[guest post by JVW]
A month ago, an audio recording of an October 2021 meeting between three Los Angeles City Councilmembers and some local labor bigwig was leaked on Reddit. Participating in the meeting were Council President Nury Martinez along with her colleagues Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo in discussion with Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera, and that audio recording was reported on by the Los Angeles Times earlier this evening. Would you believe that when speaking to each other in private, woke progressive lefty big city Democrats might not be as open-minded and tolerant as they pretend to be in public?
Behind closed doors, Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez made openly racist remarks, derided some of her council colleagues and spoke in unusually crass terms about how the city should be carved up politically.
The conversation remained private for nearly a year, until a leaked recording reverberated explosively Sunday and turned the focus of a sprawling metropolis toward Los Angeles City Hall.
What sorts of remarks were enough to incite this brouhaha? It’s not pretty:
Martinez and the other Latino leaders present during the taped conversation were seemingly unaware they were being recorded as Martinez said a white councilmember handled his young Black son as though he were an “accessory” and described Councilman Mike Bonin’s son as “Parece changuito,” or “like a monkey.”
During the conversation with Councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera, Martinez described Bonin at one point as a “little bitch,” according to a recording of the meeting reviewed by The Times.
Councilwoman Martinez turns 50 this coming year, so rest assured she is old enough to understand how historically problematic it is to compare African-Americans to simians. Mike Bonin is gay, and therefore describing him as a “little bitch” seems more than a wee bit homophobic, no? But it gets worse in terms of ugly racism. Here is how LAT columnist Gustavo Arellano, who listened to the tape, describes what was said about Councilman Bonin’s adopted son:
Herrera suggested that Bonin effectively puts his young son, who is Black, out in public like a lawn jockey, the racist statues used to invoke the antebellum South. De León compared the son to one of Martinez’s Louis Vuitton bags.
“Hay trae su negrito,” Martinez added — there he goes, bringing his little darky. Later, she said the boy’s behavior on a float during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade made him seem like a “changuito.”
In response to the behavior of the boy on the float, the council president expressed a rather disgusting opinion, as thuggish as it is racist:
“They’re raising him like a little white kid,” Martinez said. “I was like, this kid needs a beatdown. Let me take him around the corner and then I’ll bring him back.”
The boy was two years old at the time.
Beyond the ugly racism and homophobia, the three lawmakers spoke in backroom bare-knuckle terms about the power dynamics of intersectionality in the City of Angels. It will surprise no one to learn that they believe that Latinos — who now make up about half of the population of the city — are being denied proportionate power due to the continued influence of blacks, who are now under ten percent, and white progressives like Bonin who vote with them:
At one point in the conversation, De León referred to Bonin as the council’s “fourth Black member.”
“Mike Bonin won’t f—ing ever say peep about Latinos. He’ll never say a f—ing word about us,” he said.
And with a city redistricting commission which had just published a draft plan for new council districts which the four Latinos hated and were determined to fight, a discussion of how to handle the district of disgraced councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, recently indicted and likely headed for jail. Naturally, it first had to have a dollop of anti-white racism:
Martinez said she explained to another councilmember that if Ridley-Thomas were to be suspended, City Controller Ron Galperin would decide whether he still gets paid.
“You need to go talk to that white guy,” she says. “It’s not us. It’s the white members on this council that will motherf— you in a heartbeat.”
Once that was out of the way, talk turned about how to take advantage of Ridley-Thomas’s absence and at the same time deal a blow to socialist councilwoman Nithya Raman, who is too much of a lefty true-believer to be useful to the Latino bloc’s machine politics:
Later in the conversation, the group talked about how Koreatown — a largely Latino neighborhood — should be handled in redistricting.
Martinez said the area was in Council District 10, which was Ridley-Thomas’ district. Martinez then noted that Raman “wants a play for K-Town” but said that would not happen because she didn’t want “beef” with Ridley-Thomas.
Martinez said that giving Raman what could amount to a safer council district would not be good for Martinez and her allies.
“It serves us to not give her all of K-Town,” Martinez said, referring to Raman. “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.”
And, finally, the group made it clear how little they care for Karen Bass, who may end up being the next Mayor of Los Angeles, and whose corrupt political machine is far more influential than their own:
Herrera then said, “You just gotta combat CoCo with that seat. That seat has to be anti-CoCo.”
He was referring to Community Coalition, the nonprofit started by mayoral candidate Karen Bass and once headed by Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson that has spent the last three decades trying to improve relations between Latino and Black folks in South Los Angeles. Bass and Harris-Dawson are Black; Community Coalition’s current chief executive and executive vice president are Latinos.
For good measure, the quartet even indulged in some anti-Mexican bigotry, expressing disdain for those from Oaxaca who tend to have darker skin than their countrymen from the north, with Ms. Martinez declaring “tan feos” — “they’re ugly.”
As you can imagine, the three politicians now find themselves trying to get back in the good graces of their party. Council President Martinez has apologized, chalking up her comments to a moment of “frustration and anger” (remember that she joked about smacking around a two-year old boy) and insisting that she was just concerned about redistricting and that her work on the council “speaks for itself.” Less interested in the banalities of self-aggrandizement, Councilman de León declared that “I regret appearing to condone and even contribute to certain insensitive comments made about a colleague and his family in private.” Councilman Cedillo, who was defeated for his reelection bid in the primary race this past June, had the best response, insisting that he couldn’t recall any of the conversation.
Councilwoman Martinez and Councilman de León will probably survive this mess, despite calls from their nominal allies for them to resign. It’s possible that Ms. Martinez will be forced to give up the council presidency, but I would imagine she will come up with some sort of tearful public apology and will cut a deal with the city’s black leadership which will strengthen their political hand even as their percentage of the population continues to drop. And I’m sure she and Mr. de León will attend some sort of sensitivity training seminar and emerge from it fully cleansed of their racist attitudes, or so at least we will be told. But this was a very important insight into what progressive Democrats in a one-party town really think about each other and about intersectionality, and I for one am going to remember it next time some time-serving hack politician lectures me about not having the proper views on race.