TOP NEWS STORY OF 2022: Latino officials recorded making racist remarks

Wave Staff and Wire Reports

LOS ANGELES — It was a meeting in October 2021 of Latino leaders called to discuss the redistricting process for the Los Angeles City Council. It included City Council President Nury Martinez, City Councilmen Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León and Ron Herrera, the president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

When news of the meeting broke Oct. 9 this year, it became the news story of the year, as selected by Wave editors.

On Oct. 9 the Los Angeles Times reported on the meeting after a tape of the secretly recorded meeting was released on the website Reddit. The tape was removed by Reddit within the day and the person who posted the tape was suspended, but the damage was done.

During the meeting, the four Latino officials were heard making disparaging, racist remarks about City Councilman Mike Bonin and his 5-year-old adopted Black son.

Among other comments in the recorded conversation, Martinez belittled Bonin and criticized the child for his behavior at a Martin Luther King Day parade, saying Bonin’s son was misbehaving on a float, which might have tipped over if she and the other women on the float didn’t step in to “parent this kid.”

“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.’”

Martinez also called the child “ese changuito,” Spanish for “that little monkey.”

De León also criticized Bonin. “Mike Bonin won’t f—ing ever say a peep about Latinos. He’ll never say a f—ing word about us,” he said.

De León also compared Bonin’s handling of his son at the MLK Parade to “when Nury brings her little yard bag or the Louis Vuitton bag.”

“Su negrito, like on the side,” Martinez added, using a Spanish term for a Black person that’s considered demeaning by many.

On the subject of Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas’ suspension amid an indictment on federal corruption charges, Martinez said Controller Ron Galperin would decide whether Ridley-Thomas 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.”

Martinez also took aim at Los Angeles County District George Gascón in profane terms, after the group appeared to discuss whether Gascón would endorse Cedillo in his re-election campaign against Hernandez.

“F— that guy. (inaudible) … He’s with the Blacks,” she said of Gascón.

Reaction to the taped remarks was swift. Herrera resigned from his Federation of Labor post the day after the story was published. Martinez resigned as president of the City Council the same day, and then resigned from the City Council the next day.

Calls for de León and Cedillo to resign came from across the country, including President Joe Biden.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, speaking at a press briefing Oct. 11, said, “I spoke to [the president] about it yesterday. The president is glad to see one of the participants in that conversation [Herrera] has resigned, but they all should. He believes that they all should resign.

“The language that was used and tolerated during that conversation was unacceptable,” she said. “It was appalling. They should all step down.”

Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, speaking for most of his colleagues, said de León and Cedillo should resign their council seats.

“I don’t see how that presence continuing in city leadership is going to allow the city to move forward,” O’Farrell said. “I just think that that presence will continue to be an obstacle if it is still there in the halls of power at City Hall.”

He added, “Angelenos deserve better.”

Many residents of the city agreed. They appeared at the Oct. 11 City Council meeting, demanding that de León and Cedillo resign and disrupting the meeting until Cedillo and de León left the council chambers.

Cedillo, who had lost his reelection bid in the June primary never returned to the council chambers. After staying away from meetings for two months, de León tried to return earlier this month only to have protesters disrupt the meeting with chanting and clapping and some of his colleagues walked out of the meeting, refusing to return until he left.

The Los Angeles Police Department opened an investigation into the leaked conversation. Police Chief Michel Moore said the department’s Major Crimes Division would look into an allegation of eavesdropping to determine if the conversation was recorded illegally.

California is a “two-party consent” state, meaning that all parties — not necessarily just two — participating in a conversation must give their approval for the conversation to be recorded. Violators could face both civil and criminal penalties.

“We will bring our results to the appropriate prosecuting agency upon completion of that investigation,” Moore said when announcing the probe.

The Federation of Labor called the recording illegal, saying it was “a serious security and privacy breach” and promising its own investigation.

Both investigations continue as the year comes to an end.

The leaked recording also widened a rift between the Black and Latino communities.

“What we heard on that tape was not politics,” said Tavis Smiley, the founder of KBLA Talk 1580. “That conversation was mean-spirited and unacceptable. If that’s the way you’re wired as an elected official, you have to go. L.A. has a multi-ethnic mix of people. You can’t govern in a city like this with an attitude like that.”

Activist Najee Ali added: “What makes this especially painful is that Martinez, Cedillo and de León are progressive allies and friends of ours. They have always been there for the African-American community.”

City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson not only called for the resignations of de León and Cedillo, he told them to leave the council chambers Oct. 11.

“I told them we won’t be able to have a meeting with them in the room,” Harris-Dawson said after the meeting. “It was clear to me they did not understand the gravity of what they had done.”

Although some City Hall agitators continued to try and disrupt meetings until Cedillo and de León quit, the council returned to business with Councilman Paul Krekorian becoming City Council president and Curren Price becoming president pro tem.

Cedillo disappeared from City Hall. His spokesman released a statement saying he was at a “place of reflection.”

De León, on the other hand, tried to make peace with the Black community.

“I ask that the Black community not judge me for that one meeting,” de Leon told The Wave Nov. 2 in a phone interview. “I have a shared commitment with the Black community on so many issues. I’ve been in the trenches with many people in the community and Black elected officials. My commitment has been real and genuine.”

He met with a small group of Black leaders and ministers Oct. 31 at a location on South Crenshaw Boulevard that was coordinated by the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable.

“De Leon reached out to us,” said roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson. “I advised him to have an open-door meeting with Black leaders. He has to use his power for healing whether he resigns or not. I want to be clear. Nothing has changed from my position. My calls are still there for him to resign so we can move forward and address Black-Latino relations.”

He also spoke with Smiley, but that didn’t change the minds of most Black community leaders.

“If he wants to repair the damage, it starts with him leaving the City Council,” Melina Abdullah, president of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, said of de León.

“There can be no reconciliation until he resigns,” said the Rev. William Smart, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California. “If he came to me, I would say to him he has to resign. If he does that, I will help him through the process of reconciliation.”

Earlier this month, residents of de León’s 14th Council District were given permission by the city clerk’s office to begin circulating recall petitions against de León, the only way he can be removed from office.

Under the statement of reasons in the notice of intent, the organizers cited de León’s refusal to resign over the scandal.

“Even though the City Council has called for his resignation, and have stripped him of his committee assignments, Kevin de León has refused to resign,” the statement reads. “He currently cannot represent the stakeholders of Council District 14.”

Organizers must collect 20,437 signatures from registered voters in the district by March 31, according to the city clerk’s office, to force a recall election.

De León remained defiant. In a radio interview Dec. 23 with Earl Ofari Hutchinson, he said he would continue working in his district.

“If you don’t do what you need to do, if you don’t do what you campaign on, if you don’t lead in the face of much acrimony, anger, misinformation — then the situation doesn’t get better for the district or the city or your constituents,” de León said. “It only just gets worse.”

In the interview, de León blamed a “narrative” cast around him after the conversation was leaked.

“I’ve never been that person,” de León said. “Not in the past, nor present, nor will I ever be that person in the future.”

He also accused the media of “moving forward with that narrative” but “it doesn’t make it true.” He said the visceral emotion of the moment “does not fit the facts.”

“It was just a firestorm that just took all the oxygen out of the room almost immediately and etched in stone a certain narrative that I find to be highly inaccurate, and not reflective of me as human being, as a man, as my value and principles,” de León said.


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