Column: Nury Martinez’s racism feeds into Black Angelenos’ worst fear. It’s us versus them

Los Angeles City Councilmembers Kevin de Leon, left, and Nury Martinez.
Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de Leon, left, and council President Nury Martinez confer at a council meeting Tuesday.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

She called the Black child of Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin “changuito,” or “a monkey,” who gets carried around like a purse. “Su negrito, like on the side.”

Of Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón, she simply said, “F— that guy. He’s with the Blacks.”

L.A. City Council President Nury Martinez says she was merely caught up in “a moment of intense frustration and anger” during an hour-long, secretly recorded meeting last October with L.A. County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera and fellow Latino Councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León.


We just got an earful of who Martinez really is. But, more importantly, what she really wants for the future of Los Angeles — the consolidation of Latino power — and what she’s really willing to do to get it.

A leaked recording of L.A. City Council members and a labor official includes racist remarks. Council President Nury Martinez apologizes; Councilmember Kevin de León expresses regret.

Oct. 9, 2022

That hour-long meeting, audio of which was uploaded to Reddit and reviewed by The Times, wasn’t just a forum for swapping the kind of racist remarks and “jokes” you might hear at a Trump rally.


It was ostensibly convened to talk about the redistricting of City Council seats that was happening at the time. But it very quickly veered into strategies for manipulating district maps to deprive Black people of political power and provide it to Latinos instead.

“If you’re going to talk about Latino districts, what kind of districts are you trying to create?” Martinez griped at one point. “Because you’re taking away our assets.”

At another point, De León went on a tangent about the so-called “Wizard of Oz effect,” which he described as a small number of Black voters drawing an outsized amount of political attention, while more numerous Latinos aren’t heard.

“It sounds like there’s thousands of them,” he said. “And then when you actually pull the curtain ... you see the little Wizard of Oz.”

In a city where Black people make up a shrinking percentage of the population but still have among the highest rates of poverty and homelessness, what Martinez and De León said — echoed by Cedillo and Herrera — does a lot of damage.

It also pulls back the curtain on the kind of crass wheeling and dealing that dictates political power in L.A.

Their words, now bouncing around social media in snippets of audio, bluntly confirm the worst fears of many Black Angelenos: That Latino politicians treat political power as a zero-sum game. That because of their numbers, they will take over the leadership of the city, and that because of their racist beliefs, they will ignore our needs.

Their words, which they thought we’d never hear, were ignorant, narrow-minded and downright offensive.

De León‘s so-called apology on Sunday, saying that he had fallen “short of the expectations we set for our leaders,” doesn’t begin to make up for what he said — and what he laughed at.


Outrage, anger and sadness swept across the city as elected officials processed the racist comments of Council President Nury Martinez. Three of her colleagues have already said she should resign.

Oct. 9, 2022

Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson was shocked at the intensity of the anti-Black sentiment.

“Politicians trying to get the most favorable set of voters is understandable,” he said. “A sort of a concerted effort to dilute the strength of Black voters is something I expected from Republicans in the South and in the Midwest. I did not expect that level of Black voter suppression in Los Angeles.”

It doesn’t help that all of this comes a time when Black cultural spaces are shrinking or being erased by an affordability crisis that is driving both displacement and disproportionate rates of homelessness.

There’s also the gentrification, especially in West Adams and along the Crenshaw Corridor in South L.A. The common sentiment of Metro opening its new rail line through Leimert Park being both a blessing and a curse is proof of that.

This entire ugly incident blows a massive hole in the narrative that many would like to believe about Los Angeles — and about California — being some sort of multicultural mecca, where Black and brown people build alliances to work together in solidarity toward solving problems.

“This is a city that has prided itself on being able to bring communities together, particularly in pursuit of progressive causes,” said Manuel Pastor, director of the USC Equity Research Institute. “We’ve fallen short before, but these are extraordinarily unhelpful comments.”

In reality, the same tribal struggle for power that has long dogged L.A. is still here.

Nothing is more indicative of this than the back and forth over suspended Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Specifically, how Martinez and the others discussed how to redraw his South L.A. district in a way that would siphon power from Black Angelenos and make way for an interim replacement who would vote with Latinos on the City Council until Ridley-Thomas’ upcoming trial on federal bribery charges.

“I get what we have to do, right? Just massage to create districts that benefit you all. And the future. But we got to figure out Mark’s seat too,” Herrera said at one point.

“If he resigns and the African Americans look at this as a hostile takeover because he’s gone, we’ll have to figure that s— out,” Martinez responded. “Because politically, they’re going to come after us.”

“The one who will support us is Heather Hutt,” Cedillo said.

In August, Martinez nominated Hutt to serve as the voting member in Ridley-Thomas’ council district. After some political drama, she was approved to serve in September.

Now, thanks to the conversation they didn’t know was being recorded, Martinez, Cedillo, Herrera and De León have managed to completely undermine Hutt, a Black woman, casting her as little more than a tool for Latino political power.

Ultimately, it’s Council President Martinez who is most at fault for what has gone wrong in the 10th District since Mark Ridley-Thomas was suspended.

July 22, 2022

A “hostile takeover” indeed.

The question is what comes next. It’s true that South L.A., once a stronghold for Black Angelenos, is no longer that. Today, Latino residents make up roughly half of L.A.’s population but represent less than a third of the council’s districts. That raises questions about fair representation.

But the answer cannot be a city run by Latinos only for Latinos, which, based on what Martinez feels comfortable saying behind closed doors, is what she really wants to do — and will do just about anything to make it happen.

Two paragraph apologies, sent out via Twitter, aren’t enough either. De León, for example, said that he regrets “appearing to condone and even contribute to certain insensitive comments made about a colleague and his family in private. I’ve reached out to that colleague personally.”

Bonin deserves more than a phone call. His Black son does too. So do all Black Angelenos.

Cedillo, contacted by The Times on Saturday night, said he didn’t even “have a recollection” of the recorded conversation. By Sunday night, he apparently remembered and issued an apology. Also on Sunday, Herrera asked for forgiveness, saying there is “no justification and no excuse for the vile remarks made in that room.”

Again, please.

I tend to agree with Harris-Dawson when he says that something “foundational” must be addressed and that, done right, it will be a “very long, grueling process.”

“I heard one statement on the tape where one of the people in the room says, ‘Well, these Black electorates have never done anything.’ That’s just ignorant,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s willful ignorance, or if it’s actual ignorance, but that’s not something that gets solved by someone resigning.

“That’s something that gets solved over a long period of time in which people commit to doing and understanding.”

That’s what L.A. deserves. Leaders, especially a City Council president, who will lead, not use racist tropes to build a political system of us versus them.