On a hot day at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, it was a festive atmosphere for Rep. Karen Bass’ kickoff mayoral campaign event.
A live band serenaded voters Saturday as friends, allies and family of Bass spoke about the congresswoman’s experience working as a community organizer and elected official.
One notable absence, though, was felt. Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas wasn’t mentioned by any of the speakers and his name had been stripped from the endorsement page of Bass’ website.
In other circumstances, he would’ve been on stage with elected officials who talked up Bass’ work in Sacramento and in Washington, D.C.
But recently voters learned of his indictment on charges of conspiring with Marilyn Louise Flynn, former dean of USC’s School of Social Work, to steer county money to the university in return for admission of his son Sebastian into graduate school with full tuition and a paid professorship. The 20-count indictment includes charges of conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud.
That made his presence here untenable — even as he came out as an early booster of Bass, who told The Times recently that she began to seriously consider running for mayor only after Ridley-Thomas said he wouldn’t run.
Voters at the event didn’t dwell on Ridley-Thomas’ indictment.
Yolanda Floyd, 54, sat with her daughter Destiny and their friend Michel Dory. Floyd, a lifelong South Los Angeles resident, said that Black politicians and voters are not “monolithic.” She added that Ridley-Thomas’ alleged crimes, which he denies and vows to fight as he continues to serve on the City Council, wouldn’t affect her support for Bass.
Floyd had followed her work at the Community Coalition — a South L.A. nonprofit that Bass previously led — and said the former state Assembly leader has the know-how and the leadership to make change.
“The city feels devoid of real leadership,” Floyd said, citing the homelessness crisis as an example of where elected officials have failed.
City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who worked with Bass at the Community Coalition, said that Ridley-Thomas’ indictment wouldn’t negatively affect Bass’ campaign. He worried, though, that Ridley-Thomas’ input and influence on addressing the homelessness crisis could be lost.
“It creates even more urgency for her candidacy, because we need a champion on homelessness and one that can dedicate themselves to making the big lift,” he said.
After a procession of supporters, Bass took the stage initially drowned out by the cheers of roughly 700 people in attendance. Earlier, one speaker, former L.A. Deputy Mayor Larry Frank, noted that wealthy Angelenos such as businessman Rick Caruso and former L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner were considering jumping into the race.
It was the only specific mention of prospective candidates in a race that already includes
City Councilmen Joe Buscaino and Kevin de León, City Atty. Mike Feuer, former Metro board member Mel Wilson and downtown business leader Jessica Lall.
Frank then encouraged attendees to pull out their phones and donate.
When the crowd quieted, Bass focused her speech on what is seen as the most important issue for voters: homelessness.
The Los Angeles Democrat offered some of her most specific remarks on how to address the crisis in Los Angeles since she announced her candidacy last month. She cited the success of the local and state program to buy hotels known as Project Homekey, along with a similar program to rent rooms for vulnerable homeless people known as Project Roomkey.
These programs should be expanded, Bass said. She added that the city must also focus on rapidly built temporary housing and portable structures, such as the types of trailers used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after natural disasters. The good news, she said, is that the federal and state governments have unleashed billions of dollars in support of such efforts.
She likened the current crisis to the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge earthquake and spoke of the city’s resilience then and now.
“Homelessness has been decades in the making. It didn’t just fall from the sky,” Bass said. “But we can’t wait decades to solve it. It’s up to us to solve it right now. If you elect me as mayor, the status quo on homelessness will not stand.”