LOS ANGELES — The chorus of civic leaders calling for L.A. City Council members Nury Martinez, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo to step down from the City Council grew louder Monday, as U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, Mayor Eric Garcetti and both mayoral candidates called on the embattled politicians to resign.
“Bigotry, violence, and division too often live in unseen and unheard places, but have severe consequences on the lives of our fellow Angelenos when they are not confronted and left to infect our public and private lives,” Garcetti said in a statement that described resignations from all three elected officials as “the right response.”
The political implosion — unparalleled in recent L.A. history — was set off by a leaked audio recording reported Sunday by the Los Angeles Times.
The leaked conversation, which took place roughly a year ago, involved the three L.A. council members and a powerful labor leader. Martinez was heard making racist statements and the group disparaged other politicians.
Following outrage over the racist comments she made about a colleague’s then-toddler son, Martinez stepped down from her leadership position as president of the City Council on Monday morning.
The move instantly triggered behind-the-scenes jockeying at City Hall over who will replace her as leader, along with further questions about whether Martinez and the others retain their seats on the 15-member council.
Padilla — a longtime ally and former high school classmate of Martinez’s — called on all three council members to resign in a statement early Monday afternoon. Mayoral candidates Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., and Rick Caruso have also called on all three council members to resign, as have a number of union leaders.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., also weighed in Monday afternoon, saying that it was “in the city’s best interest that the council members involved resign and take full responsibility for their actions.”
Martinez reiterated her apologies in a Monday morning statement, saying she was “truly ashamed.”
“I ask for forgiveness from my colleagues and from the residents of this 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,” Martinez said.
The revelations have upended politics a month before a critical city election and brought the crucible of race relations back into the center of municipal debate.
Martinez’s remarks were made during an October 2021 meeting over the city’s redistricting process.
She said Council member Mike Bonin handled his young Black son as though he were an “accessory” and described the son as “Parece changuito,” or “He’s like a little monkey.” And she referred to Oaxacans in Koreatown as “little short dark people,” saying “Tan feos” — “They’re ugly.”
Speaking about L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón, Martinez said, “F--- that guy ... He’s with the Blacks.”
De León, Cedillo and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera all also apologized Sunday for their role in the conversation. At one point in the leaked audio, de León appeared to compare Bonin’s handling of his child to Martinez holding a Louis Vuitton handbag.
By mid-morning Monday, Council members Nithya Raman, Paul Koretz, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Bonin and Mitch O’Farrell had all called on Martinez to resign.
Harris-Dawson and O’Farrell, along with several other politicians in various levels of government, also called for de León and Cedillo to resign from the council.
Cedillo said Sunday that “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,” he said in a text to the Times. “I did not make a racist statement and I did not mock my colleagues.”
A San Fernando Valley native, Martinez made history when she was sworn in as the first Latina president of the City Council in 2019.
She led the council through the early months of the pandemic, focusing on helping renters and later, a vaccination requirement for city workers. She also worked to redirect money from the police department to other city purposes, including social services, after George Floyd’s murder.
She steps down as president at a key moment for City Hall. As many as five council members could depart by the end of the year, depending on the outcome of the Nov. 8 election.
Four council members are leaving office while a fifth, O’Farrell, is in a tough reelection fight.
Council member-elect Eunisses Hernandez, who defeated Cedillo in June, said she wants to see the council have “an intermediate caretaker” as president until the end of the year, when she and the other new council members will be seated.
Hernandez said Council member Paul Krekorian would make a good caretaker in the coming months. “In January, when the new council is on board, we should do a new vote. And I would be interested in seeing Marqueece’s leadership,” said Hernandez, referring to Council member Marqueece Harris-Dawson.
Krekorian said he is in fact interested in becoming council president, arguing that the city is about to go through huge political changes — the arrival of a new mayor, city attorney, city controller and at least four new council members. The council, he said, will need someone experienced to lead the council through its “latest crisis.”
“I want to make sure that the council is able to function as effectively as possible, and that it has experienced, stable leadership,” Krekorian said. “I’ve certainly demonstrated that over the course of a dozen years on the council.”
Protesters on the left and right sides of the political spectrum have targeted Martinez and other politicians in recent years. At some points, they gathered outside the officials’ homes, prompting Martinez to propose a law barring protest from within 300 feet of a target’s residence.
On Sunday night, a group gathered outside her home in Sun Valley to protest her racist comments, according to a video posted on Twitter.
The leaked audio of Martinez and her colleagues revealed explicit conversations about the council district maps that had recently been proposed by the city’s 21-member redistricting commission.
The once-a-decade redistricting process reshapes the city’s council districts and sets off competition among various groups over political power and representation.
Latino residents make up roughly half of L.A.'s population but represent fewer than a third of the council’s 15 districts, leading to long-standing complaints that the population isn’t being represented.
As Martinez and others discussed Latino representation in the council districts, they spoke in blunt terms.
At one point, Herrera mentioned a South L.A. council seat and said, “You just gotta combat CoCo with that seat. That seat has to be anti-CoCo.”
He was referring to Community Coalition, the nonprofit started by Bass and once headed by Harris-Dawson, who is Black.
Harris-Dawson, in an interview Sunday with the Times, criticized the group’s remarks as a “sort of a concerted effort to dilute the strength of Black voters.”
The leaders of eight SEIU California unions with Los Angeles-area members also issued a statement Monday morning calling on Martinez, de León and Cedillo to step down from their council seats and Herrera to step down from his post with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
The leaked audio was part of a “serious security and privacy breach” at labor federation offices involving “illegal” recordings of “many private and confidential conversations in private offices and conference rooms,” the federation told affiliates Sunday in an email, according to text provided to the Times.
(Times staff writer Matt Pearce contributed to this report.)