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LA City Council returns to in-person meetings — behind a wall of noise

For more than two hours, protesters hurled invectives at the City Council, who went about their usual business with a forced sense of calm.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — The Los Angeles City Council's regular Tuesday 10 a.m. meeting began — promptly at 10:15 a.m. — and so did the booming chants:

“No resignation, no meeting!”

“Is it you? Is it me? Is it white supremacy?”

“This council’s illegitimate! Yo’ leadership is full of shit!”

And so on. The group of 25 or so protesters was decidedly smaller than that of two weeks ago, but they were a loud and persistent bunch. For more than two hours, a surreal scene played out — a presumably public meeting being held amid a relentless din of shouting, singing and pounding on the gallery's wooden pews. Most of the meeting was taken up with public comment — 122 speakers, talking for one to three minutes over the phone or Zoom. Though it was inaudible inside the council chambers, the council members wore ear pieces and could follow the meeting, more or less. Eight LAPD officers stood by staring at the boisterous mob, chewing gum, looking unimpressed.

After the public comment, the council voted on a handful of items — they set the date of April 4, 2023, for a special election to replace Councilmember Nury Martinez, who just resigned; and they voted to install Councilman Curren Price as president pro tempore (effectively the back-up council president). All the while, the relentless cries of protest continued, some aimed at the new City Council president, Paul Krekorian.

"Fuck you Krekorian!" one man in the gallery shouted. "Fuck you white man!”

It's been 16 days since news broke of a year-old audio recording that featured then-City Council President Martinez, Councilmen Kevin de Leon and Gil Cedillo, along with a powerful labor leader, Ron Herrera, plotting political strategy while using a number of racist and homophobic epithets. Martinez called fellow councilman Mike Bonin, who's gay, a "little bitch," and compared his black adopted son to a "monkey." And referring to progressive District Attorney George Gascón, Martinez said, "Fuck that guy. He's with the Blacks."

The recording made national news and led to widespread outcry, with no less than the president of the United States calling for the three Latino elected officials to resign. Martinez, responsible for the lion's share of offensive comments, resigned two weeks ago. Cedillo has apologized for appearing to condone the racist comments but has denied saying anything racist himself. Other than that, he has remained silent and out of the spotlight. At any rate, his resignation is somewhat by the by — he lost his reelection bid prior to the audio leak and is due to leave office in December.

De Leon, on the other hand, has two years left his his term, and is currently in the middle of a whirlwind media apology tour, giving interviews to a number of TV stations, apologizing for not "shutting down" the conversation, but pointedly refusing to resign — something nearly every elected official in the region has urged him to do.

His latest stop was Tuesday morning when for nearly an hour de Leon was grilled by famed Black radio host Tavis Smiley, as Black Lives Matter protesters shouted outside the studio. Protesters, including two City Council members, had been outside de Leon's house the night before.

"I am here to atone," de Leon said. "I'm here to listen. I'm here to learn."

He said the comments heard on the recording were "not who I am," and that to resign would disenfranchise voters of his district. When Smiley pointed out that de Leon was appearing on a radio show rather than a City Council meeting, de Leon replied, "You don't have to be physically present at the council."

Smiley doubled down: "My point is that you're not in the room. You're not voting on the issues that matter to your constituents. So when you say that your constituents will be left without a voice if you aren't there — you ain't there now."

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After a very long pause, de Leon, sounding almost wounded, said, "I'm trying to allow some time to heal."

He then made a startling assertion: that Price, who is Black, was supposed to be at the surreptitious meeting, at which one of the topics was a dispute between Price and another Black councilman, Marqueece Harris-Dawson. The three in attendance had backed Price.

"I certainly was not invited to that meeting," Price said at a press conference following the City Council meeting. "For him to throw me under the bus like that is a sign of desperation."

The council has already voted to censure de Leon and Cedillo, a symbolic gesture. They've also removed them from all committees, though the councilmen are still getting paid.

"As of now, the City Council has taken every legal option available to us under the city charter to encourage and demand the resignation of Mr. de Leon and Mr. Cedillo," Krekorian said at the press conference. The council cannot remove one of its own unless that member is convicted of a crime, though it can temporarily remove a member who's been indicted as they did last year with Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas) or the member is not performing their duties.

Krekorian said he has asked the city attorney if missing multiple council meetings qualifies as a dereliction of duties. Activists could also choose to gather signatures to recall de Leon, but that would take nearly a year and likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Over the weekend, Bonin, among the two most progressive council members and the target of some of Martinez's cruelest invectives, urged protesters to let the council's public meetings continue.

"I want KDL & Cedillo to resign," he tweeted. "But I don't support the calls of 'no resignations, no meetings.' Not meeting until they resign puts them in control. It lets them hold LA hostage. It actually gives them more power."

The argument failed to convince many of the protesters, including Pete White, the executive director for the Los Angeles Community Action Network and one of the more vocal agitators at Tuesday's meeting.

"It’s important that City Council does not resume business as usual while we have two City Council members that are clearly not working in the interests of Los Angeles," White said, adding the protest would also serve to "create a tone for the incoming council members." Next year, there will be a new mayor, city attorney and controller. Up to half the City Council could also turn over in the next year, should de Leon resign and another councilman lose his reelection bid.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of the meeting was the council's pretense that everything was normal. Not once was the public asked to quiet down. Despite the angry shouts, the council members went about their business in a sort of forced calm.

"It was a normal meeting," Krekorian said. "This is the nature of democracy. Sometimes it’s messy. Sometimes people get mad."

The council has the power to enforce certain rules of decorum. They could, for example, have had police remove the protesters, or simply clear the entire room. But Krekorian chose not to.

"Every member of this council understands why people feel very passionately, right now, why these resignations must happen," Krekorian said. "I’m not gonna try to stifle people from expressing that passion. But at the same time, we do have meetings to run. So that’s the balance I’m going to continue to try to find."

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