Heather Hutt is cleared to join the L.A. City Council. But will she stay long?
David Zahniser | Fri, September 2, 2022 at 1:55 PM·5 min read
L.A.'s 10th City Council District once again has a voting representative at City Hall. But how long she will hold that post is far from certain.
The City Council voted 12 to 2 on Friday to make political aide Heather Hutt the interim replacement for indicted Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is fighting federal corruption charges and was suspended last year. His trial is in less than three months.
The council's decision offered a speedy turnaround from Tuesday, when five members succeeded in blocking Hutt from consideration, saying the public deserved additional time to weigh in on her appointment.
Councilwoman Nithya Raman, who opposed a request to take up Hutt's nomination on Tuesday, voted in favor of her on Friday. Raman said she pushed back earlier this week out of fear that an accelerated process would undermine Hutt's legitimacy to serve as the district's representative.
"I have the deepest respect for you," Raman told Hutt. "I'm excited to support your appointment today."
Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Monica Rodriguez cast the only opposing votes, saying they still have issues with the way the seat was filled. If Hutt later decides to run for the seat, she will have an unfair leg up over other candidates seeking the post in the next election, Bonin said.
"I object to a process that is engineered to give us a yes or no vote on just one name," he said.
Ridley-Thomas was suspended in October, shortly after he was indicted on charges of bribery, conspiracy and fraud. He has pleaded not guilty.
Because his trial is set for mid-November, Hutt's tenure could wind up being relatively brief.
If Ridley-Thomas is acquitted, he could be back at City Hall by Thanksgiving. If he is found guilty, the council would need to decide whether to call a special election to replace him — and whether to extend Hutt's time as the district's representative.
"Filling the temporary vacancy in no way will tie the City Council's hands as to options that may arise, if the vacancy ultimately becomes permanent," said Chief Asst. City Atty. David Michaelson, in remarks to council members earlier this week. "The permanent vacancy could come about or would come about if Mr. Ridley-Thomas were to resign, accept a plea or is convicted."
Former Councilman Herb Wesson was appointed to the seat in February. But legal challenges twice interrupted his tenure — the second time permanently.
Several district residents told the council they have grown tired of the instability created by the vacancy. Some showed up wearing Heather Hutt T-shirts. Others held pink signs that read "CD10 deserves a vote."
"We need a voting representative and we need it now," said Brenda Ashby, who lives in the Crenshaw Manor area. "We need to get back to a functioning CD10."
The contingent of Hutt supporters included some of the city's most influential voices. Businessman Danny Bakewell Sr., whose company owns the Los Angeles Sentinel newspaper, Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, and Ron Herrera, president of the powerful County Federation of Labor, all spoke in favor of Hutt's appointment.
"This woman is the voice of CD10, whether we like it or not," said Herrera, whose group endorses candidates for city office and spends significant sums supporting their campaigns. "She leads the community now."
Some in the district, which stretches from Koreatown south to the Crenshaw Corridor in South L.A, continued to protest the council's choice.
Grace Yoo, who ran for the seat in 2020 but lost to Ridley-Thomas, argued that she is a more logical choice, since she secured tens of thousands of votes in her election. If Hutt becomes an interim councilmember, Yoo said, she should be barred from running in 2024, the next regularly scheduled election for the seat.
"All I ask is that you keep it fair," Yoo told the council.
Hutt, who worked for Vice President Kamala Harris when Harris was in the U.S. Senate, was sworn in immediately after the vote. She thanked councilmembers and members of the public for supporting her.
"During the 2020 summer of revolution, I was able to teach my boys to believe in government, that we will always work to make change from the inside out," she said, fighting back tears. "I'm happy to be part of this change."
Hutt has been the district's caretaker since mid-July, when a judge sidelined Wesson. A second judge later concluded that the city was likely to lose a lawsuit challenging Wesson's eligibility to serve, on the grounds that he is barred under from returning under term limits.
Wesson resigned last week. Council President Nury Martinez proposed Hutt a day later, sending her nomination to the council floor on Tuesday. At that meeting, five council members blocked the council from considering her, saying the selection process was moving too fast.
Martinez held a hearing on Hutt the following day with the council's rules committee, which she chairs. The committee unanimously endorsed Hutt and declined to approve a counterproposal from three councilmembers — Bonin, Rodriguez and Marqueece Harris-Dawson — to initiate a more extensive 60-day search.
On Friday, Harris-Dawson said he had been unwilling to participate in a selection process that he opposed. At the same time, he said he always supported Hutt for the job.
"There is no way, knowing Heather as long as I have known her, and seeing her in as many struggles I have seen her ... that I would have ever cast a vote against Heather Hutt," he said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.