Over the course of 30 years, Mark Ridley-Thomas has been one of the most prominent and powerful political figures in Los Angeles, serving on the City Council, in the state legislature, and on the County Board of Supervisors. There has been widespread speculation that he would seek to extend that time in public office by running for mayor next year.
Ridley-Thomas, who currently represents District 10 on the City Council, revealed today that he is not aiming for higher office. His announcement came during an appearance at a downtown luncheon hosted by the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum.
Ridley-Thomas, speaking to Los Angeles in advance of the public announcement, said, “After considerable thought and care, I have decided not to pursue running for mayor in the city of Los Angeles.”
As to what propelled the decision, he remarked, “At the top of the list is my desire to lean in like never before on the matter of homelessness. And after studying the situation as carefully as I have, I don’t know that taking the next 15 months to run for mayor lends itself to the kind of focus that I think is needed right here and right now on this question of homelessness.”
Ridley-Thomas has long been active on the subject, addressing elements including the disproportionate number of African Americans that are among the region’s homeless population. He co-chaired Gov. Gavin Newsom’s task force on homelessness and, before that, played a lead role in persuading voters in 2017 to pass Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax that generates more than $350 million annually for homeless support services in the county.
He currently chairs the Council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee and has proposed legislation to create a Right to Housing in Los Angeles. That would establish guiding principals for how to allocate funding and resources to the crisis, as well as enact formal systems for matters including prevention and adequate street engagement.
The last regional Homeless Count, which took place before the pandemic, found that there were 66,000 people experiencing homelessness in the county and 41,000 within city limits (experts believe the numbers have since increased). Tent encampments in many neighborhoods have sparked anger both from residents who want clear sidewalks and public spaces, and activists who charge that government has not done enough to create housing and provide a safety net for those most at risk.
Ridley-Thomas said the requirements of running for mayor, including fundraising and seeking endorsements, would not allow him to give the crisis the attention it demands.
“It is not a question of nothing having been done, but it is a question of not enough having been done,” he said. “Homelessness took a backseat to other issues, and that can no longer be the case.”
His decision to sit out the June 2022 primary will ripple across the electoral landscape. Two prominent figures, City Attorney Mike Feuer and District 15 Councilmember Joe Buscaino, are already in the race to succeed a termed-out Eric Garcetti. Council President Nury Martinez and District 14 Councilmember Kevin de León are mulling runs. Political observers are also watching a possible candidacy from developer Rick Caruso.
Ridley-Thomas’ decision could open the door for a run from highly regarded U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, who last year was on the short list for consideration as a running mate for Joe Biden. Recent reports said that Bass, who represents California’s 37th Congressional District, is considering entering the mayor’s race, though she would not do so if Ridley-Thomas were a candidate.
Ridley-Thomas said he has known Bass for 40 years—last August he hosted a Facebook Live discussion with her—and praised her work as the founder and head of the South Los Angeles social justice nonprofit the Community Coalition, later as the speaker of the state Assembly, and for her current role in Congress.
When asked if he has spoken with Bass about the race, and would he support her mayoral candidacy, Ridley-Thomas answered carefully, saying, “If the congresswoman were to run, and it has not been fully established that she will run, I think she would be a very compelling candidate.” He soon added, “I think Los Angeles would be fortunate to have such leadership, should she be inclined to pursue it.”
The decision not to enter the race may surprise City Hall observers given Ridley-Thomas’s long track record. A Los Angeles native, he earned a Ph.D. in Social Ethics from the University of Southern California and headed the local office of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He is undefeated in ten elections, starting in 1991 when voters chose him to represent the City Council’s District 8, which covers a large swath of South L.A. He served in the state Assembly and Senate, and in 2008 won a post on the County Board of Supervisors, representing 2 million Second District residents. Termed out of that job, he returned to the City Council last year, winning the District 10 seat; during the campaign he acknowledged contemplating running for mayor.
Ridley-Thomas has a reputation as a savvy and adept political player. A longtime advocate for law enforcement reform and responsible policing, in his initial council term he pushed hard for the departure of LAPD Chief Daryl Gates in the wake of the civil unrest that followed the Rodney King verdict. He also founded the Empowerment Congress, a precursor of the Neighborhood Council movement.
Known for an ability to forge alliances, he built strong connections with labor unions and also business groups—in the mid-1990s, when the councilwoman representing downtown came out against building an arena in the district, Ridley-Thomas emerged as the political leader in hammering out a deal. That helped paved the way for Staples Center, a catalytic project in the growth of downtown.
His most significant achievement as supervisor was reopening the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital, which replaced the shuttered King-Drew Medical Center. An expansive medical campus has emerged on the site and has generated more than $1 billion in investment activity. He also played a key role in propelling the construction of Metro’s Crenshaw/LAX line.
Ridley-Thomas said that in addition to working on homelessness, the next mayor needs to focus on issues of diversity and equity, topics which flow into other areas such as law enforcement and, once again, homelessness.
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