Updated Oct 11, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Embattled L.A. City Council member takes leave of absence after leaked audio of racist language

Los Angeles City Council's Nury Martinez speaks during an anouncement at Los Angeles Trade Technical College on Oct. 27, 2021 in Los Angeles. Photo: Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Embattled L.A. City Council member Nury Martinez on Tuesday said she would take a leave of absence after resigning from her position as president in the fallout of leaked audio from a meeting where she and two other councilmembers were recorded making racist remarks, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The latest: Protesters interrupted the City Council's Tuesday meeting with chants of "Resign now!" The Times also reported Tuesday that Martinez used derogatory language and stereotypes to refer to Jews and Armenians in the same leaked recording.

Details: Martinez referred to a white councilmember's child, who is Black, as "ese changuito," or that little monkey, during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade, according to the leaked audio of a nearly year-old conversation.

  • Martinez also reportedly said that the councilor, Mike Bonin, handled his son as though he were an "accessory." She also referred to Bonin as a "little b---h."
  • Herrera suggested that Bonin puts his young son out in public like a lawn jockey, the racist statues used to invoke the antebellum South.
  • After former Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera said, "I’m sure Katz and his crew have an agenda," referring to the Jewish former state Assemblymember Richard Katz, Martinez is heard saying the "judíos" — which means Jews in Spanish — "cut their deal with South L.A.," per the Times.
  • "They are gonna screw everybody else," she continues in the recording.
  • Martinez also said at one point that she didn’t know whether Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, who is Armenian American, could get elected in a "pretty white" district.
  • "If a white, a reputable white businesswoman was in that district ... [it] is still pretty white. But that’s on them," she said. "I’m not — I’m not cutting that deal with anybody because I don’t know. I don’t know that he can win."
  • Martinez also describes Nazarian as “the guy with the one eyebrow” later on.

Martinez resigned from leadership on Monday, but her statement did not say whether she would step down from the council altogether.

  • Herrera also submitted his resignation on Monday night over his involvement in the racist conversation, per Times.
  • He quit at a meeting of the labor organization's executive board, California Labor Federation head Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher told the New York Times.

Driving the news: In a statement announcing her resignation, Martinez asked for forgiveness "from my colleagues and from the residents of this city that I love so much."

  • "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. Therefore, effective immediately I am resigning as President of the Los Angeles City Council," the statement continued.
  • The California and Los Angeles branches of the NAACP demanded late Sunday that Martinez and the others resign.
  • The NAACP chapters also called on Councilmembers Gil Cedillo, Kevin de León and Herrera to step down for participating in a discussion with anti-Black and anti-Indigenous comments.

Martinez also is heard in audio making fun of Indigenous people from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, who have migrated to Los Angeles.

  • She referred to them as "short little dark people" and called them "ugly."

What they're saying: "This kind of overt racism has no place in political discourse," Rick L. Callender, president of the CA/HI State Conference of the NAACP, said in a statement.

  • "We clearly know where your heart and mind are, and both of them are corroded with the rust of racism and hate."

Meanwhile, Los Angles Oaxacan chef, restaurateur, and Gold Award recipient Bricia Lopez joined in calls for resignations on social media.

  • The words out of (Nury Martinez's) mouth cut deep in the Oaxaca community of LA. I've dealt w my fair share of racism. But it's ten times worse when it comes from a brown and woman. Girl, you gotta resign," she tweeted.

Zoom out: The secretly recorded conversation revolved around the councilors' frustration that the growing Latino population wasn't resulting in more Latino council districts and concerns Black leaders were keeping some Black-majority ones.

  • Martinez, De León, and Herrera have issued statements of apology for their roles in the conversation. Cedillo told the Los Angeles Times he had no memory of the discussion.

Of note: Protesters demonstrated outside of Martinez's home and played portions of the audio recording on Sunday. Los Angeles police were later seen in a video shared on social media attempting to move the crowd away from her house.

  • Further protests were organized for Monday, with images shared to social media showing demonstrations outside the home of de León.

The big picture: The scandal that has rocked Los Angeles City Hall reverberates among many Latino communities in which anti-Black and anti-Indigenous attitudes prevail, Axios' Astrid Galván reports.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with new details throughout. The headline has also been updated.

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