Organizers launch bid to recall embattled L.A. City Councilmember Kevin de León

Councilmember Kevin de León at a rally announcing his mayoral campaign in  2021.
Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de León at a rally announcing his mayoral campaign in September 2021.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Amid widespread calls for the embattled politician’s resignation, five constituents filed initial paperwork Thursday to recall Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de León.

The former state Senate leader has been at the center of a political maelstrom set off by a leaked recording first reported by The Times on Oct. 9.

De León has said repeatedly that he has no plans to step down, citing the need for representation in his downtown and Eastside district. He was elected to the council in 2020 and has more than two years left in his term.


“After three failed attempts, yet another recall that distorts his record will not distract the councilmember or his office from continuing to serve the people of Council District 14,” De León spokesperson Pete Brown said in a statement. “He will keep moving forward important projects and issues that threaten the communities and the lives of his constituents.”

L.A. City Councilmember Kevin De León says he won’t resign following calls for him to step down after the leak of an audio conversation in which racist and disparaging comments were made.

Oct. 19, 2022

Eagle Rock resident Pauline Adkins, the recall group’s representative, initiated three attempts to recall De León prior to the leak scandal, including attempts with initial paperwork filed in July 2021 and May 2022.

When reached by phone, Adkins declined to be interviewed. The City Clerk’s office confirmed that the group had filed the paperwork.

It’s relatively easy to launch a recall attempt in California, but actually triggering an election is far more difficult. Most attempted recalls fail to make it to the ballot.

Under city rules, recall backers must start the process by submitting a 300-word statement signed by five voters within the district. Several other procedural steps have to be completed within a certain timetable before signature gathering can begin.


The paperwork filed Thursday cites De León’s participation in the leaked conversation and subsequent calls for his resignation as the reason for the recall, saying “he currently cannot represent the stakeholders of Council District 14.”

In interviews over the leaked racist audio, the activist-turned-politician is talking himself into irrelevancy rather than quit the L.A. City Council.

Oct. 27, 2022

Triggering a recall election for a Los Angeles council member requires the signatures of 15% of the total number of registered voters in the district, meaning proponents would have to collect 21,006 valid signatures in District 14, according to the City Clerk’s office.

Petition drives typically need to have a “cushion” of at least 20% to account for rejected signatures, meaning recall organizers would likely need to turn in a little more than 25,000 signatures, said Joshua Spivak, an expert on recall elections and senior research fellow at UC Berkeley Law School’s California Constitution Center.

Such an effort would almost certainly require some degree of paid signature gathering to succeed within the necessary time frame.

Brian VanRiper, a political consultant who has worked on a number of L.A. City Council races, echoed the logistical difficulties inherent in successfully bringing a recall to the ballot.

De León’s district, which includes downtown L.A., is also difficult to gather signatures in because of the nature of the neighborhood — there are many apartment buildings and signature-gathers can’t easily knock on doors, VanRiper said.

The incendiary October 2021 recording captured a closed-door conversation between then-City Council President Nury Martinez, De León and Councilmember Gil Cedillo, and Ron Herrera, the leader of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. The local powerbrokers were ostensibly meeting to discuss the proposed redistricting maps of the city’s 15 council districts, but the conversation included racist and derogatory remarks about Black, Jewish, Armenian, Indigenous and gay people.

At one point, Martinez — who has since resigned from the council — said Councilman Mike Bonin, who is white, handled his young Black son as though he were an “accessory” and described the boy as “Parece changuito,” or “like a monkey.” Herrera has also resigned from his influential post.

De León appeared to compare Bonin’s handling of his child to Martinez holding a Louis Vuitton handbag.

De León has repeatedly apologized for his participation in the meeting, describing the handbag comment as a joke directed at Martinez’s “penchant for having luxury accessories” and saying he should have intervened at various other points in the conversation to put a stop to the racist remarks.

Recent efforts to recall Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Nithya Raman, Dist. Atty. George Gascón and Mayor Eric Garcetti all fizzled because recall leaders failed to collect enough signatures to put the issue before voters.

Publicity around the Newsom recall, as well as pandemic fallout and a combative political atmosphere, have helped fuel a surge in local recall drives around California.

June 11, 2021

However, recalls that do make it the ballot frequently succeed, Spivak said.

Spivak cited recent history in San Francisco, where voters successfully recalled three school board members and Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin earlier this year. Polling on the Gascón recall campaign also showed that the effort would have had a good chance of succeeding, had it made it to a vote.

“This is exactly the type of recall that would have a good chance at a vote,” Spivak said of a potential De León recall. But he also cautioned that De León’s prominence as a politician could help him counter a recall campaign.

Despite the loud public outcry, De León does appear to have a well of support in his district. During recent City Council meetings, a number of self-identified district residents have called in to voice their support for him, saying he should remain in office.

The racist comments on a recording that rocked Los Angeles City Hall ensnared Councilman Kevin de León in controversy. The tape also revealed an undercurrent of ambition and grievance in his political career.

Oct. 14, 2022

Protests against Cedillo and De León’s continued presence have made it difficult for the council to proceed in recent weeks. The rest of the council does not have the power to remove De León and Cedillo, whose term ends in December. Neither De León nor Cedillo has attended meetings during the last two weeks.

Should other recall proponents in the district join forces with Adkins, the campaign could make for unlikely bedfellows. Many of the loudest critiques of De León have come from activists in the city’s leftmost flank, whereas Adkins has frequently reposted political messages circulated by such accounts as Trump 2020, the Donald Trump Fan Club and Silent Majority Chooses Greatness Trump 2024 on her Facebook page, according to prior Times reporting.

Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.