Councilwoman Nury Martinez (Sixth District) resigned this week as president of the Los Angeles City Council following the revelation of racist remarks she made during a recorded conversation last year.
“I take responsibility for what I said and there are no excuses for those comments. I’m sorry,” Martinez said in a statement Monday. “I ask for forgiveness from my colleagues and from the residents of the city that I love so much. In the end, it is not my apologies that matter most; it will be the actions I take from this day forward. I hope that you will give me the opportunity to make amends. Therefore, effective immediately, I am resigning as president of the Los Angeles City Council.”
On Wednesday Martinez officially resigned her council seat.
A leaked audio recording of a meeting between Martinez, Councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo and L.A. County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera revealed that a number of racially insensitive comments were made.
The revelations have forced the four Latino leaders to make public apologies as calls from the Black community for them to resign their positions increases.
Councilman Mike Bonin’s son was referred to by Martinez as “ese changuito,” which means little monkey, and “su negrito,” which is a derogatory term for a Black person. Bonin is White and his son is Black.
“My husband and I are both raw and angry and heartbroken and sick for our family and for Los Angeles,” Bonin said during Tuesday’s council meeting, where he mentioned that his colleagues involved in the meeting have approached him and asked for forgiveness, but he told them “First you must resign, then ask forgiveness.”
Addressing the broken trust many in the city have felt, Bonin said: “…Los Angeles is going to heal. We can be, can be, can be with a lot of work, a city where our reality matches our aspirations.”
On Tuesday, seven members of the LA City Council called for the three councilmembers involved to be censured—a formal disapproval. With full attendance of 15, the council would need 10 members to vote to censure Martinez, deLeon and Cedillo.
Martinez announced a leave of absence Tuesday, and Thursday, finally resigned her office.
Councilmembers de Leon and Cedillo have yet to resign. LA County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera, the fourth official who took part in the conversation, resigned Monday.
The racially insensitive comments and uncomplimentary remarks about city councilmembers were made during an October 2021 meeting convened to discuss the redrawing of council district boundaries to reflect the 2020 U.S. Census.
Martinez’s comments about Bonin’s son were directed at his behavior during a Dr. Martin Luther King Day Parade in 2017. She claimed his son nearly caused a float she was on during the parade to tip over and said that someone needed to “parent that kid.”
“They’re raising him like a little White kid,” Martinez said. “I was like, ‘this kid needs a beatdown. Let me take him around the corner and then I’ll bring him back.’”
All of the participants in the meeting have issued public apologies.
De León, who called Bonin the council’s “fourth Black member”, was also caught saying “Mike Bonin won’t (expletive) ever say peep about Latinos. He’ll never say a (expletive) word about us.”
“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,” de León stated in his apology.
The conversation focused early on frustration with maps that had been proposed by the city’s 21-member redistricting commission. It would later devolve into racist remarks, crude comments about some of their council colleagues, and a discussion of how to consolidate and preserve political power. Koreatown was a point of contention. Martinez spoke openly about not wanting to give the renter-heavy district to Councilwoman Nithya Raman.
“It serves us not to give her all of K-Town. You have to keep her on the fence.” The group then questioned whether Shatto Place, a small street not far from Vermont Avenue, and Lafayette Park are in Koreatown.
“I see a lot of little dark people,” Martinez said of that section of Koreatown in employing stereotypes long used to describe Oaxacans in Mexico and in the United States. “I don’t know where these people are from. I don’t know that village they came from, or how they got here. “‘Tan feos’”—translated to “they’re ugly.”
Bonin’s son was brought into the conversation as the group discussed a dispute between Price and Harris-Dawson, at the time at odds over whose district would represent USC and Exposition Park once the new maps were approved.
Martinez reportedly told the group that she had a conversation with developer and newspaper publisher Danny Bakewell about the situation, while arguing if Harris-Daswon was possibly seeking an economic asset for his district and that he should seek to move LAX out of Bonin’s Westside district into his.
“Go get the airport from his little brother — that little bitch Bonin,” Martinez allegedly told Bakewell.
De Leon appeared to compare Bonin’s handling of his child to “when Nury brings her Goyard bag or the Louis Vuitton bag.”
“Su negrito, like on the side,” Martinez retorted, using a Spanish term for a Black person that is widely considered demeaning.
Martinez went on to mock Oaxacans and said “f*ck that guy…he’s with the Blacks” in reference to Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon.
The three current Black city council members, Curren Price, Heather Hutt, and Marqueece Harris-Dawson, issued a joint statement about the recording that said: “This is a dark day for LA politics for African-Americans, the LGBTQ+community, Indigenous people and Angelenos who have put their faith and trust in local government……The actions of our colleagues should not be tolerated and a vapid tongue has no place in City Hall. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”
The taped comments elicited condemnation from a variety of other individuals and entities.
President Joe Biden believes Martinez, Cedillo and de Leon should resign.
“The president is glad to see that one of the participants in that conversation has resigned, but they all should,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, calling the language recorded during the conversation “unacceptable” and “appalling.”
“There is no room for racist language and hateful incendiary rhetoric to coexist with the duties of serving in public office, especially in a place as diverse as the city of Los Angeles,” according to a statement Monday from the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. “We call on Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez to resign from her leadership post and office, and also ask that the other city council members involved, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, assess the actions they need to take.”
“Words matter, and we cannot turn a blind eye to anti-Black or homophobic sentiments. The time for unity is now, and we stand ready to work with our brothers and sisters throughout the community to move the city of Los Angeles forward,” the statement continued.
“The racism, bigotry and cruelty revealed in this leaded audio is appalling,” according to a statement released by County Supervisor Janice Hahn (Fourth District). “The anti-Black prejudice on display in this conversation compromises the confidence any residents had in these councilmember’s leadership.”
Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37), a candidate for mayor, also issued a statement:
“Let me be clear about what was on those tapes: appalling, andi-Black racism. The challenges we face already threaten to tear us apart and, now, this hateful and shocking conversation among some of our city’s most powerful leaders could divide us even further. All those in the room must be held accountable.”
Bass’ opponent, Rick Caruso’s statement on the racially charged comments said, “Everyone involved in this should be held accountable.” Caruso has been endorsed by Cedillo.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, called Sunday for the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti to publicly censure Martinez and de León.
“Their apology for using terms such as ‘little monkey’ to describe an African-American youth for instance promotes and reinforces the vilest stereotypes of African-Americans (and) is not enough,” Hutchinson said in a statement provided to CNS. “Nothing less than a full censureship by the city council and endorsed by Garcetti will send the message that vile racist stereotypes will not be tolerated and will be quickly punished.”
Hutchinson said he “was not surprised at the abysmal ignorance of Nury Martinez and Kevin de León and others on the vile history of the monkey stereotype of Blacks.”
He added that he personally sent Martinez and the Council members his past article on the history of the stereotype and how it has been used to consistently demean Black people for decades by White people.
“Now the twist is, a respected top Los Angeles Hispanic political leader repeats that stereotype,” he said in the statement.
The Los Angeles Branch of the NAACP called for the immediate resignation of Martinez, Cedillo, de León, and Herrera.
“We will not sit idly by and allow our elected representatives to engage in these kinds of disgusting and racist behaviors,” said Latricia Mitchell, president of the Los Angeles Branch of the NAACP.
Both the NAACP State Conference and the LA Branch are asking for the City of Los Angeles to investigate how far the racial animus has impacted hiring and other decisions of the City Council.
Managing Editor Merdies Hayes contributed to this story.
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