Nury Martinez and the limits of Latinx political representation

A photo illustration shows Nury Martinez and Councilmen Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León.
A photo illustration shows former Councilwoman Nury Martinez and Councilmen Gil Cedillo, center, and Kevin de León.
(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times)

Nury Martinez resigned from the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday, days after The Times published a story in which Martinez and three other prominent Latinx political figures were caught in a leaked audio recording making racist, homophobic and other derogatory comments.

The contents of the leaked audio are in no uncertain terms reprehensible and condemnable. Chief among them are attacks on a Black child — Martinez refers to Councilmember Mike Bonin’s adopted son as a “changuito” and even jokes about beating him.

Equally as bad was the way in which Martinez, Councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León, and Ron Herrera (now the former head of the L.A. County Federation of Labor) spoke about their ambitions of consolidating and growing Latinx political power in L.A. at the expense of Black communities. After all, the bulk of the audio recording focuses on the city’s once-a-decade redistricting process.

As Times columnist Erika D. Smith aptly put it, these comments “bluntly confirm the worst fears of many Black Angelenos: that Latino politicians treat political power as a zero-sum game.”


“It’s not us,” De León said at one point in the recording, adding that what they were doing was “for Latino strength for the foreseeable future.”

But when looked at closely, this claim falls apart.

The topic of what to do with Koreatown comes up in the audio leak, and the quartet immediately reaches the consensus that they do not want to give it to Councilmember Nithya Raman.

It’s worth mentioning that Cedillo’s opponent in the 1st Council District race in June, eventual winner Eunisses Hernandez, painted him as pro-developer and anti-renter. The audio suggests it was a fair attack.

“It serves us to not give her all of K-Town,” Martinez said. “Because if you do, that solidifies her renters’ district, and that is not a good thing for any of us. You have to keep her on the fence.”

The implication that a “renters’ district” would be a blow to their broader mission of empowering Latinxs is particularly baffling given how many Latinx households in L.A. are tenants.

According to a Times analysis of 2020 American Community Survey data, the share of Latinx renter households is higher than the overall rental rate in most districts. In the 6th District, which Martinez represented, 68% of Latinx households rent their homes, which is 5 percentage points higher than the district average.


A horizontal dot plot showing the percentage of households that rent in each L.A. city council district, by race or ethnicity
(Szu Yu Chen / Los Angeles Times)

“If they really wanted to help Latinos, the vast majority of whom are tenants, they’d make every district a renter district,” said Hugo Soto-Martínez, the progressive candidate running in the 13th District (more on him later). Soto-Martínez is one of the many voices demanding that all of the politicians captured in the audio recording step down.

Housing affordability is an issue that transcends racial and ethnic lines in Los Angeles. After all, tenant interests are Latinx interests. They’re also Black interests — no other racial or ethnic group has a higher rental rate.

On Tuesday, during the first City Council meeting held after the leaked audio became public, it was housing advocates who were the loudest in their calls for resignations.

“We don’t stand by anybody trying to divide our community,” said Estuardo Mazariegos, co-director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action, a multiracial nonprofit organization. Mazariegos said that as many as 50 ACCE members showed up at City Hall.

“They don’t represent our city and they never will.”

It wasn’t just the comments made about tenants that undermine the quartet’s assertion that their actions and words were for the greater good of Latinx political representation. It was also the way in which they spoke of the 13th District race.

Among the group’s grievances was the fact that Latinxs were underrepresented in City Hall. One would think that Martinez & Co. would want another person with a Spanish surname on the City Council. And yet, despite the fact that a Latinx candidate is running in the 13th District, the group makes it unequivocally clear whom they’re supporting.

“I want to make sure that we protect Mitch” O’Farrell, Herrera said in the leaked audio, referring to the district incumbent.

The mention of the 13th District race is especially illuminating because it makes it clear that the group doesn’t want just any Latinx in that seat. They want a Latinx who is just like them, whatever that means.

Of course, the irony is that the actions of these individuals will ultimately end up disenfranchising the very constituents they claimed they were trying to empower. Martinez has already stepped down, and it’s only a matter of time before Cedillo and De León follow suit.

De León’s resignation will be particularly devastating for the constituents of the 14th District, which includes Lincoln Heights, El Sereno and Boyle Heights, three predominantly Latinx neighborhoods that Cedillo derisively called a “Chicano Mecca” in the leaked audio. De León’s departure will mean the district will have back-to-back councilmembers quit in disgrace. His predecessor, Jose Huizar, is currently on trial for bribery and racketeering charges.

“If the goal of that meeting was to advance Latino political empowerment, it’s had pretty much the opposite effect,” said professor Manuel Pastor, director of the Equity Research Institute at USC.

“It’s created distrust within the Latino community and with other communities when it comes to Latino political ambitions,” he said, “which works against the interests of the broader Latino community.”

Szu Yu Chen, Gabrielle LaMarr LeMee and Hanna Sender contributed to this report. You can find The Times’ complete coverage of the leaked audio here.

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