Ask Mike Bonin when relations among his L.A. City Council colleagues turned toxic and he’ll point to one day in the spring of 2020, during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic. The issue at hand was a motion to impose a citywide moratorium on evictions—a topic about which Bonin expressed extreme passion—and one which the Council was scheduled to vote on the following day.
Bonin was on the phone with a reporter from the L.A. Times when he learned that City Council President Nury Martinez had canceled the vote because of Covid concerns. This prompted Bonin, the most progressive member of the 15-member council, to publicly chastise Martinez, who told the reporter that he’d show up to the vote in a “hazmat suit,” as halting evictions in L.A. was just that important. The comment was not well-received among his colleagues.
“Then we had a big fight over the extent to how much we should push the envelope on eviction moratoriums and I brought it to council twice. I challenged the city attorney and I was using legal opinions from public council. I fought as hard on this as anything and it was a divisive vote,” Bonin told LAMag in a recent interview.
“That was the moment from which [far-left online advocacy group] The People’s City Council was formed. And I think some of my colleagues think I pull the strings of the People’s City Council—which is absurd because they slam me all the time. But Nury, in particular, saw me as a catalyst for that and that was a big souring moment. It was a moment when the Council started being more divisive on a lot of issues.”
Bonin says he sensed that after those events, his stature in the eyes of Martinez never recovered. By the end of 2020, he had been stripped of all of his committee assignments, which he viewed as punishment.
Over the weekend, a full four months after those comments were made, the animus directed at Bonin and the reasons behind it exploded into public view following the release on Sunday of recordings of racist remarks made by Martinez about Bonin and others. Those comments from an October 2021 meeting during a conversation between two other Latino City Council members and the L.A. Labor Federation president have roiled the city’s political class—just weeks before L.A. voters head to the polls.
The blast zone caused by those leaked tapes continues to spread and is grabbing national headlines. On Monday, after issuing a written apology, Martinez resigned as City Council president, and at a raucous Tuesday meeting, announced that she was taking a leave of absence from her duties on the Council. To her critics, however, anything short of a full resignation from the Council will be insufficient.
The most shocking comments made by Martinez during a private conversation with fellow Councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo and L.A. County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera were directed toward Bonin’s young son, who is Black.
Over the past 36 hours, a growing chorus of politicians including Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA), L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, and the two candidates on the ballot for mayor, Rick Caruso and Karen Bass, have called on Martinez to resign, along with Council members de Leon and Cedillo. Martinez was heard referring to Bonin’s Black son with a racist slur in Spanish. She also said that the young child “needs a beatdown.”
In the interview, Bonin said that the tone and dynamics of the Council changed after Herb Wesson stepped down in 2020 after serving as Council president for eight years. “When Herb was president, collegiality was the virtue. Herb didn’t like to put anything on the agenda if he thought we’d be arguing about it and a lot of us bristled at that because a lot of us thought we benefited from that. When Nury came in, that was definitely not her style.” It also didn’t help that Council meetings went completely remote and were held via Zoom which, he says, made every little tension or perceived slight that much worse.
Bonin had backed Council member Marqueece Harris-Dawson as Wesson’s replacement, which he says put him at odds with Martinez right out of the gates. In January, Bonin surprised many when he announced that he would not be seeking reelection, saying at the time, “I just have not felt happy and energized by the job in the last couple of years and that was a heavy weight that made the depression a lot heavier and a lot tougher.”
In that interview this summer with LAMag, he echoed those sentiments in reference to his family: “It takes a toll on you as a husband or a dad, because they didn’t sign up for this.”
Little did he know how prescient those comments would become several months later.