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Civics & Democracy

After Outcry Over Racist Remarks, Nury Martinez Resigns As LA City Council President, Takes Leave Of Absence

Nury Martinez, a light brown woman with dark hair, is wearing a pink dress and is seated behind a desk.
Council President Nury Martinez was part of a conversation where she called Mike Bonin's son a monkey in Spanish.
(Libby Denkmann
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  • Oct. 12: Nury Martinez resigned her office, saying she had a "broken heart."

  • Oct. 11: Nury Martinez said Tuesday morning she was stepping away from her position to take a leave. That announcement came ahead of a regularly scheduled City Council meeting and as calls continued to grow for her to leave office. She said in the statement:

  • "This has been one of the most difficult times of my life and I recognize this is entirely of my own making. At this moment, I need to take a leave of absence and take some time to have an honest and heartfelt conversation with my family, my constituents, and community leaders. I am so sorry to the residents of Council District 6, my colleagues, and the City of Los Angeles."

  • We will have live coverage of Tuesday's City Council meeting, which is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Watch here >

Nury Martinez announced her resignation this morning from her post as Los Angeles City Council President following the release on Sunday of recordings of racist remarks she made in a meeting last October during a conversation between two other Latino councilmembers and the L.A. Labor Federation president.

Here's her full statement, released shortly after 10 a.m.:

I take responsibility for what I said and there are no excuses for those comments. I’m so sorry.

I sincerely apologize to the people I hurt with my words: to my colleagues, their families, especially to Mike, Sean, and your son. As a mother, I know better and I am sorry. I am truly ashamed. I know this is the result of my own actions. I’m sorry to your entire family for putting you through this. As someone who believes deeply in the empowerment of communities of color, I recognize my comments undercut that goal. Going forward, reconciliation will be my priority.

I have already reached out to many of my Black colleagues and other Black leaders to express my regret in order for us to heal. I ask 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.
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Among the most shocking comments she made during the conversation were those directed toward Councilmember Mike Bonin's young son, who is Black. The comments also contained, as Councilmember Nithya Raman described it, "homophobic tropes." Martinez and others present also made derogatory comments about Indigenous Oaxacans.

Martinez did not say in her statement whether she would resign from office over the remarks. On Monday, prior to Martinez stepping down as president, Councilmember Monica Rodriguez released a statement on Twitter saying she will introduce a motion at Tuesday's council meeting calling for "the removal of the Council President." [We are seeking clarity on whether that would mean from the council overall.]

What Exactly Happened?

Listen: Excerpts from the City Hall tapes

Martinez, who is not up for reelection this election cycle, was speaking with fellow Councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo and L.A. County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera. They were recorded talking about their frustrations with redistricting efforts in the city — a once-in-a-decade process that has an impact on community members’ everyday lives. How those lines are drawn affects who is elected and what assets those districts will have available. [Note: In California, all parties have to consent to being recorded, which is not the case for this recording.]

Audio of the conversation was posted to Reddit earlier this month by an unknown source, and first reported by the Los Angeles Times. Knock LA published audio clips on their website Sunday morning (our newsroom has also since reviewed the tapes).

One year later and one month before Angelenos head to the polls to vote in the Nov. 8 election, we’re learning that racist and derisive slurs were used against fellow council members who were not present at this discussion a year ago. It's worth noting those involved are powerful decision makers who create laws, order elections and approve city contracts.

What Exactly Did They Say?

The group discussed their need to maintain strong Latino representation on the council. About 48% of L.A.’s total population is Latino. Four of the 15 city council members are Latino and three participated in this conversation.

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The conversation is a microcosm of a range of historic issues in L.A. politics — who has power and who doesn’t.

When it came to Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, Martinez said: “F— that guy, he’s with the Blacks.”

Martinez also said extremely racist, derogatory things about Bonin’s son, who is Black. as she recounted being on an MLK Jr. parade float together.

She called his son a “monkey” in Spanish and suggested that his son was being raised “like a little white kid” and needed a beatdown. “Let me take him around the corner, I’ll bring him right back,” she says.

Martinez issued an apology hours after the story broke Sunday morning.

“In a moment of intense frustration and anger, I let the situation get the best of me and I hold myself accountable for these comments. For that I am sorry. The context of this conversation was concern over the redistricting process and concern about the potential negative impact it might have on communities of color. My work speaks for itself. I’ve worked hard to lead this city through its most difficult time.”

On Saturday, before the L.A. Times published the recordings, Cedillo told its reporters that he could not recall the conversation. Then on Monday, he issued a statement:

“I want to start by apologizing. While I did not engage in the conversation in question, I was present at times during this meeting last year. It is my instinct to hold others accountable when they use derogatory or racially divisive language. Clearly, I should have intervened. I failed in holding others and myself to the highest standard. The hurtful and harmful remarks made about my colleague’s son were simply unacceptable. We choose public life, but our families should always be off limits and never part of the political discourse.”

