Kevin de León’s Comeback

‘My heart tells me every human being should get a second chance’
Constituent Pauline Adkins spent more than $20,000 trying to have her City Councilman recalled four times only to end up concluding that she prefers him to the other 13 candidates in the District 14 race.


The national digital newspaper Politico pulled few punches in October 2022 reporting that the end of Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León’s decade-plus political career “looked imminent” in the face of a new recall campaign that would “conclude with voters firing him ahead of schedule.”
Perhaps a smiling de León will want to pose with a printout of that story, as Harry Truman did with the Chicago Daily Tribune’s erroneous presidential election headline “Dewey Defeats Truman” in 1948.
Sixteen months after Politico and others began writing about de León as a political corpse, it appears that reports of his political demise were premature.
“Reports of Kevin De León’s death have been greatly exaggerated,” says Los Angeles magazine’s political columnist Jon Regardie. “Now, to be sure his future is unknown, but he is alive and for more than one reason.” reported in a 4,000-word profile on DeLeón, that the 57-year-old former state senator “is betting that his constituents are forgiving enough to help him re-launch his once promising political career — so damn the torpedoes.”
And that is precisely what has been happening in the final months of the primary campaign.
Of the endorsements that DeLeón has received, none may be more significant than that of longtime Eagle Rock resident Pauline Adkins — a constituent who spent more than $20,000 trying to have de León recalled four times only to end up concluding that she prefers him to the other 13 candidates in the District 14 council race.
“We had a meeting. We had another. We eventually broke bread,” says Adkins. “I was able to look him in the eye as I ran off reasons for three recalls. I learned a lot. He also learned that if I backed him, he has to be a man of his word.
“My heart tells me every human being should get a second chance.”
This is precisely what Tony Castro, the former award-winning Los Angeles columnist and author of the Latino civil rights classic Chicano Power, said in his definitive profile of de León:
“How Los Angeles deals with Kevin de León and therefore with itself will show it to be either the Tinseltown viewed by its detractors — selfish and exclusive — or the city seen by its defenders: painfully troubled, but still holding on to the country’s original moral purpose and promise.”
The first part of that verdict will come in the March 5 primary election, in which de León faces more than a dozen challengers as he seeks reelection to a second term. Ordinarily, an incumbent would be a shoo-in, and de León might have been, except for being part of the biggest scandal of modern-day City Hall politics.
In October 2022, an audio recording was anonymously leaked on-line and subsequently reported by the Los Angeles Times of an October 2021 closed-door conversation among then-City Council President Nury Martinez, de León, then-Councilmember Gil Cedillo, and Ron Herrera, the leader of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
The local power brokers were ostensibly meeting to discuss the proposed redistricting maps of the city’s 15 council districts, but the conversation included racist and derogatory remarks about Black, Jewish, Armenian, Indigenous and gay people
The most disparaging remarks were Martinez’s racist comments about the adopted black son of their white City Council colleague Mike Bonin — comparing Bonin’s treatment of his son to the way one handles a handbag.
There were also slurs against indigenous Oaxacan people who live in Koreatown. At another point, while discussing Black political power in the city, de León compared black voices to the man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz, arguing that they are in fact weaker than they sound.
In the ensuing scandal, Martinez designed almost immediately. Cedillo was a lame duck, having lost reelection earlier in the year.
And life has not been the same for de León since then. He was roundly pressured to resign, with even President Biden urging him to step down. But De León steadfastly refused, even in the face of weeks of protesters outside his home and at City Council meetings, and as some fellow council members refused to deal with him.
De León said he had no intention to resign “because the person who is (being described) is not who I am. I’ve never been that person — now, in the past, nor present, nor will I ever be that person in the future. Once the narrative is created, and once the media moves forward with that narrative, it doesn’t make it true. The visceral emotion does not fit the facts.”
Undeterred, de León tackled every new project and issue in his district as if his life depended upon it. Politically, it did.
“He has actually for more than a year been going across the community, really seeking to connect and reinvigorate his relationship with his constituents,” Los Angeles magazine’s Regardie said in a Fox LA report on the campaign.
“Once a month there is a huge line outside of the Eagle Rock field office. Why? Because he has a huge food giveaway that happens there and in other places. He’s doing work again to try to get people to forgive him and move on from this scandal.”
Today, much to the chagrin of his critics and haters, de León appears to be on the verge of pulling off perhaps the most surprising comeback of Los Angeles city politics.
In the upcoming March 5 primary de León most likely will be one of the two District 14 candidates moving on to the general election in November.
De León, though, is politically savvy enough to know that the only absolution in politics is at the ballot box.
“I’ve had numerous conversations not just with my own constituents within my own district,” he said in an interview. “But conversations with folks outside of my district, in particular our Black community here in the city of LA.
“It’s been constructive. It has been positive. It has been healing. It has been forward looking. I will be honest. It hasn’t all been easy, but it’s been necessary for me as an individual, not just as a council member, but as a resident, as a friend, as a neighbor, to atone, which is very important to me as a human being.”