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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Julia Wick and David Zahniser

Chaos erupts after Kevin de León shows up at his first LA City Council meeting since October

LOS ANGELES — Council member Kevin de León showed up in Los Angeles City Council chamber Friday morning, appearing briefly at a council meeting for the first time since fallout from a racist leaked audio tape roiled the city in mid-October.

The question of when — or if — de León would return had loomed large at City Hall for nearly two months. His name was frequently invoked even as his seat remained empty, with protesters regularly interrupting the thrice-weekly meetings to demand his resignation.

De León, who apologized in the wake of the tape, has been adamant that he has no plans to resign. He began to quietly reenter the public sphere about a month ago, attending food giveaways, holiday meals and other community events, but remained absent in council chambers until Friday morning.

He finally entered the room just before 11 a.m., about 45 minutes after the meeting began, and sat in his chair with a staffer nearby.

De León’s much-anticipated return was short-lived, with the council member only in the room for a few minutes Friday. It’s unclear whether he will be back Monday, when five new council members officially take office.

Dozens of people, many of them Spanish-speaking, came to the meeting to show their support for de León. Some of them testified against proposals to impose new punishments for council members who, like de León, have been censured.

Once it was clear that de León was back in the room, several members of the audience began yelling at him to leave.

“This is why these meetings need to be shut down!” Michael Williams, a 29-year-old Pasadena resident who volunteers with Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, shouted from the front row, referring to de León’s presence.

Council President Paul Krekorian approached de León and spoke to him, then some of de León’s colleagues began leaving the chamber. Krekorian called a recess of the meeting and de León, as he walked out, waved to his supporters in the audience.

With the meeting halted, about a dozen protesters continued screaming for de León to leave. Supporters of the embattled council member responded by chanting “Kevin, Kevin, Kevin.”

While members of the crowd shouted at one another, police ejected two men from the room, saying they feared a fight would break out between them.

“Both men made comments or gestures to suggest that it was going to become physical, so we intervened at that time,” said Los Angeles Police Department Officer Marco Duarte, who is assigned to the council chamber.

During the recess, more than a dozen officers wearing helmets formed a line on the council floor. Others were scattered around other parts of the room.

Art Pulido, an El Sereno resident who had come to support de León, said he believed de León was “doing a good job in our community” and posited that the protesters didn’t actually live in the district.

“We’ve got a good councilman,” Pulido told a reporter during the recess. “He’s not perfect — nobody’s perfect. But it’s sad when it comes down to this.”

The meeting restarted about 45 minutes later with de León nowhere in sight.

Once the meeting resumed, council members voted 8-3 to have city agencies assess the cost of assigning LAPD officers to respond to the protests that have broken out during the past few months, largely in response to the audio of de León and his colleagues.

The report would also assess the cost of any damage to the council chamber. Council members Mike Bonin, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Nithya Raman cast the dissenting votes.

Bonin said he agreed that disruptions inside the council chambers are “bad,” and that the council needs to conduct its business. But he argued that the proposal places the emphasis on the wrong place.

“The problem was on those tapes. The problem is in this room. The problem is somebody’s ego refuses to get out of the way of his need to resign,” he said. “The road to redemption begins with resignation, and that will end the protests.”

Council member Monica Rodriguez, who co-authored the proposal, said she supports the right to protest. But she criticized behavior that leads to the destruction of city property or prevents people in the chamber from being able to speak.

“We’re not always going to agree around this horseshoe. But there is decorum,” she said. “There is respect that needs to be exhibited. This is the people’s house, and this is about making sure we honor that.”

Prior to Friday, de León last publicly appeared in council chambers on Oct. 11, when the council held its first meeting after the Los Angeles Times reported on the leaked audio of a private 2021 conversation among Council members Gil Cedillo, Nury Martinez and de León, as well as then-president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Ron Herrera.

De León and Cedillo started out that October council meeting by sitting in their chairs, but immediately became the subject of angry chants from the crowd, and eventually left the room. Cedillo has not been back to a council meeting since.

De León apologized in the wake of the tape but said he has no plans to resign and does not want to leave his constituents without representation.

Virtually the entire Democratic establishment called for Cedillo and de León to resign in the wake of the leaked audio. The two other participants in the secretly recorded conversation, former Council President Martinez and Herrera, resigned from their posts in the immediate aftermath of the leak.

Protesters have been a constant presence at council meetings in recent months, with frequent chants promising to keep interrupting meetings until both Cedillo and de León resign. The LAPD’s process for removing the protesters — usually one by one or in pairs — typically consumes the first 45 minutes of each meeting.

Demonstrators also camped out near de León’s Eagle Rock home for days.

Cedillo was ousted by incoming Council member Eunisses Hernandez in a June election and Friday is his last council meeting before his term expires. But de León has two more years in office.


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