LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The Los Angeles City Council had just concluded taking public comment at Tuesday's meeting when Councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez stood up to speak.
"I want to respond to the public comment, but also speak directly to Council member de León," Hernandez said.
Hernandez, the first council member to address de León directly in public in the chamber after the embattled councilman has begun attending meetings again, said that the people of Los Angeles have made it clear: "You're not welcome in these chambers."
De León continues to defy widespread calls for resignation after taking part in a 2021 leaked racist conversation. He has attended the last three council meetings, but this time, de León did not take his seat in the horseshoe. Instead, he entered the chamber during public comment and stood in the back, talking to staff and flipping through papers. Protesters did not initially shout en masse for him to leave as they did during the first two meetings, but a couple of them addressed him during their testimony.
Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and a professor at Cal State LA, wore a shirt that read "25 Blacks are shouting," a reference to a comment made in the leaked recording.
"Stop trying to stoke division so that you can pursue your political ambitions, Kevin," Abdullah said. "It's shameful, it's evil and we will follow you until you are gone."
De León did not look up from his papers to acknowledge Abdullah's remarks.
A few of de León's supporters also spoke during public comment. Juan Jose Gutierrez, executive director of Vamos Unidos USA -- an immigration service in de León's district -- told the council that de León has "supported representatives of every single race, color and ethnicity," as some in the audience laughed.
Gutierrez had previously been appointed to the California Access to Justice Commission by de León when the councilman was president of the California State Senate, according to the commission's website.
Unlike the previous two meetings, none of de León's colleagues walked out of the meeting when de León entered the chamber. The council on Tuesday voted on extending emergency declarations due to homelessness and COVID-19, and those who had been walking out appeared resolved to not allow de León's presence to affect the work of the council.
" I want to be very clear," Hernandez said. `I'm here Tuesday because I refuse to sit out this process and stand idly by as thousands of renters in my district face eviction. I refuse to let you continue to cause harm to my constituents by distracting from this critical vote.
Hernandez added that she would be throwing her "full support" behind recall efforts to oust de León from office. She claimed that de León has had "numerous job offers" along with opportunities to resign his post, but he has declined to. That left her to assume that his only motivation for staying on the council is for "personal gain and ego."
"How dare you continue show up to these chambers and make yet another day that should be focused on life-saving tenant protections about yourself?" Hernandez said.
De León, who has apologized for not intervening in the conversation despite actively taking part in it, said in an interview a few weeks ago with Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, that the narrative around him being painted by the media and others is inaccurate.
"It was just a firestorm that just took all the oxygen out of the room almost immediately and etched in stone a certain narrative that I find to be highly inaccurate, and not reflective of me as human being, as a man, as my value and principles," de León said.
Following Hernandez's comments, around a dozen protesters in the chamber began shouting for de León to leave. When protesters asked Council President Paul Krekorian why de León was allowed to vote on items when he wasn't present in the chamber, Krekorian responded: "This is not a question and answer session."
Krekorian, who hinted in an interview with NBC4 in December that the council may begin using more "forceful" measures against protesters, was quick to eject any member of the public who shouted during the meeting. Krekorian ejected 13 audience members from the meeting, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
De León left the chamber immediately after the final agenda item was voted on. He repeatedly looked up at the screen showing members' votes, perhaps checking to see if his votes that were cast while he wasn't at his seat were registering. In a sign that he remains persona non grata on the council, none of de León's colleagues approached him while he was standing in the back, and he did not try to speak to anyone besides his staff.
Councilman Hugo Soto-Martinez, who has also walked out of meetings to protest de León, said that every time de León enters the chamber, he is "inflaming the historical divide of the city, of the Black and Brown community."
"I will not stand for that," Soto-Martinez said. "I know we have to do business. I hope that everyone on this horseshoe can see what Council member de León is doing. He is doubling down on his racist remarks now by his actions."