The online leak over the weekend of a year-old conversation in which City Council President Nury Martinez slurs the young Black child of a colleague and spews other racially charged and ugly language swiftly led to her political downfall on Monday, as she announced her immediate resignation as president—but not from the Council—and apologized to her colleagues and their families.
“I take responsibility for what I said and there are no excuses for those comments,” Martinez, who became president of Los Angeles City Council in 2020, said in a statement. “I’m so sorry…effective immediately I am resigning as President of the Los Angeles City Council.”
Statement from Nury Martinez on her immediate resignation: pic.twitter.com/h3xWhvTrQH
— Kevin Dolak (@kdolak) October 10, 2022
The October 2021 conversation between Martinez, Councilman Kevin de León, Councilman Gil Cedillo, and L.A. County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera was focused on the politically sensitive process of redrawing council district boundaries. After the recorded audio leaked on Reddit and was reported by the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, calls for apologies and resignations came quickly and protesters descended on Martinez’s home in Sun Valley, demanding that she be held accountable.
As of Monday, it was not clear who was responsible for the recording or leaking of the audio online.
With Martinez stepping down, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, the council president pro tempore, was elevated to interim council president, according to his office. O’Farrell was among a number of officials saying Martinez, de León, and Cedillo should all resign their council seats.
“I don’t see how that presence continuing in city leadership is going to allow the city to move forward,” O’Farrell said Monday. “I just think that that presence will continue to be an obstacle if it is still there in the halls of power at City Hall. Angelenos deserve better.'”
A group of elected officials including Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Assembly members Isaac Bryan and Tina McKinnor also held a news conference Monday calling on Martinez, de León, and Cedillo to immediately resign their council seats. Councilwoman Nithya Raman also called on the trio to resign their seats.
Among other comments in the leaked audio, Martinez belittled Councilmember Mike Bonin, who is white and has a Black son, and criticized the child for his behavior at a Martin Luther King Day parade, saying Bonin’s son was misbehaving on a float, which might have tipped over if she and the other women on the float didn’t step in to “parent this 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.”‘
Martinez also called the child “ese changuito,” Spanish for “that little monkey.”
De León also criticized Bonin. “Mike Bonin won’t f—ing ever say peep about Latinos. He’ll never say a f—ing word about us,” he said.
De León also compared Bonin’s handling of his son at the MLK Parade to “when Nury brings her little yard bag or the Louis Vuitton bag.”
“Su negrito, like on the side,” Martinez added, using a Spanish term for a Black person that’s considered demeaning by many.
At another point in the leaked conversation, Martinez recalls a conversation with businessman Danny Bakewell about possibly transferring Los Angeles International Airport out of Bonin’s Council District and into that of Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson.
The Council president says she told Bakewell to “go get the airport from his little brother — that little bitch Bonin.”
On the subject of Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas’ suspension amid an indictment on federal corruption charges, Martinez said Controller Ron Galperin would decide whether Ridley-Thomas still gets paid.
“You need to go talk to that white guy,” she says. “It’s not us. It’s the white members on this Council that will motherf— you in a heartbeat.”
Martinez also took aim at Los Angeles County District George Gascón in profane terms, after the group appeared to discuss whether Gascón would endorse Cedillo in his re-election campaign against Hernandez.
“F— that guy. (inaudible) … He’s with the Blacks,” she said of Gascón.
A spokesperson for Gascón did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Martinez, de León, Herrera and Cedillo apologized separately on Sunday for their roles in the racially charged conversation.
“In a moment of intense frustration and anger, I let the situation get the best of me and I hold myself accountable for these comments. For that I am sorry,” Martinez said in a statement provided to CNS.
“The context of this conversation was concern over the redistricting process and concern about the potential negative impact it might have on communities of color. My work speaks for itself. I’ve worked hard to lead this city through its most difficult time.”
De León said: “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,” he said.
“On that day, I fell short of the expectations we set for our leaders — and I will hold myself to a higher standard.”
Herrera’s statement said: “The calls for accountability are loud, clear and deserved. I recognize that the community and our affiliates deserved an apology earlier and I am sorry this has not been the case. I had to face my family and granddaughters 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.
