LA POLITICS - Of all the Los Angeles City Councilmembers who voted to suspend CD 10 representative Mark Ridley-Thomas (MR-T), Councilmember Paul Koretz’s agenda is indeed, the most difficult to discern.
Currently Mr. Koretz is in the middle of a tough race for City Controller with first-time City-wide office candidate, Kenneth Mejia. Thinking about Paul Koretz from the perspective of residents who live in the now disenfranchised Tenth District, daily we feel the consequences and ramifications of the vote to suspend our duly elected council representative. We see the heart-breaking mass exit of high-quality public servants from our CD 10 office. What benefit did Mr. Koretz gain - if any by voting to suspend his peer? What is his agenda?
For Koretz, the race is an uphill battle. Having served three terms, Koretz, is a veteran of the Council. Placing a disappointing and surprising second place in June’s Los Angeles City primary election (down 19+ points), Kortetz with 23.67% of the vote, compared to Mejia’s 43.12%. Let’s think about that - what’s interesting here is in each of the City’s 15 Council districts with the exception of one, Koretz trailed Mejia. The only district Kortez fared better was in South L.A.’s Eighth District, the Council district with the highest percentage of Black voters. That is something to think about…
Whether Koretz will be able to retain that support is a very open question. Koretz needs African American votes. However, his complicity in the suspension of the neighboring Tenth District’s elected Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, his support for the presumptively ineligible Herb Wesson as “suspended” MR-T’s “temporary” replacement and his virtual silence on restoration of MR-T’s compensation pose vulnerabilities Koretz should address with swiftness. That’s why it’s so difficult to understand Koretz’s agenda.
By aligning himself with Council President Nury Martinez’s self-serving agenda of disenfranchisement, nullification, and disrespect of CD10 voters and her clear disdain for Ridley-Thomas, Mr. Kortez is showing who he values, Ms Martinez and the ‘power’ of the City Council – not the residents of South Los Angeles who supported him in the race for City Controller. Martinez is widely credited with driving wedges between Black political leaders. Just weeks before the crucial, once-in-a-decade redistricting of Council boundaries, she led the hasty move to suspend MR-T just six days before facts were known about a Federal grand jury indictment.
Her action is now widely viewed as punitive and was aimed at removing an adversary whose leadership on the crisis of homelessness was at odds with her views. She moved to suspend MR-T on the same day he appeared in court to plead “not guilty” to charges of corruption and bribery he allegedly committed while on the Board of Supervisors, years before joining the City Council. This man was suspended on the very day he stood to defend himself in federal court – today we see droves of elected officials disregard legal subpoena and refuse to show up when called to stand before a Federal Judge. Martinez calculated decision to waive the rules and hold a vote for suspension as “an emergency” the very moment MR-T was in a federal court room pleading his case was - just rotten. It is true, discretion to hold a real emergency vote is part of the City Council’s responsibility, when there is a real emergency - this was not an emergency; power grabs are never an emergency in a democratic society. We are learning nationally that power grabs are often illegal. Nury Martinez and the City Council along with every elected body or public board have rules to assure the public (who they are supposed to be working for) are informed, the Brown Act, also known as the “sunshine law” provides rules requiring public posting of agendas and meeting announcements at least 72 hours in advance of a public meeting so we, the people of California, have time for inspection of agenda items – and if we choose, provide comment public on any agenda item, this is a right bestowed on every resident in this State. Nury Martinez’s “emergency” to waive the 72-hour public review of the ‘motion to suspend the 10th District Councilmember’, denied residents the courtesy of review and the right to public comment before the City Council voted to suspend MR-T.
We pay attention and, most important, we’re allowed to comment, Ms. Martinez and City Council Members, take note, listening to voters can help you.
Thus, Ms. Martinez succeeded in removing the dean of Black elected officials and the only person willing and able to sustain a twenty-year commitment to registering South Los Angeles voters through the African American Voter Registration, Education and Participation Project (AAVREP), according to the L.A. County Registrar Recorder’s office, this project has registered 200,000 voters since 2002. AAVREP plays a critical role in protecting Black political electoral strength at a time when the demographic footprint and voting strength of L.A.’s African American community has diminished relative to other communities. Unless someone else steps up to do the laborious work of encouraging registration, education and mobilization, MR-T’s removal is a strategic and deliberate blow to Black political power.
