LOS ANGELES – Embattled Los Angeles City Council member Kevin de León sought Friday to emerge from political exile but was quickly turned away.
De León, who has largely kept out of sight to avoid protesters angered over his participation in a leaked backroom conversation that included racist remarks, unexpectedly showed up to a City Council meeting, took his seat and appeared ready to return to work.
But the rest of the council wasn’t having it. Council member Mike Bonin, whose adopted Black son was called a “little monkey” by one participant in the leaked conversation, immediately stood up and left when de León sat down. Two other members also headed for the exit.
The council went into recess and lost its quorum – temporarily bringing the meeting to a halt.
Bonin called de León a “vile racist” in a tweet expressing his outrage at the attempted return.
"He needs to resign," Bonin said.
De León did not returned to the chambers after recess. The episode lasted about an hour, after which many protesters cleared out, but it underscored the simmering anger over the leaked audio.
Los Angeles was rocked by the surreptitiously recorded audio, which was captured last year but leaked via an anonymous Reddit user in October. In the recordings, de León, former Council President Nury Martinez and Member Gil Cedillo can be heard discussing carving up political boundaries to their benefit with Ron Herrera, former president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
The four discussed how to manipulate the redistricting process to benefit allies and dilute the power of Black voters.
Martinez made several racist comments about Black people, Oaxacans and Armenians. At one point she described Bonin’s Black son as “parece changuito,” Spanish for “looking like a little monkey.” De León in turn compared the same young boy to an accessory, like a luxury handbag.
He later claimed in an interview that he was misunderstood, and that he was not, in fact, comparing the child to a handbag — though many listeners have not accepted that explanation.
Martinez resigned within days of the leak. Herrera, the labor leader, also stepped down. Cedillo, whose term was about to expire, is no longer on the council.
De León, who has ruled out resigning, has sought to keep a low profile, staying away from his council offices and canceling public events to avoid protesters.