LOS ANGELES, Calif.–The City Council today unanimously elected Councilman Herb Wesson to be the panel’s first Black president.

Councilman Ed Reyes was chosen to serve as president pro tempore. Both will assume their new posts Jan. 2.

The council chamber was packed with hundreds high-ranking city officials, council staffers and relatives of the members to witness the historic vote. But notably absent were the two other Black council members–Jan Perry and Bernard Parks, who have clashed with Wesson in recent weeks over redistricting and the behind-the-scenes process leading to Wesson’s nomination.

Wesson said he was “disappointed” with their absence.

“Life goes on,” he said.

“This presidency is not about me. It’s about we. It’s about us,” Wesson said in a chorus he repeated throughout a 15-minute speech accepting the position. “Be assured I will lead. The question is will you lead with me, and the answer is yes, because I know that you can.”

Wesson said his presidency would be focused on leading the city out of “financial darkness and bring it back into the light.”

He said critics would be asking, “Can the city council reinvent itself and provide the kind of leadership this city needs?”

“I’m going to steal a phrase from the president. Yes we can,” Wesson said.

His election was greeted by a standing ovation in the crowded chamber.

Wesson will take over the presidency from Councilman Eric Garcetti, who is running for mayor.

The position of president pro tem, the No. 2-ranking official on the council, became open Nov. 4 when Perry resigned out of “disgust” with what she described as behind-the-scenes maneuvering over redistricting and the council presidency. Perry is also running for mayor.

Wesson, who represents the mid-city area and parts of Koreatown, was elected to the council in 2005 and served in the Assembly from 1998-2004 and was its Speaker from 2002-2004.

Reyes has been a council member since 2001.

Wesson, 60, described the day as “practically perfect,” saying it could only be better with the presence of his mother, who died last summer.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, also a former Assembly Speaker, praised Wesson’s selection.

“I’ve known Herb for 20 years. I couldn’t be prouder of him,” the mayor said. “I look forward to working together to take on the challenges this city’s facing.”

By Richie Duchon | City News Service