Fallout from LA race scandal continues to rock City Council
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Two months after being embroiled in a racist scandal that shook public trust in the Los Angeles government, disgraced city councilman Kevin de Leon has refused calls to resign and is trying to rehabilitate his reputation as he faces a politically uncertain future.
De Leon, a former state lawmaker, is one of two council members who have resisted President Joe Biden’s calls to step down, while continuing to collect annual salaries of nearly $229,000 – among the salaries most lucrative for city council members nationwide.
The other is Councilman Gil Cedillo, who disappeared from public view shortly after the scandal of a leaked recording of racial slurs emerged in October and has made no attempt to return to meetings at the hotel in town.
Cedillo lost a re-election bid earlier this year and his term expires at 12:01 a.m. Monday.
Stripped of his ability to participate in board committees, facing widespread pressure to resign, and after a prolonged absence from board meetings, de Leon has publicly and privately maneuvered his way out of political purgatory, despite insults from his colleagues who say they can’t work with him.
His situation deteriorated on Friday, when he got into a fight with an activist who heckled him during a holiday toy giveaway that was partially captured on video and posted to Twitter. The confrontation left the children present at the event in tears.
Council Speaker Paul Krekorian, who called on de Leon to stand down, said in a statement that the councilman, one of his staff and a volunteer were attacked and called him a ‘intolerable. The Los Angeles Times reported that activists said de Leon was the attacker.
“This city has endured horrific division and toxicity for the past few months,” Krekorian said. “We must reject hate in all its forms and we must reject the atmosphere of bullying, intimidation and threats.”
De Leon appeared at his first council meeting since mid-October on Friday, sparking a chaotic protest between competing factions in the audience. A dozen protesters yelled at de Leon to leave the ornate bedroom, while his supporters chanted “Kevin, Kevin.”
Some council members walked out and the police kicked out two people, fearing they were fighting.
“Go, Kevin!” a protester shouted at de Leon. “That’s why these meetings must be closed.”
The scandal sparked the October resignations of then-city council speaker Nury Martinez and a powerful labor leader, Ron Herrera, as well as calls from Biden and other lawmakers for de Leon and others quit.
The outcry was sparked by a leaked recording of rude and racist comments from a year-long meeting involving Martinez, Herrera, de Leon and Cedillo – all Latino Democrats – in which they plotted to extend their political power to the expense of black voters in a realignment of ward boundaries.
Reshuffling constituencies once a decade can pit one group against another for political advantage in future elections.
The California Legislative Black Caucus said the recording “reveals an appalling effort to decentralize black voices during the critical redistricting process.” A long line of speakers at subsequent Council meetings said it echoed the Jim Crow era and was a stark example of “anti-Blackness”.
De Leon repeatedly apologized but said he would not resign. He says he wants to continue working on homelessness, the fallout from the pandemic and the threat of eviction of tenants in his neighborhood, which includes downtown Los Angeles and the heavily Latino neighborhood of Boyle Heights.
There is no legal way for his colleagues to remove him – the board can only suspend a member when criminal charges are pending.
Krekorian, the council chairman, said “the only way we can begin to heal as a city is for Mr. de Leon to take responsibility for his actions, accept the consequences and step down.”
While de Leon largely stayed away from City Hall, he continued to quietly conduct business, including attending holiday events and meeting officials on ongoing projects for the sans. -shelter and illegal dumping problems.
With his appearance at the council meeting on Friday, it is clear that he is trying to gradually retreat into the public sphere. Meanwhile, organizers behind an effort to recall him from office have been allowed to collect the petition signatures needed to qualify the proposal for the ballot.
Council members also received a series of letters from people identifying themselves as voters of de Leon, defending him and urging the council to let him return to office. They also asked the board to refrain from any additional sanctions, which are being considered and could include restricting funds from Leon’s office.
The continuing fallout from the racism scandal is one of the challenges the city’s new mayor, Democrat Karen Bass, will face when she takes office on Monday. Meanwhile, three other current or former Council members have been indicted or pleaded guilty to corruption charges.