A year-old recording of three Los Angeles politicians spewing racist insults of various ethnic groups while plotting how to preserve their power through a City Council redistricting has prompted an investigation by the California Attorney General’s Office.
“As a father and human being, I am deeply appalled by the remarks made by some of Los Angeles’ highest-ranking officials,” Attorney Rob Bonta said in press release. “The leaked audio has cast doubt on a cornerstone of our political processes for Los Angeles.”
Published online Sunday, the 79-minute recording prompted the resignation of Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez, first from the powerful council presidency then from her seat entirely. It’s also led to vociferous resignations calls against the two councilmen are on the recording with Martinez, Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León, though the men remained in power as of Thursday afternoon.
The scandal quickly captivated Los Angeles and soon became international news, with the purpose of the covertly recorded discussion pushing it from a politics and race issue into a potentially complex legal issue involving an already controversial decision by the Los Angeles City Council to redraw the boundaries for the city’s 15 council districts.
In the October 2021 recording, Martinez, who became the Council’s first Latina president in 2019, was meeting with Cedillo and de León at the offices of the powerful union the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor to discuss redistricting with union president Herrera. All are Democrats.
As the recording demonstrates, the discussion was always politically cutthroat and profane, and it soon spiraled into racist and offensive remarks about several groups of people.
Herrera was the first to resign Monday night as fury spread over the racist rhetoric in the recording, much of it centered on trying to preserve their own power through tactics some have likened to racism-driven disenfranchisement. Herrera tells the three: “I’m hoping you all can figure this redistricting thing out. … I just need you reelected.” He said earlier, “My goal in life is to get the three of you elected. And you know, I’m just focused on that. I mean, we’re like the little Latino caucus.”
Herrera does not appear to make racist or otherwise discriminatory statements in the minute recording, but he doesn’t interject as Martinez riffs on a range of ethnicities. At one point, Martinez says of Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, “Fuck that guy … he’s with the blacks.”
Martinez also disparages the Black son of LA City Councilman Mike Bonin and suggests the boy’s behavior as a two-year-old in 2017 warranted “a beatdown” to make him behave. De León chimes in, saying Bonin treats the boy like as an accessory as Martinez does a Louis Vuitton handbag. Martinez also made homophobic comments about Bonin, who is gay, being “that little bitch.” Cedillo comments about the height of Oaxacans in Los Angeles’ Koreatown while Martinez refers to them as “little short dark people.” They also get in disparaging comments about Jewish people and Armenians.
The conversation occurred about two months before the Council approved a redistricting ordinance put forth by a commission the Council controls.
Bonta said on Wednesday the redistricting process, which is done every 10 years, “is foundational for our democracy and for the ability of our communities to make their voices heard – and it must be above reproach.”
“Given these unique circumstances, my office will investigate to gather the facts, work to determine the truth, and take action, as necessary, to ensure the fair application of our laws,” Bonta said. “We will endeavor to bring the truth to light as part of the sorely-needed work to restore confidence in the redistricting process for the people of our state.”
President Joe Biden has weighed in on the scandal, with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying on Wednesday he believes each should resign. She called the language in the recording “unacceptable” and “appalling.”
(Images: Cedillo a screenshot via L.A. TACO YouTube, Martinez a screenshot via LA City Clerk YouTube, De León a screenshot via Fox’s KTTV affiliate YouTube)
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]