Why Political Power Is At The Center Of This

Martinez, de León, Cedillo and Herrera also talked about Black political power in Los Angeles in derisive, disrespectful, racist ways when discussing next steps in dealing with Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who’s been indicted on federal bribery charges.

Ultimately, the council voted to suspend Ridley-Thomas. At that moment, the group was talking about possible fallout from whatever happened next.

“If he resigns — hold on — if he resigns, and the African Americans look at this as a hostile takeover because he’s gone, we’ll have to figure this out, because politically they’re going to come after this,” Herrera says.

De Leon responds by talking about “The Wizard of Oz effect” and what he feels is limited Black political power that seems like it's powerful, but it’s not.

Herrera says that he feels pretty good about the chances of having power.

Cedillo then comments on the small number of Black residents — who make up about 9% of the city’s population — compared to Latino residents.

In the recording, you can hear Cedillo say “25 Blacks are shouting.”

'Individual Power Politics'

District 4 City Councilmember Nithya Raman, who Cedillo referred to in the recording as “not our ally,” spoke with our newsroom's public affairs show, AirTalk, Monday morning. She said she’s “still reeling” from what she heard on the recording.

“Those anti-black, anti-indigenous, racist sentiments, the use of homophobic tropes, the threats of violence against a child — it’s appalling,” Raman said.

She said she believes the behavior by Martinez, de León, Cedillo and Herrera requires city leaders “to start thinking about how the sentiments on display in these tapes impact our policymaking in the council.”

“If people who were in that meeting continue to serve on the council, I think it has to be something that’s openly discussed on the council floor and as we pass policies — many of which I have voted against precisely because of what I felt was embedded racism.”

Raman also advocated for reform of the city’s redistricting process, saying “it’s basically designed to create exactly the kind of backroom dealings” on display in the recording.

"It was really a conversation about their own power at the cost, as they said explicitly, of renters,” she told Larry Mantle, who hosts AirTalk on 89.3 KPCC. “It was not a conversation really that was about representation — it was about individual power politics.”

Calls For Resignations

Bonin and his husband said they were “appalled, angry, and absolutely disgusted that Nury Martinez attacked our son with horrific racial slurs, and talked about her desire to physically harm him.”

Bonin, who represents westside neighborhoods, had decided earlier this year not to run for reelection. In a video explaining his choice he said he was doing so "to focus on health and wellness” and to spend more time with his young son. In addition to calling on Martinez to resign, Bonin on Sunday called on de León, who is not up for reelection this time around, and Herrera to both resign. Cedillo lost his seat outright in the June primary to Eunisses Hernandez.

De León released a statement Sunday saying:

“There were comments made in the context of this meeting that are wholly inappropriate; and I regret appearing to condone and even contribute to certain insensitive comments made about a colleague and his family in private. I’ve reached out to that colleague personally. On that day, I fell short of the expectations we set for our leaders — and I will hold myself to a higher standard.”

City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson called the behavior "inexcusable and potentially illegal."

And Herrera issued an apology saying he had the "deepest regret" for failing to act during the discussion, which he called "vile."

California's U.S. Senator Alex Padilla also issued a statement on Twitter Monday, calling on Martinez, de León and Cedillo to "take full responsibility" and resign from the City Council.

Padilla, who attended high school with Martinez in the San Fernando Valley, said L.A. "deserves better."

"At a time when our nation is grappling with a rise in hate speech and hate crimes, these racist comments have deepened the pain that our communities have endured."

Read more: Sen. Padilla Joins Prominent Lawmakers Calling For City Councilmembers To Resign In Wake Of Released Tape

President Joe Biden also called for everyone involved to resign.

"The president is glad to see that one of the participants in that conversation has resigned, but they all should," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday. "He believes that they all should resign. The language that was used and tolerated during that conversation was unacceptable, and it was appalling. They should all step down."

He's visiting the Los Angeles area this week.

How Do I Know Who Represents Me?

Meeting of LA City Council with members sitting in a horseshoe configuration. On the screen is a list of names showing who voted yes.
The L.A. City Council voted on new council district maps on Dec. 7, 2021
Screenshot of LA City Council)

New boundaries for the city council districts were ultimately approved unanimously in December 2021, a couple of months after the conversation at the center of the latest City Hall scandal took place. You can explore this map or check your Los Angeles city address to see who represents your area (and the roughly 260,000 other residents who live near you.)

What questions do you have about Southern California?

Updated October 10, 2022 at 12:53 PM PDT
A map of the new district boundaries was added.
Updated October 10, 2022 at 11:25 AM PDT
This story was updated with comments by Councilmember Nithya Raman.
Updated October 10, 2022 at 10:25 AM PDT
This story was updated with Martinez's resignation as council president.
Updated October 10, 2022 at 10:00 AM PDT
This story was updated to include a statement from Councilmember Monica Rodriguez saying she will introduce a motion to remove Nury Martinez from office.
Updated October 9, 2022 at 8:10 PM PDT
This updated with additional reaction and calls for resignations.
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