Berkeley parks

What happens to the sites named for Ridley-Thomas?

If you walk around Los Angeles County, you might come across the name “Mark Ridley-Thomas” on a pedestrian bridge spanning La Cienega Boulevard.

His name has also graced a new wellness center, high school health center, youth facility and “voter service center” with government offices.

Then there’s the Mark Ridley-Thomas Behavioral Health Center on the Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Campus. And the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History has plans to innovate on new common ground – one that should include an entrance square named in honor of Ridley-Thomas.

Now his name has been spelled out in a federal grand jury indictment accusing Ridley-Thomas, currently a member of Los Angeles City Council, of accepting bribes from a then USC dean. that he sat on the county supervisory board.

His lawyer said Ridley-Thomas was shocked by the allegations. “They are wrong and we are eager to refute them,” Michael J. Proctor said in a statement. “At no point in his elected career – not as a member of city council, state legislature or supervisory board – has he abused his position for personal gain. Proctor urged people “to let due process take its course.”

A man walks past the Avis and Mark Ridley-Thomas Wellness Center at Charles R. Drew University in Los Angeles.

(Allison Zaucha / For the Times)

Ridley-Thomas was not convicted of the alleged crimes, but federal charges nonetheless cast a shadow over the many sites named after the longtime politician, who was first elected to LA city council. in 1991 and served in state and county office before returning. to the city council in December.

The Los Angeles County Natural History Museums organization, responding to questions about its naming plans, said in a statement Thursday that “in view of the federal grand jury indictment” of Ridley-Thomas , “we are working to determine the appropriate next steps.”

Naming buildings and monuments for elected officials is a familiar practice in Los Angeles and across the country, but it has long attracted complaints from critics who argue that it is inappropriate and risky to honor people still actively involved in the process. Politics.

In Florida, a commissioner even proposed to ban such names for publicly funded structures. Political consultant Dermot Givens, who does not currently represent any candidate from the city of Los Angeles, denounced the practice.

Manual Arts High School's Mark Ridley-Thomas Wellness Center in Los Angeles.

Manual Arts High School’s Mark Ridley-Thomas Wellness Center in Los Angeles.

(Allison Zaucha / For the Times)

“I absolutely hate it,” Givens said. “It is the height of ego and it should be prohibited.

“If you are so loved and honored, after you die, someone can name something for you,” Givens said.

City Hall mired in corruption scandals, this isn’t the first time Los Angeles has grappled with a site named after a politician who is the subject of a federal indictment .

Ridley-Thomas is the third LA city council member in recent years to face federal corruption charges, after council members Mitchell Englander and Jose Huizar. When Englander was heading to jail, the Los Angeles Daily News reported that a planned park at Porter Ranch may not ultimately be named for his family members, as previously planned. The planned “Bloom Park” was also to have an “Englander Pavilion”.

Porter Ranch Park is not expected to open until next fall at the earliest, said Grace Yao, spokesperson for Los Angeles City Councilor John Lee, who now represents the area. Yao said Lee will work with the parks department “to ensure that there is broad outreach from community members and that their input is taken into account when choosing a name for the park and lodge. “.

The Mark Ridley-Thomas Constituent Service Center in Los Angeles.

The Mark Ridley-Thomas Constituent Service Center in Los Angeles.

(Allison Zaucha / For the Times)

Naming things is “one of the many ways we recognize some of our country’s heroes and pay tribute to who they were and what they stood for,” said Miriam Krinsky, former federal prosecutor and former chair of the Commission of LA City Ethics.

But the risk of doing it while someone is still in the political limelight is that it can be seen as political endorsement or favor, Krinsky said.

Even though no accusations or scandals emerge, when something is named for a politician who is still in office, there is “concern as to the kind of influence that has led to that name,” said Laurie Levenson, professor at Loyola Law School.

“It’s probably safer to wait to see what someone’s overall legacy is,” Levenson said. “It’s a shame we have to do this.”

Ridley-Thomas became the namesake of many sites while he was an active player in Los Angeles politics, known as a leading figure in local efforts to tackle homelessness. Just two months ago, he announced that he would not be running for mayor.

At an event last month celebrating the Avis & Mark Ridley-Thomas wellness center, someone jokingly asked if such a designation meant career ‘twilight’, the Daily News reported. The newspaper reported that Ridley-Thomas replied, “There is a fourth trimester and I fully intend to embrace it with all the enthusiasm that resides in my being. “

Givens argued that it is risky to name things after politicians not only while they remain in office, but even while they remain alive. But Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Berkeley Law School, retorted that it is “a wonderful honor to name something for a living person so that they can enjoy the recognition.”

“There is always a risk that something will happen to tarnish the person and require a change,” Chemerinsky said. “But it can happen after someone dies too.”

Chemerinsky also pointed out that Ridley-Thomas “has not yet been convicted of anything”.

LA city councilor Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who has a local office in the Mark Ridley-Thomas Constituent Service Center on Vermont Avenue, said “it would be punitive to change the name of the Constituent Center” at this time. . No resident of his neighborhood asked for it, he added.

“There is a process that occurs when allegations are made,” Harris-Dawson said. “And we will see this process come to fruition.”


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