas and Bernard C. Parks, the Los Angeles city councilman and former LAPD chief, were locked in a tight race that made it necessary for both candidates to take their competing messages to civic groups and neighborhoods around the district. And because there were other candidates, no one got more than 50% of the vote in the primary, so the race went to a November runoff.
And just to be clear, the district is larger and far more diverse than the "South Los Angeles" brushoff that is so often used to describe it. Yes, it includes cities like Compton and Inglewood, communities like Baldwin Hills and Ladera Heights, city of L.A. neighborhoods like Crenshaw and Watts – traditional centers of African American population and political power, although for many years now with a plurality of Latino residents, many of whom are immigrants not yet eligible to vote or not yet sufficiently organized to claim their share of ballot-box clout.
But the vast district also takes in an ample chunk of West Los Angeles. It reaches north past Wilshire Boulevard, at one point as far as the Hollywood Freeway. It includes Carthay Circle and brushes the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It covers Culver City. It is Beverly Hills adjacent. It has Koreatown and significant portions of downtown and Hancock Park.
The supervisor who serves in this district has a dizzying array of needs to meet and a formidable power base — and contributor base — to help move initiatives toward completion and lay the groundwork for pursuing future political ambitions.
But with no choice to make, why bother to endorse? There will presumably be a wide array of viable candidates for the post in four years, after Ridley-Thomas has been termed out — but not necessarily. Even some races for open seats look more like coronations than decisions these days.
When he was evaluated as part of The Times' midterm report card project, Ridley-Thomas received a good grade:
What we like about Ridley-Thomas is his leadership on the issues that are most pressing in Los Angeles County. After years of county floundering on child welfare, Ridley-Thomas insisted on a reevaluation by experts and observers from outside as well as inside government. The Blue-Ribbon Commission on Child Protection came back with a critique not just of child welfare but of the entire county bureaucracy. Ridley-Thomas was for many years the county's loudest voice -- sometimes its only voice -- speaking out on criminal justice reform and reallocation of resources to safely reintegrate former prisoners and jail inmates into society. He helped turn homelessness from an afterthought into a top county priority. He is also noteworthy for his lower-profile lobbying, needling and string-pulling on basic matters like the county’s decidedly pre-digital technology and practices.
There are things not to like as well. He has a knack for turning every policy or procedural disagreement into a cold war. He's a lukewarm advocate for transparency. He does not take losing well. In his first term he muffed opportunities to address many things on which he now takes leadership, including homelessness.
On balance, though, he has moved county government in a good direction. He should get another four years. Not that there is any alternative.