Kevin de León, the embattledLos Angelescity council member involved in a racism scandal that threw city hall into upheaval, is facing criticism again after video footage captured him in a physical fight with an activist.
De León, who has resisted calls to resign, made his first in-person appearance at a council meeting in nearly two months on Friday. Hours later he was involved in an altercation at a holiday toy giveaway in which video appeared to show him shoving a local organizer.
In a short clip, organizer Jason Reedy and other activists can be seen following the official, demanding his resignation, and crowding around him when De León appears to push Reedy into a table, the councilman’s Santa hat falling off amid the chaos. De León claims the activist headbutted him and that he was acting in self-defense while Reedy’s attorney told media his client was assaulted.
The incident comes as the councilman tries to rehabilitate his reputation after widespread outrage and protest over a leaked recording that revealed De León and other Latino Democrats making racist comments as they plotted to expand their political power at the expense of Black voters during a realignment of district boundaries.
De León, a former state legislator, is the only council member still resisting calls from top Democrats, including Joe Biden, to step down. Meanwhile, he has continued to collect his annual salary of nearly $229,000.
Gil Cedillo, another councilman involved in the scandal over the leaked recording of racist insults, had refused to resign, but vanished from public view within days of its disclosure in October. His term expired Monday at 12.01am, after he lost a re-election bid earlier this year.
De León, who has been stripped of his ability to participate in council meetings and faced widespread pressure to resign, has been maneuvering in private to emerge from political purgatory despite being reviled by colleagues who say they cannot work with him.
In a statement issued after the Friday night altercation, Paul Krekorian, the council president who has called on De León to step down, said the councilman, one of his staff members and a volunteer were attacked, calling the incident intolerable. The Los Angeles Times reported that activists said De León was the aggressor.
“This city has endured horrendous division and toxicity in recent months,“ Krekorian said. “We need to reject hatred in all of its forms and we need to reject the atmosphere of intimidation, bullying and threats.”
De León has said he acted in self-defense: “Once we were able to push open a door and try to get out, Reedy launched a pelvic thrust, followed by a headbutt to my forehead,” he said to media. “My response, in defense of myself, was to push him off of me.”
The attorney for Reedy, Shakeer Rahman, told CNN that the councilman initiated the assault.
“Video footage clearly shows him and his supporters initiating this assault while Mr Reedy stands with his hands up. Not only has Kevin de León lost all political legitimacy, his claims that he was the one attacked here simply underscores how he’s lost touch with reality,” Rahman said in a statement.
De León appeared on Friday at his first council meeting since mid-October, setting off a chaotic protest between competing factions in the audience. About a dozen protesters bellowed at De León to leave the ornate chamber, while his supporters chanted: “Kevin, Kevin.”
Some council members walked out and police ejected two people, fearing they might fight.
“Leave, Kevin!” one protester shouted at de León. “This is why these meetings need to be shut down.”
De León has apologized but said he will not resign, arguing that he wants to continue working on homelessness, fallout from the pandemic and the threat of evictions for renters in his district.
There is no legal avenue for his colleagues to remove him – the council can only suspend a member when criminal charges are pending.
Krekorian, the council president, has said: “The only way we can begin to heal as a city is for Mr de León to take responsibility for his actions, accept the consequences and step down.”
While De León has largely stayed away from city hall, he has continued to quietly conduct business, including attending holiday events and meeting officials on pending homeless projects and illegal dumping problems.
With his appearance at the council meeting on Friday, it is clear he is trying to gradually step back into the public sphere. Meanwhile, organizers behind an effort to recall him from office have been cleared to collect petition signatures needed to qualify the proposal for the ballot.