December 05, 2013
By Kenneth D. Miller
Assistant Managing Editor
[“Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” —Harry S. Truman]
More than two decades ago his father embarked upon a leading legacy as a pubic servant and more than two years ago his mother retired as one of the city of Los Angeles’ more trusted and respected employees. But, on Tuesday 26-year old Sebastian Ridley stepped out of those lofty shadows and into his own, becoming assemblyman of the 54th District. From South Los Angeles to Morehouse in Atlanta, Georgia and now on to the State Capitol in California, the overwhelming favorite to win his first election for public office, voters of the 54th stamped his candidacy with rousing approval this week.
It is a journey that did not begin with his mother’s or father’s aspirations, but by his steadfastness to lead, to inspire hope and to make the region in which he resides a better place for those less fortunate.
Thus, the young twin son of retired expert of conflict resolution Avis and Los Angels County Board of Supervisors Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas defeated Culver City Mayor Christopher R. Armenta and real estate broker John Jake by securing 60 percent of the vote (with 11,182 votes to Armenta’s 6,704 and Jake’s 744) and winning the seat vacated by Holly Robinson Mitchell who won a State Senate seat.
An upbeat and enthusiastic crowd of supporters that included his father, his former senator boss, 9th District Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price, Council President Herb Wesson, Laphonza Butler (President, California SEIU State Council), former Congresswoman Diane E. Watson, newly elected Hawthorne mayor Chris Brown, former City Controller Wendy Greuel, Assembly member Steve Bradford and scores of others who joined him for his campaign celebration at the Post & Beam.
The father reflected on the new assemblymember’s childhood when he was nine years old running for offices in elementary school and suggesting to him what he should say on the campaign trail.
The Supervisor remembered his first election, one that he lost.
“I Lost! My first election in 1987, I ran for school board and I vowed that I would work as hard as I could and I have won every race since then,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas told the Sentinel.
“This is his day! It’s Sebastain’s Day! It’s his constituents Day,” he added.
“Clearly, Sebastian has always had a sense of purpose and he’s absolutely working that out. It is not hard to understand how and why he is doing what he’s doing.”
Reflecting on the significance of the moment of generation next grabbing the political mantel and running with it, Butler compared it to the presidential election of 2008 when American voted in its first Black President.
“I think that Sebastian represents the future of Los Angeles and the future of California and he represents a lot of people’s hopes and dreams,” said Butler.
“To be a young man from Los Angeles who didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth, but took the instruments that he did have to find enough in him to make other people’s lives better means he represents a whole lot of hope. No he’s not a skinny senator from Illinois, but he’s a young Black man from South Los Angeles. Those are big hopes and big dreams to fill.”
The historical implications were not lost on Assembly member Bradford.
“Let me say right now we’re at a critical stage in California especially for African American representation in politics both in the state, local and federal level,” he said. “Sebastian Ridley-Thomas represents the future. At his young age he will definitely have an opportunity to have a long term impact on politics in California. Most folks are not elected until they’re mid mid 40s and here he is at 26 years of age. I am excited about Sebastian joining me in the legislature and I am excited about it and I believe that it’s going be good for the future of California.”
Councilman Price whose supervision Sebastain has been under for the past four and a half years also had loads of praise for the new legislator.
“I think that he has the kind of background training and experience that enables him to be the kind of leader that our community needs,” Price said.
“He has demonstrated that he is a good scholar, a good staffer and I think it’s his turn to step up and provide some leadership and our community is ready for it.”
Council President Wesson explained the totality of the moment.
“I think he’s a natural. I do believe that there’re people in this business who are naturals and I believe that he’s one. He’s an unbelievably bright, energetic young man who’s been training for this moment since he was in his teens. I think that he’s ready and we get an extra dose of energy from him.
Veteran retired Congresswoman Watson said that it’s important that the baton is passed on.
“It is just as import for us today to understand that we must pass the baton and this young man is well prepared to accept it and make all of us proud that we did pass it to him.”
Endorsed by the highest-ranking elected officials in the Democratic party including Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Kamala Harris, the California Legislative Black Caucus and other legislators, U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to name a few, powerful religious leaders, The Sentinel and others, his victory was a mere formality.
“My experiences have prepared me for the policy responsibilities and the commitment needed to represent the people of the 54th Assembly District,” said Sebastian Ridley Thomas.
The 54th Assembly District encompasses parts of the west side including Culver City
Los Angeles, Century City, Crenshaw, Leimert Park Mar Vista, Mid-City, UCLA, West Los Angeles, Westwood, Inglewood, Ladera Heights and View Park-Windsor Hills.
His transformation started when he was a student of participatory politics and civic engagement with a penchant for public policy, community organizing, and consumer, children and small business advocacy.
After cutting his teeth in the Legislative Black Caucus his policy acumen came in high demand by legislators on the state capitol.
Sebastian has advised Councilmember Price for four and a half years, including his days in the senate on economic development, transportation, housing, public safety and local government.
The transition for him to continue working in that capacity should be seamless.
The late iconic Congressman Augustus Hawkins was too young when he was elected to the Assembly at 27, so at 26 Sebastian Ridley-Thomas isn’t too young now.
His father agreed that Dec. 3 would be a day that is reflected upon some 25-30 years from now.
“I have no doubt about that. This is the beginning of the next stage of leadership, the next generation of leadership for African Americans and beyond and I am completely committed to supporting the up and coming talented leaders, and there are more coming and they want to do this,” concluded Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.
Photo Credit (all): Valerie Goodloe