Saturday, May 18, 2024

Protests Continue As Martinez Quits LA City Council But Two Others Stay

The former Democrat president of the Los Angeles City Council, who gave up her leadership role a day after an audio recording surfaced of her making highly racist and derogatory comments about other city leaders, constituencies and even a two-year-old boy, has stepped away from the council altogether. However, two other councilmembers implicated by the recording have so far not resigned, despite a growing number of calls from the public and other city, state and national officials –including President Joe Biden — to leave.

Meanwhile, California’s attorney general has launched an investigation into last year’s redistricting process during which the charged comments were made by Nury Martinez, widely celebrated two years ago when she was picked by her peers as the first Latina council president in the second-largest city in the nation.

The conversation in question was between Martinez, fellow Democrat Latino Councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo and Ron Herrera, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, who also gave up his post after the recording came to light. In the recording, the four were heard discussing ways to change political boundaries to benefit Latino representatives. It’s reported none of the men challenged Martinez’s racist rants and, in fact, egged her on with comments of their own.

Martinez initially only resigned as council president and then immediately announced she was taking a leave of absence from the panel.

When members met on Tuesday for the first time after the audio was anonymously posted online, crowds of outraged residents gathered outside City Hall, aside from packing the meeting chamber. “No resignation, no meeting!” protesters chanted, waving signs and pounding on the back of the wooden benches in the hall.

When the council tried convene again on Wednesday, Mitch O’Farrell, the councilmember acting as president Martinez’s place, tried to restore order by pointing out none of those under fire were present. But the angry protests continued and after about an hour the meeting was adjourned without any official actions or discussion.

On the leaked recording of the October 2021 conversation, Ms. Martinez made racist remarks about the Black toddler of a White council colleague, referring to him in Spanish as a “little monkey.” She also questioned the trustworthiness of White liberals and belittled members of the  Indigenous Oaxacan Mexican population.

In an emotional statement on Wednesday, Ms. Martinez addressed her constituents, staff and fellow council members.

“My only goal as Council president has been to champion a families-first agenda that we can all be proud of,” she said. “While I leave with a heavy heart, know that I wish you all the best and I have faith in your strength to unite this city.”

Martinez specifically addressed all the “Latina girls across this city — I hope I’ve inspired you to dream beyond that which you can see.”
In the secretly-recorded meeting, the three council members and Herrera considered strategies for ensuring council districts would be redrawn so that Latino leaders would have key blocs of voters within their districts, along with “assets” like airports that enhance an officeholder’s potential fund-raising  and political influence.

O’Farrell has announced his intention to hold a council vote to choose a new president Oct. 18.

California’s state government uses an independent commission to determine its political boundaries, but the Los Angeles City Council can decide its own district lines.

Rob Bonta, the state attorney general, also a Democrat, said in an interview his office will examine the recorded meeting for potential violations of the federal Voting Rights Act, as well as of the state’s open meetings law and a 2019 act that established transparency guidelines for local redistricting.