Emotions still high a year after racist recording’s release

By Ray Richardson

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — A year after the release of perhaps the most infamous tape recording in the history of local politics, emotions are still inflamed regarding racist comments made in 2021 by four Latino leaders, one of whom is facing renewed requests to resign from the City Council.

City Councilman Kevin de León, a central figure in the leaked tape recording, is again the target of public pressure to resign from his 14th District seat and withdraw his re-election bid.

“We’re going to make it clear that he is not a viable candidate for people who don’t want him,” Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles President Melina Abdullah said of de León. “Until we knock him out of this race, we’re going to keep pushing.”

De León’s announcement on Sept. 20 that he was seeking another term significantly raised the intensity of the one-year anniversary of the leaked tape that was actually recorded in October 2021 during a backroom meeting that involved de León, then-City Council President Nury Martinez, First District Councilman Gil Cedillo and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera.

The meeting was called to discuss the City Council’s redistricting process, but devolved into a racist conversation targeting other city leaders.

De León fought off calls for his resignation in 2022 and remains the only one of the Latino leaders still holding public office.

Martinez and Hererra resigned on Oct. 12, three days after the tape was released. Second District Councilmember Paul Krekorian is now City Council president. Martinez has been replaced in the Sixth District by Imelda Padilla. Yvonne Wheeler, an African American, is the new president of the county Federation of Labor.

Cedillo had already lost a re-election bid to Eunisses Hernandez when the tape became public, but he refused to resign. Cedillo stayed in his seat until December, when his term expired.

Though the City Council stripped de León of committee assignments, he was allowed to attend meetings at his discretion and conduct business from his district office. A year later, de León continues to be a pariah to many of his council coleagues.

“It makes it harder for everybody,” former Councilman Mike Bonin, whose adopted African-American son was the subject of racist remarks during the meeting, told The Wave of de León. “He represents a visible sign of racism and egotism right there in the room.”

Bonin was even more candid when asked about de León’s decision to run for re-election in the March 5 primary.

“I don’t think there’s anybody in that chamber who hopes he wins re-election,” Bonin said. “They want him replaced by somebody better.”

A group of people led by Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles voiced their displeasure with de León at the City Council meeting on Oct. 10. The protesters disrupted the meeting until they were asked to leave by security. No incidents were reported.

Protests also renewed outside de León’s home in the Eagle Rock community on Oct. 9. Protests at City Hall and outside de Leon’s home lasted for more than three weeks after the tape was released.

With de León now running for re-election, Abdullah said Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and other groups will have a “regular presence” in protesting his attempts to stay in office.

“There are some people still supporting de León, but there are so many others in his district who want him gone,” Abdullah said. “Even some of his neighbors don’t want him back.”

Hernandez, who replaced Cedillo on the council, was part of a panel discussion on the one-year anniversary of the release of the tape that aired live Oct. 9 on KBLA Talk 1580. During the two-hour program, she recalled a recent situation at City Hall that reflects the tension surrounding de León’s presence and how fellow council members appear to be keeping their distance.

Hernandez invited a community organization to be honored at City Hall and was getting ready to take a picture with the group after the ceremony. She noticed de León walking with the group as well and was about to position himself to be in the photograph. Hernandez told de León he could be in a separate photo with the group.

“I didn’t want to be in a photo with him,” Hernandez said. “He said ‘You’re not going to erase my history.’ I tried to tell him this wasn’t about his history. That little comment he made really opened the lens to what’s going on his mind. He has no shame and still thinks he did nothing wrong.”

In an interview last week on LAist 89.3 FM, an affiliate of National Public Radio, Martinez gave her first public comments about the aftermath of the taped recording. She said de León “did the right thing” by not resigning and that he “committed no crime” with his comments at the meeting.

Martinez spoke of the difficulty she and her family has endured over the past year. She said she and her husband are not working and credited her mother for “being alive.”

“There were so many times during the first three months after what had happened where I didn’t get out of bed,” Martinez said. “And I remember my mom was so scared that I would hurt myself that she would call me every hour on the hour.”

Martinez expressed regret over her comments and her role in the meeting during the interview, though she has yet to offer a formal apology to Bonin and other African-American leaders in the city.

In addition to the racist remarks, a major reason for the meeting was to plan a redistricting strategy that would minimize voting power in the city’s African-American communities and shift it to Latino areas.

Eighth District Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, now president pro tem of the council, believes the racial climate in the City Council is better but “more work needs to be done.”

“We still need to do a lot more to get focused on how our people are doing,” Harris-Dawson said. “In spite of all that’s happened, the main goal for all of us is to continue doing business for the people.”

Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave Newspaper. He can be reached at rayrich55@gmail.com.