Despite announcing that she had stepped down as city council president, effective immediately, condemnation of comments by Los Angeles Councilwoman Nury Martinez, and calls for her to resign from office entirely, continued to pour in on Monday, Oct. 10, a day after secretly taped audio of racist remarks she made about a councilman’s son in a closed meeting sent shock waves through Southern California.
Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz said Martinez was right to step down as council president, saying her remarks made him “embarrassed to be associated with the City Council.” Former City Controller Laura Chick said the secret recording showed “the desperate need for transparency in today’s City Hall.” And Mona Field, president of the League of Women Voters of Greater Los Angeles expressed her concern that the meeting of three elected officials and a key labor leader involved “potential manipulation” of the City Council’s redistricting map, saying, “We must hold our elected officials accountable for their behavior.”
“You can’t make so many terrible statements about so many people and so many entities and so many ethnicities and expect to lead a city where your role is to bring people together,” Koretz said. “What was released probably damaged every kind of relations in the city of Los Angeles, more than anything I can think of in recent years, and it’ll take a long time for us to get over it.”
The audio leak, which appeared first on social media, is of an October 2021 conversation capturing Martinez using racist words to criticize L.A. Councilman Mike Bonin’s 2-year-old toddler, who is Black.
Martinez and Councilman Kevin de León both made ugly racial remarks in the private meeting with Councilman Gil Cedillo and L.A. County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera. The four were meeting to discuss the politically sensitive process of redrawing the city council district boundaries — which in itself is being criticized as an inappropriate back-room meeting.
In the audio, Martinez slams Bonin’s toddler for his behavior at a Martin Luther King Day parade, saying the boy was misbehaving on a float featured in the parade. “They’re raising him like a little white kid,” Martinez said of Bonin and his partner. “I was like, ‘This kid needs a beatdown. Let me take him around the corner and then I’ll bring him back.”’
Martinez derided the child as “ese changuito,” Spanish for “that little monkey.”
De León jumped in and compared Bonin’s handling of his toddler at the parade to “when Nury brings her little yard bag, or the Louis Vuitton bag.”
“Su negrito, like on the side,” Martinez added, using a Spanish term for a Black person, which is considered demeaning by many.
LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 22: Los Angeles mayoral candidate Kevin de Leon is introduced during the candidates’ debate at USC’s Bovard Auditorium on Tuesday, March 22, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA.(Pool Photo, Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Mayoral candidates Rick Caruso and Rep. Karen Bass called on all three council members to resign from office. Bass also called for the resignation of Herrera.
“I am calling on City Council President Nury Martinez to do the right thing and immediately resign her office. I believe councilman Kevin de León should do the same, as should my friend, Councilman Gill Cedillo,” stated Caruso, who was endorsed by Cedillo.
“I do believe that in their hearts they are better people than the vile comments we heard on that tape,” Caruso continued. “But they also know they are role models and they have let our city down. … In this important moment for our city, anything short of resignation completely fails that test.”
Bass said in a statement that “all those in the room must be held accountable” but did not call for resignations. She said she would convene a diverse group of leaders from across L.A. this week to draw up a plan to move Angelenos forward.
“I have spent the last two days reaching out to leaders across the full spectrum of Los Angeles’ diverse communities about the need to come together in this moment, and to address our long-standing crises of homelessness, public safety and affordability,” she said.
Others involved in Los Angeles politics and governance also called for the resignations of some, if not all, of the elected officials who took part in the recorded private discussion.
Democratic strategist Michael Trujillo said both Martinez and De León should resign from the city council because they will be ineffective in office and might have difficulty finding other council members to support legislation they propose.
“What was said was indefensible,” Trujillo said about Martinez’s comments. “I don’t know how you move on any piece of legislation in a way that people will feel is authentic or trustworthy. (Martinez) needs to take some time to reflect. I think that means more than stepping away from council presidency. I think it means she needs to resign.”
