Eleven members of the Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to suspend their colleague Mark Ridley-Thomas after he was indicted on federal bribery charges stemming from when he sat on the LA County Board of Supervisors.
Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson wasn’t one of them.
He joined Councilmen Curren Price and Mike Bonin in urging the council to oppose the suspension less than two hours before Ridley-Thomas pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Harris-Dawson tells KCRW that multiple members of the council knew about the allegations against Ridley-Thomas two years ago and still endorsed him when he ran for District 10.
“When there's a political opportunity to kick him, they are happy to kick him.”
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It’s the third instance of federal charges against a sitting LA City Councilmember in the past couple of years, following indictments against Jose Huizar and Mitch Englander.
But Harris-Dawson says those situations involving the former City Councilmembers are not analogous to the case against Ridley-Thomas.
“It was appalling and insulting that the things that Ridley-Thomas is accused of would be compared to gambling, receiving cash in bathrooms, cash in floorboards, trips halfway around the world to gamble on someone else’s dime.”
Ridley-Thomas had previously said he would step back from his duties but not resign. Harris-Dawson says that was a sufficient recourse while the indicted councilmember waits to see his day in court without handling any city resources.
The District 8 leader says he is disappointed that his colleagues rushed to judgment as he believes City Hall has an “addiction to punishment.”
“Within 90 minutes of the announcement [of the indictment], the itchy Twitter fingers are out there, calling for the most harsh penalty possible without investigating the charge.”
He also slams City Hall’s lack of standards when it comes to elected officials whose ethics come under question, and calls out the City Council’s inaction toward another Councilmember John Lee, who was interviewed in the probe against his former boss, Mitch Englander.
“We have a sitting member of the council that was involved in activities that another councilmember got indicted for. The indictment says that person was there and participated.”
Harris-Dawson points out others at LA City Hall who faced federal investigations without suspension.
“We have other members, including our city attorney, who have been raided by the federal authorities and intimated that he made a $30 million bid inappropriately. That hasn’t received an indictment yet.”
LA City Attorney Mike Feuer was probed by a court-appointed investigator over an allegation that he colluded with an opposing attorney, who sued the city, to reach a favorable settlement over LADWP’s overbilling.
Taking a step further, Harris-Dawson says the Board of Supervisors should also be held accountable if they voted for then-Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ proposals that are allegedly tied to the federal investigation.
“He's being prosecuted for giving out contracts that every other member of the Board of Supervisors voted for. And in some cases, he wasn't even the maker of the motion.”
It's unclear who will be representing District 10 while Ridley-Thomas is under suspension. But attorney Grace Yoo, who ran against him last year, released a statement saying if she is asked formally, she would accept an appointment as an acting councilmember for the district.
To that, the aghast Harris-Dawson expresses clear opposition.
“She offered to fill it when [the seat] was open, and the voters rejected her. I would follow suit and reject her again.”