LOS ANGELES—Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who is facing a torrent of criticism and calls for her resignation over racially charged remarks she made in a recorded conversation last year, announced Oct. 11 she is taking a “leave of absence” from the council.
“This has been one of the most difficult times of my life and I recognize this is entirely of my own making,” Martinez said in a statement. “At this moment, I need to take a leave of absence and take some time to have an honest and heartfelt conversation with my family, my constituents, and community leaders. I am so sorry to the residents of Council District 6, my colleagues, and the city of Los Angeles.”
Her announcement came one hour before the City Council was scheduled to convene its first meeting since the weekend leak of the recorded conversation from October 2021, which has unleashed a firestorm of criticism toward Martinez and two other council members in the meeting—Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo. Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera, who also took part in the conversation, resigned from his post on Monday night, Oct. 10.
Martinez on Oct. 10 resigned as council president, but she has resisted calls to resign her seat altogether.
Calls from other council members, city and community groups, and area politicians piled up throughout the day Monday and into Tuesday morning demanding the three elected officials in the conversation resign their seats.
On Monday night, City Councilman Curren Price organized a protest and vigil on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall demanding the resignations of council members Nury Martinez, Kevin de León, and Gil Cedillo.
More activists gathered outside City Hall Tuesday morning, hours ahead of the council’s meeting—the first to be held since the recording was leaked. Those activists blasted Martinez’s announcement about a leave of absence, again insisting that she resign.
Martinez immediately came under fire following the release of the recorded conversation Oct. 9 in which she made racist comments aimed at Councilman Mike Bonin’s 2-year-old Black adopted son and at other ethnic groups while the group discussed the politically sensitive process of redrawing council district boundaries.
The recorded conversation was leaked, appearing on Reddit before being removed from the site. City News Service reviewed the conversation, but it was unclear who was responsible for the recording and its leak. The meeting apparently occurred at a Federation of Labor office, and the federation is investigating its source.
In an email sent to some of its union affiliates and first obtained by the Los Angeles Times, the federation said there was “a serious security and privacy breach” at its offices.
The federation noted that the “illegal recordings” were posted online, but the organization was “successful at getting the posts removed and the unidentified user suspended.” The email stated that the federation is investigating the source of the leak and will “make sure these crimes are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Herrera resigned Monday night as the Labor Federation president, a post he was re-elected to in March. Thom Davis, chairman of the federation’s executive board, said in a statement Tuesday: “Racism in any form has no place in the House of Labor.”
Davis called the comment in the recorded conversation “unconscionable,” “repulsive” and “vile.” He said the federation is also calling for the resignation of the three council members in the conversation.
Martinez issued a statement Monday announcing her decision to surrender the council presidency, and apologizing to Bonin, his husband Sean Arian, and their son.
But she, de León, and Cedillo have thus far resisted calls for their resignations.
With Martinez stepping down from her leadership role, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, the council president pro tempore, was elevated to interim council president, according to his office.
O’Farrell was among a number of officials Monday saying Martinez, de León, and Cedillo should all resign their council seats.
“I don’t see how that presence continuing in city leadership is going to allow the city to move forward,” O’Farrell said Monday. “… I just think that that presence will continue to be an obstacle if it is still there in the halls of power at City Hall.”
He added, “Angelenos deserve better.”
A group of elected officials including Councilman Marqueece Harris- Dawson and Assembly members Isaac Bryan and Tina McKinnor also held a news conference Monday morning calling on Martinez, de León and Cedillo to immediately resign their council seats.
Council members Bonin, Nithya Raman, and Heather Hutt also called on the trio to resign, as did Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer, Controller Ron Galperin, Sen. Alex Padilla (D-California) local Reps. Tony Cárdenas, Adam Schiff and Ted Lieu, and an array of community and political organizations, including the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and county Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis. Councilman Paul Koretz called on Martinez to resign.
Martinez, 49, has served on the council since 2013 and represents the 6th District in the San Fernando Valley. She was just the second Latina to serve on the council and was the only female member of the council when she won election. Six years later, she became the first Latina to become president of the City Council when she was elected in 2019, replacing long-time President Herb Wesson.
Prior to joining the council, Martinez served on the San Fernando City Council from 2003 to 2009 and on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board from 2009 to 2013.
De León, 55, has been on the council since 2020 and made an unsuccessful run for mayor this year. He previously served in the state Senate and Assembly. Cedillo, 68, has been in office since 2013 but lost his bid for reelection this year. His term will expire in December, and he will be replaced by Eunisses Hernandez.
Among other comments in the recorded conversation, Martinez belittled Bonin, who is white and has a Black son, and criticized the child for his behavior at a Martin Luther King Day parade, saying Bonin’s son was misbehaving on a float, which might have tipped over if she and the other women on the float didn’t step in to “parent this kid.”
“They’re raising him like a little white kid,” Martinez said. “I was like, `This kid needs a beatdown. Let me take him around the corner and then I’ll bring him back.”‘
Martinez also called the child “ese changuito,” Spanish for “that little monkey.”
