The 20-count indictment of Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud sent shockwaves throughout L.A. county. In the Tenth District, residents who elected him last year, were left to wonder what Ridley Thomas’ legal troubles would mean for them and whether or not he would be allowed to continue his work.
Hours ago, the City Council answered those questions, voting 11-3 to suspend the Councilman in a move that would effectively end his pay, benefits and work. The motion was introduced by Council president Nury Martinez and seconded by Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, and led to a spirited debate on the city council floor before votes were cast.
“Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas has a right to due process, and that should take place in a court of law, not in these council chambers,” stated Councilmember Curren Price. “I refuse to slaughter the reputation of someone who has a [long] track record of public service.”
Councilman Mike Bonin questioned the rush to judgement.
“We are acting … too early without consideration of our full range of options and with too much uncertainty before us,” Bonin said. “The allegations are only a week old.”
Eighth district councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson dubbed the vote as “unsettling”.
Said Harris-Dawson, “All our vote does today is make sure a 67-year old man doesn’t have healthcare and doesn’t have income during the toughest fight of his life.”
Following the vote, Ridley-Thomas issued a statement stating that he was humbled by those who supported him and disappointed by those who didn’t.
“Eleven members of this Council have stripped the constituents of the 10th District of their representation, of their voice and of their right to the services that they deserve,” the statement read. “They have removed from action a member – and his team – who together are among the most productive and effective advocates on the crisis of homelessness. I will continue fighting to clear my name, and I remain confident that such will be the case. But in the interim, the council has disenfranchised the residents of the 10th District.”
In a letter to the council a day earlier, Ridley-Thomas said that while he would not resign his seat, he would freely step back.
“I fully appreciate the importance of the Council being able to conduct its business with minimal distractions,” Ridley-Thomas wrote. “With that in mind, and with deep respect for each of you, I write to let you know of my intention to immediately step back from participating in both full Council and Committee meetings.”
In the same letter, the veteran councilman maintained his innocence, stating “Throughout my entire career, I have sought to act with the utmost ethical conviction. I have every intent on fighting these outrageous allegations and expect to be fully exonerated.”
And in a U.S. Federal Court earlier today, Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas entered a not guilty plea at his formal arraignment.
“Today marks Day One of due process for Mark Ridley-Thomas,” Michael J. Proctor, the attorney for Ridley-Thomas declared. “While some have rushed to judgment, perhaps for political gain, we all win when we afford our brother and sisters the constitutional entitlement to the presumption of innocence. Our lifelong public servant Mark Ridley-Thomas said today in Court that he is innocent; I invite our community to breathe life into that right.”