After a week and a half of silence, Kevin de León emerged Wednesday afternoon to tell the world he’s really, really and honestly sorry for what he said and didn’t say about the racist reception that rocked Los Angeles.
The embattled councilor appeared on CBS Los Angeles to reiterate that he had “failed” to stop a colleague, Nury Martinez, from taking bigoted shots at a number of Angelenos and another, Gil Cedillo, from doing so to prevent Black politicians from taking the seats he holds.
“I neglected to get up and end the meeting at that moment,” De León told reporter Tom Wait. He asked forgiveness “from my people, my community for the damage caused by the painful words” uttered on the tape.
Also above: an interview in Spanish with Univision host León Krauze, who flew from the station’s home base in Florida. In the shadow of the funeral, De León said he felt “terrible” six times over what Martinez, Cedillo and former Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera had said about blacks, Jews, Armenians, Oaxacans and other council members . When Krauze pressured De León as to why he was silent, the councilor responded in Spanglish: “Estaba yo en Shock, Completely Shock.”
De León punctuated his afternoon of apologies with a letter to newly appointed LA City Council President Paul Krekorian, writing with “a deeper shame than I have ever known and from a place of profound humility.” The only thing, De León said, that brought him comfort during his trying times was “a company of angels” who came to him with words of encouragement: “I think I hardly deserve it.”
It would have been good practice in regret – if any of it had been real.
Because in the midst of this pardon farce, De León reiterated that no, he would remain in his seat, despite almost the entire Democratic establishment, from Council colleagues to US Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif. ) even to President Biden, who um asks for his resignation.
Martinez, who made the most offensive comments, has resigned while Cedillo remains in office.
De León wrote to Krekorian that resigning “would only be a solution that would benefit me – not the people who elected me to represent them”.
He told CBS Los Angeles that he wanted to “help heal the wounds that have been there for so many years, if not decades.”
Meanwhile, he told Krauze that resigning would not help anyone in his working-class neighborhood “because there is still work to be done” with “COVID, unemployment, the threat of evictions and the humanitarian crisis of homelessness.”
His attitude was classic Kevin: selfish, messianic, and calculating.
Drawing on his reputation as a Latino political behemoth — a longtime immigrant and labor rights activist, former member of parliament and chairman of the California Senate — he is betting that some will have their ires quieted because they need someone who knows how to do things for themselves Latinos done. He reckons his predominantly Hispanic constituents are far enough from City Hall not to care much about the controversy.
And he thinks if he throws stones at Martinez and Cedillo, the public will overlook his sins.
I’ve met Kevin a few times over the years and find him smarter than most. He is fun, hardworking and loyal. So I don’t underestimate his strategy – in fact, it’s slowly unraveling as I write.
A group of Latino men showed up outside De León’s home this week, demanding that Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles protesters “give him his space.” Other supporters are planning a rally this Saturday in East Los Angeles, which isn’t in the De León neighborhood — but whatever. “Unfortunately,” according to a Facebook post promoting the event, “the political opposition has created a media circus to reduce the number of Latino council members, which will reduce services to our community.”
Friends who have long worked with De León on many of his key causes — climate change, turning California into an immigrant haven, gun control, but particularly Latino representation in California’s corridors of power — keep calling me to argue that I need him Losing now would be an incalculable blow at a time when Latinos can least afford it. Some have even ridiculously described what happened to him, Martinez and Cedillo as little better than an execution.
My response, aside from beating down the comparison, is to point out that this episode shed light on De León’s worst tendencies, which he shares with another embattled Latino election official, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
The massive chips on their shoulders constantly lower their ambition – and endanger the people they serve.
In the grand scheme of the tape, De León didn’t say the worst things. He called councilor Mike Bonin the “fourth black councilor” who “is going to be fucking looking at Latinos.” He will never say a bad word about us.”
He also compared black political power to The Wizard of Oz – the idea that it’s not all it’s supposed to be. And he told both CBS Los Angeles and Univision that when he compared Bonin’s black son to a Louis Vuitton handbag, it was actually intended as a stab at Martinez’s penchant for luxury goods — a face-saving blow to a former ally.
No, what struck me most about De León is how saddened he is.
The leaked tape had him whining about how people criticized him for throwing a party at the Walt Disney Concert Hall to mark his ascension to Senate President, “because we, as Latinos — whether working class or in the political space — we you.” should not fill those positions.” Whites would have approved of the party if he’d had them in El Pueblo, Olvera Street, Roosevelt High or Pacoima, he said.
He mentioned white people six times, from “little white lady” to “white people will cut you in a heartbeat” to “white liberal world.”
He claimed that when white politicians get involved in corruption, they “find out something.” (Someone says that Mitch Englander.)
That’s a side of De León that struck me from the start – one that I’ve always found among his talents.
When I interviewed him in 2019 for my podcast on Proposition 187, the 1994 anti-immigrant ballot that inspired a generation of Latino activists like De León to run for office, one of the first things he said was, how racist the Times was for supporting the measure. I replied that while I agreed that the newspaper was terribly wrong, today’s Times is very different.
He went on.
During a mayoral candidate debate on homelessness this month co-hosted by The Times and KCRW, De León answered a tough question from my co-host Anna Scott by playing the dumb Latino immigrant. “no hablo ingles,‘ he said – I don’t speak English.
When I replied in Spanish to tell him to reply in Spanish we all laughed – but he still didn’t answer the question.
This is not the idealistic housekeeper’s son from Guatemala who has achieved so much in his career. This is a control-hungry Pole who believes in his own hype — he’s even spoken about himself in the third person with CBS Los Angeles.
Is this really what Los Angeles needs right now? Is this really the best Latinos can choose? What De León is doing isn’t an example of leadership — it’s a lesson in how to light a city with gas.
De León, 55, plans to serve out his term, which ends in 2024, and most likely run again as he has another shot at senior office after unsuccessful bids for the US Senate in 2018 and LA mayor this year plans. There is nothing anyone can do about it other than a call back.
So I’ll leave to him what he told me in 2019 about how wrong it was for the California Republican Party to jeopardize its political future on Proposition 187. The measure was accepted convincingly but was later invalidated and ultimately destroyed the party.
“It was short-term delirium for long-term, enduring pain,” De León said. “And I say to my fellow Republicans, ‘If I can give you free advice, take it for what it’s worth. I think it’s good advice: it won’t end well for you.’ ”
Kevin, are you listening to yourself?
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-20/kevin-de-leon-resignation-apology-no-resignation Column: Kevin De León says he’s sorry but won’t resign. Stop gaslighting L.A.