Kevin de León will not resign from LA City Council. This is plan B
On a recent afternoon, a small group of activists showed up outside the El Sereno field office of Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León.
They sang. They scoffed. They walked the sidewalk for a while. They hoisted signs calling him a racist and calling for his resignation – like now. And then they left.
Another day, another protest. Another disappointed hope.
For the past two months, since a leaked recording revealed de León’s participation in a racist discussion about how to dilute black political power in LA, it’s been pretty much the same. Activists urged him to leave, and De León refused for the most selfish and silly reasons.
At first there was real optimism that such protests and public denunciations would work.
That in order to salvage his damaged reputation, De León would put aside his ego and false self-righteousness and resign. Or, as a once-rising star in Democratic circles, that if enough powerful people in the party demanded it, he would do so to save his career.
Or that maybe—just maybe—De León, who got into politics through community organizing, would realize that he can no longer effectively represent the East Side voters he supposedly cares about because he can’t even show up for a city council meeting without all hell breaking loose.
We saw that last week when De León entered the council chambers halfway through the session, prompting several of his colleagues to walk out in protest. Then he sat there alone for an hour. Even as activists yelled at him to leave, he casually tapped the screen of his phone and pretended to be deep in thought. Now and then he would say a few words to his co-workers.
It takes gall to slow down the town’s business to throw a silent tantrum because people are mad at your anti-black comments.
It takes extraordinary audacity to do so, knowing full well that it could result in a week-long delay in helping thousands of homeless black people in your county and taint the first major policy proposal from the city’s newly-elected black mayor, Karen Bass .
“The city cannot move forward with him on the council,” Ricci Sergienko, co-founder of the activist group People’s City Council, told The Times.
And yet, not only is De León still in office, but he appears to be hot on his heels.
His spokesman, Pete Brown, told my Times colleague Fidel Martinez that the councilman was determined to attend the next meeting on Jan. 10, despite the near certainty that other council members will leave and activists will turn up at the mass, to hurl invective at his mere presence.
So some of the initial optimism that protests would bring about a quick resignation is fading, and disillusionment and exhaustion seem to be creeping in instead.
During a recent USC webinar on the aftermath of the leaked recording, Odilia Romero, executive director of the Comunidades Indigenas en Liderazgo, which fights anti-Indigenous racism, was as outraged as ever by De León. But she was also a little at a loss as to what to do next, other than finding ways to work around him to rebuild a movement of solidarity.
Politics is another matter.
“As for the city, we’re stuck. I hope there’s some reflection on behalf of KDL,” she said, referring to De León by his nickname. “Stay away from the public eye for a minute. Let’s just enjoy our vacation.”
I’ve heard some suggest a change in tactics. Less resistance, more cooperation, especially in the work of the city council. You know what they say about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?
Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles executive Melina Abdullah speaks to activists at LA City Hall in November about the need for Councilor Kevin de León to resign. He still has to.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
But Melina Abdullah, head of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, insists people just need to change their expectations rather than change tactics. Because this isn’t just a short-term move to get rid of De León. It’s a long-term crusade.
“We never let go of this until he’s gone,” she told me last week outside the Leimert Park chapter headquarters. “If someone harms our people, we won’t back down.”
Abdullah compared the campaign against De León to that campaigned by activists against the former Dist. atty Jackie Lacey. They protested their general comfort with law enforcement, their refusal to prosecute police officers for shooting unarmed people, and their reluctance to meet with black activists.
“It went on for three and a half years with weekly protests outside her office. We also had a bird dog campaign against them. Every time we found out where she was, we left,” Abdullah explained. “When she ran for re-election, she couldn’t win.”
It didn’t help that Lacey’s late husband David pointed a gun at Abdullah and two other activists during a protest outside the couple’s home in Granada Hills. Eventually, he was charged with three counts of assault.
Lacey lost to progressive dist. atty George Gascon in 2020.
Abdullah has a similar goal in mind for De León. By constantly provoking and protesting — and inspiring others to join in, like the group at De León’s El Sereno field office — activists remind voters that “he’s not a viable candidate. We have no intention of ever allowing him another seat in any office.”
About a month ago, Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles brought back the bird dog campaign it had been using with Lacey, knocking activists from the chapter and a variety of other allied groups, including the People’s City Council, to help De León to swarm whenever there was a sighting.
That got the recent Lincoln Park showdown rolling. Activist Jason Reedy arrived at the tree lighting event with a few others and immediately began following De León through an auditorium, loudly calling him a racist and telling him to step down.
De León, who had been giving out toys to children in Santa hats, grabbed Reedy by the collar and pushed him onto a table and down a hallway. Reedy hit him. Every man insists he was the victim, not the attacker.
I would argue the real victims were the children, who cried and ran when they saw the sudden scuffle. The LAPD is investigating.
But I digress.
The point is that Reedy, who is black, was not a “rogue activist,” Abdullah told me. He was “one of the most dedicated people” at the camp Black Lives Matter set up outside De León’s home in Eagle Rock.
How many activists remain as committed as Reedy in the years to come remains to be seen. De León’s term does not run until 2024.
At the very least, the coming crusade will separate those who genuinely want a change at City Hall from those more interested in momentary social media fame. It will also test broader public support for using controversial strategies to permanently marginalize a politician who not long ago was widely admired for his various good works.
A new election could theoretically oust De León earlier. The city clerk has greenlit a petition to begin collecting signatures from registered voters in the 14th council district, which stretches from downtown’s Skid Row to Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, El Sereno and Eagle Rock.
Only 20,437 valid signatures are required by March 31st. But that’s not going to be as easy as it sounds, even for someone as despised as De León is citywide, in part because callbacks are expensive, and also because he has a base of supporters in his circle.
Meanwhile, City Council members need to figure out what to do when their meetings resume in January.
Looking at the last two, it’s hard not to wonder if the political body is on the brink of collapse — and in the process turning into collateral damage the many policies Bass has in the works to help Angelenos most in need.
If some council members continue to leave and refuse to work with De León, at least they have a noble cause and are clear about the message they intend to send.
Councilor Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who is black and represents parts of South LA, said shortly after the October footage was leaked, the racism expressed by De León and others “is inconsistent with the city of Los Angeles. It’s not who we want to be.”
That’s why more protests by De León are planned for this week.
And Abdullah promises they won’t give up: “He can count on it as long as he’s on the city council.”