LA City Council’s Nury Martínez resigns, bowing to pressure over racist comments

California’s attorney general said his office will probe legal violations in connection with behind-the-scenes redistricting efforts captured in leaked audio recording

Nury Martinez in April. The former LA City Council president resigned from all posts on October 12.
Nury Martinez in April. The former LA City Council president resigned from all posts on October 12.Damian Dovarganes (AP)

It’s the end of the road for Los Angeles City Council leader Nury Martinez. On Wednesday, the once-powerful Latina politician announced her full resignation from the legislative body, two days after giving up its presidency over a scandal involving a leaked audio recording.

The move acknowledged growing political and community pressure for her to step down after the Los Angeles Times published a recording, first posted on the social network Reddit, in which she could be heard making racist and cruel remarks during a private conversation with three other Latino leaders about how to redraw the city’s district lines to benefit themselves and the Hispanic community.

“It is with a broken heart that I resign my seat for Council District 6, the community I grew up in and my home,” wrote Martínez in a resignation letter that also reached out to “all little Latina girls across this city – I hope I’ve inspired you to dream beyond that which you can see.”

Her decision was widely celebrated. California Governor Gavin Newsom called it “the right move” while Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti went further and urged the other two councilmembers involved in the recording, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, to step down as well. “Nury made the right decision, one that I realize is painful to her personally but unquestionably in the best interests of a city that I know she loves,” he wrote in a statement published on Wednesday. “Her two former colleagues must arrive at the same decision soon, because Angelenos deserve a government focused squarely on meeting challenges in their neighborhoods that are too serious to risk a paralyzed City Council.”

It was a sudden end to the political career of a woman who was until recently one of California’s leading Latinas. But support dried up overnight after the contents of the audio were made public over the weekend. At the October 2021 meeting with De León and Cedillo, as well as with Los Angeles County Federation of Labor president Ron Herrera, Martínez made racist remarks about the young Black son of a white councilmember, saying the child looked like “a changuito,” or little monkey. She also made disparaging remarks about Oaxacan immigrants in the city, calling them “tan feos” (so ugly).

The scandal quickly took on national proportions, and on Tuesday even US President Joe Biden – who arrived in LA on Wednesday to discuss his infrastructure plan – was quoted by his press secretary as believing that all four individuals involved should give up their positions. Herrera, the labor leader, did so on Monday. Cedillo and De León have apologized but stopped short of resigning.

There could be legal implications as well as political ones. The leaked conversation revolved around a once-a-decade process to redraw the city’s district lines, and the participants were keen to ensure that the new boundaries would shore up Latino representation and help their own reelection. On Wednesday, California’s Attorney General, Rob Bonta, announced that his office would investigate the redistricting process that took place last fall.

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