He declined to comment on whether Cedillo, whose reelection campaign Trujillo worked on during the primary election, should also resign.
Cedillo lost his bid for another term in the June primary race and will leave office in December. Both Martinez’s and De León’s council terms are up in 2024.
Fernando Guerra, a professor of political science and founding director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, said he expects continued calls for Martinez’s resignation. If she doesn’t resign, voters could launch a recall effort, but Guerra said a recall election might not occur until next summer, and people may lose the appetite to go through with it.
“At that time, people would say, ‘Well, why not just wait another year because the primary for her next election would be in June of ’24?’” Guerra said.
The topic that the three city council members were privately discussing on the day that the secret taping captured Martinez and De León belittling Bonin’s toddler is notable. They were asking a powerful union leader, Ron Herrera, how the city council district maps should be redrawn — a topic rife with potential outcomes that can hurt or help voting groups, businesses and city residents.
Former City Controller and former Councilwoman Laura Chick, who has advocated for transparency and ethics reform, said the unfolding scandal “shows me how horribly decisions are being made in City Hall” and “the desperate need for transparency in today’s City Hall.” She said the city’s approach to redistricting needs to be reformed.
“The fact that the president of the City Council was having this private meeting with one of the most powerful organizations in the city, the county Fed, why would he be in that meeting weighing in on redistricting that is so important to L.A.’s voters and residents?” Chick asked.
Chick linked the atmosphere of corruption and secrecy in City Hall — highlighted by the Los Angeles Daily News in its July summary of the key corruption cases unfolding at City Hall — to the arrival of former state legislators who won city council seats, years of resistance by the Los Angeles City Council to approve tougher ethics rules, and the need for independent women on the council.
“City Hall needs transparency more than anything else, and when I was there, many of us spoke out, led by the women on the city council, when we had five,” Chick said. “Cindy Miscikowski spoke out, Ruth Galanter spoke out, I spoke out, Jackie Goldberg spoke out, Rita Walters spoke out. When I walked into City Council I knew I wanted to end the deals behind closed doors. I didn’t succeed. And it has gotten worse since then. What L.A. needed and still needs is a critical mass of elected officials who care about transparency and ethics.”
Field, leader of League of Women Voters in L.A., said in a statement that her organization is troubled that the recorded conversation between elected officials and a key labor leader was about the “potential manipulation” of the redistricting map.
“We reiterate our call for an independent redistricting commission for this city,” Field stated. “We must take the politicians out of the process, and we must hold our elected officials accountable for their behavior.”
Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson, who served on the L.A. City Ethics Commission from 2013 to 2018, said she wasn’t surprised to hear council members trying to shape districts to their own liking.
Although only three Latino members of the L.A. City Council are heard discussing the redistricting process on the leaked audio, she wondered if a majority of council members had discussed it as part of their decision to reshape council districts. It’s a violation of the Voting Rights Act to dilute someone’s votes based on race. At one point in the secret recording, Martinez says of Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón, “(Expletive) that guy, he’s with the Blacks.”
Levinson notes, “If a majority (of the City) Council was motivated by race, it would lead to potential voting rights problems. We have the potential to have a legal challenge.”
The issue of shaping districts, in an effort to avoid diluting a minority voting block, is under discussion in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
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A number of officials and organizations have called for the resignation of some or all of the council members, as well as for Herrera to step down as leader of the L.A. County Federation of Labor.
U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla and Los Angeles Unified School Board President Kelly Gonez said all three council members should resign, while local leaders representing Service Employees International Union called on everyone involved in the conversation to step down.
United Teachers Los Angeles also called for all four individuals to resign and was particularly critical of Martinez, a former L.A. Unified school board member.
“It is abhorrent that these elected officials would speak and condone racist slurs and words of violence against a Black child — especially from the mouth of a former LAUSD School Boardmember in a BIPOC community,” UTLA said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, has called on the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti to publicly censure Martinez and De León.
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