Ringo HW Chiu/AP
The implosion of the Los Angeles City Council this month, after three of its members were secretly recorded speaking in racist terms, threw the political machine of one of America’s biggest cities into crisis.
At present, there is an empty seat on the 15-member body after the resignation of one of the three registered members, and the other members who were not part of the racist conversation have all publicly demanded that the two others resign, going so far as to strip them of almost all of their committee assignments. And on Sunday, California Governor Gavin Newsom said he was “looking forward” to the upcoming announcement of the two board members’ departures.
But despite the outcry, Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León refuse to step down, expecting they can wait out the fallout storm over their participation in a racist conversation in which they and the former city council president Nury Martinez denigrated the adoption of a white coworker’s 2-year-old black son and discussed strategies to consolidate their power at the expense of black leadership. Martinez resigned days after the audio leaked.
Their insistence on staying means the pair will continue to squeeze their big salaries at the expense of angry taxpayers, even as they skip city council meetings where the public continues to demand their ousting.
In 2021, LA City Council members earned about $218,000 in salary, according to the California State Comptroller’s Office, which gets its information from the city’s W-2 tax forms. And it’s not just their base salary – as city employees, they receive about $66,000 a year for their pensions. Taxpayers also pay for a car bill for each member, as well as meal and travel expenses.
Without the extras, the average base salary for a member is about $70,000 higher than that of board members in San Francisco and New York. It’s also about $35,000 a year more than the California governor’s salary, which was about $183,000 in 2021.
The gap between what council members are paid and what many of their constituents earn is even wider, especially when focusing on the incomes of people who live in pockets of the districts of León and Cedillo. In Boyle Heights, a predominantly Latino working-class neighborhood in the District of León, for example, the median household income, according to the latest available figures from the Census Bureau, is around $44,000. And about 26% of people live in poverty. In Chinatown, which is in the Cedillo district, the median household income is just under $50,000.
For the moment, there is no indication that de León or Cedillo plan to resign, barring a recall election.
De León went on English and Spanish television last week to apologize for his role in the inflammatory conversation and to make it clear he is not stepping down.
“I have to work hard to mend the bonds with my brothers and with my sisters in our African-American community,” he said, insisting that quitting would be the easy way out.
And a spokesperson for Cedillo said the veteran Latino leader remains “a place of reflection.”
Meanwhile, Cedillo and de León have been avoiding council meetings for the past few days. De León was removed as head of the homelessness and poverty committee as well as the budget and finance committee. Cedillo was also removed as chairman of the housing committee and a committee that reviews major development projects.
If de León manages to complete the remaining two years of his term, taxpayers will pay him approximately $568,000 in salary and pension combined. The tab for Cedillo, whose term ends in December, will be much less, although at around $18,000 a month in salary, that’s a minimum of the $36,000 he’ll have received since the scandal broke. .