LA Council picks president amid furor over racist comments

Oct 18, 2022, 11:59 AM | Updated: Oct 19, 2022, 3:24 am
Protesters chant a slogan as they face off with police at the entrance of the Los Angeles City Hall...

Protesters chant a slogan as they face off with police at the entrance of the Los Angeles City Hall in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022. The demonstrators demanded the city council stop its virtual meeting Tuesday until two of its members resign over racist remarks. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The embattled Los Angeles City Council installed a new president Tuesday after a chanting crowd of protesters called for halting the vote until two councilmen resign for their part in a 2021 meeting laced with crude, racist comments.

The selection of Councilman Paul Krekorian to lead the chamber comes amid a week of turmoil and public outrage over the racist rants that threatened to freeze the Council’s business and prompted the resignations of the former Council President Nury Martinez and a powerful labor leader who also attended the 2021 private meeting, Ron Herrera.

Krekorian, the unanimous choice of the 10 Council members who attended a virtual meeting, the minimum necessary for a quorum to conduct business, said it was time for the city to begin to bridge gaps and restore trust in government.

He noted that the election of a Council president is typically a moment of celebration but instead Los Angeles faces “one of the most challenging times a city has ever faced.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement he would work with Krekorian and the Council “to help heal the wounds caused by the hateful words of a few.”

The Council also took preliminary steps that could reshape the way government operates in the nation’s second most-populous city. One proposal will explore expanding the number of Council seats, now set at 15. A second would overhaul the way the city adjusts Council district boundaries once every decade to account for shifts in population, formally known as redistricting, which played into the furor over the private meeting.

The uproar was triggered by a leaked recording of racist comments from a nearly year-old meeting, which also provided an unvarnished look into the city’s racial rivalries. Those involved in the private meeting spent much of the time discussing how to safeguard Latino political power during the redrawing of council district boundaries.

The California Legislative Black Caucus said the recording “reveals an appalling effort to decentralize Black voices during the critical redistricting process.”

Martinez stepped down last week, but two councilmen who participated in the meeting have so far resisted widespread calls for their resignations, including from President Joe Biden.

The Council members, Kevin de Leon and Gil Cedillo, did not attend Tuesday’s virtual meeting.

Not long after the meeting started, Los Angeles police in riot gear faced off with yelling protesters outside a City Hall entrance Tuesday, demanding that the meeting be postponed until the two councilmen resign.

The protest of about 50 people took place outside a door of City Hall, though the Council was meeting virtually with only the acting president and staff inside the chambers. Demonstrators chanted, “No resignations, no meeting!” Police pushed backed protesters who retreated across the street without incident.

On the leaked recording, Martinez makes racist remarks about the Black son of a white councilman and other crude comments. De Leon and Cedillo didn’t object or joined in the offensive banter.

Last week, protesters crowded into the Council chamber and angrily called for the councilmen to resign. Those complaints continued unabated during the virtual meeting Tuesday, as a long list of speakers called for the Council to suspend business until de Leon and Cedillo step down.

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LA Council picks president amid furor over racist comments