Leaked Recording Reveals Racist Views of LA City Council Members

Gigi Appelbaum-Schwartz, Staff Writer

Controversy struck the Los Angeles City Council this October as an audio recording that contained racist comments surfaced. The recording stemmed from an October 2021 meeting that included Los Angeles City Council members Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo, Kevin de León and Ron Herrera in October of 2021. 

Martinez, who later resigned as Council president, made most of the offensive remarks, which were directed at the son of colleague Mike Bonin, Black Council members and the Indigenous Oaxacan residents of Los Angeles. 

The audio recording, which was anonymously posted to Reddit a year after the initial incident, captured Martinez saying that Bonin’s son, who is Black, “parece changuito,” meaning that he “looks like a little monkey.” She went on to insinuate that Bonin handles his son as an “accessory” and complained that “they’re raising him like a little white kid.”

“I was like, this kid needs a beatdown. Let me take him around the corner, and then I’ll bring him back,” she said in the recording.

Martinez also verbally disparaged the Los Angeles Council District Attorney George Gascón when she said, “f*ck that guy — he’s with the Blacks.” 

In addition to her racist comments regarding the African-American community, Martinez referred to Oaxacan immigrants living in Koreatown as “little short dark people,” implementing stereotypes often used against indigenous Oaxacans in Mexico and America. 

“I was like, I don’t know where these people are from. I don’t know what village they came [from] or how they got here,” she joked, adding “tan feos (they’re so ugly).”

Following the backlash that she has faced since her racist comments were exposed, Martinez has stepped down from her role as Council President, and the Council is planning a special election on April 4, 2023 to fill her now-empty seat. Herrera also stepped down as the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President in the wake of this incident.

Cedillo and de León, despite numerous calls to resign from officials throughout the country, have not stepped down from their respective positions. 

President Joe Biden publicly condemned the Council members’ racist comments and called for their resignations. 

In a press conference on Oct. 11, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said: “The President is glad to see that one of the participants in that conversation has resigned, but…he believes that they all should resign. The language that was used and tolerated during that conversation is unacceptable.”

“I definitely think [that] this past November in the voting booth, people had to make a conscious choice about not only the policies that they were voting on but also the morality behind it and the characters of who they were electing,” said Pali senior Molly Cohen, a recent intern for multiple City Council candidates. 

She added that the other candidates were aware of this issue and made attempts to reassure the public of their integrity.

“A lot of the candidates on the ballot tried to put forward statements that clearly distanced themselves from these Council members and that took a stance that [they will] work toward antiracist policies,” she explained.

Cohen said she thinks that this controversy held both positive and negative effects on the overall voter turnout in the November election.

“I think that allegations like this, on one hand, serve as a fire for voters to get out and make a clear choice to get these people out of office who are clearly unfit and have held their offices irresponsibly, but I also think it definitely disconnects people from the City Council,” she said. “People don’t really want to get involved because this is how [the City Council] is being represented.”

Pali’s AP Government teacher John Rauschuber shared his initial reaction to the controversy.

“Historically, local politics is very nasty, and it’s always been very nasty, so it’s disappointing, but not surprising,” he said. 

Rauschuber said that he views the issue from more of a philosophical, big-picture perspective. He said that he thinks it brings up some fascinating questions that can easily be applied on a national scale.

“It raises the issue of, what are you attempting to accomplish?” he said. “What are your objectives as a City Council member? And, if someone that’s trying to accomplish really good things for their community says really bad things—disturbing things—should they be taken out of office? Is an apology enough?”

“On a philosophical level, it becomes means versus ends…what’s more important – the things that you say, or trying to accomplish your goals or objectives?” he asked. “I think that’s an interesting question to pose, looking at the big picture.”

Many Los Angeles citizens seem to believe that the aforementioned “means” are equally as important as the ends that they bring about. To that end, following the release of the audio recording, hundreds of protestors gathered outside of a City Council meeting and the home of Martinez, demanding that all of the people involved in the recording resign immediately.

Cohen said that she agrees with what these protesters are fighting for and that she thinks the remaining Council members involved in the recording should step down.

“Anyone that has associations to that type of racism needs to resign and needs to take a step back from the chamber, because it’s not a place for them anymore,” she said.