Mark Ridley-Thomas will 'step back' from council duties, but not resign

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LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 03: Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas speaks to the press after casting his vote at Hot and Cool Cafe in Leimert Park on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in Los Angeles, CA. Mark Ridley-Thomas is running against attorney Grace Yoo for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council that is vacated by Councilman Herb Wesson. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, shown in November, said Monday he is stepping aside from council duties as he fights federal bribery charges. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who was indicted last week on federal charges, said Monday that he will "immediately step back" from participation in City Council meetings and committees but will not resign.

In a letter to fellow council members, Ridley-Thomas said he will fight the "outrageous allegations" and plans to resume participation on the powerful legislative body "at the earliest appropriate time."

"I fully appreciate the importance of the council being able to conduct its business with minimal distractions," Ridley-Thomas said in the letter, adding that he was stepping back with that in mind.

Ridley-Thomas returned to the City Council — where he began his career as an elected official in 1991 — for his fourth and final term in 2020.

Ridley-Thomas is a highly influential player in city politics with deep ties in South Los Angeles, where has represented constituents at the municipal, county and state levels for three decades. Many community leaders have voiced support for the embattled politician, calling on him to hold firm in his position on the council.

“Ultimately, there’s room for forgiveness in the hearts of many in Black L.A. because he has been such an effective champion who fights for resources for this community,” longtime South L.A. activist Najee Ali told a Times columnist last week.

Monday's letter represented a turnaround from days prior, when Ridley-Thomas announced he had no intention of resigning or neglecting his duties. On Friday, Ridley-Thomas said he intended to continue doing the work he was elected to do, such as tackling the city's homelessness and housing crises.

Several council members questioned last week whether Ridley-Thomas would be able to perform his duties while also responding to the 20-count indictment, which alleges that he and a former USC dean committed bribery, conspiracy and other crimes.

Councilwoman Nithya Raman called for Ridley-Thomas to step away from his committee assignments, including the powerful Homelessness and Poverty Committee, which he has been chairing. Councilman Joe Buscaino went further, arguing that Ridley-Thomas should resign from his office.

Council President Nury Martinez, who has the power to remove members from their committees, warned last week that the council would have to take "appropriate action." But she had declined to specify what action that might be.

Martinez spokeswoman Sophie Gilchrist did not have any immediate comment on the letter. By sending it, Ridley-Thomas may have been seeking to get ahead of any public discussion by council members over how much to scale back his duties or whether he should continue in office.

Three years ago, Councilman Jose Huizar was stripped of his committee assignments after FBI agents raided his home and offices. In June 2020, the council suspended Huizar, essentially barring him from exercising the powers of his office, hours after he was arrested and charged in a massive corruption case.

Huizar continues to fight those charges. Months before Huizar left office, City Controller Ron Galperin stripped the councilman of his pay.

As of July 1, when pay increases went into effect, City Council members receive an annual salary of $223,829.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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