LOS ANGELES - Chaos erupted again at LA City Hall as embattled City Councilman Kevin de León sat by himself in the council horseshoe Tuesday, talking to staff and mulling over his options after he made his second consecutive appearance at a council meeting.
Tuesday's council meeting devolved into chaos when de León walked into the chamber in the middle of a vote, slipping in quietly as he did last Friday. Like on Friday, he eventually left the chamber but remained in the building, allowing him to vote on items. Council members' votes in the system are automatically set to "yes" unless they hit the "no" button, so they can register votes in advance without physically being in the room.
On Tuesday, the council voted to ratify new Mayor Karen Bass' declaration of a state of emergency on homelessness -- on which de León voted "yes" as part of a 13-0 vote. Upon seeing the councilman's vote next to his name on the screen in the chamber, audience members were furious, shouting "shame" and "you lied!" Some began slapping the benches.
De León, who has defied widespread calls to resign over his role in the City Hall racism scandal, began the day by appearing on CNN, where he urged his colleagues -- who unanimously voted to censure him in October -- to work with him.
"Tens of millions of Americans go to work every single day with folks that they don't like," de León told anchor Kate Bolduan. "But you know what they do every morning? They get up and go to work."
De León was not present when the council meeting began Tuesday, but protesters had already filled much of the council chamber, disrupting and delaying the start of the session as they have done for weeks since the racism scandal broke. Around 20 protesters gathered outside the door to the chamber before the meeting, chanting, "Fuera, fuera, fuera (out, out, out) Kevin de León."
It was the council's first meeting featuring five new members, and City Clerk Holly Wolcott struggled to get the boisterous crowd under control as she tried to convene the session so a council president could be selected. She ordered one protester -- who repeatedly shouted "Arrest KDL" -- to be ejected from the council chamber. She also ejected Baba Akili -- an activist with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles -- who at first refused to leave the chamber, leading police around the room and climbing onto several rows of seats before departing.
When the meeting was finally able to resume, the council re-elected Paul Krekorian as council president.
The meeting then continued as normal, but turmoil erupted shortly before noon when de León walked into the chamber.
Immediately after de León took his seat, three council members sitting on his side of the chamber -- Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Eunisses Hernandez and Heather Hutt -- stood up and walked out. Krekorian, as he did last week, called a recess and the rest of the members filed out as well.
Hernandez wrote on Twitter that de León's appearance showed "his disrespect for people in his district and the communities that were harmed by the racist, anti-Indigenous, homophobic conversation that he took part in."
"At a time when we should be focused on tenants rights, on homelessness and housing justice, and on restitution for the very people that were disparaged on those tapes, he chose to make the day about himself," said Hernandez, who took part in her first council meeting.
After calling a recess, Krekorian walked over to de León, and the pair had a lengthy private discussion at de León's seat. The pair talked for more than 15 minutes, after which Krekorian left the room, but de León remained, conferring with members of his staff. For another hour, de León was the lone council member in the chamber.
Krekorian told reporters after the meeting that he did not make a deal with de León that would allow de León to vote on items but not be present in the chamber. He called his discussion with de León "private," but described it as "long and heartfelt."
The lingering group of protesters heckled de León as he sat in his chair, while his supporters shouted "Sí, se puede."
"Look around, Kevin," one protester yelled. "You're the only one seated."
At certain points during the delay, the council appeared resigned to the possibility that de León would not leave, as he did on Friday. As tamales were delivered for lunch to the other council members, they began discussing which members would stay or leave in order to protest de León's presence but still maintain enough members for a quorum, a source with knowledge of the situation told City News Service. None of the members wanted to be next to de León in the chamber, but they believed voting on items such as the homeless emergency declaration was important, the source said. The council does not meet again until mid-January, with winter recess beginning on Wednesday.
The council requires 10 members for a quorum -- which means it could afford to lose four members to still hold a meeting, with the Sixth District seat vacant after Nury Martinez's resignation.
Krekorian told reporters after the meeting that he was concerned the council would lose a quorum and not be able to vote on the declaration, claiming that would have been a "horrible disservice to our new mayor."
"It would've been a horrible disservice to the 40,000 people who are living unhoused in this city, who are waiting for us to bring that emergency help to them," Krekorian said. "So this is a great example of why this council must continue to do its work no matter what."
The Council President's message to the public was that they realize the "council has important work that must go forward." Krekorian said his colleagues understand that notion, as de León could continue to disrupt meetings if he appears at future sessions.
"We can either choose to make a statement or we can choose to make a difference," Krekorian said. "And I think the members want to make a difference."
At about 1:10 p.m., de León finally walked out of the chamber, and other council members slowly filed back into the room. Krekorian remained outside of the chamber, so council President Pro-Tem Curren Price re-convened the meeting, with some protesters still chanting in the audience.
At one point, de León briefly walked back into the room, but did not take his seat. He instead looked up the voting screen with all the council members, seemingly looking for confirmation that his name was on the board and his votes would be registered. Krekorian then walked back into the chamber, and walked de León out again.
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Tuesday marked de León's second appearance at a council meeting since Oct. 11. He tried to attend the meeting on Friday, but protesters shouted for him to leave, prompting a roughly 45-minute recess before de León departed.
Hours after Friday's meeting, de León fought with community activist Jason Reedy at a holiday event in Lincoln Heights. Reedy and other protesters have regularly shown up at City Council meetings the last two months to demand that de León resign before the council conducts its business.
While de León has been formally censured by the council, the decision is largely symbolic and bears no penalties under the City Charter. The council cannot remove a member. There is a recall effort against de León that is in the process of collecting signatures.
For much of the meeting before de León showed up, most of the public -- along with a horde of reporters and camera crews -- hovered and stared at the chamber's back doors, waiting for the embattled councilman. Before de León showed up, the protesters cursed at Krekorian, heckled new Councilwoman Traci Park and booed all the way through the Pledge of Allegiance. They contended with a group of de León's supporters, who filled a couple of rows in the chamber.
The first person to give public comment registered their name as Bong Joon-ho, the director of the movie "Parasite," to symbolize what they believed de León represented.
But the protesters saved their energy for de León.
"Let's not get kicked out before KDL shows up," one protester said.
Bex Kleinfelter, holding an "Arrest KDL" sign, told the council that it was to "highlight the irony of the fact that if any one of us had put our hands on Kevin de León, we would be the one arrested on the spot."