LOS ANGELES - As pressure persists on L.A. City Councilmen Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo to resign because of the City Hall racism scandal, the council is scheduled to meet virtually Tuesday -- conducting business for the first time in a week after last week's meetings were disrupted by protesters.
The meeting, switched to virtual following a COVID-19 exposure last week, will come one day after acting Council President Mitch O'Farrell said he will remove de León and Cedillo from their committee assignments. Several labor unions plan to hold a protest during the meeting outside City Hall, despite the meeting being virtual.
O'Farrell said Cedillo will not attend Tuesday's virtual meeting. De León's plans were not known; O'Farrell has urged de León not to attend, but has not been able to get in touch with him. A spokesman for Cedillo said Monday the councilman was "at a place of reflection," while a spokesman for de León did not respond to a request for comment.
Cedillo was defeated in the June primary by community organizer Eunisses Hernandez. His term expires in December. De León was elected in 2020. His term expires in December 2024.
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The council is set to take up several major items Tuesday, including electing a new council president; considering placing a measure on the 2024 ballot to create an independent redistricting commission for the City Council; and a motion to explore expanding the number of council seats.
"This is a moment where the City Council gets to re-earn Los Angeles' trust," said Maia Ferdman, project manager at UCLA's Initiative to Study Hate and a consultant in intergroup relations.
"It's both structural, and it is cultural. This is not just a question of a couple of people on the council. It's also a question of: `Can we trust our leaders?' So there's a lot hanging in this moment right now and how our leaders respond."
De León and Cedillo were involved in a 2021 recorded conversation that included racist comments and discussions over favorable redistricting that led to Nury Martinez resigning her council seat last week. De León and Cedillo have been under mounting pressure to resign since the release of the tape Oct. 9.
"What I have to do is make sure that this council is not held hostage because two additional members refuse to resign," O'Farrell said at a news briefing Monday at City Hall.
The South Central LA Tenants community group sent a letter to council members Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Heather Hutt and Curren Price on Monday asking them not to attend any council or committee meetings until de León and Cedillo resign. If all three abide by such a request, it could threaten the already short-handed council's ability to reach a quorum, meaning it would be unable to meet.
One source described the situation on Monday afternoon as "fluid."
Protests caused the City Council to cancel Friday's scheduled meeting, and nearly all council members have called on de León and Cedillo to resign.
Harris-Dawson told CNS last week that he expected the council to meet Tuesday "because they will have already resigned," though he did not have any knowledge of the two embattled members' thinking.
Tuesday and Wednesday's meetings will be conducted remotely, with O'Farrell citing COVID-19 exposures for the move. Councilman Mike Bonin -- whose young Black son was the target of some of Martinez's most offensive slurs -- tested positive last week after delivering a tearful 12-minute speech in the council chamber at Tuesday's meeting. He has since tested negative, but Councilman Paul Krekorian also tested positive for COVID-19, a representative confirmed to City News Service on Monday. Krekorian still plans to attend the meeting.
"If my colleagues are well enough to log on, and I'm hopeful that they will be, we can carry on via Zoom tomorrow (Tuesday) and Wednesday," O'Farrell said.
When asked by CNS if the potential for protesters factored into the decision to hold the meetings virtually, a spokesman for O'Farrell said the move was "about the COVID-19 diagnosis."
Protesters began staging a camp-out Sunday morning in front of de León's home in Eagle Rock, pledging to remain until he resigns for his role in the leaked conversation that has already prompted the resignations of former council president Martinez and former L.A. County Federation of Labor president Ron Herrera.
On Tuesday morning at City Hall representatives of more than 20 community organizations will condemn the racist comments made in the recorded conversation and call for de León and Cedillo's immediate resignation and a full review and investigation of redistricting decisions in which they participated in.
If the meeting takes place, the council is set to decide on a new council president. O'Farrell has said he will not run for the permanent position. Price and Krekorian told the Los Angeles Times last week that they were interested in serving as president.
In a statement to City News Service on Monday evening, Price said: "As a Black council member representing a majority Latino district, and who has been embraced by a diverse cross-section of constituents, I'm ready to do what I can to help unite, heal and bring positive change that lifts people up, and leaves no one behind."
Fernando Guerra, professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University, told CNS that the new president should only commit to serving until the elections in November, after which there could be as many as four new council members. Guerra said whoever takes over has to re-envision the role of the council president, especially because of Martinez's resignation.
"A lot of it is about norms, and it starts always starts at the top," Guerra said. "It's not just a functionary (role) that sets the agenda, makes committee assignments. It's about setting the values, of what the council and the city is all about."
With changes to the city's redistricting process potentially coming before voters and council expansion on the agenda, Tuesday's meeting could be the start of massive reforms in the wake of the scandal.
However, Mindy Romero, director of USC's Center for Inclusive Democracy, told CNS that the council should not rush to enact sweeping changes without proper input and consideration.
"I don't think expanding the council in and of itself is going to solve this problem," Romero said. "I think it gives an opportunity for a reset, but what's really most important is that it's transparent and that it's slow. And there's as much input as possible."
Ferdman said that calls for resignation and calls for reform can happen at the same time.
"It's a yes, and," Ferdman said. "And thinking about the broader systems and structures led us to this point. It's not just about individuals."