Good morning. It’s Monday, Oct. 9. This is Brittny Mejia, a narrative reporter based in Southern California, and David Zahniser, who covers L.A. City Hall. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.
- It’s been a year since the racist City Council recording. We talked to Kevin de León.
- Tribal leaders have uncovered the ancient “lost suburbs” of Los Angeles
- Israel masses troops at Gaza’s border
- How to hike the Lost Coast Trail with young kids
- And here’s today’s e-newspaper
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The last man standing
It’s been exactly a year since The Times broke the story about a surreptitiously recorded meeting between Councilmembers Kevin de León, Nury Martinez and Gil Cedillo and Ron Herrera, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
The conversation quickly veered into a series of racist and derogatory remarks targeting Black people, the city’s Oaxacan residents and a number of elected officials. Much of the animus was trained on then-City Councilmember Mike Bonin and his son, who is Black.
De León is the last one standing — the other three officials lost their jobs — and is waging an uphill battle for reelection. A year ago, that seemed unthinkable to many.
“I do think there’s a path for him,” said Fernando Guerra, a Loyola Marymount political science professor who called for De León’s resignation last year. “I don’t think he’s the front-runner.”
The Times took an in-depth look at De León’s trajectory over the last year — his effort to claw his way out of political purgatory, his gradual reemergence at City Hall, his bid to win back the support of his constituents.
Some constituents are ready to forgive
One of the things that stood out to us in our reporting: the divide between those who are eager to forgive De León, and those who say he hasn’t earned it.
Asked about his decision to run again, De León pointed to the many constituents he’d spoken with since the scandal erupted.
“They’ve had my back for many, many years,” he said. “And how could I not have theirs?”
Sitting in his Eagle Rock office, De León said he had learned there are “a lot of folks in Los Angeles who have huge forgiving hearts.”
We heard from Adelle Gonzales, who asked the councilman for a photo as he walked down the line of people at a food distribution event in Lincoln Heights. Gonzales, 76, said De León is “the only one who does this for us.”
“We are all humans, OK?” said Gonzales, as she clutched her phone with a peeling “I voted” sticker on it. “Everybody makes a mistake. Nobody is perfect. Give him another chance.”
“The fact that he refused to resign when President Biden asked him to, and that he doesn’t believe he didanything wrong when the community asked him to resign, shows very little remorse,” said Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, who lives in the district and is now running against him.
Current and former colleagues have kept him at arm’s length
De León told us that some of his comments captured on the recording were “inartful.” He said he should have intervened, shutting down the meeting.
Bonin, who left office in December, has condemned De León’s attempt at a comeback. “I hope he gets crushed,” he said. Last year, Bonin tearfully addressed the council while describing his anguish over what he heard on the recording — and the fact that so many of the remarks were aimed at his Black son.
In a recent interview, Bonin said De León still hasn’t “acknowledged what he did.”
“I’m certainly not the right person to pass judgment on whether he has made amends to the Black community. It’s not for me to judge. But if he has done so, he has done so silently and invisibly and without drawing any attention to himself,” Bonin said.
Yet another intriguing aspect of De León’s yearlong comeback attempt is the way it has affected the players at City Hall. Some council members are willing to sign on to his proposals, while others are not. Some have been willing to speak with him, while others are not.
Even deciding whether to be photographed with De León at large events has become a moral test for some on the council.
“Five years from now, 10 years from now, we’re going to be looking at these pictures,” said Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez, whose district borders De León’s. “And I just don’t want people to get the wrong idea that we were OK with the damage that he did, that we were OK with him being there, because we’re not.”
Kevin de León thinks voters will give him another chance. Critics say he’s ‘gaslighting’ L.A. For nearly a year, the 56-year-old City Council member has sought to claw his way back from political purgatory.
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Today’s great reads
Tribal leaders and researchers have mapped the ancient “lost suburbs” of Los Angeles. The effort seeks to illustrate major settlements and the roads that connected them — a 2,500-mile network of paths that stretched across the Los Angeles Basin and beyond. The project is the result of an unlikely partnership of three tribes — Chumash, Tataviam and Kizh-Gabrieleño — as well as geographers, historians, biologists and computer scientists from USC, UCLA and Cal State‘s Northridge, Los Angeles and Long Beach campuses.
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For your downtime
- 🪑 Hiking, thrifting, spa time: read how artist, designer, creative director and bestselling author Justina Blakeney would spend a Sunday in L.A.
- 📺 ‘Frasier’ is back, but it’s evolved, much like Kelsey Grammer’s ‘lovable, pompous’ character.
- 🍲 Sure, the heat isn’t exactly an autumnal vibe but chilled soups give you the best of both worlds.
- ✏️ Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games.
And finally … a great photo
Show us your favorite place in California! Send us photos you have taken of spots in California that are special — natural or human-made — and tell us why they’re important to you.
Today’s great photo is from Paul Preston of Burbank: Ricardo Breceda’s “Serpent.” Paul writes: “A few years ago, my girlfriend and I were driving through Aguanga, CA and stopped at Ricardo Breceda’s roadside art gallery (‘cause I love a roadside attraction). Breceda’s metalwork art is really impressive, but his sculpture garden and his random statues scattered throughout Borrego Springs are really his triumph. These are huge and pretty remarkable. The Serpent is Breceda’s most famous, and for good reason. It’s spectacular! BEHOLD!”
Have a great day, from the Essential California team
Brittny Mejia, Narrative reporter
David Zahniser, City Hall reporter
Laura Blasey, assistant editor
Karim Doumar, head of newsletters