It’s been a long time since there was an open seat in City Council District 10, which stretches across a group of neighborhoods in the center of the city, including Leimert Park, West Adams, Little Ethiopia and Koreatown.
Councilman Herb Wesson has represented the district for 15 years, and there’s been enormous change. Several new rail lines have opened or are under construction. Neighborhoods that were once troubled by poverty and crime have become hot real estate destinations, with art galleries and coffee shops flourishing. The median household income in the district is $46,600, still below the citywide figure, but there are a growing number of high-rise developments and swanky grocery stores. The district has become ground zero for fights over gentrification.
With Wesson termed out, the next council person will have to figure out how to speed housing construction for people of all incomes while protecting long-time residents and businesses from displacement.
The competition for an open seat has brought out new, fresh faces and one very familiar one — Mark Ridley-Thomas.
Ridley-Thomas has held elected office for nearly 30 years, first serving on the L.A. City Council from 1991 to 2002, then in the state Legislature, and, since 2008, on the County Board of Supervisors — in one of the most powerful and influential elected positions in California. Now, he too is termed out and is seeking to represent the 10th District on the council.
It can be tempting to reject “career politicians” in favor of new blood. But voters would have a hard time finding another candidate with Ridley-Thomas’ experience and knowledge, or his long list of accomplishments. The Times recommends a vote for Ridley-Thomas in the March 3 primary.
With Ridley-Thomas, residents would have a council member who could have an impact on the first day, with little learning curve. As supervisor, he’s already sited homeless shelters, mental health service centers and permanent supportive housing. He’s been working to address the factors that fuel homelessness, from weak tenant protections and the lack of affordable housing to criminal records that make it harder for people to get their lives back on track.
He’s long been a strong voice for police reform. He oversaw the reenvisioning and reopening of Martin Luther King Medical Center in Willowbrook — the hospital once derided as “Killer King.” He led the fight to get a Leimert Park station added to the Crenshaw-to-LAX light rail line.
We’re not blind to Ridley-Thomas’ faults. He can be Machiavellian in his approach to politics, alienating others. He has made questionable ethical decisions, most notably when he funneled $100,000 from a campaign fund to USC, which then hired his son as professor. He can be both long-winded and infuriatingly evasive when asked basic questions at candidate forums.
Ridley-Thomas previously served two terms on the City Council, and thus, under L.A.’s term limits law, may serve only one more four-year term. That isn’t much time to carry out big projects. Furthermore, he has made it clear that he intends to run for mayor in 2022.
We don’t believe in punishing political candidates for ambition — after all, they’re more likely to be elected to the next job if they do well in their current job. Nevertheless, voters could legitimately question whether they’ll get 100% of Ridley-Thomas’ attention if he does run for mayor. Still, we don’t think it’s a reason to vote against him.
We were also impressed with community organizer and environmental activist Aura Vasquez, who was a commissioner at the Department of Water and Power. She helped push the mayor to abandon plans to rebuild three natural gas power plants and move faster toward 100% renewable energy.
Grace Yoo, a lawyer and former executive director of the Korean American Coalition, would bring a watchdog ethos to the council. Channing Martinez, an organizer with the Labor Community Strategy Center, is running on a platform of halving the Police Department budget and providing free public transit. Melvin Snell is a businessman and a longtime community volunteer.
None, however, can match Ridley-Thomas’ ability to get things done, now. And that is what Los Angeles needs at this moment.