Los Angeles City Councilman and fixture of California politics for 30 years Mark Ridley-Thomas was indicted on multiple corruption charges on Thursday, as the Globe reported Thursday. While the indictment was in the works for awhile, stemming from his time as an LA County Supervisor, it was by no means Ridley-Thomas’ first huge allegation or indictment, as allegations have popped up nearly non-stop since he first entered elected office in 1991.
Ridley-Thomas, a lifelong Los Angeles native, graduated from Immaculate Heart College in the late 1970’s, first with a Bachelor degree in Social relations, followed by a Masters in religious studies. Eventually, in 1989, he received his Doctorate from the University of Southern California (USC) in social ethics and political analysis.
Throughout the 1980’s, Ridley-Thomas served as the Executive Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) of Los Angeles, reigning over one of their largest chapters in the U.S. Along with hosting a radio program, Ridley-Thomas managed to work both into a successful run for office in 1991 as a City Councilman of Los Angeles.
For three terms, Ridley-Thomas served as a Councilman, where his first major scandals popped up. Most notably, Ridley-Thomas lost the support of the Korean community following an ultimately failed campaign to stop corner stores from selling alcohol following the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
“We were being blamed for the riots, and [Ridley-Thomas] was fanning the flames,” said local tour guide and historian Mike Kim, whose father owned several convenience stores that were damaged from the 1992 riots. “Most people think Rodney King, but a big part of the riot was African-Americans being angry at a Korean shopkeeper for defending her store. By him doing this, he was essentially blaming us for the riots and punishing us.”
After his third term ended in 2002, Ridley-Thomas was elected as a State Assemblyman in 2002, and later as a State Senator in 2006. While he didn’t generate any major controversy during this time, legislative office elevated his image in Los Angeles, even through his failed attempt to entice an NFL team to move to LA.
However, Ridley-Thomas’s most scandal ridden period came with his next elected office, Los Angeles County Supervisor, a position he held 2008 to 2020.
In 2010, Ridley-Thomas faced controversy for using $25,000 of taxpayers funds to put himself and select other county officials in the Who’s Who of Black Los Angeles.
Then came the LACMA scandal in 2014. That year, Ridley-Thomas made a deal with Sony CEO and LACMA Board Member Michael Lynton for $25,000 to go to a PAC founded by Ridley-Thomas in exchange for voting for a $125 million renovation of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles’ public art museum. The donation was even made a month after the vote so that it wouldn’t sway or alert the public.
While other actions of Ridley-Thomas in the following years were seen as minuscule, such as the 2015 car washing affair in which Ridley-Thomas defied then-Governor Jerry Brown’s water-reduction mandates in the face of a drought, to wash multiple luxury cars several times a week, none of the issues was enough to cause the public to turn against him.
“Here was a lifelong Democrat going against laws and mandates that even Republicans were following because of the seriousness,” Los Angeles law researcher Jill Rodriguez, who helped gather documents on Ridley-Thomas and associates in the past, told the Globe Thursday. “But nothing ever seemed to really stick. He has had a strong base seeped with the African-American community and could virtually do what he wanted.”
“That is until the last few years when it all fell apart.”
In more recent years, Ridley-Thomas was term-limited out of the Supervisor’s seat and was narrowly elected back as a LA City Councilman in 2020. While he has lost much support for accepting political funds from oil companies and opposing buffer zones within the city between oil equipment areas and residential areas, other scandals led to his eventual downfall this week.
His son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, was in the state Assembly from 2013 to 2017 when, despite help from his father, he had to resign following sexual harassment allegations. Weakened, the elder Ridley-Thomas followed this up the next year with his biggest scandal to date. In early 2018, Ridley-Thomas gave $100,000 to the USC School of Social Work through his political campaign fund. In turn, the school’s dean, Marilyn Flynn, sent the money to a think tank run by his son. However, this raised alarm bells, ultimately revealing that it was all a scheme for his son to get benefits from USC, such as a graduate school admission and a scholarship, in exchange for the elder Ridley-Thomas to support contracts between the County and USC. That led to the indictment of the elder Ridley-Thomas and Flynn by the US Attorney for the Central District of California this week.
“This is a guy who literally majored in ethics. He is a doctor of social ethics,” added Rodriguez. “And look at what he has done. He’s facing major jail time now. For sending bribes through the very University he graduated from for ethics.”
“This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He’s being pressured on all fronts to resign now, and chances are, he will soon. Oh, and his political legacy is now shot. He’s always had issues politically speaking. It’s just full-blown now.”
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