Final hours: the Mark Ridley-Thomas campaign
State Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas made appearances at some of the 2nd's District’s largest and hippest churches on Sunday, where he went from singing along with a gospel choir in West Adams to participating in a guided meditation in Culver City.
On the last Sunday before the election, Ridley-Thomas appeared with his wife and one of his twin sons at three churches, symbolic choices he said reflected the ethnic diversity of the district.
At his first stop, West Angeles Cathedral on Crenshaw Boulevard, Ridley-Thomas was greeted by Bishop Charles E. Blake, a political power broker. Blake not only leads one of the city’s largest churches, with a congregation of 24,000, but the national church of more than 6 million, the country’s fourth-largest Protestant denomination.
Blake’s followers include many of the city’s African American elite, many of whom drive from wealthier surrounding neighborhoods to attend the first Sunday service of the month dressed up in suits and ornate hats. On Sunday, actress Angela Basset sat near Ridley-Thomas with her husband, actor Courtney B. Vance of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," and their 2-year-old twins, Bronwyn and Slater.
Blake, whose son-in-law is former labor leader and City Councilman Martin Ludlow, endorsed Ridley-Thomas earlier this year, just as he endorsed Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa after the then-challenger made an appearance in his front pew. On Sunday, Blake praised Ridley-Thomas and his wife, Avis Ridley-Thomas, before the audience of about 1,000 as, “a godly family faithful to the church and the work of the Lord.”
Several supporters of Ridley-Thomas' opponent, Bernard Parks, were at the service, notably Earvin "Magic” Johnson, who made a point of greeting Ridley-Thomas before the service and sat behind him with wife, Cookie Johnson, throughout.
Ridley-Thomas next appeared at First AME Church in West Adams, the city’s oldest church founded by African Americans, with a congregation of more than 19,000. Rev. John Hunter, a recent Seattle transplant, introduced Ridley-Thomas at the start and end of the service and urged the packed church to vote in honor of fallen civil rights leaders.
Rev. Ronald Byrd, who is affiliated with First AME, stopped on his way out at the end of the service to say he plans to vote for Ridley-Thomas.
"He’s been a fighter for our community for such a long time," Byrd said.
"We see that he’s for the working people, the working class," said Marcelyn Cypret, 57, a health inspector from Inglewood who belongs to SEIU Local 721 and plans to work the polls Tuesday. “He’s always visible and the union has embraced him.”
But Cheryl Jackson, 57, a retired multimedia businesswoman from View Park, faulted Ridley-Thomas for leaving a local redevelopment project undone when he left the City Council for state office. She said Parks still has work to do on the City Council. Although she intends to go to the polls to vote for Barack Obama on Tuesday, she said, "I can’t vote for either one of them."
The last stop on Ridley-Thomas’ morning swing was Agape International Spiritual Center in Culver City, a 9,000-member nondenominational church founded in 1986 by Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith, a Ridley-Thomas supporter. Agape is the polar opposite of West Angeles and First AME, the kind of New Age, Christian-rock church based in a renovated warehouse where the minister wears braids, preaches about shamanism and guided meditation and appears on “Oprah.” The children’s choir made a glossy music video, "Change Our World,” to get out the vote. It is scheduled be featured on "Ellen" on Tuesday. Ridley-Thomas and Beckwith were among a few men wearing formal suits instead of jeans and T-shirts.
At the end of the service, Beckwith invited Ridley-Thomas up to the podium to speak, calling him "the next supervisor -- progressive!"
"I want to be counted among those who helped change the world," Ridley-Thomas said, reminding church members about how he championed legislation, at their request, that condemned the torture of federal prisoners at Guantanamo.
After the service, Ridley-Thomas pointed to the crowd of Latino, African American and white singles and families, including many young hipsters from Culver City, as the face of the constituency he hopes to serve.
He received a warm reception from the crowd outside the church, with some shouting “You’ve got my vote!” as people stopped to shake his hand.
Among them was William Brown, 65, of Gardena, a commercial plumber who was wearing an Obama/Biden sticker. Brown said he plans to vote for Ridley-Thomas because "he says things I like to hear" about protecting workers’ healthcare and retirement benefits.
“He will be a new influence” on the board, Brown said. “It’s good to see a labor person speak out.”
"Good luck!" Brown shouted as Ridley-Thomas pulled out of the parking lot, headed for lunch with city councilmen from Carson and Gardena at Santa Maria Barbecue Co. in downtown Culver City.
"Thanks Bill," Ridley-Thomas shouted back. Brown kept waving, adding, "There’s more where this came from."
Ridley-Thomas finished the day with stops at a Day of the Dead celebration in MacArthur Park and a campaign event at the Savoy Entertainment Center in Inglewood.
Photo credit: Los Angeles Times