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‘I Failed to Stop It.’ Kevin de León Apologizes for LA City Council Debacle, Still Not Stepping Down

Kevin de León said in an exclusive interview with Telemundo Thursday that he apologizes from the bottom of his heart, and he “failed to stop the meeting,” referring to a leaked audio recording of a conversation between he and several other council members that included racist language.

“I’d also like to say that from the very bottom of my heart, my being, that I offer an apology,” de León said. “I failed to stop it. I failed to stop the meeting. I failed to raise my voice and communicate in a direct way.”

He added that he would have to do the hard work to begin healing between various communities.

Telemundo 52 is NBC Los Angeles’ sister station.

The statements come nearly two weeks after a recorded conversation with two colleagues and a top LA County labor official that included racist slurs was made public. The former mayoral candidate refusal to leave the 15-member council follows the resignation of Nury Martinez and widespread calls for him to step down that included protests at City Hall and outside his home.

De León, Martinez and colleague Gil Cedillo were part of a recorded October 2021 conversation that included racist remarks about Councilmember Mike Bonin’s 2-year-old adopted Black son.

The interview and another earlier this week marked his first public statements regarding the leaked recording.

Bonin said de León’s apologies are not enough.

“To me, the first step to an apology is going to be a resignation,” Bonin said. “This is a diverse city. And, he insulted huge chunks of the city with divisive, harmful, hateful racist comments.

“He’s going to have wait 10 or 12 years until my son is old enough to fully understand what he said, and then he can ask my son for forgiveness.”

In a tweet, Bonin called the comments “gaslighting of the highest order.”

The leaked recording was made public over the weekend of Oct. 8 and immediately triggered demands for the councilmembers’ resignations. De Leon and Cedillo attended the first council meeting after the recording came to light, but soon left after a discussion with colleagues.

They have not appeared at any of the council meetings since the recording’s release.

De León, a former State Senator, represented Council District 14, including Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, downtown LA, El Sereno and northeast LA. De León took office in October 2020 following the indictment of former District 14 councilmember Jose Huizar on federal corruption charges.

De León’s term expires in December 2024.

The City Council can only request that the members voluntarily step aside. It cannot expel members, only suspend them when criminal charges are pending. Members can be censured but that doesn’t result in suspension or removal from office.

Martinez, Cedillo and De León issued apologies a day after the recording was made public, first published in the Los Angeles Times.

Among other comments, Martinez belittled Bonin, who is white and has a Black son, and criticized the child for his behavior at a Martin Luther King Day parade, saying Bonin’s son was misbehaving on a float, which might
have tipped over if she and the other women on the float didn’t step in to “parent this kid”.

“They’re raising him like a little white kid,” Martinez said. “I was like, ‘this kid needs a beatdown. Let me take him around the corner and then I’ll bring him back.'”

Martinez also called the child “ese changuito,” Spanish for “that little monkey.”

In a statement Sunday, Bonin called on the council to immediately remove Martinez from the council president’s seat and demanded she resign from the council

“We are appalled, angry and absolutely disgusted that Nury Martinez attacked our son with horrific racist slurs, and talked about her desire to physically harm him,” Bonin said in a statement. “It’s vile, abhorrent, and utterly disgraceful. The City Council needs to remove her as Council President immediately, and she needs to resign from office. Any parent reading her comments will know she is unfit for public office.”

De León also criticized Bonin. “Mike Bonin won’t (f—ing ever say peep about Latinos. He’ll never say a f—ing word about us.”

De León also compared Bonin’s handling of his son at the MLK Parade to “when Nury brings her little yard bag or the Louis Vuitton bag.”

“Su negrito, like on the side,” Martinez added, using a Spanish term for a Black person that’s considered demeaning by many.

At another point, Martinez recalled a conversation with businessman Danny Bakewell about possibly transferring Los Angeles International Airport out of Bonin’s council district and into that of Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson. The council president said she told Bakewell to “go get the airport from his little brother — that little bitch Bonin.”

Martinez also took aim at Los Angeles County District George Gascón inprofane terms, after the group appeared to discuss whether Gascón would endorse Cedillo in his re-election campaign against Eunessis Hernandez.

“F— that guy. (inaudible)…He’s with the Blacks,” she said of Gascón.

The remarks stemmed from a conversation about redistricting.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta, another Democrat, said he will investigate Los Angeles’ redistricting process, which could lead to civil liability or criminal charges, depending on what is found. The Los Angeles City Attorney also issued calls for a ballot measure on an independent commission to handle redistricting matters.

It was not immediately clear who recorded audio of the conversation, which was first reported by the Los Angeles Times, about council redistricting that involved the three members of the council and a county labor official. The audio — it appeared on Reddit, but was later removed from the site — also includes discussion of efforts to replace Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who’s been indicted on federal corruption charges.

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