Wave Wire Services
LOS ANGELES — Among the protesters who showed up outside City Councilman Kevin de León’s El Sereno offices Oct. 13 was Melina Abdullah, his former teacher.
De León is under widespread pressure to resign for his participation in a recorded conversation from 2021 involving three elected officials and a labor leader that included a series of racist remarks and discussions over redistricting. Two of them — former Council President Nury Martinez and former L.A. County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera — have resigned, but de León and fellow councilman Gil Cedillo have resisted the growing calls.
Abdullah, a professor at Cal State L.A. and head of the Black Lives Matter Los Angeles chapter, said de León was one of her 15 students when she taught a class called Voting, Campaigns and Elections at Scripps College in San Diego around two decades ago. Abdullah said she’s talked to de León often after he launched his political career, which included stints in the state Senate and Assembly prior to the City Council. De León, 55, has been on the council since 2020 and made an unsuccessful run for mayor this year.
“I would say: ‘You have me to thank for this. I’m taking credit for you,’” Abdullah told City News Service. “Well, I don’t take credit for him anymore.”
In the tapes, de León talked about Councilman Mike Bonin’s handling of his son at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade and did not interject as Martinez belittled Bonin, who is white and openly gay, and called Bonin’s child “ese changuito,” — Spanish for “that little monkey.”
When Cedillo dismissed Black voters by saying “the 25 Blacks are shouting,” de León responded, “But they shout like they’re 250.”
De León also made revealing comments around last year’s process of redrawing council district boundaries, including calling Councilwoman Nithya Raman’s district “the one to put in the blender and chop up, left or right” as the four officials discussed how they could avoid giving Raman renter-heavy neighborhoods like Koreatown.
In a statement Oct. 9 after the tapes were released de León said: “There were comments made in the context of this meeting that are wholly inappropriate, and I regret appearing to condone and even contribute to certain insensitive comments made about a colleague and his family in private. I’ve reached out to that colleague personally.
“On that day, I fell short of the expectations we set for our leaders — and I will hold myself to a higher standard.”
De León has not commented since. Acting Council President Mitch O’Farrell said Oct. 13 that he’s been unsuccessful in trying to reach de León.
The council has come to a standstill while calling for de León and Cedillo to resign, with O’Farrell canceling the Oct. 14 council meeting and scheduling virtual meetings this week.
“In the court of public opinion, the verdict has been rendered and they must resign,” O’Farrell said of de León and Cedillo. “There’s too much pain, there’s too much deep injury to the soul, to the spirit in the city. And this must happen and the people have spoken.”
Abdullah said that in her class, de León presented himself as “pro-worker, pro-people of color, pro-Black” and talked often about the labor movement.
“And then what was revealed is that behind closed doors, he was anti all of those things,” Abdullah said. “I’m beyond disappointed. I’m enraged.”
Abdullah called de León’s comments about the Black movement “despicable.”
“The idea that we’re just 25 Black people yelling shows that he doesn’t know history, and he didn’t learn as much as I thought he did,” Abdullah said.
Many cars driving by the corner of Huntington Drive and Rosemead Avenue during the protest honked in support, with a few people rolling down their windows to make passing comments.