City Councilman Mike Hernandez said Friday that he attended council meetings while high on cocaine before his arrest two months ago for possession of the drug.
The councilman, who has acknowledged cocaine and alcohol addictions, said in interviews that he used cocaine in the morning--to help him "function" after late-night sessions of drinking and drug use.
He made the statements in an interview with The Times and during a taping of KCET's "Life & Times" television program.
"I was under the influence, yes," Hernandez told The Times. "I wasn't leaving the council meeting to do drugs. I would do it to wake up. I would do it to function. It was definitely in my system."
He added: "I would be lying if I said I wasn't under the influence" during council sessions.
Hernandez, who said that Friday was his 50th day without drugs or alcohol, returned to City Hall this week after living in a drug rehabilitation facility since his Aug. 21 arrest. He is continuing outpatient treatment and goes to morning and evening recovery meetings. He also said he will take drug tests and publicly release the results.
After a night of drinking, Hernandez said he found it difficult to wake up in the morning--sometimes he would sleep in his car or at a motel to avoid driving drunk--and that he needed the cocaine to help him get through the hardest part of the day.
"I never drank during the day," Hernandez said.
Hernandez's chief of staff, Morrie Goldman, said Friday he was unaware that his boss was high during council meetings.
"I've never heard him say that before," Goldman said. "And I've never seen anything to suggest that."
Hernandez has said his drug and alcohol abuse did not affect his work and that the drugs did not affect his decision-making abilities. He insists that he was a good councilman before and that he will be even better now.
Hernandez was arrested after a two-month law enforcement surveillance for allegedly purchasing cocaine. Police said they watched him buy drugs on at least 10 occasions and authorities have videotape showing Hernandez making movements as if he is snorting cocaine in his car before a community event. Authorities also said they recovered cocaine residue from Hernandez's desk in his City Hall office.
The Eastside councilman is expected to enter a guilty plea Oct. 27 to a charge of felony cocaine possession, in an arrangement that will allow him to continue his rehabilitation and avoid jail time.
Hernandez said he has been drinking since he was 15 but that his alcoholism grew worse over the past few years. By the time he was arrested, the councilman said, he was drinking a quart of tequila and a pitcher of beer every night. He said he used cocaine while drinking because the drug allowed him to drink more without feeling overly drunk.
His return to City Hall has been anything but routine. On Tuesday, his first council meeting since August, the council chamber was packed with mostly Hernandez supporters. His council colleagues, however, mostly were chilly toward the councilman, keeping their comments and even their regular meeting short.
A day later, supporters of a recall movement against Hernandez led a noisy protest in City Hall. Hernandez was escorted out of the chamber and taken through back hallways, stairways and even through a parking garage to avoid a confrontation with them.
As of Friday afternoon, the leaders of that drive had not filed the required papers with the city clerk's office.
Hernandez reiterated Friday that he will remain in his job and that he believes his recovery includes completing his term at City Hall.
But several of his council colleagues have said Hernandez should resign. Others have said they support him now but that he needs to remain sober or he will lose their backing.
Hernandez acknowledged that his return has been anything but easy. And, he said, he is fearful every day that he will relapse.
"Of course I'm scared," he said. "I'm very scared."