Embattled City Councilman Kevin de León addressed his colleagues in the chamber Wednesday for the first time since a recording of his participation in a racist conversation was leaked in October.
De León, who has been censured by the council, argued against an item seeking reports on potential consequences the council can impose on a censured member. The item passed 12-2, with Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez joining de León in dissent.
The City Charter does not indicate any penalties that can result from censuring a member. De León, the only council member involved in the recording who is still in office, has returned to attending meetings over the objections of some of his colleagues and protesters.
Some potential penalties suggested by council members included: Limiting the member’s ability to use discretionary funds and authorize contracts, restricting their participation in council committees, limiting their ability to introduce certain types of motions and preventing them from using city funds to send out mailers.
In an eight-minute speech, de León — who has defied widespread calls to resign — defended his record but did not mention the leaked conversation or offer any apologies. He has previously apologized for not intervening in the conversation despite actively taking part in it.
De León said the potential consequences would unfairly punish his constituents and that he found the motion “deeply troubling.” He called the item “highly subjective” and a “real slippery slope that can potentially harm, in a real way, the city’s most vulnerable residents.”
Councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez, who spoke after de León, responded by saying, “We came down that slippery slope the moment that you participated in that conversation.”
The council requested feedback from the chief legislative analyst and city attorney. It more broadly sought an opinion on whether it has the authority to implement the proposed consequences on a censured council member.
An amendment by Hernandez — which the council also approved 12-2 — inserted language to ensure there would be “no negative impact to the constituency in the censured council member’s district” and proposed assigning caretakers to handle discretionary funds and disseminate mailers for the district should those penalties be imposed.
For the first time since October, de León sat in his seat in the chamber for the entire meeting. Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, whose seat is to de León’s left, noticeably did not sit down at all during the meeting. While de León spoke, Harris-Dawson stood off to the side before sitting down in one of the audience rows. He was later joined by Councilman Hugo Soto-Martinez, who had stood up, for a conversation. Councilwoman Nithya Raman also stood up from her seat and had her arms crossed as she listened, leaning against a marble column across the chamber from de León.
Soto-Martinez accused de León of stoking anti-government sentiments.
“What we see here is not a trajectory of trying to make things better,” Soto-Martinez said. “It’s actually making things worse.”
As de León listened to his colleagues, he had a hand up to his chin and leaned back in his chair at times. There were few members of the public left in the chamber when de León spoke, so he was not interrupted by would-be protesters.
Jason Reedy, an activist who de León fought with last month at a holiday event, was in the chamber right before the council took up the item but was ejected — along with another protester — after shouting at de León.
“KDL should not be in this room,” Reedy yelled. “He should not be conducting votes.”
Councilman Bob Blumenfield did remain in his seat to de León’s right. Blumenfield pointed out that the council’s inquiries into censure consequences would not have an immediate impact and would need approval from voters if a change to the City Charter is required.
“A lot of the things that we’re asking for reports on probably are going to come back saying, `That’s not even legal for us to do,”’ Blumenfield said.
Council President Paul Krekorian said that some residents in de León’s district inaccurately believed the council was seeking to take away funding or services from the district. Several public speakers addressed the council with those concerns on Wednesday.
“To convince people that it does, to get senior citizens agitated and fearful that they are going to lose services in that district is absolutely irresponsible and outrageous,” Krekorian said.
Krekorian sought to avoid a circumstance in which a council member could be stripped of responsibilities simply because the member may be unpopular.
But the council president later told reporters that he has not yet considered taking away de León’s discretionary funds, because he hasn’t yet seen what the councilman is spending them on. He added that the motion is not specifically about de León.
“It’s important that the council knows what its options are to deal with conduct which is unacceptable to the public and not becoming of a member of the City Council,” Krekorian said.