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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Julia Wick and David Zahniser

LA City Council member Kevin de León says censure penalties would hurt his constituents

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles City Council member Kevin de León addressed his colleagues for more than eight minutes Wednesday, speaking publicly in council chambers for the first time since an incendiary leaked audio conversation upended L.A. politics in October, propelling the legislative body into crisis.

De León spoke out against a council proposal that would explore new penalties that could be imposed on censured council members. The council censured de León in October, a largely symbolic move.

The proposal, approved on a 12-2 vote, directs city departments to report back on the viability of various potential consequences. Imposing those consequences would be a lengthier and more complex process.

The embattled council member repeatedly described the council's proposal as "a slippery slope" that could ultimately undermine the rights of constituents in his largely Latino, working-class district. He also defended his record "as a fighter for the most marginalized people in society" and "a hardworking representative who doesn't cut corners."

"This is a potential overt attempt to injure a council member at the expense of directly injuring his voters, prospectively," de León said of the proposal. "This is not representative democracy, colleagues."

De León first returned to council in December after a nearly two-month absence. His initial reappearances catapulted meetings into chaos, but business has proceeded with a semblance of normality this week.

Wednesday's debate played out in front of a largely empty chamber, save for a handful of spectators. Most of the protesters who disrupted proceedings earlier in the meeting had already left or been removed. Near the front of the room, a solitary woman filmed herself narrating the proceedings.

Monica Rodriguez, the only other council member to vote against the proposal, decried it as "anti-Latino." She said the censure provision "goes back to an anti-Latino incident that occurred 25 years ago," when council members sought to punish then-Council member Mike Hernandez after his 1997 arrest for cocaine possession.

Hernandez pleaded no contest to the charges, entered drug rehabilitation and kept his office. Angelenos voted to adopt a censure provision for council members in 1999 as part of broader changes to the City Charter.

"What's attempted to be exacted out of the censure rules, to me, is antidemocratic and continues to be an anti-Latino response," said Rodriguez, who worked as an aide to Hernandez.

Two other Latino council members pushed back on that argument.

"This is not anti-Latino. This is about accountability," said Council member Eunisses Hernandez.

Council member Hugo Soto-Martínez accused de León of stoking racial tensions in the media by pitting the Latino community against the Black community. Soto-Martínez closed his comments by telling his colleague in Spanish that he needed to resign.

The two new progressive council members both took office in December and have been particularly vocal in their criticism of de León.

The council's proposal directs city analysts to report back with recommendations about changing City Council rules to include a list of potential penalties, while also ensuring there is no negative effect on constituents in the censured council member's district.

Potential consequences include putting a censured council member's ability to use discretionary district funds or authorize contracts in the hands of a caretaker; restricting their participation in council committees and prohibiting them from using city funds to send out mass communications to residents.

City Council President Paul Krekorian said the council's proposal is needed so that members know their options for dealing with conduct that is "unbecoming."

"This motion is not about Kevin de León at all," he said after the meeting. "This is a motion about what options does the council have when a member is censured. Now, he happens to be the only one right now who's sitting on the council who's been censured, but that's not to say that there might not be additional circumstances in the future where a future council is confronted with this situation."

Hernandez, the newly elected council member, also explained her vote after the meeting, criticizing de León's handling of the city's 2021 redistricting process, which redrew the boundaries of each council district.

"You saw what came out of the redistricting process. They were literally talking about putting Council member Nithya Raman's district in a blender. And what happened? That whole district changed," she said.

"And so it's not just about the (secretly recorded) conversation," she said. "It's the real-life implications this has had on local government, and the map that came out of the redistricting process."

During the secretly recorded meeting, de León suggested to two of his colleagues that Raman's Hollywood Hills district be put "in a blender."

At the time, a citizens commission had been looking at proposals to move Raman's district deeper into the San Fernando Valley, causing her to lose between 70% and 100% of the neighborhoods that elected her.

The council later redesigned the proposal, ensuring that Raman lost about 40% of her original district.


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