De León vows: 'I will not resign.' Council president says apology isn't enough

Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin De León said Wednesday that he will not resign following leaked audio of an incendiary closed-door conversation that he took part in — a position that drew an immediate outcry from some City Hall colleagues who have called for his removal.

After remaining silent for more than a week, De León gave two television interviews during which he repeatedly apologized for his role in a discussion last year where racist and demeaning language was used.

De León said he intended to stay in office to help his downtown and Eastside district and that his constituents "deserve representation."

“No, I will not resign, because there is a lot of work ahead,” De León said in an interview with Noticiero Univision, describing the problems of COVID, homelessness, and rental evictions in the district.

In a separate interview on KCAL-TV Channel 9. the politician said the city needs to "heal" from the hurt caused by the racist remarks and that he wants to be a part of that process.

The back-to-back media appearances signaled that De León, an activist turned state lawmaker who was elected to the City Council in 2020, will fight to save his $229,000-a-year job and salvage his reputation.

"I'm so sorry. I am extremely sorry, and that is why I apologize to all my people, to my entire community, for the damage caused by the painful words that were carried out that day last year," De León said in the interview with Noticiero Univision anchor León Krauze.

His statements drew prompt pushback from City Council President Paul Krekorian, who has repeatedly called on De León to resign since the scandal broke.

"I believe Mr. De León has it in him to be a better person than we heard on that tape, but apologizing is not the same as making amends," Krekorian said in a statement. "We need to show the world that there is no seat for racism, exclusion and disrespect on the Los Angeles City Council.”

Earlier in the day, De León sent a letter to Krekorian in which he expressed his "deepest apologies" to Councilmember Mike Bonin, his family, his district's constituents and to every resident of the city. "I will be spending the coming weeks and months personally asking for your forgiveness," he wrote.

Bonin also said Wednesday that De León needs to resign for the city to move forward and that his comments are "gaslighting of the highest order."

Already, there were widespread calls for De León to resign, including from President Biden. Then-acting City Council President Mitch O'Farrell on Monday stripped De León and Councilmember Gil Cedillo of committee duties in an effort to pressure them to step down.

De León, the onetime leader of the California state Senate, took part in the October 2021 meeting with then-City Council President Nury Martinez, Cedillo, and Ron Herrera, the leader of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, to discuss the proposed redistricting maps of the city's 15 council districts and how to retain and expand Latino political power. Martinez and Herrera both resigned last week.

The conversation focused heavily on race, and at one point De León suggested that Bonin used his Black son as a prop akin to a designer handbag.

"I shouldn't have made that flippant remark," De León told KCAL-TV Channel 9.

"The comment was directed more towards Nury Martinez and her penchant for having luxury accessories and luxury goods. It was a joke towards her and not towards Mike Bonin's family. But nonetheless, I apologize to Mike Bonin's family, profusely," De León said.

De León, in the interview with Noticiero Univision's Krauze, was asked about a comment in which Martinez described the son as acting like a “little monkey.”

"Horrible. Horrible. Horrible," De León responded. "What a disgrace. I felt very uncomfortable during the meeting and when I heard those words come out of her mouth, I felt horrible but I failed, I failed to speak up, I failed to put a stop to it right there then in that moment."

Asked by Krauze why he didn't react, De León said, "I was shocked, completely shocked that she said that."

Responding to De León's defense, Bonin said: "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."

At another point, De León was asked about disparaging remarks Martinez made about Oaxacans in Koreatown.

"I really value the Oaxacan community. I recognize the contributions the Oaxacan people have made to our society," De León said. "I’ve always been leading at the front over the civil rights, humanitarian rights and labor rights of the Oaxacan community."

De León, 55, has two years left in his City Council term to represent the 14th Council District, which includes downtown, Boyle Heights, Eagle Rock and other neighborhoods.

Some in his district on Wednesday described the scandal as overblown and said that De León shouldn't step down.

“This is a political move,” said Arnulfo Magana, who owns Hair by Perfection in El Sereno. In private, he said, this is how people talk and the only difference is that De León was caught on tape.

“He’s doing good work here and this doesn’t bother me,” Magana said.

He and others in El Sereno noted De León's handling of homelessness along Huntington Drive and praised him for being a regular presence in the community.

"He’s done a lot of good work in the neighborhood,” said Mike Davis, who works at thrift store in El Sereno. But, he thinks he should resign: “You have to own up for your mistakes.”

Short of De León resigning, a successful recall election would likely be the only way he could be removed before his term ends.

Despite the pushback from his colleagues at City Hall, there does not appear to be any legal mechanism for De León to be forced out by the other council members. The City Charter has a provision for council members to suspend an elected officer if they are awaiting trial in criminal proceedings, as was the case with former Councilmember Jose Huizar and Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Times staff writers Julia Wick and David Zahniser contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.