L.A. on the Record: A City Council standoff as De León digs in, Cedillo stays silent

Two men speak at a desk
Then-acting Council President Mitch O’Farrell, left, speaks with Councilmember Kevin de León at a City Council meeting on Oct. 11, two days after the recording came to light.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our local elections newsletter. It’s your favorite boy band of Ben Oreskes and Matt Hamilton with a great deal of help from Julia Wick.

Los Angeles is still sorting through the rubble after a leaked recording of elected officials making racist and other incendiary remarks took a sledgehammer to its civic institutions.

The first step on the path to some semblance of stability came Tuesday with the election of Paul Krekorian as council president. Many expected the next step would be Councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo following Nury Martinez out the door and resigning.

That didn’t happen.

Cedillo remains in office, and silent. He will be out of the job in December anyway, but De León, whose term runs until 2024, said in several interviews Wednesday that he intended to stay in office because his constituents “deserve representation.”

“No, I will not resign, because there is a lot of work ahead,” De León told Noticiero Univision, adding, “I’m so sorry. I am extremely sorry, and that is why I apologize to all my people, to my entire community.”


A chorus of voices — including several Times columnists and the editorial board — said he was wrong to dig in, while some in his district said he had done good work and deserved a second chance. Some Black developers working on projects in his district said they wouldn’t work with him — fearing he is racially biased against them and has been stalling city approvals — and many of his council colleagues reiterated that he needed to resign.

In a note to Krekorian, De León asked “to be excused from attending council meetings so that I can refocus my energy on meeting directly with those I represent to begin the process to help heal those that have been harmed.”

Krekorian declined De León’s request to be excused from Friday’s meeting, according to Karo Torossian, Krekorian’s chief of staff. Krekorian’s spokesman, Hugh Esten, said it was up to the council president whether to excuse a member’s absences. De León did not show up for the meeting.

The question of how many council meetings De León can miss is a bit knotty — the rules are in the City Charter, but suffice to say that this isn’t a situation the city has dealt with before.

Theoretically, according to Section 207 of the charter, an office becomes vacant when “the incumbent has been absent from the City without the consent of the Council for more than 60 consecutive days” or when the incumbent “has ceased to discharge the duties of the office for 90 consecutive days, except when prevented by illness, injury, or other reasonable cause.”

City Clerk Holly Wolcott said Friday via email that that 60-day rule would apply only if someone was actually outside the boundaries of the city without approval, while the 90-day rule “is interpreted to mean 90 consecutive days without fulfilling the duties of their office without an excused absence.”

Even if De León stops attending council meetings, it’s unlikely this section of the charter would be triggered, as long as he continues to fill some official duties.

“To my knowledge, no case law exists, and as with anything, this section is subject to interpretation and legal challenge,” Wolcott said. “I think it is reasonable to assume that as long as a council member is fulfilling most aspects of their duty of office such as constituent services, they are considered at work regardless of whether they attend council meetings.”

At this point, a successful recall election would likely be the only way to remove De León from office.

Two bids to recall De León have been initiated in recent years, with the second fizzling out earlier this month after organizers failed to file petitions before the expiration date. No new recall paperwork has been filed, according to the city clerk’s office.


State of play

— FULL COVERAGE: This scandal has generated a tremendous amount of coverage from our colleagues and other news organizations. Here’s a by-no-means-exhaustive roundup of the takes, tick-tocks and deep dives. We start with a tour de force from five Times staffers on how politics in Los Angeles has always been organized along racial lines. But those lines are not as stark as the crass and hateful language on the recordings might lead many to conclude. (And don’t miss the Willie Brown cameo.)

Dave Zahniser and Ben Oreskes looked at the audio in the politically fraught and potentially legally perilous context of whether the council districts that were drawn last year should be thrown out. Then there’s the question of who runs to replace Martinez.

Dakota Smith got some answers, and Julia Wick learned that the special election to replace Martinez could cost as much as $7.7 million depending on whether there’s a runoff. Ben and Julia also spotlighted a moment from Oct. 11 when Councilmember-elect Eunisses Hernandez walked across the floor amid the chaos and told Cedillo, whom she beat, that he should leave.

The Times teamed up with Fox 11 on Thursday night for an hourlong town hall to take stock of the crisis, and columnist Erika D. Smith, who participated, wrote this week about the scandal’s effect on Councilmember Heather Hutt. Friend of the newsletter Gustavo Arellano spent some time with Rep. Karen Bass to talk about her Mexican American stepchildren.

— POLL ALERT: A new poll of likely voters from the Los Angeles Daily News and J. Wallin Opinion Research found Rick Caruso with a 3-percentage-point lead (39.8% to 36.8%) over Bass in the mayor’s race. The sample size of this poll — 400 likely voters — was small, but it squared with what we’ve been hearing in recent weeks from sources, which is that the race has gotten much tighter.

— WHERE’S THE MONEY: On Monday, Caruso put out a new abortion rights-centered mailer that says: “Rick marshaled his personal resources, directing over a million dollars to support Prop 1, to put the right to choose into our state Constitution.”

The problem? As of Monday, Caruso still hadn’t put any money into his committee to support the ballot measure, despite saying back in May that he’d be putting in $100,000 initially and pledging $1 million in total. (We also wrote about the missing money a few weeks ago, and Caruso’s camp said he was still planning to fund it.)

We asked the campaign Monday night about where the money was. Caruso put $100,000 into the committee the next day. Caruso spokesperson Peter Ragone once again said the developer was still planning to put in the full amount, saying, “The filings will show the spend at $1 million.”

Meanwhile, the political arm of Planned Parenthood L.A. — which is backing Bass — put out yet another letter knocking Caruso, saying that his “alleged willingness” to financially support Prop. 1 doesn’t make up for his past donations to antiabortion politicians.

