By ERIC HE
LOS ANGELES – City Councilwoman Heather Hutt walked into the lobby of her office this week after a council meeting, carrying a bouquet of yellow flowers.
“Just trying to make it more pretty,” Hutt said, placing the flowers down on a table.
Hutt, in her third week as the interim council member for the 10th District, said in an interview with City News Service that she is “hitting the ground running” — office decorations included. And for good reason. For months, the district — which stretches from Koreatown to Leimert Park in South Los Angeles — has not had voting representation on the council until Hutt was appointed in early September.
The controversy that resulted in 270,000 residents not having a council member is ongoing. Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas was suspended last October following his federal indictment on corruption charges. The interim replacement, three-term council veteran Herb Wesson, lasted less than eight months and wasn’t even allowed to perform official council duties when he resigned in late August due to legal challenges over his eligibility.
Enter Hutt, initially appointed as a caretaker and later to serve as fill-in council member after Wesson’s resignation. She will hold the position pending the result of Ridley-Thomas’ trial scheduled for November, or if the vacancy becomes permanent. Hutt is no stranger to government, spending over 30 years in public service. She previously served as state director for then-Sen. Kamala Harris and a district director for former state Sen. Isadore Hall.
After coming up short in her bid for a State Assembly seat last year, this is Hutt’s first role as an official.
“It’s very different,” Hutt said.
And it got off to a rocky start. Hutt’s nomination was initially blocked by five council members concerned about the speed of the process and that Hutt was the only candidate considered by the council. Hutt spent two meetings watching from the front row of the chamber as some of her future colleagues voted against her joining their ranks, even though there appeared to be consensus that she was qualified for the position. Impassioned public comment sessions were largely split on whether to appoint Hutt.
“This process has been designed around one person, rather than designed around what’s best for the 10th District,” said Councilman Mike Bonin, who along with Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez voted against appointing Hutt.
Hutt defended Council President Nury Martinez’s decision to nominate her, noting the city charter allows the council to fill a temporary vacancy via appointment and that there was “no speed involved” because the district lacked representation for months.
“I believe that nobody wants to deny representation,” Hutt said. “The people just deserve some stability, and so I believe the president made the right choice in saying, `Yes, you do deserve stability.”‘
Hutt claimed she didn’t volunteer for the role. Rather, she said the community reached out to Martinez and said: “`If Herb Wesson can’t stay, then we want Heather.’ Not Heather. Heather didn’t do that.”
Some pointed to the unfair advantage Hutt may have if she chooses to run for the seat in 2024, when Ridley-Thomas’ term is set to end.
Grace Yoo, an attorney who lost to Ridley-Thomas in the runoff in the 2020 election for the 10th District seat but received over 36,400 votes, sent a letter to the council claiming she should have been appointed instead because she had been vetted by voters.
Hutt declined to state whether she would run.
“I’m at a place where we have to get things done,” Hutt said. “I’m not thinking about campaigning right now. I’m thinking about the constituents, and things that weren’t done and things that need to get done.”
She’s starting with the basic necessities that have piled up over the past few months, such as filling potholes, trimming trees and cleaning up weeds. The big difference between serving as a caretaker and a council member, according to Hutt, is that caretakers need to file motions to request for crews to work on things like repairing a median. That resulted in delays for routine services.
James An, president of the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles, told the council during Hutt’s nomination hearing that his group has been helping 10th District residents receive government benefits during the pandemic.
“We’ve seen a lot of pain and suffering in our community,” An said. “I am not here to specifically endorse any single candidate. However, I think everybody would agree lack of representation in the city results in a lot of bad things.”
Hutt’s appointment was also historic. She is the first woman to represent the district and the first woman to represent South Los Angeles in a decade. She is the fourth woman on the 15-member council, and just the third Black councilwoman in the city’s history.
“Your reputation precedes you,” Councilman Curren Price said at Hutt’s nomination hearing. “And the expression that you bring to this horseshoe shows that you have already been earning and crushing the glass ceiling.”
Hutt called the occasion surreal. It was a reminder that progress isn’t happening as fast as it should be.
“Here we are in 2022,” Hutt said. “There’s never been a woman of any color in this seat. What? It’s a big `Huh?”‘
When Hutt worked for Harris, she would invite young girls of color to the future vice president’s office, just so they could see people like them working and understand that “there’s no mystery.”
“Because if you can see it, you can be it,” Hutt said. “And so I don’t intend to be the last (Black woman to hold the seat).”
Hutt, who lives in Baldwin Vista, was born and raised in the district. At her swearing-in ceremony, Hutt teared up while holding up a picture of her mother, Jacqueline, who worked in City Hall as a housing coordinator under Councilman Robert Farrell when Tom Bradley was mayor.
The appointment is a full-circle moment for Hutt, who grew up going to City Hall. She recalled showing Bradley her report cards.
“It also reminded me that I was comfortable in government because I was exposed young,” Hutt said. “Which takes me back to what young girls need to see.”
Three weeks in, Hutt said she is learning her role. She named homelessness as the most pressing issue facing her district and is in the process of gathering data.
“I’m hearing from constituents that they’re glad that they have a voice, that there’s a voting member in place,” Hutt said.