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Los Angeles City Council president resigns after audio leak of racist remarks

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Madison Hirneisen

(The Center Square) – Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez resigned from her leadership post Monday following leaked audio that sparked statewide outrage over racist comments she made about another council member’s son. It remains unclear, however, if she will resign from her council seat. 

“I take responsibility for what I said and there are no excuses for those comments. I’m so sorry,” Martinez said in a statement Monday. “I ask for forgiveness from my colleagues and from the residents of this city that I love so much.”

The leaked audio, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, featured a conversation between Martinez, Council members Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera. During much of the conversation, which took place in October 2021, the Latino leaders discussed concerns about the maps proposed by the city’s redistricting commission, the Times reported.

But at one point in the conversation, officials began discussing Council member Mike Bonin, who is white. In clips of leaked audio shared by the Times, Martinez called Bonin a “little b**ch” and said he "thinks he’s f**king Black.” Another council member then chimed in, pointing out that Bonin’s son is Black.

During the conversation, Martinez referred to Bonin’s son as an “accessory.” She also described him as “parece changuito,” or “like a monkey,” recounting a time when the child appeared on a float in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade. Martinez said the child was “hanging on the rails.”

“They’re raising him like a little white kid, which I was like, this kid needs a beat down,” Martinez said. “Let me take him around the corner and then I’ll bring him back.”

Council member De León also chimed in at one point during the conversation, appearing to compare Bonin’s handling of his son to Martinez carrying a Louis Vuitton bag, the LA Times reported.

The leaked audio shared by the Times also revealed that Martinez made racist comments about Oaxacans in Koreatown at another point in the conversation, saying "I see a lot of little short dark people," and adding "I don't know where these people are from, I don't know what village they came [from], how they got here." 

Bonin and his family issued a statement Sunday saying they were “appalled, angry and absolutely disgusted that Nury Martinez attacked our son with horrific racist slurs, and talked about her desire to physically harm him.”

“No child should ever be subjected to such racist, mean and dehumanizing comments, especially from a public official,” the statement continued.

Martinez issued an apology Sunday, but announced that she immediately resigned from her position as city council president on Monday. 

“I sincerely apologize to the people I hurt with my words: to my colleagues, their families, especially to Mike, Sean, and your son,” Martinez said in a statement. “As a mother, I know better and I am sorry.”

De León also issued an apology statement Sunday, calling the comments "wholly inappropriate" and saying he regrets "appearing to condone and even contribute to certain insensitive comments made about a colleague and his family in private," according to NBC Los Angeles.

There were mounting calls from Los Angeles organizations and officials for council members de León and Cedillo to resign as well. The leaders of SEIU California with Los Angeles area membership issued a joint statement Monday saying de León, Cedillo and Herrera should resign from their positions after they "failed the test of leadership." 

Adding to the chorus of voices calling for resignations, U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla said in a statement Monday that he was "appalled at the racist, dehumanizing remarks" and called on the three council members involved to resign and "take full responsibility." 

The leaked audio provoked outrage from officials across the state and led to several members of the Los Angeles City Council to call for Martinez’s resignation. Before Martinez announced her resignation as council president, Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez issued a statement on Monday condemning the remarks and saying she directed the council’s chief legislative analyst to “draft a motion calling for the removal of the Council President.”

“I will introduce that motion tomorrow, so that we can begin the work of healing and uniting our communities,” Rodriguez said.

The leaked audio came just a few weeks before the Nov. 8 election where the mayor and several city council seats are up for grabs. Los Angeles Mayoral candidates Rick Caruso and Karen Bass condemned the remarks made in the leaked audio, with Caruso saying he wanted to see not just Martinez resign, but De León and Cedillo as well.

Bass eventually called for the resignation of all four members involved in the conversation Monday afternoon.