De León also criticized Bonin. “Mike Bonin won’t [expletive] ever say peep about Latinos. He’ll never say a [expletive] word about us,” he said.
De León also compared Bonin’s handling of his son at the MLK Parade to “when Nury brings her little yard bag or the Louis Vuitton bag.”
“Su negrito, like on the side,” Martinez added, using a Spanish term for a Black person that’s considered demeaning by many.
At another point in the leaked conversation, Martinez recalls a conversation with businessman Danny Bakewell about possibly transferring Los Angeles International Airport out of Bonin’s Council District and into that of Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson.
Martinez said she told Bakewell to “go get the airport from his little brother—that little [expletive] Bonin.”
On the subject of Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas’s suspension amid an indictment on federal corruption charges, Martinez said Controller Ron Galperin would decide whether Ridley-Thomas still gets paid.
“You need to go talk to that white guy,” she says. “It’s not us. It’s the white members on this Council that will [expletive] you in a heartbeat.”
Martinez also took aim at Los Angeles County District George Gascón in profane terms, after the group appeared to discuss whether Gascón would endorse Cedillo in his re-election campaign against Hernandez.
“[expletive] that guy. (inaudible) … He’s with the Blacks,” she said of Gascón.
Gascón issued a statement late Sunday saying he was “saddened and disappointed” in the comments.
“I share the outrage of Council member Bonin as well as all members of the African-American community. Anti-Blackness has no place in Los Angeles,” he said.
Martinez, de León, Herrera, and Cedillo apologized separately on Sunday for their roles in the racially charged conversation.
“In a moment of intense frustration and anger, I let the situation get the best of me and I hold myself accountable for these comments. For that I am sorry,” Martinez said in a statement provided to CNS on Sunday.
“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. My work speaks for itself. I’ve worked hard to lead this city through its most difficult time.”
De León said: “There were comments made in the context of this meeting that are wholly inappropriate, and I regret appearing to condone and even contribute to certain insensitive comments made about a colleague and his family in private. I’ve reached out to that colleague personally,” he said.
“On that day, I fell short of the expectations we set for our leaders—and I will hold myself to a higher standard.”
Herrera’s statement said: “The calls for accountability are loud clear and deserved. I recognize that the community and our affiliates deserved an apology earlier and I am sorry this has not been the case. I had to face my family and granddaughters personally and apologize to them for my failure to stand up to racist and anti-Black remarks in that immediate moment. I failed them in the moment and for that I hold the deepest regret.
“And now, I apologize to all of you, Mike Bonin and his family, the affiliates and community members, specifically those in the Black and Oaxacan community. There is no justification and no excuse for the vile remarks made in that room. Period. And I didn’t step up to stop them and I will have to bear the burden of that cross moving forward,” Herrera said. “I will do better and I hope that all of you can find it in your hearts to forgive me.”
Cedillo issued a statement saying, “I want to start by apologizing. 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.”
Bonin and Arian tweeted a lengthy statement from the family Sunday calling for the council to remove Martinez as president and for her and de León to resign their seats entirely.
“We love our son, a beautiful, joyful child, and our family is hurting today,” the statement continued. “No child should ever be subjected to such racist, mean and dehumanizing comments, especially from a public official. It is painful to know he will someday read these comments.
“We are equally angry and disgusted by the ugly racist comments about our son from Kevin de León and Ron Herrera, who should also resign their posts, and by the tacit acceptance of those remarks from Gil Cedillo. 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.”
About 50 protesters gathered at Martinez’s home in Sun Valley on Sunday, carrying signs and chanting, and said they will continue to protest at her home, church and office until she resigns.
Beginning Sunday afternoon, official statements began pouring in from city leaders, criticizing Martinez and demanding accountability.
Hernandez, who defeated Cedillo in June, was among those calling for Martinez to step down.
“Council President Nury Martinez needs to resign, council members Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo should be removed from committees,” Hernandez tweeted.
“This is the reason why Angelenos voted out [Councilman] Gil Cedillo,” she wrote. “We cannot have people in leadership who hold racist views, and employ them to negatively impact the lives of Angelenos.”
Mayoral candidates Rick Caruso and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) both called Monday for the meeting participants to resign.
“I do believe that in their hearts they are better people than the vile comments we heard on that tape,” Caruso said in a statement. “But they also know they are role models and they have let our city down. Being a leader means taking full responsibility for your actions. In this important moment for our city, anything short of resignation completely fails that test.”
Bass said the city “must move in a new direction, and that is not possible unless the four individuals caught on that tape resign from their offices immediately.”
“To move forward as a city, we must move past the politics of divide and conquer,” she said in a statement. “There is no place for division and hate in Los Angeles. The challenges we face in our city affect us all—and we must unite around our shared values if we are to overcome them and achieve the common dreams we all have for our families.”