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Column: Voters in Kevin de León’s district support recalling him. Now comes the hard part

Kevin de León on a phone call.
Then-mayoral candidate and current Los Angeles Councilmember Kevin de Leon, second from right, talks on the phone with potential voters at his campaign headquarters during the 2022 L.A. mayoral race
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
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Kevin de León has started his 2023 just the way he wants: slithering his way back to a sense of normalcy.

He’s showing up to City Council meetings and posting updates on social media as if the last 2 1/2 months of last year didn’t happen — as if a leaked tape that captured him, two other councilmembers and a labor leader uttering bigoted nonsense hadn’t upended L.A. politics.

Gone is the councilmember who spent his December trying to rehabilitate his image by handing out freebies to constituents, physically and rhetorically slamming activists who tried to shame him into resigning, and appearing on national and local media to reiterate why he was staying put.

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Quieted are those same activists, who en masse disrupted the first couple of City Council meetings De León attempted to attend with their bodies and jeers and are now fewer in number, resigned to booing whenever De León enters the council chambers.

Quieter are De León’s fellow councilmembers, many of whom demanded he step down in the wake of the leak and who walked out when he returned to City Hall after a two-month break. Now, they just grit their teeth and hold their noses during meetings as they continue with city business, lest their constituents suffer because of one deluded, defiant colleague.

De León is going about his comeback like the political equivalent of a snapping turtle: An annoyance who not only won’t get out of the way for progress but also will retract into his shell and emerge to snip at people while daring his haters to push him aside.

Well, folks, you now have a hell of a fulcrum to help.

In the midst of this forgive-me farce, De León reiterated that, nope, he’s going to stay in his seat.

Oct. 20, 2022

In early December, the Los Angeles city clerk allowed a group of residents to start collecting signatures in a recall attempt against the councilmember. It’s the fourth time he’s faced one in less than three years — the previous ones failed.

De León has openly mocked these efforts, telling longtime L.A. radio host Earl Ofari Hutchinson in December that he had “enough anecdotal evidence to state with some sense of certainty that [his constituents are] not happy with the process of the recall.”

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Not anymore!

A Los Angeles Times poll released Jan. 22 shows that a majority of registered voters in De León’s district want him outta here.

Fifty-one percent of those polled think he should resign. Fifty-eight percent would vote “yes” if a recall makes it to the ballot.

In the past, De León has said that gentrifying white residents in Eagle Rock and Highland Park are the ones persecuting him, while his working-class Latino constituents want him to stay. There is a bit of a racial gap in The Times poll — 64% of white voters want him out, while only 43% of Latino voters do. But more than half of voters in more heavily Latino neighborhoods such as Boyle Heights and Lincoln Heights said they’re ready to give him the heave-ho too.

There’s just no way for De León to spin The Times poll in his favor. More Latinos viewed him unfavorably than his fellow tape spewer, former council President Nury Martinez, who called Oaxacans “ugly” and compared the Black son of former Councilmember Mike Bonin to a little monkey, among many ignominies. Only 32% of Latinos surveyed find De León principled or honest, and 56% think the Eastside politico “puts his own political self-interest ahead of the people he represents.”

After The Times broke the story about the tape, Martinez resigned, as did Los Angeles County Labor Federation President Ron Herrera. The fourth person on the tape, Gil Cedillo, ignored calls to resign but left the City Council in December because he had lost reelection to a newcomer.

More tellingly, 55% of Latinos questioned in The Times poll thought that protests against De León — which have included campouts outside his home and activists yelling at him during a Christmas toy giveaway that led to the councilmember shoving one to the ground — have been “fair” and “hold him accountable.” That’s more than the 46% of white voters who feel the same.

Considering that Latinos make up more than half of District 14’s voting-age population, De León faces almost certain defeat if the recall ever makes it to voters, based on these poll results.

But there’s the pinche rub.

People protest Kevin de León at Los Angeles City Hall.
A crowd of protesters calling for Kevin de Leon to resign or to cancel the meeting face police while a City Council meeting was in recess at Los Angeles City Hall last fall.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
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Recalls are notoriously expensive and difficult to pull off. The last L.A. councilmember removed from office that way was Meade McClanahan, who was recalled in 1946 just months after his election because he refused to disavow his support of an antisemite.

To get the recall on the ballot, organizers have until March 31 to collect 20,437 valid signatures — 15% of registered voters in District 14. But their GoFundMe has raised only a little more than $1,000 so far — a pittance in politics. They need help. But instead of assisting this effort, many progressives have kept it at arm’s length while mulling their own attempt.

Typical of this thinking is the L.A. chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, which issued a statement on its website last month saying that it wants De Leon recalled but advises fellow travelers to “be skeptical” of the current campaign because of its proponents’ “conservative messaging.”

That’s an allusion to Pauline Atkins, the Eagle Rock resident who led two previous unsuccessful attempts to recall De León based largely on her distaste for his homeless policy and has posted pro-Trump messages on her Facebook page. She’s a signatory to the current recall.

That’s why DSA-LA called this latest anti-De León push “unlikely to succeed on its current path” and instead voted to reach out “to left, labor and progressive coalition partners with the goal of launching a coalitional exploratory committee to recall” De León.

Nothing against DSA-LA, but they should march with the recall in front of them, not the recall they want. Political purity could ruin as great a chance for Los Angeles to heal as it has right now.

Voters in De León’s council district disapprove of the job he’s doing, have an unfavorable impression of him personally and believe the embattled council member puts his own interests ahead of theirs, new poll finds.

Jan. 22, 2023

This megalopolis of division, stratification and segregation needs a unifying cause — something it hasn’t had since the 1987 telethon after the Los Angeles Central Library was ravaged in a fire.

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That something is getting rid of De León. The Times poll shows that this is not only feasible but doable, and a citywide effort can ensure it will happen.

South L.A. nonprofits like Community Coalition have already protested against the councilmember alongside Eastside groups like Inner City Struggle. But now’s the time for Westside liberals to whip out their checkbooks and donate to the recall so organizers can spend the money they need. Now’s the time for the Sherman Oaks retiree who campaigned for Proposition 13 back in the 1970s to share get-out-the-vote strategies with Berners.

It’s time for everyone to listen to the cry of frustration coming out of District 14. If De León serves out the rest of his term like he plans to, then Angelenos have no one to blame but themselves.

To play on one of the most famous quotes in California history, uttered by William Mulholland when the Los Angeles Aqueduct unleashed water from the Owens Valley into the San Fernando Valley:

There it is, L.A. Take it.

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