By ERIC HE
LOS ANGELES – Facing a recall effort and continued calls to resign from his colleagues on the Los Angeles City Council and beyond, embattled Councilman Kevin de León remained defiant Friday in a radio interview, claiming to have friends on the council who have reached out to him.
De León has been under fire since October for his refusal to step down over his participation in a racist leaked conversation with two other council members and a top county labor official. His return to City Council meetings earlier this month set off more protests at City Hall and he also fought with a community activist who confronted him at a holiday event, sparking renewed calls for his resignation.
In an interview Friday with Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, de León said he would carry on with working in his district.
“If you don’t do what you need to do, if you don’t do what you campaign on, if you don’t lead in the face of much acrimony, anger, misinformation — then the situation doesn’t get better for the district or the city or your constituents,” de León said. “It only just gets worse.”
Organizers of the recall, which has been certified by the city clerk, need to collect 20,437 signatures from registered voters in the 14th District by March 31 to put the question of de León’s job before voters.
De León’s appearance at the last two council meetings before the winter break forced the council to take a recess in the middle of both meetings, with protesters shouting and some of his colleagues walking out on him.
At the Dec. 13 meeting, de León was the lone council member sitting in the City Hall council horseshoe for nearly an hour. He told Hutchinson that he “made a decision not to get up and go and rather just stay in my chair.” De León said the audience members who were “yelling and screaming” at him “have the right to express themselves the way they see fit.”
De León eventually left the chamber, and was allowed to take part in votes while in a back room.
Council President Paul Krekorian, who has pledged to keep meetings going over regular disruption from protesters calling for de León’s resignation, said to reporters after the meeting that the council “can either choose to make a statement or we can choose to make a difference, and I think the members want to make a difference.”
Krekorian later said in an interview with NBC4 that he may consider taking more “forceful steps to ensure the City Council is not disrupted.” Hugh Esten, a representative for Krekorian, told City News Service earlier this week that there were no specifics yet, but said the council will be “scrutinizing its existing rules and the standing precedents, along with best practices from other jurisdictions” in addressing protests.
Esten said both the First Amendment and Brown Act limit restrictions on public comment, “which means the existing limitations are quite lenient.”
Whether de León, who was unanimously censured by the council in October, can salvage or build relationships on the council remains to be seen. He told Hutchinson on Friday that he hasn’t gotten to know two of the new council members yet. Council members Hugo Soto-Martinez and Eunisses Hernandez were among those who walked out on de León during their first council meeting.
“As for a group of individuals who have said they won’t work with me, I can’t control that,” de León said. “I can only hope to make amends and heal those bonds with them.”
Hernandez wrote on Twitter after de León’s appearance that he showed “his disrespect for people in his district and the communities that were harmed by the racist, anti-Indigenous, homophobic conversation that he took part in.”
“At a time when we should be focused on tenants rights, on homelessness and housing justice, and on restitution for the very people that were disparaged on those tapes, he chose to make the day about himself,” Hernandez said.
De León, in the interview, blamed a “narrative” cast around him after the conversation was leaked.
“I’ve never been that person,” de León said. “Not in the past, nor present, nor will I ever be that person in the future.”
In the leaked conversation, de León joined in on belittling former Councilman Mike Bonin’s Black son after former Council President Nury Martinez made a racist remark towards the child. He also did not speak up when Martinez continued to make other racist and incendiary comments and disparaged Black voters as the officials discussed how they could manipulate the city’s redistricting process.
De León, who has apologized for not intervening in the conversation despite actively taking part in it, also advocated for putting the district of Councilwoman Nithya Raman “in a blender and chop up left and right.”
On Friday, de León accused the media of “moving forward with that narrative” but “it doesn’t make it true.” He said the visceral emotion of the moment “does not fit the facts.”
“It was just a firestorm that just took all the oxygen out of the room almost immediately and etched in stone a certain narrative that I find to be highly inaccurate, and not reflective of me as human being, as a man, as my value and principles,” de León said.