LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles City Council member whose racist slurs in a leaked recording created an uproar resigned Wednesday hours after the state attorney general announced an investigation into possible criminal charges involving a meeting where she made the remarks.
Former Council President Nury Martinez, the first Latina to hold the seat, announced her decision in a press release following a groundswell of outrage and calls for the resignations of her and two other council members involved in the conversation recorded last year.
In the conversation, she made racist remarks about the Black son of a white councilman and other crude comments.
Her resignation statement did not mention those remarks, though in words directed at her daughter Martinez said: “I know I have fallen short recently of the expectations we have for our family. I vow to you that I will strive to be a better woman to make you proud.”
The announcement came after Attorney General Rob Bonta said he would investigate Los Angeles’ redistricting process that the three council members were discussing with a labor leader in which they schemed to protect Latino political strength in council districts.
AG: Civil or Criminal Charges Are Possible
Bonta, a Democrat like the three council members, said the investigation could lead to civil liability or criminal charges, depending on what is found.
“It’s clear an investigation is sorely needed to help restore confidence in the redistricting process for the people of LA,” he said.
Bonta spoke in Los Angeles while the council itself was trying to conduct business nearby despite the uproar triggered by the recording, which provided an unvarnished look into City Hall’s racial rivalries. Those involved in the closed-door meeting were all Latinos, while Bonta is the first Filipino American to hold the top law enforcement job in the nation’s most populous state.
Three council members — Martinez, Kevin de Leon, and Gil Cedillo — faced calls from President Joe Biden and others to resign after the recording surfaced online.
Martinez had stepped down as council president on Monday while still holding onto her council seat. At the time, she said she was ashamed of her racially offensive language in the recording.
The council convened Wednesday, possibly to censure the three members, with the minimum of 10 out of 15 members necessary for a quorum but was unable to do business because a crowd of protesters chanted slogans such as, “No resignation, shut it down.” The acting council president eventually announced that there was no longer a quorum and adjourned the meeting.
The council cannot expel the members — it can only suspend a member when criminal charges are pending. A censure does not result in suspension or removal from office.
Martinez said in the recorded conversation that white council member Mike Bonin handled his young Black son as if he were an “accessory” and said of his son “Parece changuito,” or “he’s like a monkey,” the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday. She also referred to Bonin as a “little bitch.”
At another point on the hourlong recording, Martinez called indigenous immigrants from the Mexican state of Oaxaca ugly and made crass remarks about Jews and Armenians.
The discussion — which also included a powerful Latino labor leader, who has since resigned — centered on protecting Latino political power during the redrawing of council district boundaries, known as redistricting. The once-a-decade process can pit one group against another to gain political advantage in elections.
Bonin was among those who had said the three council members should resign.
Long History of Racial Rivalries
Black and Latino constituents often build alliances in politics. But tensions and rivalries among groups separated by race, geography, partisanship, or religion have a long history in Los Angeles and, indeed, the country. The friction can cross into housing, education, and jobs — even prisons — as well as the spoils of political power.
Bonta has roundly condemned the members’ remarks without adding to the calls for them to resign. He said Wednesday that his investigation was “just starting and we don’t like to make conclusions first and get facts later.”
“It could lead to criminality if that’s where the facts and the law dictate. There’s certainly the potential for civil liability based on civil rights and voting rights laws here in the state of California,” he said, while also noting it could also lead to changes in policy at the state or local level.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has called for creating an independent commission to draw redistricting maps.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the recording was posted on the social media site Reddit by a now-suspended user. It is unclear who recorded the audio, who uploaded it to Reddit, and whether anyone else was present.