LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Protesters are expected to remain outside the Eagle Rock home of City Councilman Kevin de León Thursday, after the embattled councilman said he does not plan to resign from his position despite continued widespread calls to step down.
The protesters have been staging a camp-out since Sunday morning in front of de León’s home.
De León conducted interviews with Univision, in Spanish, and CBS2, in English, on Wednesday and said that he will not resign amid calls for his resignation from President Joe Biden to nearly all of his colleagues.
“I’ve always been up against many, many challenges,” de León told CBS2. “And obviously, this is the biggest one I’ve ever been confronted with in my life.”
The councilman said the city needs to heal, and that he “wants to be part of that.”
The October 2021 conversation between de León and fellow council members Nury Martinez and Gil Cedillo, along with Ron Herrera, president of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, included racist comments and discussions over favorable redistricting — and led to Martinez resigning her council presidency and later her council seat last week.
“I’m not going to mince words,” de León told CBS2. “I’m not going to deflect blame. I’m not going to defend the defenseless.”
De León and Cedillo have been under mounting pressure to resign since the release of the tape Oct. 9.
De León also sent a letter to newly chosen Council President Paul Krekorian asking to be excused from attending council meetings “in the coming weeks” so he can focus on the healing process. The letter was first reported by the Los Angeles Times and obtained by City News Service.
De León told Krekorian he would be “spending the coming weeks and months personally asking for your forgiveness.”
But Krekorian did not appear to accept de León’s attempt to make amends. In a statement, Krekorian said “apologies will not be nearly enough to undo the damage that this city has suffered.”
“The only way we can begin to heal as a city is for Mr. de León to take responsibility for his actions, accept the consequences, and step down.”
De León said he called Councilman Mike Bonin — whose 2-year-old Black son was the target of a racial slur by Martinez — to apologize and left a voice mail. He said he planned to apologize at last Tuesday’s council meeting, but that it was difficult because protesters forced him to leave the meeting.
Neither he nor Cedillo have attended a meeting since.
De León told CBS2 that when he compared Bonin’s handling of his son at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade to “when Nury brings her little yard bag or the Louis Vuitton bag,” he was making a comment directed at Martinez’s “penchant for having luxury accessories” and not at Bonin’s family.
But Bonin said following de León’s interviews Wednesday that de León “cannot be a part of the healing as long as he refuses to resign.” In a statement, Bonin called de León’s comments “gaslighting of the highest order.”
“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,” Bonin continued.
Bonin added that “no matter what he says today,” de León is “unfit for office in this city.”
De León, however, said to Univision, “I will not resign because there’s a lot of work ahead. There’s a lot of work that we have to face. The crisis that is happening in the district, the infections, the unemployment, the threat to eviction, the humanitarian crisis of the homeless.”
He added that he felt “very bad and embarrassed for the hurt, for the wounds that exist today in our communities.”
“I’m very sorry. I’m sorry and for that I ask for apologies from my people, to my community, for the pain that my hurtful words caused from that day a year ago.”
De León claimed he felt “very uncomfortable” during the meeting, and was shocked at Martinez’s comments toward Bonin’s son as well as her denigration of the Oaxacan community. He said he wanted to “make clear that those comments weren’t mine.”
“I recognize the contributions of the Oaxacan village to our society,” de León said. “I’ve always been at the front of civil rights, human rights, labor rights, of the Oaxacan village. I demonstrate it. Those weren’t my comments, those weren’t my words. But I failed, I failed with my silence.”
Sheila Bates, an organizer with Black Lives Matter’s Los Angeles chapter, told CBS2 that she was not surprised that de León is resisting the calls because people in power tend to want to hold onto it.
“It shows his complete lack of humility,” Bates said. “And it shows the fact that he’s clearly not serving the city of Los Angeles. He’s serving his own interests. Because if he was serving Los Angeles, he would listen to the city of Los Angeles and the fact that they told him to step down.”
Alberto Retana, president and CEO of Community Coalition — a South Los Angeles nonprofit organization that has worked to build relationships between Black and Latino groups — told City News Service that de León’s refusal to resign was both arrogant and a slap in the face.
De León told CBS2 that he’s begun reaching out to various leaders and organizations. But Retana said he doesn’t anticipate hearing from the councilman.
“I don’t anticipate him reaching out to us at all,” Retana said. “Quite frankly, what I think we’re all looking for to make amends is not a call. It’s a resignation.”
Community organizer Eunisses Hernandez, who beat Cedillo in the June primary and is set to join the council in December at the latest, responded to the news with a #recall hashtag on Twitter.
“There is a lot do work to be done, but you do not have the credibility to move it forward,” Hernandez said on Twitter. “Your legacy will be your failure to take accountability for your harm.”
Speaking to CBS2, de León said that he will “find out” whether his colleagues and others will be receptive to his attempts to mend the divide.
“That’s going to be hard,” de León said. “It’s not going to be easy and I know that.”
Another one of De León’s council colleagues, Paul Koretz, told KNX that, despite de León’s goal to stay in office, he doesn’t see it happening — nor should it.
“I just don’t think that he can stay in office,” Koretz said. “I don’t think he can weather the storm. I don’t think the council can operate as it normally does until he has resigned.”
Councilman Bob Blumenfield agreed, noting in a statement that de León and Cedillo remaining on the council would be “both a distraction and an impediment” for the city to move forward.
“There is too much at stake,” Blumenfield said. “I continue to call for their resignations.”
Amid calls by activists to not allow in-person council meetings to take place as long as de León and Cedillo remain in office, the council is next scheduled to meet — remotely — on Friday, after a recent COVID exposure. After that, the council would next meet on Tuesday, but it is not yet known whether that meeting would be in-person.
De León also said to CBS2 that he told Cedillo in the hallway after the meeting that he was shocked at Martinez’s language.
A spokesman for Cedillo said Wednesday night the councilman remains at “a place of reflection,” echoing a comment he made Monday.
When asked whether his decision to not step down was selfish, de León said that it wasn’t about him, and pivoted to the needs of District 14.
De León, 55, has been on the council since 2020 and made an unsuccessful run for mayor this year. He previously served in the state Senate and Assembly
“I failed to step up and shut down a conversation,” de León said. “The words that were incendiary, words that were painfully hurtful. And I didn’t do that. And I’m sorry to the city of L.A. for not stepping up, and being a leader that they expect me to be.”
When asked by Univision’s León Krauze what de León thought his late mother who was — as Krauze described — an undocumented immigrant who worked her whole life and experienced discrimination and racism, would think of his current situation, the councilman grew contrite.
“She would be angry with me,” de León said. “Embarrassed for the simple fact that I failed to raise my voice, for not putting a stop to the hurtful words.”