On Monday, the Los Angeles City Council struggled to find a way out of the crisis that engulfed City Hall last week, with two beleaguered city council members losing their committee assignments and a potentially divisive vote on the council’s top leadership position.
Acting Los Angeles City Council President Mitch O’Farrell announced earlier in the day that he had removed Councillors Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo from one Removal from a series of parliamentary committee assignments – the latest in a series of attempts to force the pair down, following reports they were involved in a secretly recorded conversation in which racist and demeaning remarks were made.
The two council members were withdrawn from committees dealing with real estate development, housing, homelessness and other issues. Protesters have settled and pitched tents near De Leon’s Eagle Rock home and say they don’t plan to leave until he resigns.
By the end of the afternoon, the council was on the brink of a leadership struggle, with at least two members competing to replace Nury Martinez, who resigned from the presidency last week and then quit the council entirely.
Councillors Paul Krekorian and Curren Price have publicly expressed interest in Martinez’s nearly three-year stint in the role. However, it is unclear whether eight votes prevail at Tuesday’s meeting, when a leadership vote will be scheduled.
Asked on Monday night whether the council would elect a new president on Tuesday, MP Bob Blumenfeld replied: “I don’t know the answer. I really don’t. I think we should, but not yet. clear.”
Further complicating matters, Krekorian tested positive for the coronavirus over the weekend, raising the prospect of an ongoing outbreak among council members that could force the agency to meet via Zoom for a few more days.
All of these developments were sparked by The New York Times’ coverage of racist remarks heard in a taped conversation between Zedillo, De Leon, Martinez, and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera crisis background.
O’Farrell has said in recent days he is determined to begin work on restoring stability at City Hall, allowing residents to vent their anger while ensuring council meets and fulfills its public responsibilities. At the same time, he acknowledged that Zedillo and De Leon were not persuaded to step down by calls from numerous political leaders, including President Biden.
O’Farrell said he could not see how any of the council members could return to the council “with any credibility”.
“The only way is to resign or recall,” he said.
De Leon and Zedillo have not indicated in recent days that they intend to resign after The Times reported on leaked audio, which was recorded at a meeting at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor headquarters in October 2021.
In that recording, Martinez made racist remarks about the young black son of white Congressman Mike Bonin. She also used swear words when discussing Dist. attic. George Gascón, said he was “with black people”.
Neither Zedillo nor De Leon responded to requests for comment on Monday. Last week, Zedillo apologized for the conversation he was involved in recording, saying he should have intervened. De Leon expressed regret for his actions, saying he appeared to “condone and even contribute to some of the insensitive comments made to colleagues and their families.”
De Leon last year chaired the city council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee, which has been grappling with the city’s response to the homelessness crisis, and serves on robust budget and finance committees.
Cedillo, whose term ends in December, has been chairing the housing committee and serving on committees that review major developments.
For now, Cedillo and De León will have seats on the five-member Powers of Recommendation Committee, a committee that rarely meets, to ensure the council adheres to the City Charter, which requires each council member to sit at least one Commission, a spokesman for O’Farrell said.
Monday’s announcement comes at an unusually volatile time for the council, with one seat vacant and the other two effectively dormant. De Leon and Zedillo — who, like their colleagues, earn more than $229,000 a year — have avoided board and committee meetings in recent days.
With the actual departure of three members, the basic task of ensuring the council has a quorum – the 10 members needed to hold a meeting – becomes more difficult.
Despite testing positive for the coronavirus, Krekorian said he still plans to attend Tuesday’s meeting as it will be held via Zoom. He said Monday that he had only developed cold-like symptoms.
Krekorian, who represents parts of the San Fernando Valley, learned of his coronavirus status shortly after a private meeting with Price, Blumenfield and Councilman Monica Rodriguez at an outdoor table at Front Yard, a restaurant in Studio City. The panel discussed the presidency as part of a larger conversation about moving the city forward, Blumenfeld said.
“We’re in a crisis and that’s what we should be talking about,” he said. “But we also have to figure out the usefulness of governing councils.”
Krekorian remains interested in the presidency, citing his work helping the city recover from two major financial crises — one caused by the Great Recession and the other by the pandemic. He said the council needed people who could push through reforms to rebuild public trust.
“If the members want me in that position, I’m ready to do that job,” he said. “But I’m also ready to serve in any other way to advance this reform agenda and begin the recovery process our city desperately needs right now.”
Rodriguez, who represents the Northeast Valley, said she told Krekorian at Sunday’s meeting that she supports Price, who just won re-election for a third and final term. Rodriguez said Price, who is black, represents the city’s most Latino congressional district and has shown he can build coalitions.
“He helped bridge the divide in his area,” she said. “I think given the moment we’re in, I believe these are very valuable skills.”
The presidential election comes at an awkward time. Depending on the outcome of the November meeting, as many as five new council members could take office in December. 8 elections. Those newcomers may have very different ideas about who will lead the agency.
Assemblyman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents parts of South Los Angeles, said he “100% supports” Krekorian, describing him as someone who works skillfully with colleagues who disagree. But Harris-Dawson also called for a delay in the presidential election, saying no decisions should be made until council members are able to vote in person.
Harris-Dawson acknowledged that a new batch of council members will take office at the end of the year. He did not commit to keeping the Krekorian beyond January after the new members were sworn in.
“I think three months, absolutely,” he said. “Other than that, I think we have to go with the flow.”
When asked about the presidency, Price issued a statement saying he would do everything in his power to “help unite, heal and bring about positive change, lift people up and leave no one behind.”
Tuesday’s meeting will also allow the council to begin exploring a range of reforms, including taking the first step of asking voters to expand the size of the 15-member council.
Still, other efforts to recover from the crisis have stalled.
O’Farrell said he believes a special election should be held as soon as possible for Martinez’s parliamentary seat. That race should also be accompanied by a special election for De Leon’s seat, he said. But until he steps down, elections in De Leon East cannot go ahead.
In Eagle Rock, protesters continued to push to oust De Leon, chanting slogans near his home and setting up camps for longer stays. A sign near a group of tents read “Only 25 black people yelling,” a reference to De Leon’s comments in leaked conversations.
Black Lives Matter organizer Sheila Bates said the protests that erupted last week showed “complete solidarity between black and brown people” in the city.
Bates said she will stay put until De Leon resigns.