'Resign Now' Chants Overtake LA City Council Meeting After Leak Of Racist Remarks — What's Next Could Reshape Its Structure
The Los Angeles City Council had a lot to discuss Tuesday morning, but it was their constituents who did most of the talking.
It was the first meeting since the leak of audio of three councilmembers featuring racist language and political scheming that's sparked a multilayered public firestorm in the second largest city in the nation.
What's Next: 2 Motions That Could Reshape The Entire Council
Following the end of public comment, O'Farrell, sitting as acting council president, spoke out against the behavior of his colleagues.
"I do not believe we can have the healing that is necessary, or govern as we need to, while councilmembers Martinez, de León, and Cedillo remain as members of this council. I say those words with a heavy heart, but this is a heavy and a deeply tragic moment for this city. The court of public opinion has rendered a verdict and the verdict is they all must resign."
O'Farrell also said he introduced two motions Tuesday. One calls for the council to elect a new permanent council president next Tuesday, Oct. 18.
The other has the potential to dramatically reshape the city's power structure. It calls for a ballot measure for L.A. voters that would expand the number of seats on the City Council. O'Farrell explained:
"The size of this City Council has been 15 members since 1925, when the city of Los Angeles had just under 1 million people. Today we are a diverse metropolis of 4 million and this council should reflect and represent the residents we serve.
"A ballot measure that increases the number of council seats will help us meet that goal and involve Angelenos in the process, as well an immediate redistricting process should the people decide they want an expanded City Council."
In Washington D.C., President Joe Biden joined in calling for everyone involved in the recorded conversation 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."
A Rough Start
Demonstrations were being held at City Hall, where there had been an increased police presence.
Councilmember and president pro tempore Mitch O’Farrell took Nury Martinez’s seat on the top of the dais and got out a brief welcome before being drowned out by boos and chants from the crowd.
“We want to hear from you,” he said, asking for attendees to respect the process and allow people to speak.
Councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo were in their seats, which upset many in the crowd. Some shouted at them, demanding both leave the chambers.
Councilmember Mike Bonin, who was one of the targets of derogatory comments by Martinez in the recordings, attempted to calm the crowd — but it didn't work.
Demonstrators started yelling at Cedillo and de León to get out, some chanting: "Leave!"
After fellow councilmembers spoke with them at their seats, Cedillo stood up and walked out the back, followed shortly after by de León, as the crowd cheered.
Martinez was not at the meeting. She released a new statement Tuesday morning saying she will "take a leave of absence and take some time to have an honest and heartfelt conversation with my family, my constituents, and community leaders."
On Monday, Martinez resigned her position as council president. But she remains the representative of L.A.'s 6th District, which includes all or parts of neighborhoods including Van Nuys, Sun Valley, Arleta, North Hills, Lake Balboa, and Panorama City.
Councilmember Mike Bonin's Response
After de León and Cedillo left, Bonin again started speaking. The crowd quieted to listen.
"Public officials are supposed to call us to our highest selves," Bonin said. "These people cut the spirit of Los Angeles."
Bonin fought through tears as he expressed his sadness and rage about the anti-Black language Martinez directed at his son.
“I knew that I did not want the story about virulent anti-Black racism to be centered on an angry white dad… I know that I can never really know or comprehend or feel the weight of the daily relentless racism, anti-Black racism that my son is going to face — but man, I know the fire that you feel when someone tries to destroy Black boy joy.”
Bonin also spoke out against the "incredible coordinated efforts to disenfranchise Blacks and renters, and to weaken the voice of progressives, and to undermine anyone who tries to do coalition building. "
"It's overwhelming and I am outraged and I'm sickened by it...
"There are a lot of people who are now asking for forgiveness — and asking for forgiveness is a good first step. But well, it's a second step, because first you must resign and then ask for forgiveness."
He also thanked city leaders and community members that have reached out in support of him and his family, along with "everybody who has reacted with fury and indignation" in response to the recordings.
"On these tapes I have heard the worst of what Los Angeles is. From you I'm hearing and I'm seeing the best of what Los Angeles is."
After Bonin spoke, O'Farrell attempted to start the meeting, but was met with more boos and yelling from the crowd. He announced the council would take a recess until they could establish order.
Eventually, roll was taken and the council took public comment.
Ten of the city's 15 council members were present at the start of the public comment period, shortly after 11 a.m.
Speakers voiced their disgust at the racist language used by Martinez and that was unchecked by her peers. Many called for Martinez, de León, and Cedillo to all resign immediately.
Here's a small sampling of what Angelenos shared at council chambers in nearly two hours of public comment.
"These four individuals have possibly damaged the decades of intentional and difficult work of building multiracial understanding and solidarity among Black and Latinx communities.
"Martinez and her colleagues prove that they care more about consolidating their own political power, than being of service to our great city. The offensive anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, anti-child, anti-queer, anti-tenant comments are revolting."
"I come from an Indigenous background and we're tired of getting stepped on. These are the people that we chose and we're asking for the resignation of all four of them, because they need to go."
"The repugnant, racist, anti-Black, anti-gay comments made by this city's leaders and condoned are not merely a reflection of their individual bigotry; they are a reflection of a city government that is rotten and anti-Black.
"We are not only going to be asking for resignations. We are not only going to be asking for investigations. We need to ensure that the gerrymandering that was happening behind closed doors is looked at with an investigation so that we as Black people, as people of color, as Latinx folks can ensure that we all have political representation..."
"I just want to thank Gil Cedillo, Nury Martinez and Kevin de León for showing us your real face and making sure you'll never be anything else in this city."
"We do not want to see these people back in this building ever again."
"We are the people and we are the voices who matter in this room right now — not yours.
"I yield the rest of my time, but f— this."
State Assemblymember Isaac Bryan — whose district includes portions of West Adams, Leimert Park, and Baldwin Hills — also spoke during public comment, saying healing is important, but should come with accountability.
"Brown political power can't be rooted in Black erasure and anti-Indigenous speech and homophobic speech. We deserve better. The people have called for these resignations. Elected officials have called for these resignations. We need these resignations before we can move forward."
La banda comunitaria de Oaxaca plays outside City Hall demanding council members Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo and Kevin De León to resign after a leaked audio tape revealed Martinez and others made derogatory speech about Indigenous Oaxacans among other racist comments @LAist pic.twitter.com/4x178a2qQx— gillian (@gillicansisland) October 11, 2022
Some Background On The Recordings
In a 2021 meeting recorded secretly by an unknown person and later leaked on Reddit, then-City Council President Martinez talks with de León and Cedillo, along with L.A. County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera. Martinez can be heard making racist remarks about the Black son of Councilmember Bonin, adding that the young child "needs a beatdown" for his behavior. Martinez also uses derogatory language against Indigenous Oaxacans.
The conversation was largely focused on redistricting and the Latino councilmembers' goals to retain power while limiting the power of fellow councilmembers and installing people to office they perceived as potential allies.