In wake of Nury Martinez scandal, Los Angeles City Council is talking about major reforms

Amid demands for three Los Angeles City Council members to resign – including a statement from President Joe Biden – and calls for a state probe into the city’s redistricting process, and pitches for an independent redistricting commission, the City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 11 faced a public that was railing against City Hall corruption.

Against this backdrop, councilmembers introduced several agenda items to address the fallout, including a resolution to censure councilmembers Nury Martinez, Kevin de Leon and Gil Cedillo and a resolution, which seven councilmembers signed, calling for their immediate resignations from office.

Martinez, De Leon and Cedillo are under increasing pressure to resign after a secret recording emerged on social media of a private conversation a year ago between the three councilmembers and powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera in which the four discussed how to influence the city’s upcoming redrawing of voting districts.

In the secret recording, Martinez and De Leon can be heard making racist comments about City Councilmember Mike Bonin’s toddler, who is Black — among other racially tainted comments.

The four Latino leaders also discussed how best to redraw the city’s redistricting maps to benefit them – actions that had the potential to weaken Black political representation in Los Angeles.

All four have issued apologies for their roles in the conversation. Herrera resigned as head of Los Angeles County Federation of Labor late on Monday.

People protest at Los Angeles City Council meeting on Tuesday, October 11, 2022 after council members were recorded making racists comments. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Assemblyman Isaac Bryan comforts Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin before Tuesday’s council meeting on October 11, 2022. Bonin’s son was the target of racist comments by his colleague Nury Martinez, who has since stepped down as council president and took a leave of absence. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Los Angeles City Council President Pro Tem, Mitch O’Farrall, asks the audience to allow an orderly session during Tuesday’s council meeting on October 11, 2022 at Los Angeles City Hall, Council Chambers. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Pastor Thembekila Colman-Smart speaks as a coalition of religious leaders gather outside Los Angeles City Hall demanding the resignation of council members Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León before Tuesday’s council meeting on October 11, 2022 after a recording was released of Martinez, who has since stepped down as council president and took a leave of absence, making racists comments with Cedillo and De León. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson speaks to Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León as the chambers fills with chants for Cedillo and De León to resign during Tuesday’s council meeting on October 11, 2022. They both left the chambers before the meeting resumed. A recording was released of Nury Martinez, who has since stepped down as council president and took a leave of absence, making racists comments with Cedillo and De León. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

A traditional Oaxacan band plays during a protest outside Los Angeles City Hall as people try to get into Tuesday’s council meeting on October 11, 2022 after council members were recorded making racists comments including to the Oaxacan community. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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Tuesday’s council meeting was delayed 45 minutes as protesters who packed the Council Chamber chanted and called on Martinez, De Leon and Gil Cedillo to resign. Martinez, who stepped down from her powerful post as city council president on Monday, announced Tuesday ahead of the meeting that she was taking a leave of absence.

De Leon and Cedillo showed up to the Tuesday meeting but eventually left after the protesters refused to quiet down.

“Black lives – they matter here!” and “Not one more day!” the protesters chanted, as they called for the resignations of Martinez, De Leon and Cedillo.

Cedillo was first to leave the chamber. As De Leon exited the room after speaking with Acting City Council President Mitch O’Farrell, a member of the audience cried out, “Bye Kevin! We’ll be waiting for your resignation!”

After the protesters quieted down, Councilman Mike Bonin, whose adopted little boy was the subject of racially ugly comments, held center stage as Bonin spoke more than 10 minutes, at times tearful.

“I can’t forgive them because it’s not my prerogative,” he said of Martinez, De Leon and Cedillo. “It’s the prerogative of a boy who is too young to really understand what’s going on.” Bonin added  that his husband and he are “raw and angry and heartbroken” for their family and the city.

“These people stabbed us and shot us and cut the spirit of Los Angeles,” he said.

Speaking to those in the audience who came to City Hall to demand accountability from Martinez, De Leon and Cedillo, he said, “On these tapes, I have heard the worst of what Los Angeles is. From you, I’m hearing and I’m seeing what the best of what Los Angeles is.”

For the better part of the next two hours, the council listened to public comments as, one by one, speakers denounced the racially-laced comments in the leaked audio.

Council members introduced several agenda items in response to the scandal and its fallout.

A resolution calling for Martinez, De Leon and Cedillo to resign described the comments in the leaked audio as “homophobic, anti-Indigenous, anti-semitic, anti-Asian, anti-Armenian, and anti-Black” and said it revealed “a clear undermining” of the city’s redistricting process.

Signing on to the resolution were councilmembers Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Nithya Raman, Bob Blumenfield, Paul Koretz, and Heather Hutt, in addition to Bonin and O’Farrell.

O’Farrell introduced a motion for the council to elect a new council president next Tuesday, while making clear he has no intention of seeking the powerful post.

He also introduced a motion to ask city staff report to the council regarding steps needed to place a measure on the ballot in 2024 to increase the number of city council seats — as well as a report outlining an immediate redistricting process if that 2024 ballot measure passed.

The city council has operated with 15 members since 1925 when the city’s population was just under 1 million people, O’Farrell said. Today, L.A. has 4 million residents but the number of council seats has not grown.

“This council should reflect and represent the residents we serve,” O’Farrell said. “A ballot measure that increases the number of council seats will help us meet that goal and involve Angelenos in the process as well – an immediate redistricting process should the people decide they want an expanded city council.”

Motions also were introduced to remove Martinez as chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on COVID-19 Recovery and Neighborhood Investment and as chair of the Rules, Election, and Intergovernmental Relations Committee; to remove De Leon as chair of the Homelessness and Poverty Committee; and to remove Cedillo as chair of the Housing Committee.

Joining the scores of local and state officials who have condemned or called for the three councilmembers to resign, in a dramatic new turn Tuesday, the President of the United States Joe Biden added his name to the list.

“The president is glad to see one of the participants in that conversation has resigned, but they all should. He believes that they all should resign,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a briefing Tuesday.

“The language that was used and tolerated during that conversation was unacceptable,” she added. “It was appalling. They should all step down.”

Before the city council meeting, activists gathered outside City Hall to demand that the state investigate whether any wrongdoings occurred during the secretly taped conversation.

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“We want an investigation by Attorney General Rob Bonta’s Office into claims that they used the redistricting process for political and personal gain and gerrymandering,” said activist Najee Ali with Project Islamic HOPE.

Several groups on Tuesday also renewed their calls for the city to adopt an independent redistricting commission.

“For too long, power-hungry local officials on both sides of the aisle have sliced and diced our communities to manipulate our elections and keep themselves and their allies in power,” Common Cause Executive Director Jonathan Mehta Stein said in a statement.

“Gerrymandering isn’t just a problem for other states — it happens here, too, and now we have audio evidence of what it sounds like in California.”

Related links

President Biden urges 3 LA City Council members to step down amid scandal
Pasadena’s Gordo says scandal-tainted LA City Council trio should step down
Nury Martinez takes leave of absence from LA City Council amid deepening scandal
Civil rights, religious leaders join calls for LA officials involved in racist recording to resign
Nury Martinez’s racist slams add a new scandal to corruption-riddled LA City Hall