Los Angeles Councilman Will Run Again Despite Racist Audio Backlash

For the past year, Kevin de León, a Los Angeles city councilman, has been trying to make amends in his diverse and liberal city, hoping to remind voters of the formidable record he had before a secretly taped conversation nearly ended his political career. The campaign has been arduous.

The audio was about as damaging as can be, including his saying that a white colleague displayed his Black son the way a colleague displayed her status handbag, and his failing to challenge deeply offensive and racist remarks by other Latino political figures in the room.

Fellow Democrats, ranging from local activists to President Joe Biden, called for his resignation. Protesters camped outside his house and shouted him down at Council meetings. There have been death threats and an attempted recall.

On Wednesday, however, Mr. de León bucked conventional wisdom and announced that he would not only keep serving but also be running in 2024 for another four-year term to represent his predominantly Latino district, which straddles East Los Angeles and downtown.

“I’ve learned that people have huge hearts,” he said of his conversations over the past year. “People picked me up from the floor. They’ve had my back. So maybe I can have theirs now.”

Mr. de León announced that he would run for re-election as the scandal approached its one-year anniversary. He is the only one of the three Council members who were heard on the notorious audio to still hold office.

His decision, first reported by Politico, came as police continued their investigation into the source of the recording, which rocked the nation’s second largest city, testing race relations and upending its political establishment.

The recording, made in October 2021 at the offices of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, caught the federation president at the time, Ron Herrera, strategizing with three Latino City Council members — Mr. de León, Gil Cedillo and Nury Martinez, then president of the council — about how to consolidate power for the Latino plurality of voters in the city.

All of those involved in the conversation swiftly apologized, publicly and profusely. Mr. de León said that his handbag remark — made after Ms. Martinez criticized their white colleague — had merely been an awkward attempt to defuse her remarks with a tease about her penchant for luxury accessories. But the damage was done. Mr. Herrera and Ms. Martinez resigned within days, and Mr. Cedillo left office soon afterward, having lost a re-election bid to a candidate who was younger and more progressive.

But Mr. de León, 56, refused to step down. The son of immigrants and a former state legislative leader, he counted among his Capitol accomplishments a “sanctuary state” law that limited the use of local and state resources in immigration enforcement. To step down, he said at the time, would be to abandon his district.

Instead, he said, he would meet with and apologize to constituents and take professional sensitivity training.

Since then, at least two serious challengers — both Democratic members of the State Assembly — have launched campaigns for his office, which comes with a more than $218,000 annual salary.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, a Democrat from the area, has so far been considered the front-runner, collecting some $242,000 in campaign contributions as of June, according to the most recent campaign filings. He has also received endorsements from most of the local labor organizations, usually a pivotal source of support in Los Angeles elections.

Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, who is well known in the district, had raised about $116,000 as of the June filing period.

The March 2024 primary is expected to winnow the field to the top two candidates, with the winner to be determined on the same ballot as the November presidential election.

Mr. de León is also somewhat late to the campaign, officially entering the race as the Labor Federation is finalizing its endorsement decisions. And reaction to his announcement on Wednesday, while muted, reflected scant forgiveness from his critics.

Assemblyman Isaac G. Bryan, the majority leader, said on X, the social-media site formerly known as Twitter, “Being an elected official is about knowing it’s always bigger than you. Ideally you learn this before you run, but you should for sure have it learned by the time the President, Governor, Mayor, and literally everybody else call you to resign for spreading hate and bigotry.”

“You ain’t lyin,” responded Eunisses Hernandez, a progressive Los Angeles councilwoman who has refused to second any of Mr. de León’s Council motions since the audio leak.

Still, Mr. de León, who won his Council seat easily in 2020, is extremely well known throughout the district and remains popular in key neighborhoods. He has been a constant, if not incessant, presence in his district, opening housing for homeless people and announcing tens of millions of dollars in grants for streetlights and sidewalk repairs. And, so far, attempts to recall Mr. de León have failed.

“Politics is a brutal and unforgiving sport,” he acknowledged. “But we’re entering this race with a huge list of accomplishments.”

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