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An L.A. councilman struggles with the Pledge of Allegiance, and viewers pick sides

Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León, pictured last year.
Video of a meeting where Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León struggled with the Pledge of Allegiance quickly drew tens of thousands of views. An aide said the flubs show he’s human.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

It was a brief but awkward moment at City Hall, like a piano recital where the performer has suddenly lost track of the notes.

Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León had been asked by City Council President Nury Martinez to lead his colleagues in the Pledge of Allegiance, which is recited by council members each Tuesday during their Zoom meetings.

The delivery was far from smooth.

De León, who represents such neighborhoods as Boyle Heights, Eagle Rock and El Sereno, started off strong and then suddenly lost the words, stopping at the phrase “United States of America.” He paused, mumbled “undervisible,” then quickly started over.

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On his second try, De León reached the word “America” and paused again. After skipping over part of the pledge, he made his way to the finish. Once it was over, someone at the meeting could be heard uttering “Oof.”

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VIDEO | 00:52
L.A. Councilman Kevin de León and the Pledge of Allegiance

L.A. Councilman Kevin de León struggled with his delivery of the Pledge of Allegiance on Tuesday at the start of the council’s regular meeting. The council recites the pledge once a week.

The video of de León’s struggle quickly drew attention on Twitter, where it was uploaded by Rob Pyers, research director for the nonpartisan California Target Book. It quickly racked up tens of thousands of views and some salty commentary.

Some on Twitter called the performance a disgrace, arguing that the pledge is a basic part of civics, and used the moment to bash California politicians. Others described De León’s flubs as relatable or argued that — in a city contending with homelessness, COVID-19 and other crises — the moment was unimportant.

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“I wish all of city council’s failures were this funny and inconsequential,” wrote Mike Dickerson, an activist on homelessness and other issues.

Pete Brown, a spokesman for De León, said in a brief interview that the councilman knows the words of the pledge by heart. “He just stumbled, and showed he was human,” the aide said. “We’ve all forgotten lyrics to songs we’ve sung a hundred thousand times.”

De León, who took office last year, was experiencing some computer difficulties Tuesday and has “a lot on his plate,” Brown said. “Sadly, there’s thousands of kids in his district who are doing the pledge and they’re at risk of being homeless. He’s thinking about that,” he said.

Hours later, De León addressed the situation head on, posting an image of Bart Simpson at a blackboard writing out the pledge in its entirety. He acknowledged that it was an embarrassing moment and asked those who “got a good laugh” out of his mishap to donate to the nonprofit group No Us Without You.

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“They’re doing amazing work ... to provide food security for undocumented immigrants,” he wrote.

The criticism of De León on social media prompted one Sacramento lawmaker to call on the public to “give the guy a break.” Assemblyman Chad Mayes (I-Rancho Mirage) reminded his followers on Twitter that “we’ve all had bad days.”

"[De León] knows the Pledge of Allegiance. I’m sure he is terribly embarrassed. Can we show some compassion and extend a little grace?” Mayes asked.

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For Rob Quan, an organizer with the group Unrig L.A., the councilman’s garbled pledge should provide reassurance to any Angeleno nervous about addressing the council at its public meetings.

“These people mess up all the time,” he said.


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