LOS ANGELES—The Los Angeles City Council elected Paul Krekorian as its new president Oct. 18, following a four-hour meeting that was held virtually due to COVID-19 exposure after last week’s meetings were disrupted by protesters amid the City Hall racism scandal.
Krekorian will be immediately tasked with leading the council through a turbulent stretch, with Councilmen Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo facing intense calls to resign for their involvement in a recorded conversation that included racially charged comments and discussions over redistricting that led to former Council President Nury Martinez resigning her council seat last week.
de León and Cedillo have been under mounting pressure to resign since the release of the tape Oct. 9.
Krekorian—elected on a 10–0 vote, with de León, Cedillo, Curren Price, and Monica Rodriguez absent—stressed collaboration in his first remarks as council president, in a likely attempt to contrast with Martinez’s efforts on the leaked tape to work behind the scenes to consolidate power during redistricting, as well as comments she made insulting her colleagues.
“The presidency will be a collective enterprise,” Krekorian said. “It is critically important to me that our leadership includes disagreement. Because that’s how we move forward as a community. By listening to each other and working together.”
Krekorian, speaking in front of a virtual background of the council chamber, said he will make efforts to reduce the power of the council president.
“The era of unilateral decision-making on this council … that ends today,” Krekorian said. “Through this work, we make clear that no one in this city ever again feels excluded or belittled, demeaned or disrespected, or left behind by the people that they elected to represent them.”
Krekorian, 62, has served on the council since 2010 and is in his third term representing the 2nd District, which covers a wide swath of the central San Fernando Valley. He chairs the Budget and Finance Committee. Krekorian previously served in the state Assembly, winning the election in 2006 after a 20-year career as an attorney in the private sector.
In what appeared to be an effort to show unity, each of the 10 council members mentioned Krekorian by name as they voted in favor.
Mayor Eric Garcetti applauded Krekorian’s election in a statement, calling him a “committed and conscientious leader who can bring a smart, collaborative, and effective approach to a painful moment when Angelenos deserve steady leadership on the City Council.”
“I am confident that he’ll assemble a leadership team of bridge builders, and I’ll work closely with the council to help heal the wounds caused by the hateful words of a few,” Garcetti said.
The vote was preceded by roughly three-and-a-half hours of public comment, with many residents demanding that de León and Cedillo step down immediately.
The council operated through most of the meeting with 10 members present, the minimum to establish a quorum. Rodriguez left partially through the meeting due to a family emergency. Price, who was also a contender for the council presidency, did not attend, saying he was protesting the decision to hold the meeting virtually. With de León and Cedillo absent, the meeting would have ended had any remaining member chosen to leave.
“I made a conscious decision to not attend this morning’s council meeting because as a city leader, I could not support a virtual hearing that silenced the public outcry and shut out Angelenos who continue to reel from this breach of trust,” Price said in a statement.
Krekorian hinted that Price could play a role in the new council leadership team, stating that Price will play a key role in bridging divisions made worse by the leaked recording.
Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson moved to elect Krekorian as president, and it was seconded by Councilman Bob Blumenfield.
Harris-Dawson said Krekorian “has a track record of conducting processes to include lots of voices: ones that he agrees with, ones that he doesn’t agree with.”
“Mr. Krekorian is the right person to lead us right now as council president,” Blumenfield said. “But not to rule us, but to lead us. To work with us as a team.”
The council also voted to begin the process of placing a measure on the 2024 ballot or sooner that would create an independent redistricting commission for both the city and the Los Angeles Unified School District, and to explore a ballot measure that would increase the number of council districts in Los Angeles.
A couple dozen protesters gathered outside the City Hall, trying to enter the locked building during the meeting and chanting “No resignations, no meeting.” The protesters were confronted by police in riot gear, and a video posted by Spectrum News on Twitter showed one officer grabbing a protester on the back of the neck to keep him out of the building as another protester was trying to push him into the City Hall.
Acting President Mitch O’Farrell presided over an empty chamber except for staff and media, as the council conducted business for the first time in a week after disruptions forced the adjournment or cancellation of two meetings last week.
Tuesday’s meeting came one day after O’Farrell said he would remove de León and Cedillo from their committee assignments.
“This is a moment where the city council gets to re-earn Los Angeles’ trust,” said Maia Ferdman, project manager at UCLA’s Initiative to Study Hate and a consultant in intergroup relations, before Tuesday’s meeting.
“It’s both structural, and it is cultural. This is not just a question of a couple of people on the council. It’s also a question of: ‘Can we trust our leaders?’ So there’s a lot hanging at this moment right now and how our leaders respond.”
Fernando Guerra, professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University, told City News Service on Monday that the new president should only commit to serving until the elections in November, after which there could be as many as four new council members. Guerra said the new president will have to re-envision the role, especially because of Martinez’s resignation.
“A lot of it is about norms, and it always starts at the top,” Guerra said. “It’s not just a functionary [role] that sets the agenda, makes committee assignments. It’s about setting the values, of what the council and the city are all about.”
Krekorian pledged to continue holding meetings even if de León and Cedillo continue to resist calls to resign. He said the council can’t allow two members who have “dishonored their offices” to hold the business of the city hostage, though he will keep pushing for resignations.
“We cannot wait to continue to do the business of Los Angeles,” Krekorian said.
He ended his speech with: “Let’s get to work.”