“And now, I apologize to all of you, Mike Bonin and his family, the affiliates and community members, specifically those in the Black and Oaxacan community. There is no justification and no excuse for the vile remarks made in that room. Period. And I didn’t step up to stop them and I will have to bear the burden of that cross moving forward,” Herrera said. “I will do better and I hope that all of you can find it in your hearts to forgive me.”
Cedillo’s communications director Conrado Terrazas Cross issued the following statement Sunday evening on behalf of the councilman.
“I want to start by apologizing. While I did not engage in the conversation in question, I was present at times during this meeting last year. It is my instinct to hold others accountable when they use derogatory or racially divisive language. Clearly, I should have intervened. I failed in holding others and myself to the highest standard. The hurtful and harmful remarks made about my colleague’s son were simply unacceptable. We choose public life, but our families should always be off limits and never part of the political discourse.”
Bonin and his partner, Sean Arian, tweeted a lengthy statement from the family Sunday calling for the council to remove Martinez as president and for her and de León to resign their seats entirely.
“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. It’s vile, abhorrent, and utterly disgraceful. The City Council needs to remove her as Council President immediately, and she needs to resign from office. Any parent reading her comments will know she is unfit for public office.
“We love our son, a beautiful, joyful child, and our family is hurting today,” the statement continued. “No child should ever be subjected to such racist, mean and dehumanizing comments, especially from a public official. It is painful to know he will someday read these comments. We are equally angry and disgusted by the ugly racist comments about our son from Kevin de León and Ron Herrera, who should also resign their posts, and by the tacit acceptance of those remarks from Gil Cedillo. It hurts that one of our son’s earliest encounters with overt racism comes from some of the most powerful public officials in Los Angeles.
“As parents of a Black child, we condemn the entirety of the recorded conversation, which displayed a repeated and vulgar anti-Black sentiment, and a coordinated effort to weaken Black political representation in Los Angeles. The conversation revealed several layers of contempt for the people of Los Angeles, and a cynical, ugly desire to divide the city rather than serve it.
“There’s more I will say later, but right now because I’m still digesting it. I’m disgusted and angry and heartsick. It’s fair game to attack me, but my son? You have to be pretty petty and insecure and venomous to attack a child. He wasn’t even 3 years old. Other than that, I’m speechless.”
About 50 protesters gathered at Martinez’s home in Sun Valley on Sunday, carrying signs and chanting, and said they will continue to protest at her home, church and office until she resigns.
Outside the home of LA City Council President Nury Martinez, protesters are asking for her resignation and playing the leaked recordings on a loudspeaker. pic.twitter.com/PJNgXOpfQG
— Jon peltz (@JonnyPeltz) October 10, 2022
Beginning Sunday afternoon, official statements began pouring in from city leaders, criticizing Martinez and demanding accountability.
Incoming Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez, who defeated Cedillo in June, was among those calling for Martinez to step down.
“Council President Nury Martinez needs to resign, councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo should be removed from committees,” Hernandez tweeted.
“This is the reason why Angelenos voted out (Councilman) Gil Cedillo,” she wrote. “We cannot have people in leadership who hold racist views, and employ them to negatively impact the lives of Angelenos.”
Councilman Mitch O’Farrell was also discussed in the recorded conversation and called a “diva” by Martinez.
In his statement, O’Farrell called for Martinez to step down as council president and said the comments were “tragic and unconscionable.”
“Words that dehumanize are soul-destroying even when they are uttered from the mouths of friends, loved ones or colleagues,’ O’Farrell said.
Councilmember Bob Blumenfield offered this statement:
“As leaders of Los Angeles, we have a duty to represent all of the people of this great city. That means we must govern in such a way that uplifts the highest ideals of the city, state and nation. Government practices that are motivated by discrimination and hate are not only intolerable and disgusting but go against bringing this city together.
“The comments heard on this recording are truly disturbing. While the people who were in this meeting have at their best been proponents of an inclusive, prosperous Los Angeles for all, what I heard shocked me. This language adds to the divisive political environment driven by extremes and otherness rather than the common good.
“I reached out to Councilmember Bonin to express my heartfelt support of his family. Using a racist depiction to describe an African-American toddler is particularly pernicious given our country’s history of dehumanizing African-Americans as well as other people of color. Children should be off-limits, period.
