Civic leaders call for Martinez, De León and Cedillo to resign

Calls for the resignation of Los Angeles City Council members Nury Martinez, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo grew louder on Monday as the aftermath of a leaked conversation streamed through the city.

The political implosion, unprecedented in LA’s recent history, was sparked by a leaked audio recording reported by The Times on Sunday.

The city’s political and civic establishment — including key figures who had made more muted statements a day earlier — had taken the city’s temperature and found it to be white-hot amid a growing national scandal.

The list of political figures and organizations that published these calls included Mayor Eric Garcetti, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, US Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Los Angeles County Democratic Party, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), Tony Cárdenas (D-Pacoima) and Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), a number of union and two mayoral candidates – Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) and developer Rick Caruso.

The leaked conversation, which took place about a year ago during a meeting on the city’s redistribution process, involved the three Los Angeles council members and a powerful union leader. Martinez was heard making racist remarks and the group denigrated other politicians.

Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera resigned from his post Monday night at a meeting with the federation’s board of directors, two sources close to the situation told the Times, asking for anonymity to avoid sensitive internal issues to describe matters. A source said the organization would make a formal statement on Tuesday.

The political futures of Martinez, De León and Cedillo remained in serious doubt. Martinez resigned as City Council President Monday morning after outrage at the racist remarks she made about the then-young son of a co-worker.

The move immediately sparked a behind-the-scenes row at City Hall over who should replace her as leader, along with further questions over whether she and the others will remain on the council. Tensions are likely to come to a head in the council chambers on Tuesday morning during the panel’s first meeting since the leaked recording was released.

Martinez repeated her apology in a statement Monday morning, saying she was “really mortified” and hoped her peers and townspeople would “give her an opportunity to make amends.”

“I ask forgiveness from my colleagues and from the people of this city that I love so much,” she said.

The revelations turned LA politics on its head a month before a critical city election, putting the melting pot of race relations back at the center of local debate. Martinez had backed a number of candidates, including a handful calling for her to leave the council.

Martinez said Councilor Mike Bonin treated his young black son like he was an “accessory,” describing the son as “Parece changuito‘ or ‘He’s like a little monkey.’ And she referred to Oaxacans in Koreatown as ‘little little dark people’.

Speaking of Los Angeles County Dist. atty George Gascón, Martinez said: “F – this guy … He’s with the blacks.”

De León, Cedillo and Herrera also all apologized on Sunday for their role in the conversation. At one point in the leaked audio, De León appeared to compare Bonin’s handling of his child to Martinez holding a Louis Vuitton handbag.

Council members Nithya Raman, Paul Koretz, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Mitch O’Farrell, Heather Hutt and Bonin have called on Martinez to step down.

Harris-Dawson, Hutt and O’Farrell also called for De León and Cedillo to resign from the council.

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Cedillo issued his own statement on Sunday, saying: “Although I did not participate in the conversation in question, I was present at times at this meeting last year. It is my instinct to hold others accountable when they use derogatory or racially divisive language.”

“Of course I should have intervened,” he said in a text to The Times. “I have not made any racist statements or made fun of my colleagues.”

Cedillo, who was defeated by community activist Eunisses Hernandez in June’s elections, resigns in December. But De León and Martinez had remained influential at City Hall — and were viewed as potential contenders for mayor or other higher offices.

De León, who previously made history as the first Latino leader of the State Senate in more than a century, finished third in the 2022 mayoral primary.

A native of the San Fernando Valley, Martinez made history when she was sworn in as the first Latina woman city council president in 2019.

Martinez led the council through the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, using federal funds to provide rent rebates and money to help families pay their utility bills. She led the passage of mandatory vaccinations for city employees and worked to divert money from the police department to other city causes, including social services, following the murder of George Floyd.

She is stepping down as president at a key moment for City Hall. Depending on the outcome of the Nov. 8 election, up to five council members could leave by the end of the year.

Four council members are stepping down while a fifth, O’Farrell, is in a tough re-election campaign. As City Council President Pro Tem, O’Farrell will serve as acting president at Tuesday’s council meeting.

What will happen during Tuesday’s session is unclear. The council does not have the power to suspend Martinez, De León and Cedillo.

The City Charter provides that councilors can only suspend an elected officer while awaiting trial in a criminal case, as was the case with former councilor Jose Huizar and suspended councilor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

It is possible that the council could move to censure the three councillors, although such a move would be largely symbolic.

The Council President is one of the most influential positions in City Hall. He decides when to put items on the council’s agenda and chooses who sits on the council’s most influential committees — the committees that deal with city budget, real estate development, energy, and other issues. A council president who can secure 10 votes, enough to withstand a veto, can sometimes be more powerful than the mayor.

Councilor-elect Hernandez said she wants the council to elect “an interim administrator” as president by the end of the year, when she and the other new councilors take their seats.

Hernandez said Councilor Paul Krekorian would make a good caretaker in the months to come. “In January, when the new council is on board, we should vote again. And I’d be interested in seeing Marqueece lead,” Hernandez said, referring to Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson.

Krekorian said he is indeed interested in becoming council leader, arguing that the city is set to undergo major political changes – the arrival of a new mayor, city prosecutor, city controller and at least four new council members. The council, he said, will need someone experienced to guide the council through its “recent crisis”.

Councilor Curren Price said he is also running for the presidency, arguing that his history and accomplishments show he will bring “healing and reconciliation.”

Price, who is Black, was elected three times in a four-fifths Latino district with residents not only from Mexico but also from South America and the Caribbean. He said his colleagues want someone “who isn’t demeaning, someone who isn’t badmouthing, someone who values ​​diversity and gives it the respect it deserves.”

Protesters on both the left and right of the political spectrum have targeted Martinez and other politicians in recent years. In some places, they rallied outside officers’ homes, prompting Martinez to propose legislation banning protests from within 300 feet of a target’s home.

On Sunday night, a group gathered outside Martinez’s Sun Valley home to protest her racist comments, according to a video posted to Twitter.

The leaders of eight California SEIU unions with members from the Los Angeles area issued a statement Monday morning calling on Martinez, De León and Cedillo to step down from their council seats, as did the California Nurses Assn.

Times contributors Matt Pearce and Salvador Hernandez contributed to this report. Civic leaders call for Martinez, De León and Cedillo to resign

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