Los Angeles city council members resist resignation in racism scandal

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Two Los Angeles City Council members on Thursday resisted overwhelming calls to resign for engaging in bare-knuckle banter during a private meeting in which a colleague was recorded making crude and racist remarks.

Pressure mounted on Gil Cedillo and Kevin de Leon to follow former council president Nury Martinez, who resigned Wednesday for comparing another colleague’s black son to a monkey, disparaging Mexicans from the state of Oaxaca and making crude comments about Armenians and Jews.

The council’s Friday meeting was canceled after acting council president Mitch O’Farrell said members could not conduct business until the two step down. Violent protesters shut down a rally on Wednesday.

“There’s too much pain, there’s too much deep damage to the soul, to the spirit of this city,” O’Farrell said.

Martinez, who in 2019 became the first Latina to hold the office of council president, announced her decision in a press release that did not reference the leaked recording or offer an apology for what she said.

Martinez described herself on her website as “a shattering glass-ceiling leader who brings deep life experience as the proud daughter of working-class immigrants.” The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley.

Cedillo, de Leon and Martinez were part of a discussion last year with a powerful Latino labor leader, who has since resigned, centered on protecting Latino political power while redrawing council district boundaries. The once-a-year process of reapportionment can pit one group against another for political advantage in elections.

Other council members were not informed of the meeting, O’Farrell said.

In the recorded conversation, Martinez called Councilman Mike Bonin a “little bitch.” She described his black son’s behavior on a parade flight when he was 2 as “parece changuito” or “like a monkey,” the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

At another point in the hour-long recording, Martinez called native immigrants from the Mexican state of Oaxaca ugly and made crude remarks about Jews and Armenians.

The revelation of the tapes this week sparked outrage and calls for the resignation of all three council members by their fellow Democrats, right up to President Joe Biden, who arrived in Los Angeles on Wednesday as part of a West Coast campaign visit.

In her resignation statement, Martinez did not apologize for her comments, although in words directed at her daughter she said she had recently lived up to expectations, adding: “I promise you that I will strive to be a better woman to do you to proud.”

The panel can only ask Cedillo and de Leon to step aside voluntarily. It cannot expel members, only suspend them when criminal charges are pending. Members may be censured, but this does not result in suspension or removal from office.

O’Farrell said he had spoken with Cedillo and “I sense he is making some progress toward that decision.” O’Farrell said he and others have been unable to reach de Leon.

Cedillo lost his re-election bid this year and was already set to leave the council in December. De Leon is up for election in 2024.

The furor over the recording has thrown the city council into an uproar.

On Wednesday, a crowd of about 50 protesters drowned out the acting president by shouting “no meeting without resignation” and other slogans.

At least 10 out of 15 members, who are required to be able to make a decision, were present. But the meeting was adjourned when councilor Marqueece Harris-Dawson walked out because it was out of control, a spokesman said. None of the three embattled council members showed up.

“Who shut you down? We’re shutting you down!” the raucous crowd cheered as the lights went out.

Also Wednesday, California Attorney General Rob Bonta, another Democrat, said he will investigate Los Angeles’ redistricting process, which could lead to civil liability or criminal charges depending on what is found.

“It is clear that an investigation is badly needed to help restore confidence in the redistricting process for the people of LA,” he said.

Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who previously served on the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, said she saw no evidence in the recording that would lead to criminal charges.

However, she said an inquiry could force a redrawing of council districts, even if the current maps are used to elect new councilors next month.

“It’s so rare to have audio where … it gives the impression that they’re explicitly drawing lines on the basis of race,” Levinson said. “If we ultimately determine that these lines were drawn illegally, there has to be a solution to that, even if practically speaking … it’s a disaster.”

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has called for an independent commission to draw redistricting maps.

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Associated Press writers Don Thompson in Sacramento, John Antczak in Los Angeles and Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.

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