Los Angeles City Council member Kevin de León is not leaving. Engulfed in a scandal over a leaked racist recording for a week now, the politician is clinging to his seat despite the fact that an immense chorus of voices, including President Joe Biden, has been demanding his resignation after he was caught on tape making racist and hurtful comments against Black and indigenous Angelenos at a private meeting with fellow councilmembers Nury Martinez and Gil Cedillo. “I will not resign because there is a lot of work to do,” he recently stated in an interview with Univision.
De León has now embarked on a media tour to defend himself from the accusations after several days of silence. On Tuesday, he tried to take the microphone at the first public session of the City Council to apologize for his words, but a large group of protesters demanding his resignation forced him to withdraw from the premises. “I am not going to defend the indefenseless [sic]... I’m sorry to my people, I’m sorry to my colleagues, I’m sorry to the family of Mike Bonin, to my family, to all those who have supported me,” he said in an interview with the CBS network in which he underscored his own experiences growing up in poverty as the child of a Guatemalan immigrant who worked as a house cleaner.
In the interview, De León acknowledged the damage that the conversation has done in Los Angeles, a city in perpetual racial tension. “I am so profoundly sorry for the hurt I’ve caused for so many communities,” said the politician, who nevertheless insisted that he plans to hold on to a position he has held since October 2020. De León said he needs to keep working for an “underfunded, underrepresented” district with a Latino majority struggling with poverty, homelessness and the fallout from the Covid pandemic.
De León is a political survivor. He gained prominence as a senator on Capitol Hill in Sacramento, where he vowed to fight Donald Trump’s xenophobic policies and make the state a sanctuary. He fought to unseat Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democratic institution in Washington, in a race he lost by nearly a million votes. This year he considered running for mayor of Los Angeles, but ended up declining in favor of Karen Bass, a Democratic congresswoman.
His critics consider this to be his last power play. The political groups that help him stay in office are made up of various immigrant organizations, who recognize both him and Cedillo for the legislation they have helped pass in favor of these communities. These associations believe that the departure of these politicians would mean cutting off the influence of the federations of immigrants from Latin America.
The case of the leaked recording has so far mainly affected Nury Martinez, who was the first Latina to preside over the City Council until the scandal triggered her resignation last week.
The audio, briefly posted to Reddit and first reported on by the Los Angeles Times, captured a private meeting that was held in October 2021 behind closed doors. The three speakers (Martínez, De León and Cedillo) were council members who wielded great power in a city where nearly 50% of the population identifies as Latino.
The conversation took place against the backdrop of a city redistricting project that the politicians were keen to make the most of. Martínez was heard making the largest number of reprehensible remarks, including some about the young Black son of fellow council member Mike Bonin, who is white. De León was heard saying that Bonin uses his child like a designer accessory, much like Martínez likes to show off Louis Vuitton bags. De León has later said that he has tried to apologize directly to Bonin on several occasions, but that the latter never picked up the phone.