Two LA City Councilmembers who are refusing to step down could take a financial hit if they quit

One day after former Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez resigned, acting City Council President Mitch O’Farrell on Thursday, Oct. 13 canceled the City Council’s scheduled Friday meeting, and urged council members Gil Cedillo and Kevin de Leon to step down for their roles in a leaked conversation with Martinez that was filled with racist remarks.

Martinez resigned on Wednesday after a shocking audio recording of their backroom meeting in October of 2021 was leaked to social media.

Now calls are growing from a vast array of leaders including President Joe Biden, public officials, private citizens, groups, scholars, and many of their fellow council members, urging Cedillo and De Leon to step down.

On Thursday, O’Farrell held a press conference at City Hall, telling reporters that he decided to cancel the City Council meeting set for Friday because he didn’t expect Cedillo or De León to resign before the meeting, calling the situation a “moment-by-moment crisis.”

Former Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick, who has been observing the scandal closely, said she wasn’t surprised that the two council members are holding onto power despite the intense pressure to quit. And part of that reason, she says, is money.

“I’m not surprised, because resigning means giving up their salary and benefits and it affects their pensions,” she said of the council members, who are among the highest-paid city council members in the U.S. at $207,000 per year. “It’s certainly about money,” Chick said.

From her viewpoint, their refusal to quit in the face of intense pressure showed that some “elected officials in L.A., and especially these three, are not all about the people. They are about themselves and about power.”

Los Angeles City Council members Gil Cedillo, and Kevin De Leon attended Tuesday’s council meeting briefly on Tuesday, October 11, 2022 at Los Angeles City Hall, Council Chambers. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Chick said De Leon and Cedillo “don’t quite understand that they actually did something very wrong and it wasn’t just horrific comments. It’s a whole way of doing business behind closed doors, away from the public that they serve.”

The recording of the 2021 conversation behind closed doors, she said, revealed that “besides horrific racist and prejudicial hurtful comments, they were carving up the city to give themselves more power. Themselves, not the people.”

Natalie Somboonkit, media liaison with the Los Angeles City Clerk’s office, said that if a Los Angeles council member resigns their paycheck is terminated the day they leave office.

According to Somboonkit, Martinez received her pay until Oct. 12, the day she resigned. De Leon and Cedillo were still receiving their pay as of Thursday, Oct. 13, she said.

The secret recording captured a conversation between the three city leaders and a labor union leader, in which Martinez made racist remarks and derogatory comments about City Councilman Mike Bonin’s toddler, who is Black, calling him a “little monkey” in Spanish and saying he needed a “beat down.” And they discussed how the city’s redistricting efforts, a highly politicized process in which city council districts are redrawn, could benefit them.

All four officials have apologized for their part in the 2021 conversation, but a growing number of politicians and others have urged all three to step down. Among those urging them to quit are Biden, U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, Mayor Eric Garcetti, mayoral candidates Karen Bass and Rick Caruso, and many officials both local and nationwide.

During Thursday’s press conference, O’Farrell told reporters that “the conversations with Mr. De Leon and Cedillo are ongoing. And not just from me, but from elected officials and former elected officials from across the entire spectrum, from a ‘local’ to congressional.”

O’Farrell admitted that he was surprised that his two colleagues remained on the council amidst intense pressure.

“It’s a little surprising, quite frankly, because what our jobs are is to put our personal feelings and our personal ambitions and our egos to the side as elected officials and do what’s best for this city,” he said.

O’Farrell added that while he was not able to reach De Leon, he had “a long, very frank conversation” a day ago with Cedillo, who “made it really clear that he is taking into consideration the gravity of the moment and what he ultimately is going to need to do.”

O’Farrell weighed in on why his colleagues were holding onto power, saying, “The only sense I have is what they’re going through personally, probably weighing their long history in politics and public service, and reconciling this transgression with that. That’s just all I can imagine that they’re going through. But one thing is clear: they need to put all of that past them and resign right now.”

The City Council intended to meet twice this week but plans changed after a crowd of rowdy protesters stormed the chambers on Tuesday, demanding resignations from the three officials involved in the recorded conversation. De Leon and Cedillo, who came to the council meeting, eventually left the chambers.

Protesters have promised to continue to disrupt every City Council meeting until De Leon and Cedillo are gone.

 

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)

Zev Yaroslavsky, a longtime Los Angeles leader who served for many years on the City Council and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and today is director of the Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, said “in my adult lifetime there was no moment where there were three vacant seats” on the City Council.

“It’s not unprecedented that one seat is vacant. We had that,” Yaroslavsky said. “People die and people retire. People resign. But having three vacant seats makes it difficult — but not impossible — to govern,” he said.

“It was a very hurtful episode in the history of the city,” Yaroslavsky said. “Without a doubt, those who were involved in this need to do what Councilwoman Martinez did — and that’s to leave the stage.”

“It’s unthinkable that someone would continue to serve under those circumstances,” he said.

A special election to replace Martinez would not take place until next spring.

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Perhaps ironically, the last time the city held a special election was in 2019 shortly after former City Councilman Mitch Englander stepped down under a cloud of corruption charges. John Lee won the election to fill his seat.

Englander was later convicted and served 14 months in prison for lying to federal authorities and accepting $15,000 in cash, in a case that involved another City Councilman, Jose Huizar. Huizar faces trial next year in a vast corruption case in which he is accused of using his office to do favors for wealthy developers, and in turn, become wealthy himself.

The cost for the primary and run-off elections to fill Mitch Englander’s seat cost the city $2.2 million, according to Somboonkit.

Some of the angry protestors who have refused to allow the City Council to do normal business this week might say that is the cost of a democratic process.

Related links

Mitch O’Farrell cancels Friday LA City Council meeting and urges Cedillo and De Leon to step down
State attorney general will probe LA redistricting in midst of City Council scandal
President Biden urges 3 LA City Council members to step down amid scandal
Civil rights, religious leaders join calls for LA officials involved in racist recording to resign