When four Latino leaders held a meeting last year to discuss Los Angeles City Council boundaries, one of the group at times served as the political elder in the room, a now infamous audio recording revealed.
City Councilman Gil Cedillo, 68, stepped in to moderate the discussion between himself, councilors Nury Martinez and Kevin De León, and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor chairman Ron Herrera when the conversation strayed from the topic of the 15 city council districts.
“Let me say that. Unlike 25 years ago, we now have a Mexican at the helm [county Federation of Labor]. We have a Mexican in charge of them [City] Council,” Cedillo said. “We have more members on the council. We are at a different point now than we were 25 years ago. The thing for us is to exercise our power.”
Cedillo’s description of the rise of Latino power was consistent with his own route to City Hall. A native of Boyle Heights, who went to high school with former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, he is one of the most well-known Latino politicians in California.
Now he faces widespread calls for his resignation and criticism for not speaking out and for interfering at some points in the divisive and charged conversation that has heartbroken allies and opponents alike. Both Martinez and Herrera resigned this week after an uproar over the racist and derogatory comments.
Sara Harris, an 1866 Solano Canyon co-founder of a neighborhood group in Cedillo’s county, sent a letter to Acting Council President Mitch O’Farrell Friday calling for Cedillo’s resignation.
Harris, a self-proclaimed “Mexican-American Jew” who has a black brother-in-law and a black nephew, said she trembled after hearing Martinez’s suggestion that he hit the young black son of a white council member and asked Cedillo why did it. t end the call.
“I hear my own people talking about my own family like that,” she said. “It makes you angry.”
Communications consultant Helen Sanchez, who first worked with Cedillo on then-presidential candidate Michael Dukakis’ campaign in the late 1980s, said the lesson is that “we have to speak up when someone says horrible things, even if it’s about our friends.” acts.”
“I know Gilbert, I know he’s not a racist,” Sanchez said. “None of this can erase the work he has done. He’s been an advocate for marginalized communities for years and no matter what he says, you can’t take that away from him.”
Cedillo has not made any public comments since his apology, telling the Times earlier this week that he had not made any racist remarks or mocked his colleagues.
“Although I did not participate in the conversation in question, I was present at times during this meeting last year. It is my instinct to hold others accountable when they use derogatory or racially divisive language. Of course I should have intervened,” Cedillo said in the statement, which also noted that “remarks about my colleague’s son were simply unacceptable.”
He declined an interview request Friday, with his spokesman Conrado telling TerrazasCross, “Counselor Cedillo is in a place of reflection.”
It is unclear what will happen to the council member. When he entered the council floor on Tuesday, the first day the panel met since the explosive audio was leaked, he was greeted with shouts of “Resign, Gil!” from the audience.
Cedillo was scheduled to step down as early as December 11 after community activist Eunisses Hernandez won the District 1 primary in June. He could remain on the city council without appearing until December 11, under rules allowing council members to have absences of up to 60 days.
O’Farrell canceled Friday’s meeting and again called for Cedillo and De León to resign.
Harris of Solano Canyon said she was already frustrated with Cedillo’s representation of the district and is now angry that the council meeting was canceled. She wants the city to take action on the ailing Animal Welfare Department. “Privileged powerful people preventing business from being conducted at City Hall is a gut punch,” Harris said.
In the county election call — held at the LA County Federation of Labor in October 2021 — the group discussed maintaining Latino political power while ensuring that she and her peers would have boroughs to help them to win re-election.
Cedillo can be heard speaking to members of his district about his frustration.
Noting that he doesn’t “need” Eagle Rock, Highland Park, and Lincoln Heights — a nod to Eastside neighborhoods that have become increasingly gentrified — he characterized his own base as Westlake and Pico-Union. “I have poor people,” he told Martinez.
Earlier, the comments in the approximately hour-long audio had turned into divisive and racist remarks. Martinez described council member Mike Bonin’s son as “Parece changuito‘ or ‘like a monkey’, and describing his behavior at a public event, he said the boy deserved a ‘beat up’.
At one point in that segment of the recording, Cedillo appeared to say that the boy needed a “pinch.”
Later, when Martinez used clichés long used against Oaxacans in Mexico and in the United States, Cedillo said she saw a lot of “little, little, dark people” in Koreatown, saying, “Puro Oaxacans. Puro Oaxaca Korean. Not even like Kevin – the little ones.”
Fernando Guerra, a professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University, when asked specifically about Cedillo’s comments, said, “It is inappropriate to discuss a group based on their physical characteristics.”
Lamenting the racism in the conversation and the lack of leadership shown in the group, Guerra added: “I’ve never heard of it [Cedillo] never make a single racist or anti-black comment in my entire life.”
Guerra has known Cedillo for more than 20 years and has seen labor and immigrant rights groups prod Cedillo into the state assembly in 1997, a campaign in which his allies capitalized on their anger at Republican Gov. Pete Wilson’s anti-immigrant message.
The County Federation of Labor identified new Latino voters and sent them mailings saying Cedillo was “the Democrat Pete Wilson feared most.”
At the state level, Cedillo earned the nickname “One Bill Gil” for his dogged — and sometimes seemingly unworldly — drive to pass legislation that would allow immigrants in the country without permits to obtain driver’s licenses.
A version of the bill was eventually signed into law after Cedillo was removed from office. But the transformative policies, which have since been copied by a wave of other states, remain an important part of his legacy.
After winning an LA City Council seat in 2013, Cedillo won re-election in 2017 in a race that saw opponent Joe Bray-Ali overturned for making inflammatory comments on a racist website.
Hernandez’s victory in June signaled the growing influence of progressives in LA, but also vocal frustration among some in Cedillo’s county that he hadn’t done enough to help housing. Nearly two-thirds of District 1’s population is Latino, but wealthier, white residents have moved in in some areas.
Rifts and alliances in the city council are common, and Bonin supported Hernandez in the race. Bonin and Cedillo have also had tensions in recent years over political differences over bike lanes and homelessness.
Cedillo wrote Bonin the statement, which he released Sunday night after The Times reported on the leaked audio. Cedillo said nothing further in the text, said David Graham-Caso, Bonin’s deputy chief of staff.
Cedillo attempted to speak to Bonin at City Council Tuesday, but Graham-Caso advised Cedillo that an apology in front of television cameras was inappropriate.
Julia Wick, a Times contributor, contributed to this report.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-15/cedillo-stays-in-office-amid-resignation-calls Cedillo ‘at a place of reflection’ as pressure mounts