Kevin de León takes early lead against 7 opponents in LA City Council race

City News Service
Wednesday, March 6, 2024
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LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- City Councilman Kevin de León took a major step in his efforts at reputation redemption in the wake of the City Hall racism scandal -- taking an early lead in primary balloting for the City Council seat from District 14.

In early results Tuesday, de León was in front of an eight-candidate field with 29% of the vote, followed by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago at 22.42%; tenant rights attorney Ysabel Jurado at 17.6%; and Assemblywoman Wendy Carillo at 15.38%.

Attorney Teresa Hillery (5.26%), community advocate Genny Guerrero (3.91%), LAUSD teacher Eduardo "Lalo" Vargas (3.64%) and health professional Nadine Diaz (2.79%) trailed the top four vote-getters.

If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in the primary, the top two vote-getters will face each other in a runoff in the general election on Nov. 5.

District 14 encompasses Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, Downtown L.A., El Sereno and Northeast L.A.

Since the day in 2022 when a year-old leaked recording caught de León taking part in a conversation with two other council members and a union leader in which racially derogatory remarks were heard, de León has resisted widespread calls for his resignation -- including from President Joe Biden -- and instead worked to rebuild his image.

The calls for de León to quit have largely quieted after he apologized, took a two-month break from council sessions and then went out and did his job.

Tuesday's results appeared to show those efforts paying off.

The 57-year-old de León is seeking a second four-year term on the City Council after a first term marked by efforts to bring unhoused constituents indoors, resist gentrification and push to clear street encampments.

But de León's first term will be remembered most for his participation in that secretly recorded conversation from 2021 involving four officials that included a series of racist remarks and discussions over redistricting.

Two of the officials -- former Council President Nury Martinez and former L.A. County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera -- resigned, but de León and fellow councilman Gil Cedillo resisted the growing calls. Cedillo lost his re-election bid.

In the tapes, de León compared then-Councilman Mike Bonin's handling of his son at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade to "when Nury brings her little yard bag or the Louis Vuitton bag." He did not interject as Martinez belittled Bonin, who is white and openly gay, and called Bonin's child "ese changuito" -- Spanish for "that little monkey."

In a statement after the tapes were released, de León said: "There were comments made in the context of this meeting that are wholly inappropriate, and I regret appearing to condone and even contribute to certain insensitive comments made about a colleague and his family in private. ... On that day, I fell short of the expectations we set for our leaders -- and I will hold myself to a higher standard."

He's continued that rhetoric in the campaign -- saying in one mailer,

"I'm sorry for what I did and didn't do." But his campaign has also emphasized his accomplishments and urged voters to give him the chance to continue.

He's also emphasized his efforts against homelessness (the L.A. Times reported that unsheltered homelessness dropped by 7% in the district under de León), cracking down on copper wire thefts and smash-and-grabs, and securing the abandoned, graffiti-riddled Oceanwide Plaza development in his district. In addition, he's pushed for more parks and playgrounds and has said he intends to increase street clean-ups and address illegal dumping.

De León also opposes expanding the City Council beyond its current 15 members, saying such a reform would not make the body more efficient.

Here's a look at de León's challengers and their positions:

-- Santiago has touted his work as an assemblyman to raise the minimum wage, build more affordable housing and push to make community college free, among other things.

If elected, he said, he will support changes at City Hall to fight corruption, and efforts to speed up construction of affordable, transitional housing.

Additionally, he wants to invest in clean energy to combat climate change and is an advocate for gun regulations.

-- Jurado, an affordable-housing activist and single mother, was born and raised in Highland Park. As a resident of the 14th District, she said she's running to prevent tenant evictions, stand by community organizations and support small businesses.

She supports project labor agreements, community benefit agreements, city contracts with the right to collectively bargain, expansion of worker funds, no outsourcing jobs to private companies, protecting undocumented workers and helping formerly incarcerated workers find and maintain employment.

Jurado has come out against the city's anti-camping laws, as has Vargas, and both candidates are also critical of increasing funding for the LAPD.

-- Carrillo, born and raised in the 14th District, said she plans to support home ownership, add more mental-health beds and shelter sites, support local businesses and push for tenant protections against unjust evictions.

But the assemblywoman also faced criticism in November 2023 after she was taken into custody on suspicion of driving under the influence. Carrillo issued a statement apologizing for drinking and driving, citing stress for her behavior.

-- Guerrero, according to her website, is a Navy wife, mother of five boys and honorary mayor of El Sereno. If elected, she said, her top priorities will be the housing and homelessness crisis, bolstering community safety, preserving small businesses and focusing on the community needs versus the aspirations of the city.

-- Diaz is a third-generation resident of Boyle Heights and currently a geriatric social worker with USC's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center. Her platform is to improve basic city services, assist veterans, address the homelessness and housing crisis, enhance public transportation and push for campaign finance reform, among other topics.

-- Vargas, a socialist, would work to cancel COVID-19 rent debt. He said he supports the use of eminent domain to take ownership of empty housing units to permanently house homeless residents.

He also wants stronger restrictions and enforcement on landlords and developers with a ban on luxury developments, saying they drive gentrification. In addition, he wants to expand worker rights, champion the environment and improve mass public transit.

-- Hillery, a downtown L.A. resident, is part of the DTLA Neighborhood Council and trustee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. Her platform focuses on affordable housing and homelessness with a focus on Skid Row and rebuilding trust by empowering neighborhood councils.

She wants to address infrastructure repairs to sidewalks and access ramps, and add more bus shelters, among other needed improvements.