Former City Councilman Gil Cedillo, who defied widespread calls to resign over his participation in a racist 2021 conversation that attempted to manipulate the city’s redistricting process, Monday defended his decision not to step down — referencing McCarthyism, cancel culture and comedian Trevor Noah.
Cedillo released a statement of over 1,000 words through a spokesperson on Monday, the first day after his term ended. He lost his re-election bid to Eunisses Hernandez in June, months before the conversation between Cedillo, fellow council members Kevin de Leon and Nury Martinez and Ron Herrera, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, was leaked.
“I refused to resign before my term ended,” Cedillo said. “That’s not who I am, and I did nothing that warranted it. My life’s work has been about fighting relentlessly for those who do not have a voice — regardless of their ethnic background.”
He later added: “For all my critics’ calls for me to `do the right thing,’ I say unequivocally that NOT resigning was the right thing.”
Martinez and Herrera both quickly resigned after the leak. De Lean has vowed to serve out the rest of his term through 2024.
Cedillo said elections decide who gets to hold office, and pointed out that he did not break any laws. Instead, he noted that “recording someone without their consent is illegal” and that the Los Angeles Police Department’s investigation into the leak will “conclude who the criminals are here.”
In the leaked tapes, Cedillo dismissed Black voters by saying “the 25 Blacks are shouting,” to which de LeÃ³n responded, “But they shout like they’re 250.” Cedillo did not intervene when Martinez made a racist comment directed at the Black son of former Councilman Mike Bonin.
Cedillo, in the statement, said: “Conversations can also turn raw when people think they are speaking privately — which happened that day. No one denies that the conversation crossed a line at several points, and I deeply regret not speaking up when it did.”
But Cedillo attempted to defend the discussion about redistricting, citing frustrations over Latinos not receiving a fair share of representation on the City Council relative to population. At the time, Latinos held four of the 15 seats on the council but made up half the population of Los Angeles. He claimed that the council members were “doing our jobs.”
“Ethnicity and income levels are major factors in drawing relatively balanced electoral maps, and we wanted to ensure that Latinos and all communities are represented fairly,” Cedillo said.
Cedillo said he has had “African American friends and mentors my entire life, from sports and school to politics,” citing a previous job under Mayor Tom Bradley and roles as a delegate both for Jesse Jackson when he ran for president in 1988 and for Barack Obama in 2008.
In the leaked conversation, Cedillo openly advocated for keeping certain communities such as Koreatown — a majority Latino neighborhood — away from the districts of colleagues he did not like.
Martinez said Councilwoman Nithya Raman was “making a play” for Koreatown but that she, Martinez, wasn’t going to entertain the idea.
“There are some people who don’t warrant us rescuing them,” Cedillo said, referring to Raman. “She doesn’t matter. She’s not our ally. She is not going to help us. Her district is not a district we can count on.”
Raman is up for re-election in 2024. Martinez said it would serve them to not give Raman all of Koreatown because it would give Raman more renters in her district.
“I told her that’s not happening,” Martinez said. “You’re going to get the district that you’re going to get. You’re going to have to run. And probably in a district where more than half of them don’t know who you are. Go f— do the work and see if you can get re-elected.
“Our commitment is not to re-elect her.”
Martinez then described people living in the area of Lafeyette Park and Shatto Place of Koreatown as “short dark people.” She added “tan feos,” Spanish for “They’re ugly.”
“I don’t know where these people are from,” Martinez said. “I don’t know what village they came (from), how they got here.”
De LeÃ³n said that Raman’s district is “the one to put in the blender and chop up, left or right.”
“Yeah,” Cedillo responded. “Why not?”
Cedillo later talked about certain areas that he was afraid would be drawn into his district, and requested that his district move more to the south and the west. He said he didn’t want to represent Elysian Valley, Eagle Rock, Highland Park and Lincoln Heights.
“I don’t need those areas,” Cedillo said. “I have poor people.”
Cedillo said that in comparing the population and political makeup of a district, “the politics are as important to us as the population.”
“The voters go to work in Lincoln Heights and come home in Lincoln Heights,” Cedillo said. “But the activists, they’re there 24/7. And they don’t want us.”
In Monday’s statement, Cedillo was defiant that what he said — or didn’t say — did not rise to the level of warranting resignation despite calls for resignation coming from as high up as President Joe Biden.
“I publicly apologized for not cutting off my colleagues when their comments crossed a line,” Cedillo said. “But to resign for staying silent, with no look at who said what in that room, and ignoring the totality of my work and history? That is unacceptable.”
Cedillo had said little regarding the leaked conversation for months, with the only public statement continuing to be that he was “at a place of reflection.” By remaining on the council until his term expired, Cedillo collected his full salary of over $8,000 every two weeks despite not attending a council meeting after Oct. 11.
Cedillo, 68, had served on the council since 2013. He previously had a lengthy career in the California state legislature, serving in both the Assembly and Senate.
His lengthy explanation included mentioning Noah’s comments regarding the singer Lizzo’s use of an insensitive phrase in a song, in which the former Daily Show host decried how Lizzo continued to receive criticism even after she re-recorded the song without the phrase.
Cedillo ended by claiming that there is a “modern version of McCarthyism” which is a danger to democracy, “not a defense.”
“It’s `cancel culture’ at its worst, and this kid from Boyle Heights never resigned,” Cedillo said.