After removing MR-T, Martinez fanned flames of conflict between Council District 8’s Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Council District 9’s Curren Price throughout the redistricting process, pitting the two men over who would land asset-rich Exposition Park in their district, ultimately expressing preference for Price, whose district also includes LA Live. After leaving CD10 without a voting member from October to February, Ms. Martinez announced a “temporary” vacancy and declared a sudden desire to give CD10 a “voice”, she rushed to appoint her ally and chief of staff’s father-in-law, Herb Wesson, as CD10’s interim representative in a secretive, back-room deal. Nepotism at its best, a trademark for which Wesson is well known. Wesson, who ran for the Second District County Supervisor seat in November 2020 received only 40% of the votes in the district (CD10) he represented for 15 years. He lost to the very capable State Senator Holly Mitchell – the same percentage received by MR-T’s opponent in Tenth District during the same November 2020 election cycle. No one knows why Wesson permitted himself to be inserted into the growing controversy over disenfranchisement and nullification. Even as CD10 empowerment advocates were making the case that the vacancy created by MR-T’s suspension was hasty, pernicious and ill-advised, while simultaneously denying him due process with the presumption of innocence and effectively nullifying their November 2020 choice. CD10 voters pressed for reconsideration of the purely discretionary decision to suspend MR-T against the national backdrop of January 6. They pointed out that Martinez was engaging in the L.A. variant of Trumpian politics at the expense of their voting rights, franchise and self-determination.
In fact, Martinez’s decisions tend to exacerbate tensions that can become politically problematic for candidates in tough races. Her increasingly obvious attempt to: 1) slow walk motions that could lead to partial resolution of the CD10 mess she created by restoring MR-T’s pay; and 2) her failure to honor community demands for a transparent process for appointing a new Council appointee are two recent examples of Ms. Martinez forcing her will on Los Angeles residents.
Her latest example is the active consideration of Heather Hutt to serve as a new CD10 “temporary” representative, please note that Ms. Hutt is the appointee of Herb Wesson, the last “temporary” appointee Martinez named in violation of the Charter. Also, let’s remember that Ms. Hutt was on the November 2020 ballot running in the Assembly District 54 special primary election – she didn’t win. Isaac Bryan won that race with more than 50% of the vote – voters preferred another candidate, Mr. Bryan, by a wide margin, by this measure, Ms. Hutt is not a viable “temporary” appointee, she has clear political aspirations. Is Ms. Martinez really that thoughtless or is her poor political judgment overriding fair treatment of CD 10 citizens? If Martinez proceeds with this appointment without broadly consulting CD10 constituents she risks more litigation and deepening the fury towards her and her allies on the City Council.
Council President Nury Martinez’s poor leadership along with Koretz’s loyalty to her is a really nice gift for Mejia, at the expense of Koretz. The Council President and her loyal followers are forcing change and perhaps that is just what the residents of Los Angeles City need in this moment. Significant change.
Make no mistake, Koretz is vulnerable. It’s just a matter of time before Mejia’s team, which is adept at creatively demonstrating nimble political skill, finds out that Ridley-Thomas’ African American base in South L.A. can use its voting power strategically to punish Martinez allies, like Koretz. Mejia simply has to point out that Koretz has inconsistently applied the Council’s discretionary power to suspend Councilmembers facing serious criminal charges. For example, former Councilmember Richard Alarcon and his wife were accused of voter-fraud and perjury charges “in a case that accused them of lying about where they lived so he would be qualified to run for his council seat,” according to a LA Times article dated July 23, 2014. Alarcon was indicted in 2010. Neither Koretz nor Wesson, who were both Councilmembers at the time, pressed for Alarcon’s suspension – no one even thought about stopping Alarcon’s pay or health benefits.
Mejia, an actual Certified Public Accountant with years of professional experience, could point out that concerns about the Controller’s ability to unilaterally revoke a Councilmember’s pay became an issue only after he – Mejia, a person of color – emerged as front runner for the Controller’s seat. The punitive and vindictive, politically opportunistic action against MR-T by the current City Controller was met with callous indifference – many ‘living while Black’ in this city regularly experience the impact of the discretionary use of power that places Black lives, families and livelihoods in peril. Trust that this is a powerful message that will resonate. Koretz’s silence has been deafening, we know he does not care. There is no doubt this message will be reinforced by the anticipated attacks toward mayoral candidate Karen Bass by former Republican Rick Caruso (who recently turned Democrat just before running for mayor in Los Angeles – serving himself), and his police union allies.
If Paul Koretz expects to succeed in November, he needs to place his self-interest ahead of Council President Martinez’s. Resolution of the CD10 controversy is absolutely in in his immediate interest. Appointing the appointee of a presumptively illegal appointee makes no sense, the people of CD 10 already voted – if we must vote again, make it fair and in the open light of day rather than the dark alley of downtown Los Angeles. In the fight of his political career, it’s hard to see why Koretz continues to follow Martinez into the dark alleys.
Koretz needs to redeem himself. He needs to think about his agenda. And more important, he needs consider the legacy he leaves in his final term on the City Council. Joining the Martinez motion to appoint Heather Hutt is a major misstep that will certainly plague him in November. He needs to expedite a resolution of the issues—voting rights, transparency and due process—in CD10 by exercising his own leadership and independence.
(Bridget Gordon is a resident of Jefferson Park in Council District 10 and a contributor to CityWatch.)