“Difficult conversations and actionable steps must be had before we can redouble our efforts to bring forth a more inclusive city that we can all be proud of to call home. Being a leader demands better behavior, whether in public or behind closed doors, and Angelenos deserve elected representatives who respect them. We don’t have to always agree but we should be able to count on some level of mutual respect.”
Councilwoman Nithya Raman, who according to the Times was also referenced in the leaked audio, released a statement to CNN Sunday also calling for resignations.
“Racist, homophobic, and deeply cruel statements like these are disqualifying for elected office in LA. The people who made them should resign. If they don’t, I’ll vote to remove them from Council leadership at the first opportunity,” Raman said.
Councilmembers Curren Price, Heather Hutt and Marqueece Harris-Dawson issued a joint statement calling this a `very dark day in L.A. politics for African-Americans, LGBTQ community, indigenous people and Angelenos who have put their faith and trust in their local government.
“This is a city council that has said time and again that Black Lives Matter, that love is love, that our families come first and we are all equal.
“Today that facade came crashing down. Our hearts are heavy in grief. This 2022 and we will not turn a blind eye to the blatant prejudice, discrimination and racism that has been put on full display for the whole world to see,” wrote the councilmembers.
Mayor Eric Garcetti also weighed in with a statement.
“The Los Angeles I love is a welcoming and nurturing place. As mayor, as a father and as an Angeleno, I am saddened by what I read. There is no place in our city family for attacks on colleagues and their loved ones, and there is no place for racism anywhere in L.A. Everyone in our city deserves to feel safe and treated with equal respect. These words fall short of those values,” Garcetti said.
Developer Rick Caruso, who is running for mayor of Los Angeles, tweeted a statement in support of Bonin.
“I’ve disagreed with Mike on much regarding public policy, but as a father I stand with him and his family and vehemently denounce this hate speech against his son,” Caruso wrote.
“This entire situation shows that City Hall is fundamentally broken and dysfunctional. In a closed-door meeting, leaders at the highest levels of city government used racial slurs and hate speech while discussing how to carve up the city to retain their own power,” he continued. “This is a clear example of hypocrisy, racism and crude power politics.
“Everyone involved in this should be held accountable.”
Caruso also said that “Most of the people involved in this ugly episode have endorsed Karen Bass,” his opponent in next month’s mayoral election, and called for the Democratic congresswoman to demand accountability from them and renounce their endorsements.
Rep. Bass, a candidate for mayor, later issued a statement calling the content on the tapes “appalling, anti-Black racism.”
“I have devoted my life to bringing people together to move us forward. For more than 30 years, I have built alliances between Los Angeles’ Black and Latino communities to increase our neighborhoods; health, safety, and prosperity,” Bass said.
“I firmly believe that we can overcome our shared challenges by uniting around our shared values, and in a diverse and dynamic city like Los Angeles, that’s our only path forward,” she said, adding that she had spent the day speaking with Black and Latino leaders about “how to ensure this doesn’t divide our city.”
“All those in the room must be held accountable,” she said.
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore weighed in with a statement that said: “Today’s revelation of the remarks by our members of our council leaders hurts me to my core.”
“This is not the Los Angeles I know or reflective of the beliefs of the women and men of LAPD. Such remarks are unacceptable in any setting. A dark day for our City of Angels,” Moore said.
And the Los Angeles Police Protective League board members voiced their opinion, stating, “We are disgusted and appalled at the racist, demeaning and violent words used by the City Council president and another member of the City Council targeting Mike Bonin, his family and others.”
Meanwhile, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, is demanding that the City Council and Garcetti 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.
Najee Ali, the founder of Project Islamic Hope, said Martinez should step down as council president, although he stopped short of calling for her resignation from the Council.
“She was voted in along with de León, by the district residents. We’re not speaking for their Council constituents. But she is the Council president, and we can’t have that type of racist language being espoused by the Council president.”
The civil rights activist said what made it even worse was that he’s counted Martinez and de León as “friends and allies” over the years.
“The apology was needed, but it’s not nearly enough for the injury that was inflicted upon the entire city,” Ali said. “And what made it that much more damaging is that we considered them progressives. But it sounded like they were talking at a Trump rally.”
Ali was planning a news conference on Monday backed by other community leaders.
“Everyone is outraged throughout the city,” he said.
City News Service contributed to this report