With two of its members refusing to resign over their involvement in a leaked racist recording, the Los Angeles City Council found itself in limbo Thursday, unable to muster enough members to meet Friday and lacking clarity about what happens next.
Acting City Council President Mitch O’Farrell canceled a meeting that had been scheduled for Friday after it became clear that neither Councilman Gil Cedillo nor Kevin de León would immediately follow the lead of former Council President Nury Martinez.
She resigned Wednesday from her office after a furious backlash over racist and derogatory comments she made in that recorded conversation.
Two other members — Mike Bonin and Marqueece Harris-Dawson — said they saw no point in having the meeting if Cedillo and De León refuse to step aside. Meanwhile, protesters outraged that Cedillo and De León were still in office threatened to shut down another meeting next week if the two don’t step down.
“Our elected officials need to be putting more pressure on these two individuals to resign,” said Jason Reedy, an organizer with the People’s City Council, which brought protesters to City Hall twice in the past week. “We haven’t seen them outside of their houses. We haven’t seen them in these streets.”
The cancellation reflected the chaos enveloping the council, as the remaining members have a two-fold challenge: They must salve the soul of a city in great pain while somehow also keeping the mundane machinery of municipal government in motion.
The council typically meets Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Along with sweeping policy decisions, the legislative body is responsible for an array of workaday responsibilities that help keep the city running, such as approving contracts, weighing in on real estate projects and resolving lawsuits against the city.
And because council chambers is also a public forum, where Angelenos have expressed their fury and pain in loud and disruptive ways, the city’s legislative body is at something of an impasse.
But it’s unclear how — or if — they will proceed next week if De León and Cedillo do not tender their resignations.
Reedy said that if Cedillo and De León do not resign, he and other protesters will return to the council chamber Tuesday to do what they did earlier this week: “Shut down the meeting.”
Councilmember Curren Price criticized O’Farrell’s decision to cancel Friday’s meeting.
“While the councilman respects the opinion of the acting council president, he doesn’t believe the city should be held hostage by two councilmembers that fail to see the light. Again, it is our responsibility to take care of the people’s business,” Price spokesperson Angelina Valencia-Dumarot said.
Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., also criticized the decision to cancel, saying council members “need to get their act together” and “work on the business of the city.” Waldman, who lives in Martinez’s district, said he wants the council to meet so it can schedule a special election to replace her.
Martinez’s San Fernando Valley district is currently being represented by a nonvoting caretaker.
“We’re going to be disenfranchised until a special election is called,” said Waldman, who lives in Van Nuys. “And this is only going to lengthen that time.”
O’Farrell spokesperson Dan Halden said Thursday evening that his boss intends to hold the scheduled council meeting Tuesday.
“He is also hopeful that Councilmembers De León and Cedillo will do the right thing for Los Angeles and resign in advance of that,” Halden said.
Bonin and Harris-Dawson both declined to say whether they would attend Tuesday’s meeting if their colleagues have yet to resign.
“Hopefully [O’Farrell] knows something we don’t,” Harris-Dawson said of the possible resignations.
Bonin has been at the center of the maelstrom because Martinez made racist comments in the recording deriding his young son as the other participants laughed and occasionally chimed in.
“I pray to God that it’s not even a question by then and they’ve both resigned and done what Los Angeles needs,” Bonin said when asked whether he would attend Tuesday’s meeting.
Bonin, who participated in Wednesday’s council meeting by Zoom after testing positive for COVID-19, said he was “still trying to wrap my head around this week. So I’m having a hard time putting myself into next week.”
The surreptitiously recorded October 2021 conversation among Martinez, De León, Cedillo and a top labor leader — all Latino — took aim at a rainbow coalition of groups, with racist, derogatory or crude remarks about Black, Jewish, Armenian, Indigenous and gay people.
Ron Herrera, who is heard on the recording, also resigned Monday as president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. President Biden, both California senators and virtually the entire local political establishment have issued calls for Cedillo and De León to resign.
Should they choose to stay put, holding off meeting indefinitely would likely come with legal and procedural hurdles for the rest of the council.
But the council also needs a quorum of 10 members in order to meet, an issue that prevented Wednesday’s council meeting from moving forward.
“City charters don’t really address this kind of standoff,“ said Raphael Sonenshein, a local governance expert who directs the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State L.A.
Protests, anger and tears roiled Tuesday’s council meeting — the first since the leak was made public. Demonstrators drowned out O’Farrell’s attempts to call Wednesday’s meeting to order over the course of about an hour. The meeting eventually adjourned after Harris-Dawson left the room, causing the council to lose its quorum.
“He left the meeting because he felt like the council president lost control and that’s why he went upstairs,” Rhonda Mitchell, a spokesperson for Harris-Dawson, said Wednesday afternoon.
Halden also said that O’Farrell plans to hold a vote for a new council president during Tuesday’s meeting. There has been fervent politicking at City Hall in recent days around the next council president — a role that O’Farrell, as president pro tempore, stepped into this week on an acting basis.
“I certainly don’t think that we’re going to be able to get anything done until they’re gone,” Bonin said Thursday of Cedillo and De León. “And I certainly don’t think we can get serious about electing a new president until they’re gone.”
Councilmembers Price and Paul Krekorian have both expressed interest in becoming president, a move that would require support from eight of the council’s 14 members. But whoever wins the post may not hold it for long; at least four new council members will take office at the end of the year, and may have a very different idea of who should be in council leadership.
Times staff writers Ben Oreskes and Dakota Smith also contributed to this report.