Councilman Kevin de León at Sixth Street Viaduct opening. Photo by Antonio Mejías-Rentas

By Elly Yu/LAist

Originally published Oct 19

Despite growing calls for his resignation, L.A.. Councilmember Kevin de León, who was involved in a racist conversation that leaked last week, said he will not step down from office in an interview with KCAL9 Wednesday .

“We need to heal as a city, and we need to come together and heal as a city. And I want to be part of that,” he told KCAL9 in an interview that lasted nearly 15 minutes. He also did an interview in Spanish with Univision on Wednesday.

The Backstory On That Tape

De León was part of an October 2021 conversation with Councilmembers Nury Martinez and Gil Cedillo, as well as the head of the L.A. Labor Federation, Ron Herrera. Martinez, who made racist comments about Councilmember Mike Bonin’s young Black son, resigned from City Council last week. De León is heard in the comments making a joke after derogatory comments about Bonin’s son.

In the KCAL9 interview, de León said the joke was directed at Martinez and that he was shocked by her comments. But he acknowledged that he did not voice any shock or objections.

“I failed in that moment and I failed to step up. I failed to not shut down a conversation I should have shut down,” he said in the interview.

The leaked tape of the meeting was posted to Reddit by an unknown user and then reported by the Los Angeles Times. De León said he was invited to the meeting, which centered around redistricting, by Martinez.

“The role that I wanted to play is I want to have a voice in terms of representation,” he said.

In a statement released following de León interviews, Bonin called his fellow councilmember’s comments “gaslighting of the highest order.”

The Fallout So Far

Martinez first stepped down as Council President and then resigned from office entirely after vehement protests. Herrera has also resigned from L.A. Labor Federation. Fellow members of the City Council have called on both de León and Gil Cedillo to resign. Both tried to attend the first Council meeting after the tape was revealed, on Tuesday, Oct. 11, but left before the session started amid pressure coming from the yelling crowds.

In the interview with KCAL 9, de León said he intended to offer a public apology at the meeting.

While the Council cannot remove a sitting member, Mitch O’Farrell, acting as Council president in the immediate aftermath of Martinez’s resignation, stripped both of committee assignments in an effort to pressure them to resign. Both Cedillo and de León were absent from the City Council meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

New Council President Says They’re Taking ‘Every Legal Step’

In an interview with Nick Roman, who hosts our newsroom’s All Things Considered on 89.3 KPCC, newly elected Council President Paul Krekorian said the council “has taken every legal step that we can to ensure that [de León and Cedillo] are separated from the council.”

The interview was taped before de León’s TV interviews were broadcast. Asked in the interview with our newsroom what he would do if de León and Cedillo refused to resign, Krekorian said he had spoken to Cedillo to “ensure that he would not be at the upcoming meetings,” but he had not spoken to de León.

Krekorian also said that while he “doesn’t like having virtual meetings,” they’re likely to continue because he has tested positive for COVID. Bonin announced last week that he too had contracted COVID.

After the TV interviews aired, Krekorian posted a statement on Twitter saying “apologies will not be nearly enough to to undo the damage that this city has suffered.”

“The only way we begin to heal as a city is for Mr. de León to take responsibility for his actions, accept the consequences, and step down.”

Mike Bonin Reacts

Bonin’s full statement on de León’s interviews:

Kevin de León’s comments are gaslighting of the highest order. He describes cruel, dehumanizing remarks about a child as “flippant.” He says he should have “intervened,” as if he were a mere bystander to a racist conversation in which he played a central and ignominious role.

Kevin de León has the opportunity to atone and seek forgiveness one day from all of Los Angeles and from the Black community and from my son in particular. But that starts with his resignation from the City Council. No matter what he says today, his comments on that tape make clear he is unfit for office in this city.

He cannot be part of the healing as long as he refuses to resign. His stubborn refusal to do what everyone else knows in necessary is deepening the wound he has inflicted on Los Angeles.

De León’s term ends in 2024, while Cedillo’s ends at the end of this year. Cedillo was defeated in a June primary by Eunisses Hernandez.

This report is reprinted with permission from Southern California Public Radio. © 2022 Southern California Public Radio. All rights reserved.

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