The president of the Los Angeles city council has stepped down after a series of bombshell audio clips captured her calling a colleague’s Black son “a little monkey”, among other racist and disparaging remarks.
Nury Martinez apologized for the October 2021 remarks during a meeting over redistricting with fellow council members Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo and labor leader Ron Herrera, and stepped down as city council president on Monday.
“I take responsibility for what I said and there are no excuses for those comments. I’m so sorry,” she said on Monday.
“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,” she added. “Therefore, effective immediately I am resigning as president of the Los Angeles city council.”
She did not say she would resign her council seat.
The leak of the audio had thrown LA city politics in turmoil on Sunday, providing a rare look inside the political process in America’s second largest city ahead of November’s mayoral election. In the leaked audio, the Latino leaders can be heard denigrating various groups of constituents as they try to determine how to use the redistricting process to secure more political power for Latinos and keep political rivals from making perceived gains. All the politicians involved are Democrats.
It wasn’t immediately clear who made the recording. The audio was leaked on Reddit by a user who has since been suspended, the LA Times reported. The series of clips has been published by Knock LA, a non-profit community news platform.
On the recording, Martinez referred to fellow council member Mike Bonin, who is white and represents the city’s 11th district, as a “little bitch”.
She can be heard talking about an incident in which Bonin’s two-year-old Black son was bouncing off what was apparently a parade float, and said he was difficult to control.
“There is nothing you can do to control him,” she said, going on to say in Spanish “parece changuito” – which in English means “he looks like a little monkey”.
“It’s like black and brown on this float,” she also said.
She added that she believed the boy “needs a beatdown”.
“Let me take him around the corner and I’ll bring him back,” she said, breaking into laughter after a few seconds.
De León, a powerful player in California politics who unsuccessfully ran for LA mayor and the Senate and represents parts of East Los Angeles, including the Boyle Heights neighborhood, said Bonin’s handling of the child was similar to “when Nury brings her little yard bag or the Louis Vuitton bag”.
Of the LA district attorney, George Gascón, Martinez said: “Fuck that guy – he’s with the Blacks.”
In another recording, council members are heard talking about the Koreatown neighborhood, which is now predominantly Latino. “I see a lot of little short dark people,” Martinez said, apparently referring to Indigenous Oaxacan immigrants.
Someone else in the room is heard referring to them as “little Oaxacan Korean” and “little ones”.
Martinez breaks into laughter, adding: “I don’t know what village they came from, how they got here.”
She also said she feared a suspension of council member Mark Ridley-Thomas, who had been in the public eye for charges of bribery and conspiracy, would prompt Black constituents to “come after us”.
De León and Herrera can also be heard speaking dismissively of Black voters.
“The 25 Blacks are shouting,” Cedillo says, at which Martinez laughs again.
“But they shout like they’re 250,” adds De León.
After the release of the tape on Sunday, politicians and civil rights groups called on the council members to resign.
Bonin called Martinez’s remarks “vile, abhorrent, and utterly disgraceful”.
“We love our son, a beautiful, joyous child, and our family is hurting today. No child should ever be subjected to such racist, mean and dehumanizing comments, especially from a public official,” Bonin’s family said in a statement.
“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.”
City council members Nithya Raman, Paul Koretz and Joe Buscaino also called for Martinez’s resignation.
On Sunday evening, a crowd of protesters gathered near Martinez’s home. The Independent reporter Jon Peltz shared a video of dozens of people outside the building.
“Angry in part because I work with Black kids in LA,” Peltz said, adding he was particularly concerned that Martinez had previously tried to run for a spot on the local unified school district governing board. “The freedom, the ease with which they disparage and demean and talk about a Black child is disgusting.”
The California chapter of the NAACP called for the resignations of all those involved: Martinez, Cedillo, de León and Herrera.
“This kind of overt racism has no place in political discourse,” said the chapter’s president, Rick L Callender. “We clearly know where your heart and mind are, and both of them are corroded with the rust of racism and hate.”
The leaked audio of Martinez and her colleagues had statewide implications, with US senator Alex Padilla of California calling the recording “racist” and “dehumanizing”.
“At a time when our nation is grappling with a rise in hate speech and hate crimes, these racist comments have deepened the pain that our communities have endured. Los Angeles deserves better,” Padilla said in a statement.
Governor Gavin Newsom said “racist language can do real harm” and he was encouraged to see individuals “take responsibility for their actions”. Also demanding the council members’ resignations were labor leaders, Indigenous groups, the state Democratic party, the US congressman Adam Schiff and the Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti.
“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.
Martinez apologized for her comments in a statement, arguing they came in a moment of “intense frustration and anger”.
“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,” she added. “My work speaks for itself. I’ve worked hard to lead this city through its most difficult time.”
Herrera, Cedillo and De León have apologized for the comments and their role in the conversation.
“I regret appearing to condone and even contribute to certain insensitive comments made about a colleague and his family in private,” De León said. “I’ve reached out to that colleague personally.”
“While I did not engage in the conversation in question, I was present at times during this meeting last year,” said Cedillo. “It is my instinct to hold others accountable when they use derogatory or racially divisive language. Clearly, I should have intervened.”
The revelations come at a tense time in Los Angeles politics. In November, voters are set to elect a new mayor, with polls showing a tightening race between US Representative Karen Bass and billionaire developer Rick Caruso. Several city council members are stepping down as well.
Latinos make up about half the Los Angeles population of about 4 million. Martinez was elected to the council in 2013 and became its first Latina president in 2020. As of 2018, her district had a primarily Latino population that outnumbered Black voters.
The Guardian has contacted Martinez’s office for further clarification and comments.