Los Angeles hometown Councilman Kevin de León has spent the last year attempting to make atonement in his liberal hometown after a covertly recorded discussion almost ruined his political career. It has been an exhausting battle.
His failure to oppose profoundly offensive and racist statements by other Latino political heavyweights in the group, as well as his comment that a white colleague showed his Black kid the way a colleague displayed her status purse, were among the most devastating aspects of the tape.
His Democratic Party colleagues, from grassroots organisers to President Joe Biden, all demanded that he step down. His home was surrounded by protesters, and he was often drowned out at City Council sessions. Threats of violence and an attempted recall have been made.
Mr. de León, whose district spans East Los Angeles and downtown, defied expectations on Wednesday by announcing that he will not only continue serving but also seek in 2024 for another four-year term.
On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the controversy, Mr de León declared his bid for re-election. He is the only surviving member of the Council who was there at the recording of the infamous tape.
His decision, originally reported by Politico, came as police worked to identify the origin of the audio that had shaken the nation’s second biggest city, putting racial harmony and the political status quo to the test.
This recording was made in the offices of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labour in October 2021 and captures then-federation president Ron Herrera discussing strategies for consolidating power for the Latino majority in the city with Mr. de León, Gil Cedillo, and Nury Martinez, the president of the council at the time.
Everyone who had anything to do with the exchange quickly and publicly apologised. Mr. de León said that his bags comment had been an embarrassing effort to neutralise Ms. Martinez’s remarks by teasing her about her predilection for expensive goods. It was too late, however. Within days, both Mr. Herrera and Ms. Martinez had resigned, and Mr. Cedillo followed suit after losing his campaign for re-election to a younger, more progressive rival.
Mr. de León, 56, however, steadfastly refused to resign. The former state leader and son of immigrants also helped pass a “sanctuary state” legislation that restricted the use of state and municipal resources for immigration enforcement. At the time, he argued that stepping down would amount to betraying his constituents.
Instead, he promised to apologise in person to constituents and undergo sensitivity training for his staff.
Since then, at least two credible competitors have begun campaigns for his post, which comes with a salary of more than $218,000. Both of them are Democratic members of the State Assembly.
According to the most recent campaign reports, Democratic local assemblyman Miguel Santiago is now in the lead. As of June, he had raised over $242,000. Most of the local labour unions have also endorsed him, which is a huge deal in Los Angeles politics.
It is anticipated that the field will be narrowed down to two candidates by the March 2024 primary, with the winner being decided on the same ballot as the November 2024 presidential election.
Mr. de León is likewise joining the race late, with the Labour Federation just about to announce its endorsements. His detractors have shown little mercy in their subdued responses to his statement on Wednesday.
The Majority Leader of the California State Assembly, Isaac G. Bryan, recently made the following statement on X (previously Twitter): “Being an elected official is about knowing it’s always bigger than you.” You should have this down before you run for office, but if not, you should have it down by the time the President, Governor, Mayor, and everyone else calls you to resign for propagating hatred and intolerance.
Los Angeles progressive councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez said, “You ain’t lyin,” in response to the tape leak. Since then, she has refused to second any of Mr. de León’s Council initiatives.
Mr. de León gained his seat in the Council with little opposition in 2020, and he continues to have widespread support from the district’s voters. He has made himself an almost imperceptible presence in his area, where he has opened shelters for the homeless and announced grants totaling tens of millions of dollars to improve infrastructure like lamps and sidewalks. And all efforts to contact Mr. de León back have been fruitless so far.