LA City Council heads into weekend under cloud of scandal-fueled uncertainty

By ERIC HE | City News Service

The Los Angeles City Council enters the weekend in a state of unprecedented uncertainty, with fallout from the City Hall racism scandal continuing.

Two council members — Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo — are facing calls to resign by nearly all of their colleagues, the council is functioning under an acting president after Nury Martinez resigned and the next two meetings will be conducted remotely after a COVID-19 exposure. Multiple protests during this week in the Council Chamber led to Friday’s meeting being canceled.

“The situation is fluid right now,” Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said to City News Service on Friday. “We’re in a period where we’re in a holding pattern, waiting for these resignations.”

Acting Los Angeles City Council President Mitch O’Ferrell announces that he is canceling this Friday’s city council meeting Thursday, October 13, 2022. O’Farrell stated that “We can not heal until Gil Cedillo and Kevin de Leon step down”. Cedillo and de Leon took part in a meeting with racist comments from former council president Nury Martinez. Martinez has resigned. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Acting Council President Mitch O’Farrell said Thursday that the “people’s business cannot be conducted” until de León and Cedillo resign, but Dan Halden, O’Farrell’s communications director, said Friday that “we do have to conduct business” after planning the virtual meetings next week. Councilman Mike Bonin tested positive for COVID-19 this week and was present at Tuesday’s meeting.

“With the possibility that there will be more positive cases, out of an abundance of caution we will hold both Tuesday and Wednesday’s meetings virtually, as we did for over a year during the height of the pandemic,” O’Farrell said in a statement.

De León and Cedillo were included in a recorded October 2021 conversation in which racist statements were made as four officials discussed the city’s redistricting process. Martinez, the former council president, and Ron Herrera, who was president of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, have both resigned following the release of the recording.

Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson speaks to Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León as the chambers fills with chants for Cedillo and De León to resign during Tuesday’s council meeting on October 11, 2022. They both left the chambers before the meeting resumed. A recording was released of Nury Martinez, who has since stepped down as council president and took a leave of absence, making racists comments with Cedillo and De León. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

O’Farrell has been in touch with Cedillo but has not been able to reach de León since Tuesday, according to Halden.

It is unclear what will happen if de León and Cedillo do not resign by Tuesday. At least two council members — Harris-Dawson and Bonin — and Councilwoman-elect Eunisses Hernandez had said the council should not meet on Friday without resignations from de León and Cedillo.

Harris-Dawson expects to meet on Tuesday “because they will have already resigned,” he told CNS, though Harris-Dawson did not have any knowledge of the two embattled members’ thinking.

Protests were expected again in the Council Chamber again Tuesday if de León and Cedillo did not resign by then and the council met in-person.

When asked by City News Service if the potential for another disruption factored into the decision to hold the meetings virtually, Halden said the move was “about the COVID-19 diagnosis.”

Halden later said it was important for the council to move forward and have a meeting. Halden added that while the pain and anger that Angelenos feel from the release of the recording “comes from a real place,” but “at the same time, we do have to conduct business.”

De León and Cedillo, who attempted to attend Tuesday’s meeting but were asked to leave the chamber after protesters voiced objections to their presence, would be able to attend the virtual meetings without facing the public face-to-face. Their attendance would “not be appropriate, no matter the format in which we are meeting,” Halden said.

Harris-Dawson sought a bit of empathy for de León and Cedillo, noting the intense media focus on the scandal and the potential that they might feel like they’ve been misunderstood.

“They all, particularly Gil Cedllo, they have a body of work that sort of gets overlooked in the heat of this particular moment,” Harris-Dawson said. “So I just think it takes a moment emotionally and logistically to get to the place where you can step up and do the right thing.”

Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson (File photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Harris-Dawson, who is Black, was mentioned in the leaked recording. He said he hasn’t spoken to either councilman.

“You always know that there’s anti-Black racism all around you,” Harris-Dawson said. “You don’t realize that there’s anti-Black sentiment sitting right next to you. So I think it’s going to be a while before we get to the stage where there can be regular interaction.”

Rep. Judy Chu i (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, told CNS before the announcement that Tuesday and Wednesday’s meetings would be virtual that the council “can’t have an actual, calm meeting unless these two resign.”

“The feelings are too raw in the city,” Chu said, “So people are angry, people are outraged, people are feeling that anger right in the soul of their bodies, and so that’s why I think they cannot have a LA City Council meeting until these two resign. Then we can start the process of healing.”

Robert Strong, of United Panther Movement, joins a protest closing down Main Street outside Los Angeles City Hall as people wait to get into Tuesday’s council meeting on October 11, 2022 after council members were recorded making racists comments. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Despite no meeting on Friday, a couple dozen protesters showed up at City Hall to demand de León and Cedillo’s resignations, blocking off Main Street until around 11 a.m.

George Hurod, one of the protesters, was at City Hall this week during the disrupted meetings. Hurod, a member of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, told CNS that he had planned to return to the chamber on Tuesday to shut down the meeting again, echoing several others who have attended the meetings since the scandal broke.

“Of course,” Hurod said. “Until they’re out, I’ll be here.”

Related links

LA Council goes virtual for next two meetings due to COVID case amid scandal
Chu, AAPI leaders decry divisive rhetoric amid LA City Hall racism scandal
Two LA City Councilmembers who are refusing to step down could take a financial hit if they quit
LA City Attorney Mike Feuer urges city council to put redistricting reforms on ballot
Nury Martinez resigns her City Council seat amid deepening LA scandal

The council is set to take up several major items on Tuesday, including electing a new council president, consider placing a measure on the 2024 ballot to create an independent redistricting commission for the city and a motion to explore expanding the number of council seats.

De León, 55, has been on the council since 2020 and made an unsuccessful run for mayor this year. He previously served in the state Senate and Assembly. Cedillo, 68, has been in office since 2013.

O’Farrell added: “One thing is clear: They need to put all of that past them and resign right now.”

Under intense pressure, Martinez on Monday resigned as council president, took a leave of absence on Tuesday, then resigned her seat altogether on Wednesday.

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