Kevin de León didn’t go to his own World Cup party. Still, he emerged victorious
The sun had not yet risen when Cesar Augusto Espinoza entered Pershing Square just after six on Sunday morning, but the square was already bustling with activity. The workers prepared for the big game.
Technicians performed microphone checks and adjusted television settings on a large screen. Vendors set up booths to sell margaritas and coffee. A phalanx of security forces, including seven officers from the Los Angeles Police Department, roamed the compound. City workers barked orders into their walkie-talkies.
The World Cup final between Argentina and France? For sure. Pershing Square would air it from 7am but everyone there was also preparing for a rematch between Kevin de León and his opponents.
A week earlier, the Los Angeles councilman – whose borough is downtown – made national news after a video of him stalking an activist who filmed the longtime politician during a Christmas toy giveaway in Lincoln Heights went viral. Critics – who had slammed De León all year for his homelessness policies – had escalated their protests after an explosive leaked tape showed the councilor ridiculing black political power and joining in with chuckles or jabs when others said nasty things basically everyone.
De León went to CNN and Telemundo after the Lincoln Heights fiasco to accuse his haters of bullying and again vowed never to resign; Demonstrators vowed to protest anywhere and everywhere as long as he stayed in office. There was an air of uncertainty about Pershing Square as the dark sky gave way to dawn. Would activists show up? Would De León, who co-sponsored the Watch Party in his most recent attempt, put the past behind him by holding public events for voters? Who would benefit?
“He has to stay – he’s doing a lot of good work,” said Espinoza, 57, sitting next to a heater. I reminded the Ecuadorian immigrant of De León’s role in the racist tape scandal.
“This is a multi-ethnic city,” he replied. “If he sticks around [racist] attitude, then he should go. But today there is a game. That’s a conversation for another day!”
You know how they say soccer is more than just a sport? What was happening in Pershing Square became a metaphor for the De León affair. Like Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi, the councilman was a working-class boy who had fought his way to the heights of his profession but had never won on the biggest stage (De León’s bids for mayor and the US Senate had failed, and a world championship title had failed). missed Messi). Now De León and Messi were fighting for their respective legacies.
Yesterday both prepared for victory.
Messi scored Argentina’s first goal and helped set up the second to lead his country 2-0 against France at the end of the first half. More than 100 people cheered on the teams in Pershing Square, in a crowd that was mostly Latino but multicultural and millennial. Banners with Kevin de León’s name at the top and bottom were on each side of the huge screen that broadcast the Telemundo feed. Security personnel stood at all possible entrances.
No De León, no protesters. Nothing beats a fiesta to wash away your political sins. No one cared that De León wasn’t there. Smiles at the soccer game turn to sighs at LA political reality every time I ask fans how they feel about attending an event with his imprimatur.
“Everyone makes mistakes,” said Brian Hernandez, who attended with his friends and was wearing a US men’s soccer jersey. The 30-year-old has moved out of the De León neighborhood, “so he’s not my council member anymore, but I wish he still was.”
Hernandez felt De León apologized for words that “everyone … speaks behind closed doors.” He understood that people were still angry at the politician, but “he’s done so much for the community. Shouldn’t that count for something?”
A 25-year-old downtown resident, who gave her name as Jane Smith, said friends of hers didn’t come because they were afraid of the threat posed by protesters. She declined to give her opinion on De León but praised all the security forces present. “We all feel safe here.”
At half-time, a DJ called out De León for helping make the event happen – except the DJ didn’t even say the council member’s name, but instead slurred an acronym – CM KDL – with the speed of an auctioneer one Reaction. Shortly after, South Central-raised hip-hop artist Feefa performed some live tracks and told the apathetic crowd, “Make some noise!”—probably the last time you’ll hear those words at a De León event.
Songs emerged that offered an unwittingly tongue-in-cheek soundtrack to the De León saga. A remix of “Que Nadie Sepa Mi Sufrir” (“Let No One Know My Suffering”). The daddy yankee jam “Yo Voy” about a man killed by his own weaknesses.
Feefa ended his brief appearance and the World Cup Finals returned. Still no De León or his progressive buddies.
France celebrated a furious comeback and equalized 2:2. DJ Rich Money worked at the event as part of Sueño, an arts collective responsible for the morning music. They were in Pershing Square this past weekend when De León’s office hosted its second annual Winter Wonderland Festival around Pershing Square’s seasonal ice rink.
“There was Santa, there was snow, there were presents,” said Money, 31, who lives in East Hollywood. “We just want to build bridges.”
When I asked about De León, he grinned tiredly.
“It’s a difficult subject. Everyone has an opinion. He has done a lot of good. you [activists] will protest no matter what he does.”
Then finally a few boos from the crowd. Was there a sighting of De León? Have critics unfurled a banner or started a chant?
no A DirecTV message flashed on the screen asking if you want to reset the show now or later. A premonition of a recall? If so, it failed – the crowd began clamoring for the latter option and cheering when the techs decided to reset everything later.
Argentina vs France was an instant classic – Messi carried his side to victory and cemented his reputation as an all-time great. Meanwhile, another chapter from De León fizzled out against his opponents. Neither side had turned up — a De León employee told me her boss was at another event in Boyle Heights. The LAPD and private security ended up spending the four hours of the event as spectators, not guards.
For the crowd enjoying the party at Pershing Square, the councilor deserved his own trophy.
“It’s all wonderful,” Lauryn Park said. The World Cup crowd thinned, but a new wave of people came. Some walked their dogs; others watched the futsal match attended by Sueño members.
“Why would you want to get rid of someone bringing this to their district?” the 36-year-old continued. “Everyone makes mistakes. He apologized, so let’s move on.”
Later that afternoon, De León’s team posted a video of happy, cheering fans from his event on his Instagram page. They cheered Messi – but in the political World Cup De León is currently facing, the adoration might as well have been for him.