Councilmember Kevin de León, a year after racist audio scandal, says he’ll run again

Councilmember Kevin de León at a June City Council meeting
Councilmember Kevin de León, shown in June, says he will run for reelection next year. His political career was damaged after last year’s leak of a recorded racist conversation.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
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Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de León, whose political career was upended following the leak of a recorded conversation featuring racist and derogatory remarks, said Wednesday he will seek another four-year term in the city’s March election.

De León, whose district takes in all or portions of downtown, Boyle Heights, El Sereno and Eagle Rock, said in an emailed campaign announcement that he had made “unprecedented strides” in the district on public safety and homelessness. Residents of the 14th District “deserve this high level of dedicated public service,” he said.

De León had been widely expected to launch a reelection bid, a move that will almost certainly return the leak scandal to the center of the city’s political debates. In an interview with Politico, which first reported his decision to run, he acknowledged that friends and allies had “turned away” from him after he was heard in the recording with a labor leader and two other council members. He insisted, however, that his constituents continued to have his back.


“I understood in a deeper way the relationship that I had with my community,” De León said.

The primary election will be held in March. If no one receives a majority of the vote, the top two vote-getters will face off in November.

The upcoming campaign will pose yet another test of De León’s ability to weather the political firestorm that broke out in the wake of the audio scandal. After a lengthy absence last fall, he resumed his seat on the council floor, casting votes and making remarks. He has been appearing at community events and holding press conferences on traffic safety, homelessness initiatives and other topics.

Despite those efforts, “he has a tall hill to climb,” said Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State L.A.

“Usually incumbents have an advantage. Name recognition, money in the bank, not to mention ambition,” Regalado added. “But we all know he’s tarnished. He’s hurt himself very badly by being one of the four in the room, so to speak.”

De León did not respond to requests for comment from The Times. Nearly a dozen other people have already expressed interest in running for the seat, including two Eastside-based state lawmakers — Assemblymembers Wendy Carrillo and Miguel Santiago — and Ysabel Jurado, a tenant advocate who worked in the administration of former L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti.


Jurado, in a statement, pushed back on the notion that constituents have been well-served by De León.

“His behavior on that tape was enough to justify a resignation,” she said. “But he sold us out long before that. Our sidewalks are cracked. Luxury real estate developers get his green light. Homelessness is worse than ever.”

De León, onetime leader of the state Senate, won his election in 2020 for an Eastside seat held by City Councilmember Jose Huizar, who was the target of a sweeping corruption scandal and is now awaiting sentencing on racketeering and tax-evasion charges. At that time, he had significant support from neighborhood, labor and political leaders.

A bombshell recording has thrown L.A. politics into chaos. What was really being discussed? L.A. Times reporters and columnists pick it apart, line by line.

Nov. 21, 2022

De León was not nearly as successful in his bid for mayor last year, finishing third in the June 2022 primary with just under 8% of the vote.

After the contents of the leaked recording were reported on in October 2022, De León faced immense pressure to resign, from politicians across the state and from President Biden. He apologized for his part in the incendiary conversation, but repeatedly said that he would not step down, arguing that his constituents deserved representation.

Protesters opposed to De León were a mainstay in council chambers for months, though most of them eventually moved on. De León also had supporters, some of whom rose to his defense at meetings.


The conversation that shook Los Angeles politics last year was surreptitiously recorded during an October 2021 meeting at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor offices. In that room were De León, then-City Council President Nury Martinez, then-Councilmember Gil Cedillo, and Ron Herrera, the head of the labor federation.

The discussion focused on ways of redrawing the city’s 15 council district maps that would benefit either those present or their allies — and, more broadly, on the need to preserve and expand Latino political power.

At one point in the conversation, De León took part in an exchange where Martinez accused Mike Bonin, a white council member, of using his Black son as a prop, akin to a designer handbag. De León said it was like when “Nury brings her Goyard bag or the Louis Vuitton bag.”

De León later apologized for that “flippant” remark, saying the comment was actually directed toward Martinez and “her penchant for having luxury accessories and luxury goods.” The councilman told Noticiero Univision anchor León Krauze last year he was horrified at hearing Martinez say the young boy “parece changuito” or was “like a monkey,” and that he “felt horrible” and “failed to speak up.”

Martinez also mocked Oaxacans and said “F— that guy. … He’s with the Blacks” while speaking about Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón.

Over the last year, some on the City Council have taken steps to avoid working with De León, saying his participation in the audio scandal disqualified him from continuing to hold public office.

“When you are ensnared in the probably largest city scandal in my generation, where the president of the United States asked you to resign, I think you should probably listen to that,” said Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martínez, who took office in December.


De León, a resident of Eagle Rock, used his campaign announcement to highlight his work in creating new parkland and creating housing for the city’s homeless population. He also touted his work on moving the state away from dirty fossil fuels and distributing food to needy families.

His bid for a second term will face enormous hurdles. Raising money will almost certainly be a challenge, with many reluctant to be named in public documents as supporters in his campaign, political experts said.

Jurado has been picking up support from the city’s activist left, including Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez, former mayoral candidate Gina Viola and Democratic Socialists of America’s Los Angeles chapter. Meanwhile, many of the labor unions who previously supported De León have thrown their support behind Santiago, a longtime De León ally who broke with the council member after the audio became public.

An hour after De León announced his reelection bid, Santiago blasted the incumbent, saying “the people want change.” Homelessness has gotten worse, and is worse than in any other part of the city, Santiago said.

“The reality is, while he has been consumed with scandal, he has failed his district,” he said.

Carrillo, whose Assembly district takes in much of Council District 14, said De León’s refusal to resign spurred her to seek the council seat. In an interview, she said neighborhoods such as Eagle Rock — those with “high-propensity” voters — would not line up behind De León.


Carrillo said she regularly hears from constituents who need critical city services but “refuse to work with his office” because of his involvement in the recording.

“That’s a big reason why I decided to run,” she said. “The community needs representation.”