LOS ANGELES (AP) — Two months after becoming embroiled in a racism scandal that rocked public confidence in the Los Angeles government, disgraced City Councilman Kevin de Leon has rejected calls to resign and is trying to protect his reputation. as he faces a politically uncertain future.
De Leon, a former state legislator, is one of two council members who have resisted calls from President Joe Biden to resign as they continued to collect annual salaries of nearly $229,000 — one of the most lucrative paydays for city council members in the country.
The other is Councilman Gil Cedillo, who disappeared from public view shortly after the scandal over a leaked recording of racial slurs in October and has not attempted to return to City Hall meetings.
Cedillo lost a re-election bid earlier this year and his term expires at 12:01 a.m. Monday
Deprived of his ability to serve on council committees, facing widespread pressure to resign and after a long absence from council meetings, De Leon has maneuvered publicly and privately to emerge from political purgatory, despite taunts from colleagues who say that they can’t work with him.
His situation took a turn for the worse on Friday when he clashed with an activist who harassed him during a holiday toy giveaway that was partially videotaped and posted to Twitter. The confrontation left children at the event in tears.
Council President Paul Krekorian, who has called on De Leon to resign, said in a statement that the council member, one of his associates and a volunteer were attacked and he called it unacceptable. The Los Angeles Times reported that activists said De Leon was the aggressor.
“This city has endured terrible division and toxicity in recent months,” Krekorian said. “We must reject hate in all its forms and we must reject the atmosphere of intimidation, harassment 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. About a dozen protesters roared for De Leon to leave the ornate room, while his supporters chanted “Kevin, Kevin.”
Some councilors walked out and police evicted two people, fearing they would start a fight.
“Get out, Kevin!” one protester yelled at de Leon. “That’s why these meetings must be shut down.”
The scandal led to the resignations of then-City Council President Nury Martinez and a powerful union leader, Ron Herrera, in October, along with calls from Biden and other elected officials for De Leon and others to resign.
The uproar was sparked by a leaked recording of crude, racist remarks from a year-old rally involving Martinez, Herrera, de Leon and Cedillo — all Latino Democrats — in which they conspired to expand their political power at the expense of blacks. voters during a realignment of ward boundaries.
Redrawing district boundaries once every ten years can pit one group against another for political advantage in future elections.
The California Legislative Black Caucus has said the recording “reveals an appalling attempt to decentralize black voting during the critical redistribution process.” A long line of speakers at council meetings that followed said it reflected the Jim Crow era and was a strong example of “anti-blackness.”
De Leon has repeatedly apologized, but said he will not resign. He says he wants to continue working on homelessness, the impact of the pandemic and the threat of evictions on tenants in his district, which includes downtown Los Angeles and the heavily Latino neighborhood of Boyle Heights.
There is no legal possibility for his colleagues to remove him – the council can only suspend a member if criminal charges are pending.
Krekorian, the chairman of the council, has 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 has largely stayed away from City Hall, he has continued to do business quietly, including attending holiday events and meeting with officials about ongoing homeless projects and illegal dumping issues.
With his appearance at Friday’s council meeting, it is clear that he is slowly trying to step back into the public sphere. Meanwhile, the organizers behind an effort to recall him from office have been allowed to collect signatures on petitions needed to make the proposal eligible for the vote.
Councilors have also received a flurry of letters from people identifying as De Leon’s voters defending him and urging the council to allow him to resume his duties. They also asked the council to waive any additional punishment, which is being considered and may include a restriction on De Leon’s office fees.
The lingering fallout from the racism scandal is a challenge the city’s new mayor, Democrat Karen Bass, will face when she takes office on Monday. Meanwhile, three other current or former members of the Council have been indicted or found guilty on corruption charges.