LA Councilman Kevin de Leon announces much-anticipated mayoral run

After months of speculation, Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de Leon announced on Tuesday, Sept. 21, that he is indeed running for mayor of Los Angeles.

De Leon, 54, instantly stands among the more high-profile names to vie for the city’s highest elected post — and is instantly the race’s most visible Latinx leader. And it was his deep roots in the city that he returned to again and again.

“I believe in the power and the future of this great city,” he said as he framed his goals in the context of the city’s deepest  problems — homelessness and affordable housing.

“As a young person, I simply did not know if we’d have enough money to make it to the next month,” he said, recalling his single, immigrant mother, who paid the bills with the money she made as a housekeeper.

De Leon told an early morning gathering of supporters on the Paseo De La Plaza in the El Pueblo de Los Angeles: “The people of Los Angeles deserve to know they are not alone. That their next mayor knows what housing insecurity feels like. That their next mayor knows what it feels like to sleep in a car for weeks.”

De Leon enters after much speculation, realizing a hope among many L.A. observers to see a widely recognized Latinx leader jump into the race.

Among supporters on Tuesday, that hope was fulfilled, as they mused on a range of issues de Leon would have tackle as mayor.

“We saw a lot of us in him.,” said Gabriel Paredes, who co-owns two business in Highland Park and Boyle Heights with wife Corissa Hernandez. “Not only does he say a lot, but he takes a tremendous amount of action behind his words.”

“For us, it was important as children of immigrants, not having general wealth, and everything we have worked for and put on the line to build our businesses, would have taken out our businesses, and Kevin understood that,” Hernandez said.

Mayor Eric Garcetti is termed out from running again in 2022, and is expected to leave office early pending the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of his appointment as ambassador to India. The mayoral primary lands in June with the general election for the top two finishers following next November.

The councilman joins a field that includes city council peer Joe Buscaino, City Attorney Mike Feuer, San Fernando Valley business leader Mel Wilson and Jessica Lall, CEO of the Central City Association of Los Angeles — and about two dozen others.

All face the enduring riddle gripping the city: how to tackle the city’s homeless crisis. There already appears to be consensus among the candidates that it’s the most poignant issue of this era, but how they plan deal with it varies.

Some are tapping into voter angst about the high visibility of encampments. Buscaino, a former police officer who represents a district that includes Watts, San Pedro and LA’s Harbor Area, has proposed eliminating the county’s homelessness agency, and pushing for a June 2022 ballot measure that would ban encampments.

Feuer has been touting a plan to declare homelessness a state of emergency in the city, which would give its leaders the authority to take over property to clear encampments.

Among members of the mayoral field, possible solutions run the gamut of the debate, which has often been framed as a choice between a compassionate response for the unhoused to a view that neighborhood safety is paramount. Most agree that long-term housing options for the growing number of homeless people, those increasing, falls well short of the number needed.

De Leon acknowledged the polarization in that debate, which was exposed even more deeply by the pandemic.

But he said policies need to break through L.A.’s thick bureaucracy to get people housed.

“We have to move heaven and earth. We can move heaven and earth to build sports arenas and venues for concerts. We can move heaven and earth to build skyscrapers in downtown Los Angeles and elsewhere. We need to apply the same energy and resources in a cost-effective manner to make sure we take people off the street and give them a sense of dignity, because it’s good for the community, it’s good for businesses, it’s good for unhoused community members.

“We can’t go back to the old normal,” he said, touting his “A Way Home” initiative, which aims for the city to develop a plan to create 25,000 new homeless housing units by 2025. “We have to move forward polices that lift people up and help improve the human condition for all individuals, regardless of who or where you come from.”

When he entered the office, he promised to quickly start working to bring 200 homeless shelter beds to downtown Los Angeles and to build hundreds of “transitional” housing units across his district, which includes downtown, Eagle Rock, El Sereno and Boyle Heights.

He has called the issue a “dystopian nightmare.”

