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A look at the salaries of 2 LA City Council members involved in racist conversation

They're among three lawmakers who were recorded talking in racist terms. And though they've been stripped of assignments and haven't been attending meetings, they're still collecting hefty paychecks.



The implosion of the Los Angeles City Council this month, after three of its members were secretly recorded talking in racist terms, has thrown the political machinery of one of America's largest cities into crisis.

As of now, there is one empty seat on the 15-member body after one of the three recorded members resigned, and the remaining members who weren't part of the racist conversation have all publicly demanded that the two others resign, going as far as stripping them of nearly all their committee assignments. And on Sunday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he is "looking forward" to an announcement of the two council members' departures soon.

But despite the outcry, Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León refuse to quit, expecting they can wait out the storm of fallout for their participation in a racist conversation in which they and former City Council President Nury Martinez disparaged a white colleague's adopted 2-year-old Black son and discussed strategies to consolidate their power at the expense of Black leadership. Martinez stepped down days after the audio was leaked.

Their insistence to stay on means both men will continue to draw from their hefty salaries at the expense of irate taxpayers, even as they skip out on City Council meetings where the public continues to demand their ouster.

In 2021, LA City Council members took home roughly $218,000 in pay, according to the California State Controller's Office, which gets its information from the city's W-2 tax forms. And there's more than just their base salaries — as city employees, they get about $66,000 a year toward their pensions. Taxpayers are also footing the bill for a car for each member, as well as meal and travel expenses.

Taking away the extras, the average member's base salary is about $70,000 higher than those of council members in San Francisco and New York. It's also about $35,000 a year more than the governor of California's pay, which was about $183,000 in 2021.

The discrepancy between what council members are paid and what many of their constituents make is even greater, especially when zeroing in on the incomes of people who live in pockets of de León's and Cedillo's districts. In Boyle Heights, a largely Latino working-class neighborhood in de León's district, for example, the median household income, according to the latest Census Bureau figures available, is about $44,000. And about 26% of people are living in poverty. In Chinatown, which is in Cedillo's district, the median household income is just under $50,000.

As of now, there's no indication that either de León or Cedillo plans to step down, short of a recall election.

De León went on English- and Spanish-language television last week to apologize for his role in the inflammatory conversation and to clarify that he is not resigning.

"I have to do the hard work to repair the ties with my brothers and with my sisters in our African American community," he said, insisting that stepping down would be the easy way out.

And a spokesman for Cedillo said that the veteran Latino leader remains at "a place of reflection."

Meanwhile, Cedillo and de León have avoided council meetings in recent days. De León has been removed as head of the Homelessness and Poverty Committee as well as the Budget and Finance Committee. Cedillo was also removed as chair of the Housing Committee and a committee that reviews major development projects.

If de León manages to out the remaining two years of his term, taxpayers will be paying him about $568,000 in combined salary and pension. The tab for Cedillo, whose term ends in December, will be a lot less, though at roughly $18,000 a month in salary, it adds up to a minimum of $36,000 that he will have been paid since the scandal broke.

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Transcript :


Two Los Angeles City Council members are refusing to leave their jobs. They're among three lawmakers who were secretly recorded talking in racist terms about redistricting and political support. One of the Democrats has resigned under pressure from President Biden, among others. The other two have not. And though they have also not been turning up for City Council meetings, they're collecting their paychecks. NPR's Vanessa Romo has been looking into that. Hey there, Vanessa.


INSKEEP: So if they haven't quit - I get politicians who refuse to resign; people do that - why haven't they been showing up at City Hall?

ROMO: Well, both have said that they think that it would be very distracting in terms of the process and the things on the agenda of the City Council that need to move forward. They also are probably being kept out because of the giant crowds of people who are there who have consistently berated them, even when they're not there.

INSKEEP: So it would be problematic, to say the least, for them to show up. But they're being paid. How much?

ROMO: Well, they make a pretty good salary. According to the California State Controller's Office, who gets their information from the city's W-2s, pay for all city council members is roughly $218,000 a year. They also get lots of other perks. They earn about $66,000 a year in pensions. And on top of that, they also get a city car to drive around, and they have budgets for meals and travel expenses. So when you add that all up, it's a pretty staggering figure.

INSKEEP: Is that a lot more than other city council members in other cities?

ROMO: It's more than what city council members in San Francisco and New York make by about $70,000. And actually, the city council members make more than the governor of California.


ROMO: Right. But, you know, the greatest discrepancy is actually between what the city council members make and the people that they serve, especially when you take an even closer look at the incomes of the people who live in Kevin de Leon and Gil Cedillo's districts. LA is a huge sprawl, obviously, so, of course there is going to be a lot of range there. But in Boyle Heights, for example, which is a largely Latino working-class neighborhood in de Leon's district, the median income there, according to the latest census figures available, is about $44,000 a year, and about 26% of people are living in poverty. And then in Chinatown, which is in Gil Cedillo's district, the median income household is less than $50,000.

INSKEEP: But they're still collecting this pay. So what, if anything, would force them out?

ROMO: It really doesn't seem like that's going to happen. Kevin de Leon, who has had people protesting outside of his office and even people camped out in front of his home, he went on television and flat out said he's not resigning. He said that that would be the easy way out, that in order to do the real work of healing, he needs to stay. And he's got another two years left in his term, so that's about $568,000 in salary and pension. Meanwhile, Gil Cedillo was actually already on his way out. His term ends mid-December. Officially, he said through a spokesperson that he remains, quote, "at a place of reflection." And if he waits it out, at $18,000 a month, that adds up to a minimum of $36,000 in salary.

INSKEEP: Place of reflection, OK. But is there any way to force them out?

ROMO: No, they cannot be forced out. The only thing that could happen is a recall election. But other than that, there's no way to push them out.

INSKEEP: NPR's Vanessa Romo. Thanks so much.

ROMO: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.