EDITOR'S NOTE: Multimedia journalist Taylor Torregano spoke with activist Tara Perry and Cal State Long Beach political science professor Matt Lesenyie about the closed-door meeting in which LA City Council members plotted to safeguard Latino political strength in Council districts.
LOS ANGELES (CNS) — A leaked audio recording Sunday of a conversation between three members of the Los Angeles City Council and a top county labor official — in which Council President Nury Martinez directed racist slurs at colleague Mike Bonin’s young son — also included revealing discussions around last year’s process of redrawing council district boundaries.
Martinez, facing growing calls to resign from several council members and other local elected officials, said in a statement that she made the remarks out of “intense frustration and anger” and the context of the October 2021 conversation was “concern over the redistricting process and concern about the potential negative impact it might have on communities of color.”
The conversation, reviewed by City News Service and first reported by the Los Angeles Times, included strategizing between Martinez, Councilmen Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo and LA County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera over how to protect the three council members’ districts and elect more Latinos to the council.
They expressed frustration with proposed maps from the city’s 21-member redistricting commission, as the three council members discussed how they could create favorable districts for themselves while handing other colleagues unfavorable districts. Council districts are redrawn once every 10 years, and the council was discussing its options at the time.
“It’s for Latino strength for the foreseeable future,” de León said during the conversation.
Latinos represent less than a third of the council districts despite making up half of the city’s population.
Martinez called those on the redistricting committee “so-called purists” and hinted that they should take direction from the council because they were appointed. She said the committee members had “f--- gone rogue” and were “f--- useless at this point.”
“They feel like they’re in charge of themselves,” Martinez said.
She added, referring to de León and Cedillo: “I’m just trying to get the majority a good district so you all can get re-elected.”
“But if you push a whack map you’re going to end up with a f--- disaster on the council,” Martinez said.
In a statement Sunday, de León said the conversation was “wholly inappropriate; and I regret appearing to condone and even contribute to certain insensitive comments made about a colleague and his family in private.”
Cedillo did not respond to a request for comment from CNS, but he told The Times that he did not have a recollection of the conversation.
Herrera has not commented on the story, but a lawyer representing the LA County Federation of Labor sent a letter to The Times alleging that the conversation was recorded in violation of California’s privacy and recording laws.
Later on, while the council members discussed a redistricting map that would be favorable to Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, Cedillo — speaking to Martinez — referred to O’Farrell as “your guy Mitch.”
Martinez then questioned why Cedillo was referring to O’Farrell — the council’s president pro tempore — as “her guy.”
“I don’t need anybody to do my job,” she said. “No offense to both of you, but I do all the work.”
Martinez later referred to O’Farrell as a “diva.”
In a statement, O’Farrell called for Martinez to step down as council president and said the comments were “tragic and unconscionable.”
“Words that dehumanize are soul-destroying even when they are uttered from the mouths of friends, loved ones or colleagues,” O’Farrell said.
The four officials later discussed how they could redistrict Koreatown, a majority Latino neighborhood. Martinez said that Councilwoman Nithya Raman was “making a play” for Koreatown, but she wasn’t going to entertain the idea.
“There are some people who don’t warrant us rescuing them,” Cedillo said, referring to Raman. “She doesn’t matter. She’s not our ally. She is not going to help us. Her district is not a district we can count on.”
Raman is up for re-election in 2024. Martinez said it would serve them to not give Raman all of Koreatown because it would give Raman more renters in her district.
“I told her that’s not happening,” Martinez said. “You’re going to get the district that you’re going to get. You’re going to have to run. And probably in a district where more than half of them don’t know who you are. Go f--- do the work and see if you can get re-elected.”
“Our commitment is not to re-elect her.”
Martinez then described people living in the area of Lafeyette Park and Shatto Place of Koreatown as “short dark people.” She added “tan feos,” Spanish for “They’re ugly.”
“I don’t know where these people are from,” Martinez said. “I don’t know what village they came (from), how they got here.”
De León said that Raman’s district is “the one to put in the blender and chop up, left or right.”
“Yeah,” Cedillo responded. “Why not?”
Martinez countered that doing so would impact her district in the San Fernando Valley, and “whether you like Mitch or not, impacts him.”
Herrera later chimed in, saying: “I want to make sure we protect Mitch,” expressing concerns over O’Farrell’s opponent in his re-election bid, Hugo Soto-Martinez. Herrera appeared to compare Soto-Martinez to Eunessis Hernandez, who was running against Cedillo in his district and would later defeat him.
“One devil and another devil,” Cedillo responded.
Raman, in a statement Sunday, called the leaked remarks “racist, homophobic and deeply cruel” and called on “the people who made them” to resign.
On the topic of potentially choosing a fill-in council member for the 10th District after Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas was indicted on federal corruption charges, Herrera said: “That person has to support the three of you.”
“The one who will support us is Heather Hutt,” Cedillo said.
Hutt was later appointed to the seat by the council, with Martinez, Cedillo and de León each enthusiastically supporting her candidacy.
Cedillo later talked about certain areas that he was afraid would be drawn into his district, and requested that his district move more to the south and the west. He said he didn’t want to represent Elysian Valley, Eagle Rock, Highland Park and Lincoln Heights.
“I don’t need those areas,” Cedillo said. “I have poor people.”
Cedillo said that in comparing the population and political makeup of a district, “the politics are as important to us as the population.”
“The voters go to work in Lincoln Heights and come home in Lincoln Heights,” Cedillo said. “But the activists, they’re there 24/7. And they don’t want us.”