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City Councilman Kevin de León jumps into the L.A. mayor’s race

Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León speaks at a microphone, backed by masked supporters.
Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León launched his campaign for mayor Tuesday at the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León announced Tuesday he is joining the race to replace Mayor Eric Garcetti, saying he would focus as mayor on the hardships faced by Angelenos who are “barely holding on” economically.

De León, a Democrat who spent 12 years in the state Legislature, said he would help Angelenos who have been showing up at food banks, struggling to pay the rent and, in many cases, living on the streets. Standing at the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, he also described some of his own experiences with poverty, including the times that his mother had to avoid the landlord because she lacked the money for rent.

“The people of Los Angeles deserve to know that they are not alone, that their next mayor knows what housing insecurity feels like,” he said.

De León, 54, is the third elected city official to jump into the race and by far the most prominent Latino running. His father was Chinese and his mother was originally from Guatemala.

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Fluent in Spanish, he represents a district that takes in the predominantly Latino neighborhoods of Boyle Heights and El Sereno, as well as much of downtown, where a development boom has fueled huge growth over the last decade.

Two other candidates — Councilman Joe Buscaino and City Atty. Mike Feuer — have been campaigning for several months. The race also features two business leaders: Jessica Lall, who heads the downtown-based Central City Assn., and real estate broker Mel Wilson, who has been involved with several San Fernando Valley business groups.

Of the contenders running so far, De León instantly becomes the front-runner, said political science professor Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. And if U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) enters the race, they will be the top two candidates to beat, he said.

Guerra said De León comes to the race with a number of strengths: He is Latino in a city that’s nearly half Latino/Hispanic, he has a record fighting climate change and he is well known for his left-of-center political views.

“He’s a progressive, and L.A.’s more progressive than ever before,” he said. “The only person who is going to be as progressive as him is Karen Bass. So he’ll battle her for the progressive vote.”

Bass intends to make her decision within the next week, said spokesman Zach Seidl.

The mayoral primary is set for June, with a runoff election in November 2022. Garcetti, who was recently nominated to serve as U.S. ambassador to India, can’t run again because of term limits.

De León, an Eagle Rock resident, won his council seat last year, replacing former Councilman Jose Huizar, who is facing corruption charges in a sprawling criminal case dealing with real estate development and planning decisions at City Hall. Huizar has pleaded not guilty.

Political candidates are visiting neighborhoods with large homeless populations to lay out their plans to address the crisis. Activists aren’t happy.

Since then, De León has pushed for the construction of “tiny home” villages and other forms of homeless shelter in his district. He also successfully pressed his colleagues to set a goal of building 25,000 units of housing by 2025 for people living on the streets.

Where the money will come from, and how the city will meet such a tight timeline, is still unclear. Getting the council to set the goal took about seven months.

De León’s announcement is the latest in a string of political moves made at City Hall over the last week. Lall joined the race on Monday; a few days earlier, City Council President Nury Martinez announced she would stay out.

Two others — real estate developer Rick Caruso and former L.A. Unified schools Supt. Austin Beutner — are also exploring a mayoral bid.

De León spent four years in the state Assembly and eight more in the state Senate, including four as its president. In 2018, he waged a long-shot campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, arguing that she had been too conciliatory toward President Trump and that the state deserved someone more progressive.

Feinstein was reelected, and he announced a bid for council a few months later. During that campaign, he was pressed by his rivals on whether he planned to use the council office as a steppingstone to citywide office.

At one candidate forum in Eagle Rock, De León and the other candidates were asked if they would serve a full four-year term once elected. De León responded that he would. “And if you reelect me, I will serve another term,” he told the crowd, in remarks captured on video.

Asked about those remarks, and whether he had a change of heart, De León said the city is now at a “moment of crisis” and that “this is the time to lead.”

“If the people would have me to be their next mayor, it would be an honor of a lifetime,” he said.

Times staff writer Dakota Smith contributed to this report.


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