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Krekorian says he’ll work to restore trust in City Hall as L.A. City Council president

The Los Angeles City Council selected Councilmember Paul Krekorian as its next leader Tuesday afternoon, ushering in a new and uncertain era for a city government still reeling from the release of an incendiary leaked audio recording last week.

With a 10-0 vote, Krekorian was chosen as the newest president of a council struggling to respond to revelations that three councilmembers — one of whom has since stepped down — and a high-level labor leader engaged in a secretly recorded conversation with racist and derogatory remarks.

Former council President Nury Martinez’s comments during the leaked October 2021 conversation ignited international outrage, and she resigned Wednesday.

Krekorian, who is Armenian American and represents the east San Fernando Valley, said his first task would be to begin to restore public trust in City Hall.

But he also said he would work to reduce the power of the council president and end the era of “unilateral decision-making” on the council floor — a veiled reference to the leadership styles of Martinez and her predecessor, former Council President Herb Wesson.

“Most of all, I think we just really need to resolve that through this work we make clear that no one ever again feels excluded, or belittled, or demeaned, or disrespected, or left behind by the people that they elected to represent them,” said Krekorian, who was first elected to the council in 2009.

The meeting was held virtually, as ordered by then-acting President Mitch O’Farrell last week after Councilmember Mike Bonin tested positive for COVID-19. Krekorian tested positive on Sunday.

Embattled Councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo — who were also present during the recorded conversation — did not attend Tuesday’s Zoom council meeting. Both are facing immense pressure to resign, but the council has no clear legal mechanism to remove them.

Krekorian, 62, steps into leadership of the City Council in a moment of great turmoil, with unprecedented attention focused on Los Angeles government. With three current or former councilmembers indicted on corruption charges in recent years, City Hall was already suffering a crisis of public faith — and that was before the leaked tape exploded onto the national stage.

In the coming months, Krekorian and his colleagues must labor to repair trust in city government and minister to the pain and anger expressed by their constituents. But there are also urgent and thorny policy matters on the docket, including a package of proposed tenant protections and questions over how to best aid the city’s tens of thousands of homeless residents.

“We’ve got to begin the work to put the city back together,” Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson said as he put Krekorian’s name forward, citing his “track record of conducting processes to include lots of voices.”

Krekorian listens to those who agree with him and those who don’t, along with voices from both the mainstream and the fringes, Harris-Dawson said.

As many as five new councilmembers could be seated in December, depending on the outcome of the Nov. 8 election. Another fight for the presidency could still loom on the horizon, if the new members have different ideas about who should be in charge.

Before selecting Krekorian, the council also moved two major reform measures incrementally forward — one to increase the number of seats on the City Council and another to put an independent commission in charge of the city’s redistricting process. Either reform will require a lengthy approval process, including a vote in a city election.

Acting President Mitch O’Farrell presiding over a near-empty council chambers due to COVID-19 exposure, while the rest of members participate over Zoom at City Hall on Tuesday.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Over the last week, Krekorian and Councilmember Curren Price had been vying behind the scenes for the presidency, an influential post that had been held by Martinez since late 2019.

By the time the meeting began, it was clear that support had coalesced around Krekorian, with Price failing to show up and Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, a Price supporter, trying without success to delay the vote.

Price released a statement partway through the meeting saying he made a “conscious decision” to skip the meeting because it was held on Zoom, not in person.

“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,” he said.

After the vote, Price said he supported the council’s decision and looked forward to working with Krekorian.

Rodriguez, who had been pushing for Price to become president, attempted to delay the presidency vote for one week, saying the vote on that issue should be conducted in person. No one seconded the motion, and her proposal died on the floor.

Rodriguez signed off from the meeting shortly afterward. Her spokesperson, Walter Garcia, later said via email that Rodriguez “had to abruptly leave because of a family emergency. Her mother is hospitalized.”

The morning began with protesters from the People’s City Council, an activist group, gathered outside O’Farrell’s home in Glassell Park. The group, among others, demanded that O’Farrell and his colleagues cancel Tuesday’s meeting, and all future meetings, until Cedillo and De León have resigned.

O’Farrell left his home and went to City Hall. After calling the council meeting to order, he pledged to hear from anyone who wanted to speak, saying people needed space to express their anger and start to heal.

Public comment, typically capped at 30 minutes, took up nearly 3½ hours.

Many speakers decried Cedillo and De León’s continued presence on the council. Others attacked the councilmembers on Zoom for not signing off and breaking quorum, which would deprive the council of the ability to continue its meeting.

Jason Reedy, an organizer with the People’s City Council, called in to Tuesday’s meeting to voice frustration that the meeting was taking place.

“Best believe, we will make house visits to every single one of y’all for participating in this meeting,” he said, referencing the protest outside O’Farrell’s home.

Jamie York, who serves on the Reseda Neighborhood Council, told councilmembers that Tuesday’s meeting “shouldn’t even be happening — not until Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo resign.”

“I really think that members should break quorum, now,” said York, who told the council she was expressing those views in her personal capacity, not as a member of the neighborhood council. “There shouldn’t be any city business going until those two are gone.”

Another caller, who could not be identified, voiced anger that De León was continuing to earn a salary.

“If you don’t have the decency to do the right thing and resign, Kevin, then at least do the f—ing job we are paying you to do,” the caller said. Councilmembers are paid more than $229,000 annually.

Several speakers called in from protests outside City Hall, with the sound of drums and chanting audible during at least one comment.

At one point, a group of protesters attempted to enter City Hall through the building’s Main Street entrance, clashing with a heavy police presence just inside the door, according to a video tweeted by Spectrum News reporter Kate Cagle.

Krekorian has spent more than a decade in charge of the powerful Budget and Finance Committee, working to help the city recover from two economic crises — one triggered by the Great Recession, the other sparked by the outbreak of COVID-19.

A veteran of local and state politics, the longtime elected official got his start on the Burbank school board, then won a seat in the state Assembly in 2006. He represents a district that includes all or part of North Hollywood, Valley Glen, Valley Village, Studio City, Toluca Lake and Van Nuys.

Protest groups successfully disrupted last Wednesday’s meeting for about an hour before Harris-Dawson left the meeting, leaving the council without enough members to continue meeting. The council adjourned shortly thereafter without conducting any official business.

The fact that the next two council meetings will be conducted over Zoom because of COVID-19 exposures makes it less likely that protesters will be able to shut them down, though what the proceedings will look like in the weeks ahead remains an open question.

O’Farrell canceled Friday’s scheduled council meeting. He announced Monday that he had removed De León and Cedillo from an array of council committee assignments — the latest in a series of attempts to pressure the two men to step down.

Mayor Eric Garcetti left L.A. on Tuesday for a climate conference in Argentina, which makes Krekorian the acting mayor through Sunday under rules that put the council president in charge of the city when the mayor travels out of state.

Garcetti spokesperson Harrison Wollman said the mayor’s plane took off shortly before the council presidency vote, meaning then-acting City Council President Mitch O’Farrell also served as acting mayor in the short window between Garcetti’s departure and the vote.

Times staff writers Dakota Smith and Benjamin Oreskes contributed to this report.

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