Last Updated on October 21, 2022 by BVN
Phyllis Kimber Wilcox | Staff
Last week’s media storm and the subsequent reporting over a leaked audio taped conversation between Nury Martinez, then-President of the Los Angeles City Council, other council members as well as the President of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor began a week of political backlash that continues to grow, deepen and reveal a political rat’s nest within the Los Angeles City Council.
The debacle began when the Los Angeles Times published an article along with portions of a more than 80 minute long tape. The main topic of discussion was the L.A. City Council’s proposed redistricting map.
On the tape Martinez, Councilmembers Kevin de Leon and Gil Cedillo, along with President of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Ron Herrera, are heard making racist and demeaning comments about almost every constituency in the city.
Redistricting, Incumbency and Power
The secretly recorded conversation–that took place almost a year ago–centered on the city’s redistricting plan that would not only determine the boundaries between districts and likely determine voter turnout and whether the outcome of elections will be amenable to the politics of incumbent council members. Los Angeles is an increasingly diverse city with people from all over the world living side by side.
The proposed plan has various city council members seeking to retain or expand their political power by limiting or diluting the power of other councilmembers using redistricting as a tool. Redistricting is an outgrowth of the Census that occurs every ten years as mandated by Article 1, Section 2 of the U S. Constitution. Population shifts (growth or losses) detailed by the Census determine the need for redistricting and maps, redrawn as a result, can at times, shift political fortunes.
Latinos, at 48.1% of L.A.’s population, and a majority of the city’s population are under-represented on the city council. However, as the recordings make clear, people with heritage from Latin America and parts of the Caribbean have different needs, histories, desires and prejudices. The discussion was about who could be counted on and what to do to achieve the Latino council members’ goals.
On the tape Martinez describes a conversation she had where she suggested Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson should attempt to move LAX from Councilmember Mike Bonin’s district into his own. Martinez goes on to question the relationship between Harris-Dawson and Bonin and to say Bonin “..thinks he’s Black.”
Later on the call Marinez calls Bonin, who is gay, “..a little bitch..” Martinez accuses Bonin of using his Black adopted child like “an accessory”.
Councilmember de Leon then compares the child to a handbag, at which point Ron Herrera, President of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, can be heard saying, “They used to have those statues on the plantation didn’t they?” This was followed by laughter.
In describing an incident at an MLK day parade where, according to Martinez, Bonin’s child is “all over the place”, Martinez uses racially demeaning language to describe the child’s behavior. Stating in Spanish he was acting like a monkey. Martinez also took issue with the way the child was being raised and said, “They’re raising him like a little white kid,” and proclaimed the child needed “a beat down” and she could provide it.
Avoiding a hostile takeover
The group turns their attention to the ongoing legal problems of Mark Ridley-Thomas and what their approach should be regarding his successor. At one point Martinez cautions the group about not being perceived by the African-American community as a “hostile takeover . . .or they will come for us”
Returning to the issue of the Redistricting Map the conversation broadened as the group cast insults about constituents from Koreatown, Martinez saying she didn’t know where all these people were coming from “what villages” but that they were short, dark and ugly. The lengthy conversation goes on to discuss strategies for important districts and which included more insults aimed at various other constituencies.
When the tape became public Martinez had little choice but to seek political cover. She immediately apologized to test public response though with the contents of the tape having saturated the public there was little chance it would be enough. It was not.
The other councilmembers caught on tape followed suit with their own apologies.
Councilmember Kevin de Leon stated, “There were comments made in the context of this meeting that are wholly inappropriate and I regret appearing to condone and even contribute to certain insensitive comments made about a colleague and his family in private. I’ve reached out to that colleague personally. On that day, I fell short of the expectations we set for our leaders — and I will hold myself to a higher standard.”
Councilmember Gil Cedillo also apologized for being present during the conversation. “While I did not engage in the conversation in question, I was present at times during this meeting last year. Clearly, I should have intervened.”
Ron Herrera, President of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, also apologized saying, “The calls for accountability are loud, clear and deserved. I recognized that the community and our affiliates deserved an apology earlier and I am sorry that this has not been the case. I had to first face my family and grand-daughters personally and apologize to them for my failure to stand up to racist and anti-Black remarks in that immediate moment. I failed them in the moment and for that I hold the deepest regret.”
The mea culpas were not enough. Councilmember Bonin began calling for the resignations of all the involved councilmembers. “We are appalled, angry, and absolutely disgusted that Nury Martinez attacked our son with horrific racist slurs, and talked about her desire to physically harm him,” Bonin wrote in a statement with his partner Sean Arian. “It’s vile, abhorrent, and utterly disgraceful. The City Council needs to remove her [Martinez] as Council President immediately, and she needs to resign from office. Any parent reading her comments will know she is unfit for public office.”
