In our social-media-saturated times, politicians and other public figures often face the brunt of so-called “cancel culture.” They say something stupid or make an errant mistake, and then their opponents pounce. In many cases, a heartfelt apology should suffice.
But sometimes such comments are not even arguably a slip of the tongue. Sometimes they reveal a pattern of appalling bigotry, arrogance and cruelty. Sometimes they tap into a much deeper character problem that requires an unequivocal response.
The scandal involving Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez, councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera clearly are in the serious category. To recap, a Reddit poster published an audio from last year of the group complaining about new political maps proposed by the city’s redistricting commission.
The Los Angeles Times obtained the recording, in which Martinez unleashed a fusillade of crude, mean-spirited, racist and ad hominem remarks. De León also appeared to make a nasty comment – and the others didn’t object. Martinez, de León and Herrera apologized.
Cedillo tried to have it both ways, apologizing but also claiming he didn’t recall the conversation.
In the recording, Martinez describes a white colleague’s Black son as “Parece changuito,” or “like a monkey.” In discussing District Attorney George Gascón, she said: “F— that guy … He’s with the Blacks.” She noted, “It’s the white members on this council that will motherf— you in a heartbeat.” Apparently referring to Oaxacans in Koreatown, Martinez said, “I see a lot of little short dark people … ‘Tan feos’ — ‘They’re ugly.’”
Martinez certainly spreads her venom around. The conversation spotlights the degree to which these members see their role in purely ethnic and racial terms, when they should see themselves as representatives of all of their constituents.
It also shows the improperly close relationship between these council members and special-interest groups – in this case, labor unions. Herrera said he “didn’t step up to stop them,” but his union tried to bully the Times into squelching the story. The union complained the recording was illegal. If so, too bad. The recording reveals the thought process and behind the scenes racism and cronyism of prominent Los Angeles politicians and a top union official.
In her statement apologizing for the incident, Martinez said that during a frustrating time she “let the situation get the best of me.” De León said he fell short of expectations
Cedillo already lost re-election in the June primary, but he shouldn’t hold off on leaving. He should step down today.
Martinez resigned her leadership post. Sorry, but that’s not good enough. She should resign from the council, not continue to rake in a six figure salary pretending it is OK for her to serve in City Hall after this revelation.
de León, who once served as leader of the California Senate and remarkably challenged Dianne Feinstein from the left, should resign his seat immediately.
If either Martinez or de León refuse to resign, they should be recalled promptly.