Councilman Kevin De León Joins the Mayor’s Race: ‘We Can’t Go Back to the Old Normal’

The former President of the State Senate talks about what inspired him to run

For the second time in two days, the field of the 2022 Los Angeles mayor’s race has expanded. This morning, political veteran Kevin de León threw his hat in the ring.

The District 14 council member, who previously served as president of the State Senate, made his announcement at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument in downtown. In an interview with Los Angeles this afternoon, he cast his candidacy as an opportunity to confront homelessness and redirect the city of 4 million as it emerges from the pandemic.

“If there is one thing we’ve learned in the last year-and-a-half of turmoil, uncertainty and isolation, it’s that as we continue to fight COVID-19, we can’t afford to go back to the old normal,” he said. “You don’t have to look further than our Latino, Asian-American, and Black brothers and sisters on the front lines who were forced to wait at the back of the line to receive life-saving vaccines.”

Referencing pandemic-era challenges ranging from people forced to rely on food banks, to those evading eviction only because of a government moratorium on the practice, de León added, “I’ve always wanted to serve in a position of leadership especially during a moment of great crises. This is that moment.”

De León is entering the mayor’s race less than a year after being sworn in to represent the council district that encompasses downtown, Boyle Heights, and communities in Northeast Los Angeles. During his short time in city government, he, like nearly every other local leader, has sought to respond to the more than 41,000 people experiencing homelessness in the city (according to a count before the pandemic). His District 14 includes Skid Row, the epicenter of the crisis.

His efforts have included proposing that Los Angeles build 25,000 units of homeless housing by 2025, though details on how that would be achieved are still being worked out. In a video released with his campaign launch, he referred to a “homeless pandemic.”

He said that since being sworn in last October, nearly 2,000 homeless housing units have been created in District 14, a figure he described as “more than anywhere else in the city of Los Angeles.”

De León grew up in San Diego, the son of a single, immigrant mother who worked as a housekeeper. In an interview with Los Angeles last year, he described how, when the landlord knocked at the door demanding rent, she would instruct the family to keep quiet. Later he recalled that when he was in high school, the family had to put padlocks on the doors to protect their belongings from other people in the home.

He attended U.C. Santa Barbara and Pitzer colleges. His early work included teaching English as a second language and U.S. history. Before entering politics he was an organizer for the California Teachers Association and the National Education Association.

De León spent 12 years in the California Legislature, first in the Assembly, and then being elected to the Senate in 2010; when he became President pro Tempore of the Senate four years later, he was the first Latino to claim that position in more than a century. He earned a reputation as a skilled dealmaker and was known, among other things, for environmental advocacy.

Yet he did not always find success. In 2018, he challenged Dianne Feinstein for her U.S. Senate seat and lost, perplexing some in Democratic party circles.

He then turned his attention to the city of Los Angeles, easily beating a quartet of opponents in the March 2020 District 14 City Council race. De León, who lives in Eagle Rock, began his term last October, replacing disgraced Council rep Jose Huizar.

His entry to the mayoral contest comes one day after Jessica Lall, the president and CEO of the business and advocacy organization the Central City Association, launched her campaign. Already in the running are a pair of City Hall heavy hitters in City Attorney Mike Feuer and District 15 Councilman Joe Buscaino.

Also being closely watched is U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, who has said that she is “seriously considering” entering the race. Additionally, there is speculation that businessman and mall developer Rick Caruso could join the fray.

De León said his upbringing separates him from other candidates, and will allow him to connect with Angelenos in a unique way.

“I know what it’s like to live on the margins,” he said. “The people of Los Angeles deserve to know they’re not alone, that their next mayor knows what housing insecurity feels like, that their next mayor knows what it means to spend weeks sleeping in the car or relying on the generosity of friends for shelter at night, and knows what it feels like to use the power they have to lift people up.”

The primary is in June 2022, less than nine months from now. If no one secures more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will advance to a November runoff.

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