San Jose leaders mum on LA politician’s racism scandal
Kevin de León speaking at the San Jose Women's March in 2017. Photo from Kevin de León's Twitter.

    President Joe Biden, Gov. Gavin Newsom and other top leaders are calling on Los Angeles councilmembers to resign amid a racist scandal, some in San Jose are silent.

    South Bay advocates say it is surprising local leaders have not condemned those involved in the LA scandal—especially because one of those involved has familial and political ties to San Jose. Kevin de León is the father of current San Jose Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco’s daughter and has helped support San Jose candidates in the past, including Councilmember Sylvia Arenas and community college trustee Omar Torres.

    De León was elected to the Los Angeles City Council in 2020 after serving 12 years in the state Legislature, including as Senate President Pro Tem. He was implicated in the scandal after a secret conversation with council President Nury Martinez, Councilmember Gil Cedillo and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera was leaked. Martinez made vile and racist comments about fellow Councilmember Mike Bonin’s Black son, calling him an “accessory,” and “a little monkey.” De León compared the way Bonin held his son to the way Martinez holds a Louis Vuitton bag.

    Facing significant backlash, Martinez resigned. De León and Cedillo are firm in staying in their positions. Cedillo’s term ends in December and de León has two more years.

    Carmen Brammer, an organizer with the Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet in San Jose, said she’s “deeply triggered” by the racist comments heard on the tape. But she’s also disappointed that local elected officials and candidates she supports have largely ignored the issue.

    “Irrespective of how this person has engaged with you, they’ve crossed a line,” Brammer told San José Spotlight. “You have to stand up and say something. And by not saying something, you’re saying something.”

    San José Spotlight contacted Carrasco, Torres and Arenas numerous times to ask if they will denounce de León. They did not return calls for comment.

    De León in recent years has been spotted at many San Jose events with high-ranking officials, including San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and other councilmembers, Santa Clara County Supervisors Cindy Chavez and Mike Wasserman and congresswomen Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo. He spoke at the International Women’s Day event and an equity march in San Jose  in 2017, and was at a San Jose rally to stop the separation of migrant children in 2018.

    Chavez, who is running for San Jose mayor, and her opponent Councilmember Matt Mahan said de León should resign at a forum last week. So has Torres’ opponent in the District 3 council race, Irene Smith.

    Carrasco, who is running for a seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Education, had a child with de León in the 1990s. While their romantic relationship appeared to fizzle, their friendship and political relationship has remained strong over the years. In 2010, when Carrasco was running for San Jose City Council, de León used his political leverage as state assemblymember and went against the South Bay Labor Council to drum up financial and political support for Carrasco.

    At Carrasco’s request, de León also donated and helped raise money for Arenas in 2016 while she was running for city council. He swore her in during a community event in 2017. Arenas is now running for District 1 Santa Clara County supervisor.

    Torres, who is running for the downtown San Jose council seat in District 3, has also gotten support from de León in the past. De León hosted a campaign event for Torres’ 2020 run for the San Jose-Evergreen Community College District trustee position. He hasn’t been involved in political races this year.

    Screenshot from Omar Torres’ Facebook page.

    “Because we’re so close to the election time, I’m positive that many of them don’t want to stir up their voters and lose whatever leverage they may or may not have,” Brammer said. “But you gotta say something.”

    Gabriela Chavez-Lopez, executive director of the Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley, said she understands that it might be hard to publicly speak out about de León’s racist remarks because of familial relationships. When asked if San Jose leaders should’ve been more outspoken, she said it is a personal decision.

    “Every community is responsible for holding their elected leaders accountable. At the end of the day, they work for us and they represent us the people,” Chavez-Lopez told San José Spotlight.

    Chavez-Lopez wants the implicated councilmembers, including de León, to resign. She called the behavior “malicious,” “racist” and disgraceful in a recent statement. Chavez-Lopez has spent years working with diverse local organizations to encourage civic engagement in underrepresented groups. She said actions like de León’s backtrack progress but are not representative of how the communities feel.

    “As a community here, we are trying to advance ourselves together and it’s unfortunate that our political leaders are talking like this,” Chavez-Lopez said. “But they’re at a different place than those of us that are working, day in and day out with these impacted communities. They’re a little isolated.”

    Chavez-Lopez is organizing an anti-racist training particularly for the local Latino community that focuses on dismantling anti-Black sentiment.

    Despite the jarring silence in San Jose, the leaked recording sent shockwaves through the nation.

    A few days after the recording was leaked, Biden called for the resignation of all three councilmembers. Newsom joined the calls last week. Assemblymember Ash Kalra and other state leaders also condemned the racist statements. Last week, the State Council of Education and the California Teachers Association asked for de León and Cedillo to step down. De León has repeatedly said he is staying put.

    “We are hurting. Our communities are hurting,” said CTA President E. Toby Boyd. “De León’s and Cedillo’s reluctance to step down is deepening the pain and getting in the way of the long road to healing.”

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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