Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Ridley-Thomas says black political power holds steady in LA

LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas argues African Americans are retaining their political power in the region.
LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas argues African Americans are retaining their political power in the region.

For years, as the number of Latino and Asian voters soared, analysts predicted African-Americans would wield less power in Los Angeles.  It rankles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents South L.A.

“The pronouncement of the demise of African American political power has been and continues to be premature,” Ridley-Thomas said.

He made that statement while attending the swearing-in of Jackie Lacey as District Attorney — the first African-American (and first woman) to hold that post.  Lacey built a multi-ethnic coalition to defeat a white man in November.

“African-American elected officials have been, and continue to be, smart enough to know how to win in multi-racial environments,” said Ridley-Thomas, who became the first black male to chair the Board of Supervisors this year.

Another example of a black candidate building a multi-racial coalition: Cheryl Brown beat Joe Baca Jr. for a San Bernardino state assembly seat, in a district with fewer than 20 percent African-Americans.

In political lexicon, African-Americans also perform well: they show up to vote. Ridley-Thomas said while blacks make up less than ten percent of the population in L.A. now, they comprise upwards of 17 percent of voters.

African-American politicians still face challenges. For decades, they’ve held three seats on the L.A. City Council. That could change with shifting demographics in the 9th district and an election for the seat in March.

The top two primary also has diluted their strength.  Under the old system, blacks sometimes constituted a third of voters in a Democratic primary. The open primary means that’s no longer true.

For now, African-Americans hold a number of key position — from city council to Congress. They include Councilman Herb Wesson, who is president of the council. And the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles is Andre Birotte, who was  appointed by President Obama.

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