Angelenos call for resignations and reforms at town hall on racist audio leak
After the leaked recordings of racist comments from some of Los Angeles’ most powerful Latino leaders upended the city over the last two weeks, it was clear healing wasn’t going to come during Thursday night’s hourlong town hall. But many Angelenos were determined to unite and move forward — starting with the resignations of the City Council members involved.
The most common message that came from dozens of residents at “L.A. in Crisis: The Call for Change,” hosted by The Times and KTTV Channel 11, was that Councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo should resign. Both have been stripped of their committee assignments but have resisted calls to leave office.
Nury Martinez, the council president who made the majority of the anti-Black and anti-Indigenous comments in the recorded discussion with De León, Cedillo and labor leader Ron Herrera, already has resigned, as has Herrera, who was president of the L.A. County Federation of Labor.
“They need to step down immediately because every day that they are in office is another racist attack,” said Michael Browning, the president of the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council. “It’s time for them to go.”
The vast majority of attendees polled at the town hall agreed the two council members should step down.
“There are very few things where you get this high level of agreement,” Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson said. “What’s stunning is there are very few questions you can ask about politics, and you get 85% [agreement].”
Councilmember Mike Bonin, whose Black son was the target of some of the most shocking comments in the leaked recording, said everyone deserves a “road to redemption … but that road doesn’t begin in council chambers.”
Though Bonin’s term will soon be up — as will Cedillo’s — he called on remaining and future council members to focus on addressing inequity and injustice. Angelenos will play a key role in that, he said, by electing the next wave of leaders in November.
“The council needs to move beyond the words, move beyond the lip service, and do the work,” Bonin said Thursday night. “If we elect the right people to meet this incredibly difficult and challenging moment, then we can get through it.”
Chaya Crowder, assistant professor of political science and international relations at Loyola Marymount University, said the response from so many Angelenos demonstrating at council meetings and calling for change has been promising.
“I think that there is some reason for hope, and that people at a local level might become more politically engaged based on what we saw happened this week,” Crowder said.
Manuel Pastor, director of USC’s Equity Research Institute, said he’s been impressed by a wave of youthful activism, especially by young Latinos calling out their older generation of leaders.
“I think young people are ready to lead right now,” Pastor said. “What we need for all of our communities is an agenda about improving the situation that can actually bring us together — not falsely through kumbaya but through hard conversations.”
The racist and derogatory comments in the leaked audio recordings were made while the three council members and top labor official were discussing how to strengthen their power in the once-a-decade redistricting process last year.
Many attendees Thursday called for changes to the long-contentious process.
Audio of Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo speaking with labor leader Ron Herrera quickly became a new and incendiary issue in the Nov. 8 election.
Steve Kang, who worked for months on grassroots efforts to improve Koreatown’s representation, said council members should not have a hand in drawing political boundaries.
In Los Angeles, council members appoint members to the redistricting commission and approve the final maps.
“Reform is coming,” Harris-Dawson said. “It’s just a fundamentally bad idea to have politicians picking their voters.”
He said he is working on a plan that would move redistricting decisions to an independent commission.
In Koreatown, about a dozen community leaders and residents talked during the town hall’s commercial breaks about the need for the neighborhood to not be a “token” during redistricting and what it would take to remove the council members.
“Maybe people will forget?” a KTTV reporter wondered with the crowd.
“Not this one,” said James An, president of the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles.
Daisy Gutierrez, a Oaxacan American who came to the U.S. when she was 15 and has lived in Koreatown for 22 years, fanned her head and wiped away tears as she spoke about the council members’ comments — including Martinez’s reference to Oaxacans as “little short dark people.”
People trusted Cedillo, Gutierrez said, citing projects such as community cleanups that the council member’s office and residents had collaborated on.
“In just like seconds, it just destroyed everything, the trust with them,” said Gutierrez, 40.
But the community will persist, she said. “We are hard workers.”
For the record:
4:54 p.m. Oct. 21, 2022A previous version of this story incorrectly said Francesca LeRue has lived in Koreatown for 30 years. She has worked in the neighborhood for much of that time.
Francesca LeRue, a Latina who has worked in Koreatown on and off for 30 years and considers it a second home, said it was incredibly upsetting to hear council members mock a Black child, especially when the group is disproportionately represented in the child welfare system.
The L.A. City Council chose Councilmember Paul Krekorian to be its newest president, replacing Nury Martinez, who resigned amid fallout over leaked racist audio.
“They need to leave because they are clearly not the representation of the heart and soul of Los Angeles,” she said of the council members.
Still, even though she’s suspicious of what’s to come, she has hope.
“There needs to be continued hope,” she said. “[We] live off of hope, and to give it up because of those three individuals, it goes against the grain of who we are as Los Angeles.”
Harris-Dawson said city leaders need to listen to their constituents but can’t lose sight of the important issues in motion at the council, such as affordable housing and pandemic recovery.
“The people’s work has to go on,” Harris-Dawson said. “The city can’t afford to let those kinds of things fall by the wayside because we have these two recalcitrant and selfish members.”
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