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Ridley-Thomas' Elegant Exit

In an hourlong salute, the councilman is hailed as a trailblazer and conscience of the council. He is moving on to the Assembly.

November 27, 2002|Tina Daunt | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council bid farewell Tuesday to longtime Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, toasting the newly elected state legislator as a tireless public servant who revitalized his 8th Council District.

Ridley-Thomas, who will be sworn in next week to the state Assembly, choked back tears as colleagues, even those he sparred with over the years, stood to honor him.

"The fact of the matter is you're a trailblazer," Councilman Nate Holden told Ridley-Thomas during an hourlong ceremony. "Since you have been in office, it's like there is new life in the district. There are more parks, more recreational facilities, more businesses and better services."

Ridley-Thomas, 48, took office in July 1991, when his South Los Angeles community was racked by recession, and later, civil unrest. He responded by seeking government funds to redevelop blighted neighborhoods while working to bring more private sector jobs and resources to the area.

Maintaining that community involvement was the key to progress, he set up his "Empowerment Congress," an advisory committee that includes district residents, business leaders, clergy and neighborhood activists. An accomplished community organizer, Ridley-Thomas could pack the council chambers with supporters with only a day's notice.

"Mark is a very shrewd operator," Councilwoman Ruth Galanter told her colleagues. "We are going to need another one of those in Sacramento."

Ridley-Thomas became known early in his tenure for his love of the political game, constantly forming coalitions and alliances to advance his agenda.

When government funds were scarce, he nevertheless managed to find money for his district. He fought to ensure that minorities were given their share of jobs in city government, and pressed for Los Angeles Police Department reforms.

Several council members said Tuesday that they considered Ridley-Thomas the conscience of the council.

"You are the moral compass in standing for civil justice," Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski told Ridley-Thomas. "You stayed the course and you reminded us time and again about that element we can't forget."

Others recalled how Ridley-Thomas was legendary for giving lengthy oratories laced with polysyllabic words.

"You are the slowest talking councilman I've encountered in 24 years, and that covers a lot of council members," quipped Councilman Hal Bernson. "Seriously, we are losing someone very special here."

While known as a consensus builder, Ridley-Thomas has been on the losing side of a few key issues over the past year.

For example, he was on the short end of a vote to overturn the Police Commission's decision to reject Bernard Parks for a second term as police chief. (Parks is now running to replace Ridley-Thomas.)

Earlier, he waged many bitter battles against former Mayor Richard Riordan, arguing that the two-term mayor didn't do enough to reform the LAPD and advance social causes in the city.

Holden, a state senator more than two decades ago, warned Ridley-Thomas that even tougher battles await him in Sacramento.

"Many have survived, so will you," Holden said. "It's a tough battleground. You will be tested every day. They will always keep trying to destroy you, but you will overcome."

Before being elected to the 8th District, Ridley-Thomas headed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was elected in a landslide vote earlier this month to serve as the assemblyman for the 48th District.

The councilman is leaving office before the end of his final term on July 1. Other veterans forced by term limits to depart by that date include Holden, Galanter and Bernson.

Ridley-Thomas, who was accompanied by his wife and twin sons, said he was looking forward to joining the Legislature, but would miss his City Hall colleagues.

"I've been surprised by the level of emotional waves that keep enveloping me," he said. "I chose to run for the state Assembly because I wanted to stay in public office. I believed that was a good thing to do.

"I still expect to have a significant presence in Los Angeles. I want to work as diligently as I have in the past. The extent to which it is fully recognized by my colleagues and constituents, this motivates me to work even harder."

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