BY DAVID ZAHNISER STAFF WRITER FEB. 16, 2022 UPDATED 6:06 PM PT
Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez on Wednesday called for former Councilman Herb Wesson to return on a temporary basis, representing the South L.A. district that elected Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas a little more than a year ago.
With Ridley-Thomas suspended and fighting federal corruption charges, Martinez and three other council members signed a motion to have Wesson serve as a voting representative until Dec. 31 — or sooner if the charges are dropped or Ridley-Thomas prevails in court.
Wesson represented the district, which stretches from Koreatown to the Crenshaw Corridor, from 2005 to 2020, and was succeeded by Ridley-Thomas.
“Mr. Wesson cares deeply about the communities he represents and knows the district better than anyone,” Martinez said in a statement. “The constituents of Council District 10 need a voting member who understands their community to represent them within council chambers.”
The proposal, which followed a brief campaign by some neighborhood leaders to bring Wesson back, was also signed by council members Gil Cedillo, Mitch O’Farrell and Paul Koretz. A vote to appoint Wesson would require an eight-vote majority.
Ridley-Thomas was indicted on bribery and other charges in October, in a case involving county contracts. He has pleaded not guilty. He was suspended by his colleagues in October, leaving the district with a nonvoting caretaker — an arrangement that sparked complaints that residents in the district were being disenfranchised.
Michael J. Proctor, an attorney for Ridley-Thomas, called the latest move by Martinez premature and anti-democratic. Ridley-Thomas made a commitment to continue serving his constituents, he said.
“Those voters are thus being deprived of their first order constitutional rights of representation,” Proctor said in an email. “Mark Ridley-Thomas’s concern is for those constituents — and an appointed representative, beholden to Nury Martinez, does not resolve this denial of representation.”
Supporters of Ridley-Thomas have argued for weeks that the council should rescind its suspension and restore his power to vote at city meetings. Harry McElroy, president of the Hepburn Avenue Homeowners Assn. in Leimert Park, said the treatment of Ridley-Thomas by city leaders has been punitive and unfair
“It’s amazing to me that everyone raises the banner of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ in this country, but when they have the actual opportunity to practice it, they decided guilty until proven innocent,” he said.
Robyn Stern, who also lives in the district, voiced frustration over the council president’s search process, saying it should have been more public, more inclusive and involved far more input from residents. The City Council, she said, should find someone else to fill the seat.
“I just feel like maybe it’s time for a change, instead of constantly playing musical chairs between him and Mark Ridley-Thomas,” she said.
Others in the district concluded that Wesson would be the best choice to serve in an interim role — if the council is unwilling to repeal the suspension. Gina Fields, president of the McClung Bronson Block Club in Leimert Park, said Wesson would “hit the ground running.”
Cedillo, who represents Eastside neighborhoods, described Wesson as a “perfect choice.”
“There are few people who would know more than him about what the district’s needs are,” he said.
Council members have been divided in recent months over the fate of Ridley-Thomas and the 10th District. Last week, Councilman Curren Price said he still favored a vote to repeal the suspension. On Wednesday, Councilman Paul Krekorian said through an aide that he is seeking clarity on whether Martinez’s proposal complies with the City Charter.
Wesson has served three full terms on the council, the maximum allowed under the City Charter, and served a partial term from 2005 to 2007. A spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer has declined to weigh in publicly on the legal issues, saying the advice being provided to Martinez is confidential.
Wesson, 70, has extensive ties to Martinez. During his tenure as council president, Martinez was a major part of his leadership team, serving as his No. 2. Her spokeswoman is a former Wesson staffer. Her deputy chief of staff married one of Wesson’s sons.
Hours after Martinez unveiled her proposal, Wesson said he was “truly blessed.”
“My neighbors have once again called on me to serve and it is my responsibility to answer that call,” he said on Twitter. “I hope to do the residents of the 10th proud.”
If Martinez’s proposal is approved, it would be the second time in the last three years that the council has selected an interim voting member. In 2019, the council tapped former Councilman Greig Smith to represent the San Fernando Valley district vacated by Councilman Mitchell Englander.