LOS ANGELES >> The former president of the Los Angeles City Council resigned from public office Wednesday, three days after a recording surfaced of her making racist remarks in a meeting that is now the subject of a state investigation.
Nury Martinez, the first Latina to hold the top post on the council, announced her decision in a press release following a groundswell of outrage and calls for the resignations of her and two other council members involved in the conversation recorded last year.
Martinez made racist remarks about the Black son of a white councilman and other crude comments.
Her resignation statement did not address those comments, though in words directed at her daughter she said she had fallen short of expectations recently and added: “I vow to you that I will strive to be a better woman to make you proud.”
The announcement was made several hours after Attorney General Rob Bonta said he would investigate Los Angeles’ redistricting process that the three council members discussed with a labor leader in which they schemed to protect Latino political strength in council districts.
Martinez had stepped down as president Monday while still holding onto her council seat. Her decision to give up her seat came as President Joe Biden was due to arrive in Los Angeles a day after he condemned the remarks and called on all three council members — Martinez, Kevin de Leon and Gil Cedillo — to resign.
Bonta, a Democrat like the three council members, said his investigation could lead to civil liability or criminal charges, depending on what is found.
“It’s clear an investigation is sorely needed to help restore confidence in the redistricting process for the people of LA,” he said.
Bonta spoke in Los Angeles while the council tried unsuccessfully to conduct business nearby amid the uproar that exposed City Hall’s racial rivalries. Those involved in the leaked conversation were all Latinos, while Bonta is the first Filipino American to hold the top law enforcement job in the nation’s most populous state.
The council reconvened Wednesday, possibly to censure the three members, but it was unable to do business because a crowd of about 50 protesters drowned out the acting president chanting slogans such as, “No meeting without resignation.”
A minimum of 10 out of 15 members necessary for a quorum had assembled, but the meeting was adjourned when one left. None of the three embattled council members showed up.
“Who shut you down? We shut you down!” the raucous crowd cheered as the lights were being turned down.
Acting Council President Mitch O’Farrell said that with no sign of anger subsiding, he didn’t think the council could resume its work until all three are gone, which he said is inevitable.
“For Los Angeles to heal, and for its City Council to govern, there must be accountability,” he said in a statement. “I repeat my call on Councilmembers de Leon and Cedillo to also resign. There is no other way forward.”
The council cannot expel members — it can only suspend a member when criminal charges are pending. A censure does not result in suspension or removal from office.
In the recorded conversation, Martinez called council member Mike Bonin a “little bitch.” She described the behavior of his Black son on a parade float when he was 2 as “parece changuito,” or “like a monkey,” the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.
At another point on the hourlong recording, Martinez called indigenous immigrants from the Mexican state of Oaxaca ugly, and made crass remarks about Jews and Armenians.
Martinez made history in 2019 when she became the first Latina elected to the council presidency and described herself as “a glass-ceiling shattering leader who brings profound life experience as the proud daughter of working-class immigrants” on her website. She is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley.
The discussion with a powerful Latino labor leader, who has since resigned, centered on protecting Latino political power while redrawing council district boundaries. The once-a-decade redistricting process can pit one group against another to gain political advantage in elections.
Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who previously was a member of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, said she did not see evidence in the recordings that would prompt criminal charges, although Bonta left open that possibility.
However, she said a probe could force redrawing council districts even though the current maps are being used to choose new council members next month.
“It is so rare to have audio where … it gives the impression that they’re explicitly drawing lines on the basis of race,” Levinson said. “If in the end we determine these lines were illegally drawn, there needs to be a remedy for that, even though practically … it’s a disaster.”
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has called for creating an independent commission to draw redistricting maps.
“It should be clear to everyone by now that if you leave in the hands of elected officials the power to determine their own political districts, this is a recipe for conflict of interest and it is an invitation to backroom deals,” Feuer said.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the recording was posted on the social medial site Reddit by a now-suspended user. It is unclear who recorded the audio, who uploaded it to Reddit and whether anyone else was present at the meeting.