Column: Haters, leave Kevin de León alone. You’re playing into his game

 Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de Leon returned to council chambers after a two month absence.
Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León returned to L.A. council chambers Dec. 9 after a two-month absence. He was greeted by protesters and supporters.
(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Since mid-November, Los Angeles Councilmember Kevin de León has been gallivanting around his Eastside district as if the past few months never happened.

Instead of going on the citywide apology tour he vowed to do after a leaked racist tape upended L.A. City Hall like few scandals have, his Instagram account has promoted nonstop videos of him spreading holiday cheer. Free toys in Eagle Rock! Free turkeys in Boyle Heights! Free Christmas trees! A mariachi serenade for his birthday in Highland Park!

Each reel features a grinning De León literally embraced by grateful Latinos of all ages. His social media team scores them with defiant songs like “El Rey,” “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” a remix of Joe Arroyo’s salsa classic “Rebelión,” and even the old-school jam “Forget Me Nots.”


These Instagram posts are a middle finger to those who have demanded De León resign — everyone from community leaders to President Biden. De León’s excuse is that his working-class, mostly Latino constituents need him and him alone.

His public appearances also come off as a dare to his most vocal haters, the ones who have confronted him all year with taunts and obscenities while filming his reactions on cellphones. His message to them:

Come at me, bros.

The haters fell for his bait on Friday.

In the morning, he showed up to a council meeting for the first time since The Times reported the leaked tape in October. Before De León appeared on the dais, his supporters pleaded with the other council members not to censure their man.

Baldomero Capiz, who has long organized to get back pay for former braceros from the Mexican government, told the council in Spanish that De León should remain in office “to finish some pending work with the grand community he represents.”

A longtime resident of De León’s district agreed.

“We have the right, not others, to vote for” him, the woman said. “The only ones who have the right to take him out is us.”

Meanwhile, a 77-year-old constituent declared, “I think a lot of [us] immigrants want el señor Kevin de León to finish his time with us. Please don’t take away the money from the community.”


When De León finally joined the meeting, council members Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Nithya Raman and Mike Bonin walked out. De León’s supporters and opponents began to argue with each other. Council President Paul Krekorian called for an immediate recess. When the council returned, De León wasn’t there.

Councilmember Kevin de León returned to Friday’s council meeting after a two-month absence, triggering shouting matches between supporters and foes.

Dec. 9, 2022

That theater of the performative was prelude to what happened in Lincoln Park later that evening, in yet another embarrassing recording of L.A. politics that has gone viral.

Footage originally uploaded by anti-gentrification groups RootsAction and J-Town Action and Solidarity captured De León wearing a bright red Santa hat as he headed toward the exits of an auditorium.

Santa Kevin had just presided over a toy giveaway to kids, but critics now surrounded him, shouting for his resignation and accusing him of being anti-Black and anti-Indigenous.

Smiles turned to screams as Jason Reedy, an organizer with People’s Council Los Angeles, got in De León’s face. This wasn’t their first waltz. Even before the leak of the racist tape, which captured De León trashing white liberals while other Latino politicos slammed Black people, Oaxacans, fellow council members and a slew of others, Reedy and other ardent anti-De León protestors were pursuing an aggressive campaign against him.

In the past, De León has smacked at Reedy’s phone as Reedy filmed him. In Lincoln Heights, however, the council member grabbed Reedy by the collar, slammed him upon the edge of a table, then pushed him off as Reedy tried to fight back. Reedy responded by punching De León at least once. The Santa hat, sadly, got trampled by everyone.


Reedy is claiming assault. De León argues it was self-defense. Both filed reports with the Los Angeles Police Department, which is investigating. That incident and the events earlier in the day brought even more negative attention to L.A. politics on the very weekend that newly elected Mayor Karen Bass took office in what was supposed to offer a much-needed reset.

I’m all for protesters taking their grievances to politicians — a good public shaming is always healthy for democracy. If anyone needs rhetorical rotten tomatoes thrown at him right now, it’s De León. Letting him have it at council meetings is not just the 1st Amendment at its finest — it’s a civic duty. Even picketing outside his home, like Black Lives Matters members have, is a part of the political playbook used by both parties.

But there’s a limit when you encounter a sinvergüenza — a shameless scoundrel — like De León. Escalating actions to the lengths of this past week will convince few, if any, to take the side of the Reedys of L.A. and will strengthen De León’s hand by allowing him to play the victim card.

In a news release, De León demanded that his harassers knock it off, stating that their campaign against him, “is a dangerous pattern that must end before more serious harm or loss of life occurs” — an over-the-top assertion that he can now wrap himself in.

His persecution narrative is now pushing people who might not like the longtime politico — but who care for disruptive protests even less — to rally by his side.

Kevin de Leon protest
A crowd of protesters calling for Kevin de León to resign or to cancel the meeting face police while a city council meeting was in recess at City Hall
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Krekorian, who penned an open letter in October asking for the “immediate resignation” of his colleague, released a statement in the wake of the Lincoln Heights brawl : “In a free society political disagreements are unavoidable, and passionate discussion is necessary, but violence discredits the cause that employs it.”

Monica Rodriguez, who voted with all of her fellow council members to censure De León and then-councilmembers Nury Martinez and Gil Cedillo over the racist tape, tweeted that when “protest devolves into wielding physical intimidation, threats and acts of violence, it’s no longer protest — it’s terrorism.”

The only people with any surefire power to take out De León are his constituents, either via a recall this coming year or his reelection bid in 2024. They’re the ones receiving all of De León’s recent largesse. They’ll be the ones who need convincing that Santa Kevin is actually Krampus and needs to go. That will take a lot of work and money, not a stream of tweets and TikToks.

It’s not a good look to boo elderly, Spanish-speaking voters when they express their support of De León during a council meeting. It’s a bad look to interrupt holiday giveaways where the people waiting in line are working-class Latinos. And it’s downright stupid to make kids cry on a Friday night when all they wanted was free toys, not a bunch of adults fighting and cussing.

What’s happening here reminds me of the line from Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” written in 1966 to capture a different L.A. in a familiar clash between activists and the establishment — nobody’s right if everyone is wrong.

De León needs to go, more so than ever. His use of constituents as human political shields is disgusting and cynical — and tactically brilliant. Now, De León can go to them and say what he argued again and again in that leaked tape from October: “They” are going after Latino political power. We need to stick with each other. And I’m the only one who can fend them off.


Councilmember Kevin de León plans to attend Tuesday’s vote on a homelessness emergency — all but guaranteeing there will be a show of force from protesters.

Dec. 12, 2022

“My commitment is solid to my community, to my constituents,” he told The Times over the weekend. “I’m not going to let a group of extremely hostile individuals from outside the district bully me or my staff or my constituents.”

So what have the haters gained? Each encounter with their target has ended the same — De León smiles, then gets angry, and his haters yell. Got the footage you need? See you next week.

In one such skirmish on Olvera Street in June, shortly before the primary where De León came in a distant third for mayor, someone sarcastically screamed after the council member grabbed for a cellphone, “That’s gonna look good on camera, Kevin!”

After Friday, he’s never looked better. His haters have never looked worse.