Posted on October 11, 2022

Los Angeles City Council President Steps Down After Racist Comments

Jill Cowan and Shawn Hubler, New York Times, October 9, 2022

The president of the Los Angeles City Council stepped down from her powerful leadership role on Monday after a leaked audio recording revealed racist and disparaging remarks that she had made about the Black child of a white fellow council member and about Indigenous immigrants in the city’s Koreatown neighborhood.


The comments, which Ms. Martinez made last year during a meeting with two other council members and a labor official, exposed longstanding racial tensions in the governance of one of the nation’s most multicultural cities, as well as fault lines among the city’s Democrats. Calls continued on Monday for her to resign from the council entirely.

In the profanity-laced recording, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times and which was first reported by The Los Angeles Times on Sunday, Ms. Martinez, who is Latina, compared the Black child of a white council member to a “changuito,” Spanish for little monkey. She also called Oaxacan immigrants living in Koreatown “short little dark people.”

It was unclear who leaked the recording of Ms. Martinez’s October 2021 meeting with Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León, council members representing parts of the city’s East Side, and Ron Herrera, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. {snip}


During the meeting, the four officials were strategizing about political redistricting in advance of this year’s election. Mr. Herrera can be heard telling the group that “my goal is to get the three of you elected, and I’m just focused on that — we’re like a little Latino caucus of our own.”

A citizen advisory committee conducts Los Angeles’s redistricting process each decade and recommends maps, but the final lines are determined by the council, which ultimately approved a map far different from the one that was recommended. The conversation focused on those heated negotiations and on the distribution among the 15 council districts of economic and municipal “assets” such as stadiums, universities and airports. Such assets provide jobs to constituents and can enhance an officeholder’s political influence and fund-raising abilities.

In the audio, the group echoed long-held complaints about representation in the city, where Latinos make up about half of the population but hold only about a third of the seats on the council. Ms. Martinez complained that the commission had recommended moving key assets, such as the Van Nuys airport, out of her district while claiming to back broader representation for Latinos.

“If you’re going to talk about Latino districts, what kind of districts are you trying to create?” she asked her colleagues. “Because you’re taking away our assets. You’re just going to create poor Latino districts with nothing?”

Ms. Martinez, who is not up for re-election until 2024, added that Nithya Raman, a council member of South Asian descent, should not represent Koreatown, which is now largely Latino.

Ms. Martinez also weighed in on a dispute between two Black council members over whose district would include Exposition Park and the University of Southern California. Rather than fight among themselves, Ms. Martinez said, they should demand a map in which one of them gets the massive Los Angeles International Airport. That asset, she noted, is in the district of a white council member, Mike Bonin, whom she referred to with a vulgarity.

In the ensuing exchange, Mr. de León referred to Mr. Bonin, a West Los Angeles liberal, as the council’s “fourth Black member” and joked with Ms. Martinez that Mr. Bonin carried his adopted son, who is Black, as if the toddler were a designer handbag. Ms. Martinez complained that on a parade float on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Mr. Bonin had failed to control his son and said that the child’s antics had nearly tipped the float over.

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

She also cursed George Gascón, the Los Angeles County district attorney, saying that “he’s with the Blacks.”


Latinos are by far the largest demographic among the city’s 3.8 million residents. But the Black community in Los Angeles — with 20 percent of the Council seats and powerful civic leaders dating back to Mayor Tom Bradley — has long wielded greater clout than would be suggested by its 8.8 percent of the population. And the Asian community has become a rising political force with nearly 12 percent of the population. White Angelenos, with more than 28 percent of the population, have long controlled much of the city’s wealth and power.

Residents of the city routinely tout their diversity as an asset, and, since the 1992 riots, have expressed pride in the strides they have made in race relations. In polls, Latino residents of the city repeatedly say that their Black neighbors understand them better than do any other ethnic group in Los Angeles, and vice versa, said Fernando Guerra, whose Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University regularly surveys the city’s residents.


In drawing a fair map, the Council “had to talk about race,” Mr. Guerra said. “Although not like this.”

In a searing joint statement on Sunday, Mr. Bonin and his husband, Sean Arian, said that they were “appalled, angry and absolutely disgusted” by Ms. Martinez’s comments and called on her, Mr. de León and Mr. Herrera to resign from their positions. The couple added that “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.”

In condemning the entire conversation, Mr. Bonin and Mr. Arian said that it showed a troubling level of coordination in an effort to “weaken Black political representation.”