The Los Angeles Chapter of the NAACP issued a statement asking for the resignations of everyone involved stating, “We will not sit idly by and allow our elected representatives to engage in these kinds of disgusting and racist behaviors”.
The week that followed began with Martinez resigning as City Council President on Monday with no idea if she would retain her district seat. Ron Herrera too resigned from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
The story continued to grow. By mid-week Martinez had gone from stepping down as City Council President to taking a leave of absence from the city council.
President Biden called for the resignations of all the councilmembers involved and California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced he would be investigating the LA City Council’s redistricting process.
“As a father and human being, I am deeply appalled by the remarks made by some of Los Angeles’ highest-ranking officials. Their comments were unacceptable, offensive, and deeply painful. There is no place for anti-Black, antisemitic, anti-Indigenous, anti-LGBTQ, or any kind of discriminatory rhetoric in our state, especially in relation to the duties of a public official. As Attorney General, I am committed to doing my part to ensure the rights of the people of California are protected.”
The importance of redistricting
Bonta continued, “The decennial redistricting process is foundational for our democracy and for the ability of our communities to make their voices heard — and it must be above reproach. The leaked audio has cast doubt on a cornerstone of our political processes for Los Angeles. Given these unique circumstances, my office will investigate to gather the facts, work to determine the truth, and take action, as necessary, to ensure the fair application of our laws. We will endeavor to bring the truth to light as part of the sorely-needed work to restore confidence in the redistricting process for the people of our state.”
When the controversial meeting occurred the city was in the midst of the redistricting process. A commission– appointed by the council– was charged with drawing up new district maps that would ultimately be approved or rejected by members of the council. According to an Associated Press report, at the time, Latinos, who made up nearly half the city’s population, only had four (or about 25%) of the 15 seats on the council, while Black people in the city who account for less than 10 percent of the population held three (or about 20%) of the council seats.
The recording made it obvious these councilmembers were angling, plotting, conniving to gain more Latino control. And now that the sentiments of the meeting participants are public, a dispersion is cast on the city’s entire redistricting process and its outcome.
Martinez responded to the news of Bonta’s investigation by resigning from her district seat. Protests are taking place and the city council has been unable to meet. As of this writing Councilmembers Kevin de Leon and Gil Cedillo are refusing to resign, all of this with elections around the corner in November.
Community members speak
This reporter spoke to several Angelenos about the controversy.
In an older, tree-lined neighborhood near Jefferson Park full of turn of the century homes, we canvassed people in a shopping center on Washington Avenue, a typical enough location with small restaurants, a market and small shops that sell everything from tobacco to mobile phones.
We spoke with residents and listened to their concerns. Although their responses varied, none wanted to be identified by name. A young Latino man dressed in dark slacks and a white shirt on his way to work was asked if he had heard about what was going on with the city council. “Yes, but I’m not into politics that much,” and went on his way.
An elderly Latina woman hadn’t heard anything.
A middle aged, neatly dressed Black mother said she was following the story, “But I’m more concerned about defunding the police. There aren’t enough police in the schools. As a matter of fact, I’m on my way to a meeting now.”
While we were speaking an older Black man, casually dressed, gray hair covered with a cap and riding a bicycle on the sidewalk began yelling at a uniformed, Latino security guard. “You can’t tell me what to do. I know people like you go around calling us monkeys.” He got off his bicycle and went into a store.
When he returned I introduced myself and asked him if he knew what was happening at the city council. “Yeah,” he replied. “That’s what I was talking about [regarding the security guard] trying to tell me what to do.”
I asked if I could interview him? “Next time. Next time. I see you,” he said as he got on his bike and rode away.
More from the community
A Latina woman dressed in sweatpants and walking her dog said she was following the story, “They should all resign,” she said.
A young Black man in his twenties, wave cap on his head, dressed in a tan colored pants and matching jacket also believed those involved should resign, advising he’d heard about Martinez’s resignation but added, “I wish she could have been fired.”
As of Friday, October 14, the saga continues. Calls for the resignations of de Leon and Cedillo grow louder as does speculation as to who leaked the tape. Meanwhile the people of the City of Los Angeles wait.
For the LA City Council, It’s Just One More Controversy
The council already has several members under investigation, the most prominent being Mark Ridley -Thomas who was suspended without pay awaiting the outcome of his federal corruption trial.
Ridley Thomas’ case also involves a former dean of the USC School of Social Work. Both were charged in a 20-count indictment for allegedly facilitating a deal where Ridley-Thomas purportedly agreed to direct funding to the university in exchange for admitting his son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, to USC’s graduate school.
Protests are continuing as Los Angeles residents demand accountability for the anti-Black and other racist statements made by their elected leaders and continue to call for the immediate resignation of Councilmembers de Leon and Cedillo.