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Chaos erupts briefly as De León shows up at council meeting

After a nearly two-month absence, Councilmember Kevin de León showed up for a Los Angeles City Council meeting on Friday, triggering an uproar in the audience involving both his critics and supporters.

De León’s return lasted only a few minutes. Council President Paul Krekorian immediately called for a recess, with protesters shouting and police officers filling the room.

When the council meeting resumed, De León did not return.

It was the first time he’d been in council chambers since fallout from a racist leaked audio tape roiled the city in mid-October.

De León, in a statement, later said he returned to the council chamber on Friday to represent his constituents, especially monolingual Spanish-speaking residents. Some of those Spanish speakers called into a council committee meeting on Thursday, only to find that bilingual translation services were not available.

“I remained out of the room after the outburst by agitators to give the council president the opportunity to regain control of the meeting and allow public comment to continue since so many of those present were my constituents,” he said. “Unfortunately, neither of those things happened.”

The question of when — or if — De León would return had loomed large at City Hall. His name was frequently invoked even as his seat remained conspicuously empty, with protesters regularly interrupting the thrice-weekly meetings to demand his resignation.

De León, who apologized in the wake of the tape, has been adamant that he has no plans to resign. He began to quietly reenter the public sphere about a month ago, attending food giveaways, holiday meals and other community events, but avoided council chamber until Friday morning.

De León entered the room just before 11 a.m., about 45 minutes after the meeting began, and sat in his chair with a staffer nearby.

Dozens of people, many of them Spanish-speaking, had come to the meeting to show their support for De León. Some of them had been testifying against proposals to impose new punishments for council members who, like De León, have been censured.

Once it was clear that De León was back in the room, several members of the audience began yelling at him to leave.

“This is why these meetings need to be shut down!” Michael Williams, a 29-year-old Pasadena resident who volunteers with Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, shouted from the front row, referring to De León’s presence.

Krekorian approached De León and spoke to him, and a few of De León’s colleagues began leaving the chamber. After Krekorian called for a recess, De León walked out, waving to his supporters in the audience.

With the meeting halted, about a dozen protesters continued screaming for De León to leave. Supporters of the embattled council member responded by chanting “Kevin, Kevin, Kevin.”

While members of the crowd shouted at one another, police ejected two men from the room, saying they feared a fight would break out between them.

“Both men made comments or gestures to suggest that it was going to become physical, so we intervened at that time,” said Los Angeles Police Department Officer Marco Duarte, who is assigned to the council chamber.

During the recess, more than a dozen officers wearing helmets formed a line on the council floor. Others were scattered around other parts of the room.

Art Pulido, an El Sereno resident who had come to support De León, said he believed De León was “doing a good job in our community” and posited that the protesters didn’t actually live in the district.

“We’ve got a good councilman,” Pulido told a reporter during the recess. “He’s not perfect — nobody’s perfect. But it’s sad when it comes down to this.”

The meeting restarted about 45 minutes later with De León nowhere in sight. It’s unclear whether he will return for Tuesday’s meeting, when five new council members will be in attendance.

During Friday’s meeting, council members also voted 8 to 3 to have city agencies assess the cost of assigning LAPD officers to respond to the protests that have broken out during the past few months, largely in response to the audio of De León and his colleagues.

The report would also assess the cost of any damage to the council chamber. Councilmembers Mike Bonin, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Nithya Raman cast the dissenting votes.

Bonin said he agreed that disruptions inside the council chambers are “bad,” and that the council needs to conduct its business. But he argued that the proposal places the emphasis on the wrong place.

“The problem was on those tapes. The problem is in this room. The problem is somebody’s ego refuses to get out of the way of his need to resign,” he said. “The road to redemption begins with resignation, and that will end the protests.”

Some of the racist comments on the leaked tape were about Bonin’s son, who is Black. Martinez, the former council president, said Bonin handled his young son as though he were an “accessory” and described the child as “Parece changuito,” or “like a monkey.”

De León appeared to compare Bonin’s handling of his child to Martinez holding a Louis Vuitton handbag. He later said he was referring to Martinez’s “penchant for having luxury accessories.”

Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, who co-authored the proposal, said she supports the right to protest. But she criticized behavior that leads to the destruction of city property or prevents people in the chamber from being able to speak.

“We’re not always going to agree around this horseshoe. But there is decorum,” she said. “There is respect that needs to be exhibited. This is the people’s house.”

Krekorian said after the meeting that he asked De León to leave the chamber, in part because other council members were going to walk out of the room, causing the council to lose a quorum needed to cast votes. He said he also told De León that his arrival had created a “potentially dangerous situation” in the audience.

“We had obviously a very strong emotional reaction from people in the crowd who were confronting one another,” Krekorian said.

Prior to Friday, De León last publicly appeared in council chambers on Oct. 11, when the council held its first meeting after The Times reported on the leaked audio of a private 2021 conversation among Councilmembers Gil Cedillo, Nury Martinez and De León, as well as then-president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Ron Herrera.

De León and Cedillo started out that October council meeting by sitting in their chairs, but immediately became the subject of angry chants from the crowd, and eventually left the room. Cedillo has not been back to a council meeting since.

LAPD officers line up in City Council chambers.

LAPD officers stand guard during Friday’s Los Angeles City Council meeting.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

De León apologized in the wake of the tape but said he has no plans to resign and does not want to leave his constituents without representation.

Virtually the entire Democratic establishment called for Cedillo and De León to resign in the wake of the leaked audio. The two other participants in the secretly recorded conversation, former Council President Martinez and Herrera, resigned from their posts in the immediate aftermath of the leak.

Protesters have been a constant presence at council meetings in recent months, with frequent chants promising to keep interrupting meetings until both Cedillo and De León resign. The LAPD’s process for removing the protesters — usually one by one or in pairs — typically consumes the first 45 minutes of each meeting.

Demonstrators also camped out near De León’s Eagle Rock home for days.

Cedillo was ousted by incoming Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez in a June election, and his term expires this weekend. But De León has two more years in office.