LOS ANGELES — The head of the Los Angeles City Council stripped two members of much of their power Monday to pressure them to resign for participating in a private meeting in which they did not object to a colleague’s crude and racist remarks and at times joined in the offensive banter.
Acting Council President Mitch O’Farrell removed Gil Cedillo and Kevin de Leon from committee chairmanships and assignments and named them instead to a board that rarely meets as he turned up the heat on the veteran Democratic politicians.
“These members have lost all credibility, all standing,” O’Farrell said at a City Hall news conference.
The two men have refused widespread calls to step down despite widespread condemnation that led former council President Nury Martinez to resign last week.
The leaked recording of the three powerful politicians discussing with a labor leader how to maintain their grip on power and expand Latino influence in the city has plunged the council into chaos as angry protesters shut down meetings last week.
The recording has also derailed their personal ambitions.
By losing committee assignments, their influence in City Hall has dwindled and they have largely become token figures, unable to participate in the day-to-day work of the council and unwanted in council chambers where their appearance is likely to cause an uproar.
The council has moved to censure Cedillo and de Leon but doesn’t have the power to remove fellow elected officials from office unless they’ve been charged with a crime.
O’Farrell said the only path forward is through their resignation or a recall election in the case of de Leon, whose term ends in 2024. Cedillo lost his seat in the primary and will be replaced in December.
Both had been on several high-profile committees, with Cedillo chairing the Housing Committee and De Leon chairing the Homelessness and Poverty Committee.
Under city rules, each council member has to be assigned to one committee, so each man will now serve on the Board of Referred Powers, a rarely used body that takes over when other boards have a conflict of interest.
O’Farrell said the two men should not show up at Tuesday’s meeting, which will be held virtually Tuesday because two members have tested positive for COVID-19 since the Oct. 11 meeting.
Councilmember Mike Bonin — the target of Martinez’s most offensive remarks — tested positive for the virus after being consoled in the crowded chambers and appeared virtually at the following day’s meeting. Councilmember Paul Krekorian tested positive Monday and was experiencing mild symptoms, his spokesperson said.
Meeting remotely will prevent a repeat of last week when angry protesters drowned out O’Farrell as he tried to call Wednesday’s meeting to order. He canceled Friday’s meeting, saying the council couldn’t conduct business until the two men resigned.
Tuesday’s agenda includes several items related to the incendiary recording made during a private meeting about the contentious issue of redrawing council districts, which can give some lawmakers significant power and dilute the influence of others — and by extension, disenfranchise the ethnic or racial groups they represent.
Martinez dominated the conversation, using profanity and racist slurs as she aired personal grievances. She called Bonin, who is white and gay, a “little bitch.” She used a Spanish term to compare his young Black son to a little monkey.
De Leon and Cedillo chimed in and laughed at some of the gossip.
At the meeting, Ron Herrera, who was the president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor before resigning over the recording, called the group “a little Latino caucus of our own” as they discussed how to undo maps drawn up by a commission to benefit themselves and shore up power.
Some of the conversation focused on the influence of Black councilmembers and their allies, with de Leon referring derisively to Bonin, a white man, as the “fourth Black” on the council who wouldn’t stand with Latinos.
While Latinos make up about half the population, they are underrepresented on the council with only four of the 15 seats at the time. Black people, by contrast, make up about 9% of the population and hold three seats.
In addition to electing a new president Tuesday to replace Martinez, the council is scheduled to discuss a charter reform proposal that would add more seats to the City Council to increase representation and decentralize power. It will also discuss creating an independent redistricting commission. Currently, the council appoints the members and then has authority to approve the maps.
Bonin, other council members and Democrats as prominent as President Joe Biden have called on de Leon and Cedillo to resign.
De Leon has apologized for seeming to make or condone “insensitive comments.” Cedillo has said he should have objected to the language but didn’t make derisive remarks himself.
Both men appeared at the Oct. 11 meeting but walked out after being jeered by raucous protesters who demanded they leave. They haven’t appeared in public since.
O’Farrell has spoken with Cedillo and said he is “reconciling his feelings about this transgression and understood the gravity of the moment.” He has not been able to reach de Leon.