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The politics of surviving politics without representation


Okay, I’ve avoided this issue like the plague for the past few months. But some avid readers, constituents and friends finally convinced me that my silence was not golden on this matter.

Mister Mark Ridley-Thomas, actually Dr. Mark Ridley -Thomas, has fallen on his sword and may not be able to get back up. After a very eventful 30-year career in California politics, and a couple of books full of worthy accomplishments in community activity, city council politics, state legislative and county supervisory tussles, the dean of African-American politics in Los Angeles, has been knee-capped to the ground. And it was not a glancing blow.

The sword of Damocles does not only hover above the head of the king, emperor, or president; it hangs above the neck of all who deign to cast the votes and take the resulting heat of decisions made ostensibly to help a chosen community. Politics is never a picnic; it is always rough and tumble with much maiming and bruising. Like football in its own sphere, it was hewn to be a mental bone-crusher. And the enemies are sometimes already inside, staring back through the mirror.

There are many in L.A. and nearby areas who are rejoicing in this Casey at the Bat moment for Ridley-Thomas. They’re glad to see a good man down, particularly, it seems, by his own hand. I am not one of them.

Ridley-Thomas has represented my district virtually throughout his multi-layered career. I am one of the long-term denizens of the 10th district—an area that used to be the 8th council district until unceremoniously changed by someone’s selfish political choice—and I’ve seen the best of him and the worst of him.  His best usually prevailed. I live down the street from him, so he was always a legislative knight for my family, at whatever level he chose.

He is no longer politically young, and recovery from this blow may not be possible. The federal government has indicted him for serious financial cupidity, and the person to whom he is attached in this escapade kept physical evidence that investigators now have in their possession. He may yet escape this trap door, his long-tooth experience may provide him some out that yet remains unseen, but his name and integrity will not return or recover. That, for the gifted public servant he was, is a shame, and a great loss for the community.

Beside the fact that his first meaningful court date is in a few months (he was already indicted by a federal grand jury), the most important item for his constituents is that his city council colleagues just recently barred him from attending City Council meetings and voting to represent the 10th district. They did not appoint an interim representative, but instead just left it to staff to handle services to the 10th district. As important as this area is for L.A.’s Black population, no longer having a voice in the urban decision-making of the Council is not just bad, it is tragic.

The new urban transit train will run through the 10th, Destination Crenshaw runs through the 10th, and the homeless problems of L.A. are well represented by a serious population of the unhoused always in the district. The latter loves Leimert Park.

The 10th serves over 218,000 people and they need to be represented where the crucial urban decisions are being made. The 10th is one of the three “Black American” districts accepted by the 15-member L.A. City Council, although the 10th is not majority Black anymore, if it ever was. The district has not been represented by a White politician since at least 1963.

At last report, the L.A. City Council is wrestling with the idea of appointing an interim representative with voting authority on the Council until Ridley-Thomas either beats the case and returns or is sent to prison. The other alternative is to pay for and schedule a Special Election for the 10th District seat, since Ridley-Thomas still has at least three years remaining of his last elected term.

Scuttlebutt has it that some Council members are trying to entice former City Councilman Herb Wesson to come out of retirement and substitute for Ridley-Thomas.  That would indeed be worth something, if it occurred!!

But clearly, something must be done, and done soon. Otherwise, as somebody just yelled in a recent rally, “It’s another case of Black taxation without representation!!” And the citizens did not create this mess.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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