— HOLLYWOOD HANDBOOK: Variety’s Gene Maddaus takes a deep look at all the advice Bass is getting, including from noted donor Jeffrey Katzenberg.

“I’ve been very excited and appreciative of his support, and moved by his stories around homelessness,” Bass told Maddaus in her first remarks we’ve seen on the massive amount of money Katzenberg donated in support of her candidacy. “I got to know him a little over the summer. ... He’s passionate. … I believe he is perfectly genuine and has seen the pain on the streets.”

The Hollywood Reporter did its own check on where figures in the industry stand in this race.

The pro-Bass committee to which Katzenberg has donated $1.85 million since the start of the race has spent $1 million on TV advertising. The spot highlights Caruso’s prior Republican registration and his support of GOP politicians who opposed abortion. Caruso has insisted that he’s always supported abortion rights and that he registered as a Democrat because the Republican Party became too extreme.

And in other news ...

— COUNCIL DISTRICT 15 UPDATE: Three weeks ago, City Council candidate Danielle Sandoval issued a public apology, saying she was taking full responsibility for her handling of wage theft claims filed by workers at a restaurant she opened in 2014. On Tuesday, Sandoval, provided an update on that effort, telling supporters in a video that some payments have now been made. But those workers did not receive the full amount that state labor officials had been trying to collect.

— CITY ATTORNEY UPDATE: Our colleague Marisa Gerber reports on how the lawyers competing to replace L.A. City Atty. Mike Feuer are relative neophytes to the world of city politics, outsider candidates who have laid out vastly different visions for how they plan to lead the city.

— SHERIFF UPDATE: Both candidates for Los Angeles County sheriff — challenger Robert Luna and Sheriff Alex Villanueva — got the profile treatment this week.

Bass bashes Caruso on Tyndall

The Times reported Tuesday on what Caruso said during a confidential, seven-hour deposition in 2020. The questioning centered on USC’s handling of the scandal involving former USC gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall, and it set Bass on the offensive against her opponent.

On Thursday, Bass sat alongside Gloria Allred in the 15th-floor board room of the attorney’s Wilshire Boulevard law firm, along with one of Tyndall’s former patients — an Allred client. They took turns blasting Caruso over his handling of the scandal.

Bass latched onto Times reporting showing that Caruso had declined to answer key questions by invoking attorney-client privilege.

Just after the scandal broke, the businessman took over as chair of USC’s board of trustees and held that post as the gynecologist’s former patients sued the university, alleging they were harassed or abused. Eventually, he was instrumental in reaching nearly $1.1 billion in settlements with Tyndall’s ex-patients and forcing out administrators involved in the scandal.

Bass zeroed in on Caruso’s promise to release the findings of an outside law firm’s investigation into the doctor. Caruso has said on the campaign trail that the university doesn’t want to retraumatize victims. In the deposition, he said that USC’s attorneys had advised the board against disclosing the findings.

“A commitment was made to survivors to release the report, and then that commitment was backtracked,” Bass said. “And his reason for not releasing it I found to be insulting and patronizing to the victims.”

Caruso’s deposition remains sealed, as do the depositions of former USC administrators, clinic staff who worked with Tyndall, former patients and the deposition of Tyndall himself — part of a protective order negotiated by USC and attorneys for alleged victims.

“Rick came in and cleaned up an absolute tragedy at USC,” Ragone, the Caruso spokesman, told the L.A. Daily News. “We’ll let voters decide what’s going on here.”

The Times asked Allred why there was no mechanism for transparency in the $852-million settlement that her firm helped negotiate in 2021 with the university.

“All I can say is there were numerous attorneys involved in negotiating the settlement from numerous firms. And that was not part of the settlement,” Allred said before chastising a reporter for asking off-topic questions.

Bass has represented the congressional district that includes USC and its students for over a decade, and she could not point to any action she took in office — or use of the bully pulpit — to bring transparency and accountability at the university before making the Tyndall scandal an attack line in her mayoral campaign.

Her 2019 commencement speech at USC made no mention of the Tyndall scandal and the pain and tumult it had caused during the preceding year.

“I don’t think there was a congressional response in this,” Bass said.

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Quick hits

  • Who’s running the city? Still Eric Garcetti, though it was a little complicated: On Tuesday three different officials led the city. First was Garcetti, who left for a climate conference in Argentina. That made Mitch O’Farrell, who began the day as acting council president, the acting mayor. But soon after Garcetti’s flight took off, Krekorian was voted in as council president, making him the acting mayor. Garcetti’s confirmation as ambassador to India awaits a Senate vote.
  • The latest in mayoral endorsements: Actor Danny Trejo, who backed De León in the primary, endorsed Bass, as did the Korean American Democratic Committee.
  • And in other city endorsements: City attorney candidate Hydee Feldstein Soto picked up the support of county Supervisor Kathryn Barger, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former City Controller Wendy Greuel and former Dist. Atty. Robert Philibosian. The Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region and state Sen. Sydney Kamlager endorsed Erin Darling in CD 11. Councilmember O’Farrell picked up the endorsement La Opinión editorial board. The Westside Current backed Sam Yebri for CD 5.

(If you have an endorsement you’d like to flag for next week, please send it to us.)

  • Dig of the week: This week’s comes from journalist Margarita Noriega, who tweeted of Tuesday’s multi-mayor day: “It would be cool if America’s second largest city had just one mayor each day.”
  • On the docket for next week: OneLA, a multifaith community organization, will hold a forum with Bass and county supervisor candidates state Sen. Bob Hertzberg and West Hollywood Councilmember Lindsey Horvath at 3 p.m. Sunday at Reseda High School. Bass and Caruso will be at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for a forum Wednesday.

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