Editorial: Resign already, Councilman Jose Huizar
By now it should be crystal clear that “Councilman A,” the allegedly bribe-taking, power-tripping elected official at the heart of the federal corruption investigation into Los Angeles City Hall, is Councilman Jose Huizar.
He should resign. Immediately.
Court documents assert that Councilman A led a criminal enterprise that used bribery, extortion, fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice to enrich its participants and maintain political power. Three members and associates of this criminal enterprise have pleaded guilty and admitted that they helped funnel money to Councilman A in exchange for his support of development projects.
In the most recent and damning deal with prosecutors, George Esparza — the former special assistant to Huizar — admitted he partnered with his supervisor, Councilman A, to hit up real estate developers for cash, luxurious trips, political contributions and other bribes as they sought to win approvals from the city.
In one example, prosecutors said a Chinese developer who wanted to build a 77-story skyscraper downtown (taller than any other building west of the Mississippi River) provided Councilman A with more than $1 million in bribes. In another scheme, Esparza admitted he helped negotiate a $500,000 bribe in exchange for Councilman A’s assistance in convincing a labor group to drop its appeal of a downtown development project.
In yet another example, a real estate consultant admitted he helped provide bribes, foreign travel, concert and sports tickets to Councilman A in exchange for his help with a hotel development downtown.
Councilman A remains unnamed in court documents, but it’s painfully obvious from the three plea agreements that it’s Huizar. His house and office were raided by the FBI in 2018 and he was subsequently removed from his committee assignments, including his seat on the powerful Planning and Land-Use Committee.
Earlier this month, after the U.S. attorney’s office began rolling out guilty pleas that painted Huizar as the alleged ringleader of the “criminal enterprise,” Council President Nury Martinez told Huizar to stop attending council meetings and taking votes until there is “legal clarity.” And Huizar agreed to “limit” his participation.
On Thursday, Martinez and Mayor Eric Garcetti called on Huizar to resign immediately. A handful of city leaders have also called on him to leave office. Will he get the message?
Huizar hasn’t been charged with a crime, and he cannot be suspended or removed under the City Charter. So, no, Huizar can’t be forced to resign. He should do it voluntarily. The reality is that he’s all but off the City Council already and is just waiting — waiting for prosecutors’ next move, waiting out the last six months of his term and collecting a paycheck.
Beyond wasting the taxpayers’ money, Huizar’s refusal to vacate his seat is harming his constituents by denying them an effective voice on the Council. His replacement, former State Sen. Kevin de León, has already won the election to succeed Huizar, but he won’t be sworn in until December. If Huizar resigned, De León could be appointed to the seat immediately so residents of the 14th District would have representation during this critical time.
Huizar should have been gone a long time ago. In 2013 he was sued for sexual harassment by Francine Godoy, a former aide. Huizar said they had a consensual affair. During the time she worked for Huizar, her salary grew from $47,000 to more than $132,000; she was promoted and received raises faster than other staff in his office, according to a City Hall investigation.
Godoy dropped her lawsuit as part of an undisclosed settlement reached while Huizar was running for reelection. Esparza’s plea deal offers some clues as to what happened: A Chinese developer allegedly put up $600,000 in collateral so Councilman A could get a $570,000 personal loan from a bank to settle a sexual harassment suit confidentially.
The quiet termination of Godoy’s claim helped Huizar cruise to an easy victory in 2015. But he’s operated under a cloud for much of his term, and now he cannot do the job he was elected to do. It’s long past time for him to go.