LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The Los Angeles City Council began its winter recess Wednesday after two tumultuous meetings, with all signs pointing to continued uncertainty in the chamber when it reconvenes during the second week of January over the presence of embattled Councilman Kevin de León.
De León, who has defied widespread calls to resign over his participation in the leaked racist conversation that has rocked City Hall, tried to slip quietly into the final two meetings before the winter break. But with some colleagues walking out and protesters shouting at him, he was forced to leave the chamber on both days, though he voted while in a back room on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, an organizer of a recall effort against de León was confident of collecting enough signatures well before the March 31 deadline to put the question before voters later next year, and members from several community groups held a briefing at City Hall on Wednesday again urging de León to resign after he fought with community activist Jason Reedy at a holiday event last week.
De León's resignation in the immediate future remains unlikely, as he has repeatedly stated an intention to serve out his term. The councilman, through a spokesperson, declined an interview Wednesday. But the spokesperson, Pete Brown, confirmed to City News Service that de León intends to continue attending upcoming council meetings.
"The only way we're getting KDL out is through the recall process," Councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez wrote on Twitter, a day after walking out of her first council meeting when de León showed up.
The Los Angeles County Business Federation, a group of 180 business organizations representing 400,000 employers throughout Los Angeles County, issued a new call for de León's resignation on Wednesday and cited the attention that his presence took away from Hernandez and a record-breaking six women on the new council.
"Instead of focusing on LA's six female city council members and their new approaches to coalition building, local and national headlines have been plagued by Kevin de León and the disruption he sows," said Tracy Hernandez, founding CEO of BizFed. "He must resign now so we can rebuild public trust and restore civic function."
Brown said de León plans to continue to do work in his district during the winter recess, which includes housing projects in Boyle Heights. He claimed that de León has reached out to local nonprofits and activists to try to repair relationships with the communities he offended in the recordings, but declined to name specific examples, citing fear that the groups would be subject to hostility from protesters.
Pauline Adkins, who led two prior unsuccessful recall attempts of de León and is among the residents leading the current attempt, told CNS that organizers began collecting signatures this week. Adkins was "one thousand percent confident" the group would collect 25,000 signatures from registered voters of the 14th District. The number of signatures required is 20,437, but experts say there will likely be a number of unverified signatures. The city clerk approved the group's recall petition last week.
Adkins focused her prior recall attempts on de León's efforts to build tiny home villages in Eagle Rock and Highland Park as interim housing for homeless individuals.
Adkins, an Eagle Rock resident, claimed that this recall is not politically motivated and that she is receiving support from people from "all walks of life" that include both liberals and conservatives. Adkins said between 40 and 50 volunteers are currently collecting signatures across de León's district.
"We're here as a community, not as a specific entity," Adkins said. "All of God's human beings are welcome to this recall."
Speakers at Wednesday's briefing outside City Hall defended Reedy's role in the fight with de León, as well as the protests that have disrupted council meetings the last two months. Both de León and Reedy filed battery reports against each other, according to the Los Angeles Police Department, which is investigating the incident.
Gina Viola, a member of White People 4 Black Lives who received nearly 7% of the vote for mayor in the June primary, said de León's "inability to control himself this past Friday needs to be the bridge that is too far for him to come back from."
Brown, de León's spokesman, accused Reedy and other protesters who have confronted de León at events of using "strategies of intimidation" that are "not activism." Brown said he "takes offense when people treat them as protesters." He pointed to protesters heckling newly elected Councilwoman Traci Park during her swearing-in ceremony and promising to vocalize their opposition to her policies throughout her tenure, calling it "January 6th- style stuff."
Park, at a briefing earlier this week, said she was concerned for her safety.
"Unfortunately, what we have seen with some of the rhetoric and the behavior from a small minority of constituents in the population here in our city is alarming," Park said. "I have personally been subjected to some of those attacks and behavior. And I do worry about my safety, as I worry about the safety of my colleagues here at the city."
Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, who wrote on Twitter that protests that turn to "physical intimidation, threats and acts of violence" should be considered "terrorism," described the current protests as going "beyond activism."
"These are efforts that are intended to intimidate and threaten, and it's unacceptable," Rodriguez said. "It's not activism. It exposes our families to tremendous risk. It's unfortunate that the circumstances have devolved into this kind of environment."
Rodriguez said she's met activists such as Dolores Huerta and the late Rep. John Lewis.
"They didn't engage in activism of this type," Rodriguez said. "So I don't know what this is. But this is intended to ignite fear and intimidate. And it's undemocratic and it's just irrational, in my opinion."
Baba Akili, a member of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, said that it is easy to characterize the protesters as violent. Akili, who was among the protesters ejected from the council chamber on Tuesday, rejected the notion that the protesters are confrontational because he said they are simply "speaking truth to power."
"I've spent a long time doing this, and being polite didn't always work," Akili said. "Being accepting didn't always work. And so sometimes when we have been ignored, marginalized, denied and rejected, we speak up and step up."
Reedy attended the briefing but didn't speak because of the LAPD investigation and a pending legal action, according to Akili. Brown confirmed that de León was filing a restraining order against Reedy.
"How come Kevin de León didn't step back and de-escalate?" Akili said. "Why put the responsibility on us? He is supposedly the public official. He is the city council member. It would've been easy for him simply to step back."
In a video of the incident from the group Roots Action, Reedy is seen getting into de León's face while backpedaling, holding a cell phone and demanding that he resign. De León exits the room and tries to close a door behind him but Reedy forces his way through and backs de León against a wall while holding both his arms high in the air. Reedy puts his head against de León's and the two appear to lightly bump heads before the councilman charges forward, grabbing Reedy and forcing him onto a table.
"Attempts to justify de León's behavior is dangerous, and we have sitting council members doing just that," Viola said. "Once again, we're seeing attempts to label protests as violent and protesters as terrorists."
Councilwoman Nithya Raman said in a statement earlier this week that she doesn't condone protesters making physical contact or "any form of physical intimidation as a form of protest," but added that protesters are not elected officials.
"Those of us who are endowed with the public trust, especially in a city where that trust has been devastated, have an inviolable responsibility to de-escalate dangerous situations -- and to never lash out with violence," Raman said.