Tuesday, July 16, 2024

More Racist Audio Fallout: L.A. Councilmember Still Refuses to Resign, Recall Started

While he’s steadfastly rejected widespread calls for him to resign from the Los Angeles City Council, Kevin de Leon is facing recall after five constituents filed paperwork to start the effort to oust the former state Senate leader from his seat on the 15-member panel.

De Leon is now the focal point of a political firestorm set off by an Oct. 9 report in the L.A. Times about a year-old audio recording that included de Leon, then-Council President Nury Martinez, fellow Councilmember Gil Cedillo and the president of one of the city’s prominent labor unions, all Democrat Latinos, discussing the city’s redistricting process in widely racist and offensive terms that demonstrated biases against Blacks, Jews, Armenians, gays and the Oaxacan indigenous Mexican population, among other targets in the city’s diverse community. The small group was brainstorming about ways districts could be drawn to better benefit their Latino constituents, and ultimately themselves.

Martinez, who led the recorded conversation, stepped down from her seat on the council a few days after the recording was leaked online, as did labor leader Ron Herrera.

De León, contending the residents in the downtown and Eastside districts he serves need representation, has repeatedly said he is not planning on leaving. He was elected to the council in 2020 and has more than two years left in his term.

De Leon has faced recalls before. “After three failed attempts, yet another recall that distorts his record will not distract the councilmember or his office from continuing to serve the people of Council District 14,” Pete Brown, de Leon’s spokesperson, said in a statement. “He will keep moving forward on important projects and issues that threaten the communities and the lives of his constituents.”

Pauline Adkins, a resident of the Eagle Rock area and the current recall group’s representative, had initiated the three prior attempts to recall De León before the leaked audio scandal.

The recall paperwork filed last week references De León’s participation in the leaked conversation and subsequent calls for his resignation as the reason for the recall, suggesting  “he currently cannot represent the stakeholders of Council District 14.”

In order to hold a recall election for a Los Angeles councilmember, supporting signatures must be collected from at least 15 percent of all registered voters in the councilmember’s district — meaning, the recall effort would need  to collect 21,006 valid signatures in de Leon’s District 14, according to the city clerk’s office.

Meanwhile,  the city council formally rebuked de Leon, Martinez and Cedillo for their involvement in the leaked audio — that led to days of protests, police and state investigations and led to sharpened public scrutiny of the city’s government.

The 12-0 largely symbolic vote to censure the three was the strongest step the council can take to publicly reprimand them for their participation in the recorded conversation. The council does not have the power to expel members, although it can suspend a member facing criminal charges.

De León and Cedillo — the latter of whom is being termed out of office in December — have not attended any of the council’s recent meetings. The council meeting last Friday was called into recess to allow police to clear chanting protesters. A small but noisy group crowded into the main aisle of an otherwise mostly empty chamber, banged water bottles on a lectern and shouted in what was an obvious effort to shut the meeting down. Protesters unrolled a large sign that said the council is “illegitimate.”

The council’s newly-elected President Paul Krekorian warned the protesters who interrupted the council meeting with loud chants until being escorted out that they would not stop the council’s business. “We will continue to do the work of the people of Los Angeles,” he said.

It’s still not known who made the tape, or why. It was released on the website Reddit just weeks before the November midterm elections, although two related investigations are underway.

The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating whether the recording was made illegally, since, under California law, all parties must consent to the recording of a private conversation or phone call.

The state is also investigating how the council districts were drawn up last year and whether the process was rigged. Attorney General Rob Bonta, a Democrat, indicated his investigation could lead to civil liability or criminal charges.

Krekorian and other council members have repeatedly called for de Leon and Cedillo to resign immediately.

“There is no realistic possibility that you can effectively continue to serve,” Krekorian recently wrote to de León in a letter. “Every day you remain interferes with the council’s ability to function, delays the city’s healing process, hurts your constituents and reduces your chance of redeeming yourself.”