Within his district, de Leon has received praise from supporters over efforts to get people housed. But just as it has for others on the dais, it’s come with pushback.

De Leon became the third council member to be targeted by a recall petition this year, with constituents upset with “tiny home villages” in their neighborhoods.

The petition needs 20,563 signatures of qualified registered voters in Council District 14 by Dec. 14 to get on the ballot. The villages, which have gained popularity with lawmakers in recent years because they can be assembled quickly and offer individual units for residents, are only meant to serve as interim housing, however.

Crews broke ground on June 29 on a 224-bed tiny home village in Highland Park, which is expected to be the largest in California, after several have been assembled around the region in recent months.

Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin De León announces he is running for mayor in Los Angeles on Tuesday, September 21, 2021. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The urgency over homeless is embodied in a preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter, requiring city and county officials to take large-scale actions to house homeless people living in Skid Row —  by October.

With the injunction temporarily stayed, attorneys for the city and the county of L.A. have appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, arguing that the injunction is likely unlawful and would disrupt the city and county’s legislative authority.

De Leon said Tuesday that while he’d prefer that the issue be resolved on the legislative side in conjunction with the city’s executive branch. But if it has to be settled by a judge to get the ball rolling, he can work with that, he said.

“I share that same urgency with Judge Carter. I believe we should be able to land that plane, and work out a deal. I’d rather deal with it the legislative arena as opposed to a judge making the decision. But if the legislative arena and the executive branch can’t land a deal, and a judge is coming in and saying we’re going to do it through the bench, then so be it. …We cannot wait five, 10, 15 years.”

A group of residents in de Leon’s northeast L.A. district also criticized the councilman, alleging that he was paying more attention to certain pockets of the district than others, when it comes to basic services such as sanitation.

“Give us dignity and respect,  not just for the camera,” said Jacob Estrada, a founder of Organized Blocks Of Boyle Heights/First Blocks of Whittier Boulevard, decrying what he called “ZIP code inequality.”

De Leon is accustomed to navigating such concerns. He is no newcomer to L.A. politics.

He was sworn in onto the council in October to represent the 14th Council District, which for nearly 15 years had been represented by by Jose Huizar, who has left her role while facing an array of racketeering, bribery and other charges amid a development scandal.

De Leon was elected to the state Senate in 2010 and 2014, where he became the first Latino to serve as the body’s president pro tempore in more than a century. Before that, he served four years in the state Assembly.

In 2018, De Leon lost his effort to unseat  U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 88, who won her bid for a fifth term, extending a career in California politics that began in 1969. De Leon’s effort to present himself as leader in a new, more progressive wing of the Democratic party wasn’t enough to defeat the political legend.

On his council website, he touts more than $68 million he recently secured to revitalize the Los Angeles River, $176 million to clean up toxic waste around the former Exide Technologies facility and $26 million to complete the Los Angeles State Historic Park.

His bio notes that before his current City Council post, he was a distinguished policymaker-in-residence at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs; as well as a Distinguished Fellow for Climate, Environmental Justice and Health with the USC Schwarzenegger Instituted at USC.

The dynamics of the race are still shaking out. Other high-profile names could announce a bid for the mayorship; it’s thought that some were waiting for the outcome of the bid to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom before committing.

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, has also hinted at a potential run.

“Los Angeles is facing a humanitarian crisis in homelessness and a public health crisis in the disproportionate impact this pandemic has had on Angelenos. She does not want to see these two issues tear the city apart, that’s why she is considering a run for mayor,” according to a statement from her congressional campaign staff.

De Leon briefly spoke to the prospect of Bass’ entry.

“Any individual who wants to lead the city and feel they can contribute they are welcome to the race,” he said. “It’s not about any one particular individual. It’s about any individual who chooses to throw their hat in the ring, to debate the issues and to meet Angelenos. And Angelenos at the end of the day will make the decision.”

There is also speculation that real estate developer Rick Caruso may also launch his bid for the post.

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