Los Angeles shaken by leaked audio with racist remarks by City Council leader Nury Martínez

The legislative body’s president has stepped down from the post after a recording from October 2021 showed her and three other leading officials disparaging Black people and indigenous Mexicans

Nury Martinez, president of the Los Angeles City Council, at an event in April.
Nury Martinez, president of the Los Angeles City Council, at an event in April.Damian Dovarganes (AP)

Leading Latino politicians in Los Angeles have come under fire after they were heard making crude and racist comments in a leaked recording of a private conversation that took place in October of last year. Nury Martinez, president of the City Council and one of the most powerful Latinas in a city where Hispanics, Black people and white people live in perpetual racial tension, resigned on Monday morning over a scandal that comes just a few weeks before the November 8 midterm elections.

The remarks, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, were made as Martínez, fellow Democratic councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León, and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera were discussing a redistricting process in the city with the potential to affect their own spheres of influence.

Herrera, leader of one of the city’s most powerful labor groups, resigned on Monday night over the scandal, several media organizations reported, citing labor sources. Martínez remains a councilmember, as do Cedillo and De León, but pressure is mounting for them to give up their positions. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said all three councilmembers should step down, and even California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a statement. “Words matter, and racist language can do real harm. These comments have no place in our state, or in our politics, and we must all model better behavior to live the values that so many of us fight every day to protect,” he said.

At one point in the conversation, which was briefly uploaded to Reddit earlier this month, Martínez mocked the young Black child of white councilmember Mike Bonin, saying “parece changuito,” meaning “he looks like a monkey,” in an exchange about the way the child allegedly misbehaved on a float during a parade on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. She said the child was being brought up “like a little white kid” and needed some stronger parenting. “I was like, this kid needs a beatdown. Let me take him around the corner and then I’ll bring him back.”

Martinez, who was born to Mexican immigrants from Zacatecas, also called Bonin himself a “little bitch,” while De León suggested that Bonin uses his adopted child as a designer accessory, comparing it to when Martínez “wears a Goyard bag or a Louis Vuitton bag.”

The Council president also had disparaging words for Mexican immigrants from Oaxaca, many of whom live in the city’s Koreatown neighborhood, which is also affected by the redistricting process. “I see a lot of little short dark people,” said Martínez. “Tan feos (so ugly).”

Following the release of the taped recording, Bonin told the Los Angeles Times that he felt “angry and heartsick,” especially since the remarks were made by elected officials. The councilman, who said in January that he would not seek re-election, called on Martinez to quit the council altogether.

Councilmember Mike Bonin said he is angry and heartsick over the comments about his son.
Councilmember Mike Bonin said he is angry and heartsick over the comments about his son.Ashley Landis (AP)

“I ask for forgiveness from my colleagues and from the residents of this city that I love so much. It is not my apologies that matter most, but the actions I will take from today. I hope they will give me the opportunity to make amends for my mistakes,” said Martinez on Monday as she announced her decision to quit the Council presidency, a position she has held since January 2020, becoming the first Latina to do so in 171 years.

None of the politicians knew they were being recorded, and the candid conversation laid bare the power struggles between the racial groups that make up Los Angeles County, population 10.4 million. The city is 9% Black and nearly 50% Latino, yet Hispanic representation in the city council is limited to the districts led by Martinez, De Leon and Cedillo, less than a third among the 15 council members sitting on the City Council.

The conversation took place in the context of a once-a-decade process to redefine the city’s districts. Councilors were jockeying to ensure their own districts would include “assets” such as airports and factories, representing jobs and economic resources.

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