An unsettling week at Los Angeles City Hall ended with lingering questions about the future of two embattled City Councilmembers and how the 15-member panel will conduct its business in the coming days.
More than a week after after a recording of three councilmembers and a county labor official in an October 2021 discussion that included include racist slurs was first made public, one of the two council members in the conversation has stepped down. Two others remain on the council, despite a widespread and urgent calls from local, state and national officials, including President Biden, to call it quits.
The fallout leaves a cloud of uncertainly over LA City Hall.
“The situation is fluid right now,” Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson told City News Service on Friday. “We’re in a period where we’re in a holding pattern, waiting for these resignations.”
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On Saturday, the colleague whose young son was the target of those racist comments again called on Councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo to resign. The county labor official, Ron Herrera, resigned after the recording's release.
“It’s been six days since we learned of the ugly, racist things Martinez, Herrera, de León and Cedillo said,” Councilmember Mike Bonin, who tested positive for COVID this week, said in a Saturday morning tweet. “De León's and Cedillo’s refusal to resign is another deep wound they’re inflicting on us all.
“Let Los Angeles heal. Resign today.”
Here’s what we know about the council scandal and what’s next.
Who resigned from the LA City Council?
Of the three council members heard on the recording, only former council president Nury Martinez has stepped down. Neither de León or Cedillo have commented publicly on their plans and remain on the council. They both attended Tuesday’s raucous Los Angeles City Council meeting, but departed after a conversation with their colleagues.
All three councilmembers issued public apologies on Sunday.
On Monday, the council's acting president announced he would be removing the two remaining members from the committee position.
When will the LA City Council meet again?
The next two council meetings are scheduled to be conducted remotely following a COVID exposure. On Wednesday, Bonin’s office said he tested positive for COVID-19 and day after he delivered an impassioned speech at Tuesday’s meeting.
"With the possibility that there will be more positive cases, out of an abundance of caution we will hold both Tuesday and Wednesday's meetings virtually, as we did for over a year during the height of the pandemic,'' O'Farrell said in a statement.
Bonin tweeted Saturday that his most recent COVID test, taken Saturday morning, was negative.
Outrage expressed in statements last weekend spilled into the LA City Council chambers during the week. Protesters chant inside and outside the chambers at Tuesday’s meeting, which was delayed several times before the remaining councilmembers considered and voted on several motions, including one calling for their colleagues’ resignations, another in support of censure and a broader proposal regarding the formation of an independent redistricting commission.
A smaller, but vocal, crowd of protesters showed up at Wednesday’s meeting, which was adjourned without any action. Acting council president Mitch O’Farrell said the “people’s business cannot be conducted” until de León and Cedillo resign.
When asked by City News Service if the potential for another disruption led to the decision to hold the meetings virtually, Dan Halden, a spokesperson for O'Farrell, said the move was “about the COVID-19 diagnosis.” Halden later said that it was important for the Council to move forward and have a meeting.
What happens to Nury Martinez’s seat?
When a Council seat is vacated, the body's president can appoint a non-voting caretaker. In this case, Councilmember O'Farrell became the acting president after Martinez resigned Monday from that role and appointed the city's chief legislative analyst to immediately assume the caretaker role.
The CLA office helps the Council develop legislative programs, and provides budget analysis and research..
The caretaker can remain in the office until a new member takes office through an election or the Council president decides to remove that individual. The caretaker will oversee the operations of the Council office, which include constituent inquiries and requests, communications, personnel, payroll, office management, and working with City offices, O'Farrell said in his office's statement.
The caretaker is not seated as a Council member and cannot vote on Council matters. Sharon Tso currently serves as the Chief Legislative Analyst.
O'Farrell's statement indicated a special election might be held, allowing voters to choose a new member. Martinez's term was set to expire at the end of 2024. It was not immediately clear when a special election would be called.
Who recorded the LA City Councilmembers’ conversation?
The year-old recording that captured racist slurs and a discussion about council redistricting was anonymously posted on Reddit, then taken down. It is not publicly known how the recording was made or even who else was in the room at the headquarter of a politically influential labor group.
The source of the recording “is a parlor game going on all over town,” former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told the Associated Press. “It may never be solved.”
No one at the meeting has spoken publicly about the possible source of the recording.
Are there investigations involving the leaked recording?
The discussion captured on the leaked recording focused on the council redistricting process, which is now under scrutiny from several corners.
On Wednesday, California Attorney General Rob Bonta, another Democrat, said he will investigate Los Angeles’ redistricting process, which could lead to civil liability or criminal charges, depending on what is found. The Los Angeles City Attorney also issued calls for a ballot measure on an independent commission to handle redistricting matters.
"Let me be absolutely clear: The job of a public official is to serve the people. We’re elected to represent our constituents to the best of our abilities, doing the most good for the most people," said Bonta. "As a father and human being, I am deeply appalled by the remarks made by some of Los Angeles’ highest-ranking officials. Their comments were unacceptable, offensive, and deeply painful.
"There is no place for anti-Black, anti-Semitic, anti-Indigenous, anti-LGBTQ, or any kind of discriminatory rhetoric in our state, especially in relation to the duties of a public official."
The discussion centered on protecting Latino political power during the redrawing of council district boundaries, known as redistricting. The once-a-decade process can pit one group against another to gain political advantage in future elections.
The California Legislative Black Caucus said the recording “reveals an appalling effort to decentralize Black voices during the critical redistricting process.”
Among comments in the conversation, Martinez belittled Bonin, who is white and has a 2-year-old adopted Black son, 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 peep about Latinos. He'll never say a f---ing word about us."
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.