In Nury Martinez’s L.A. district, news of racist recording stirs anger

A quiet outrage simmered in Nury Martinez’s council precinct on Monday after a leaked audio recording was heard in which she made racist remarks as she, two other Los Angeles City Council members and a powerful union leader vilified fellow politicians.

Although many residents of Van Nuys, Panorama City and North Hills were unaware of the scandal involving Martinez, who has represented their county since 2013, those who were aware of Martinez’s racist remarks were not shy about their feelings.

“She’s a racist. Plain and simple,” said Joe Salas, a plumber who has lived in Van Nuys for 17 years. “She shouldn’t be in office. This is someone who doesn’t speak for everyone. It makes me want to vote in the next election so I can vote her out of office.”

A man in a baseball cap and glasses

Van Nuys’ Joe Salas is questioned about Martinez’s racist remarks. “She’s a racist. Plain and simple,” said Salas. “She shouldn’t be in office.”

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

The morning after The Times reported on the leaked conversation between council members Martinez, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, Martinez announced that she would step down as council president, but not from her council seat.

Martinez, 49, apologized for the comments and said she was “really” ashamed of her actions.

“As someone who firmly believes in empowering communities of color, I recognize that my comments undermine that goal,” Martinez said in a written statement. “In the future, reconciliation will be my priority. I have already reached out to many of my Black colleagues and other Black leaders to express my regrets so we can heal.”

Martinez, De León, Cedillo and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera were recorded in mid-October 2021 in a conversation about the city’s redistricting, in which Martinez called Councilor Mike Bonin’s young black son: “So negritolike on the side”, with a Spanish diminutive term for a black person, which can be considered demeaning.

“They’re raising him like a little white kid,” Martinez said. “I thought this kid needed a spanking. Let me bring him around the corner and then I’ll bring him back.”

Martinez also said Bonin treated his son like he was an “accessory,” saying, “Parece changuito’ or ‘He’s like a little monkey.’

Speaking about maps proposed by the city’s New Borough Commission, she lamented the loss of key assets for her borough, including Van Nuys Airport and the Anheuser-Busch Brewery.

“When you talk about Latino districts, what kind of districts are you trying to create?” She asked. “Because you are taking our assets away from us. You’re only going to make poor Latino neighborhoods with nothing?”

Martinez also mocked the Oaxacans as “little little dark people,” saying “F—that guy … He’s with the black people” while speaking on Los Angeles County Dist. atty George Gascon.

Outside the original Tommy’s Hamburgers location in Van Nuys, Aloit Francois, 68, sipped coffee over his copy of the Los Angeles Times that featured the story about the racist remarks.

A man speaks

“Of course she should resign,” says Aloit Francois, 68, a former resident of the Nury Martinez neighborhood.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

“Of course she should resign,” Francois said, pointing to the newspaper. Francois lived in the San Fernando Valley more than a decade ago and now visits Van Nuys for his doctor’s appointments.

“The racist remarks about African Americans are not really surprising. That’s how politicians talk about people,” Francois said. “It’s the comments they made about the restriction. What was it called before? It’s like redlining.”

A man and woman speak in the boardroom of City Hall

Martinez and councilman Kevin de León consult at a city council meeting last week.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

The daughter of Mexican immigrants from Zacatecas, Martinez graduated from San Fernando High School and Cal State Northridge. She was a member of the Los Angeles School Board before taking office in 2013 and lives in Sun Valley with her husband and daughter.

Few shoppers in Panorama City’s Plaza del Valle knew her name Monday. Many customers browsing Vaquero boots or waiting for a haircut had not heard of the brewing scandal.

Lucia Perez, 32, an optician’s assistant, was unaware of the racist comments as she sat on the outside patio for lunch, but flinched when a Times reporter told her what Martinez had said.

A woman speaks

“She shouldn’t be a representative of the city of Los Angeles,” says Lucia Perez, 32, of Nury Martinez.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

“She shouldn’t be a representative of the city of Los Angeles,” Perez said.

Although Martinez apologized for her comments, Perez shook her head and said, “There are other ways to apologize. She should step down.”

A small group of television cameras were trained on the front door of Martinez’s home Monday morning.

A group of protesters marched through their neighborhood the night before, but there was little activity on the quiet cul-de-sac on Monday afternoon. None of her neighbors in their one-story homes felt comfortable talking about Martinez or the racist comments.

A woman called out from her home, “I don’t want to badmouth this woman. She is a good woman.”

Another woman called Martinez a “hard worker” but agreed the comments were racist. In Nury Martinez’s L.A. district, news of racist recording stirs anger

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