Nury Martinez resigns from L.A. City Council in wake of audio leak scandal

Nury Martinez resigned her seat on the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday, in yet another sign of the enormous fallout that has followed leaked audio of a racist and crude conversation involving Latino political leaders.

"It is with a broken heart that I resign my seat for Council District 6, the community I grew up in and my home," Martinez wrote in a lengthy resignation message.

Martinez, who represents such San Fernando Valley communities as Van Nuys, Arleta and Sun Valley, told her constituents that it had been a privilege serving them. "I hope you stay engaged and continue to fight for your fair share of the city’s resources," she said. "It’s hard to say goodbye, but please know that I was in this fight for you."

She also addressed her colleagues, city workers and other groups. "And last, to all little Latina girls across this city — I hope I’ve inspired you to dream beyond that which you can see," Martinez said.

In closing, she said: "While I take the time to look inwards and reflect, I ask that you give me space and privacy."

The announcement comes days after The Times published a recording in which Martinez is heard making racist remarks while talking with fellow Councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo and labor leader Ron Herrera about how the city’s council district boundaries should be redrawn.

The October 2021 conversation focused on how the group could maintain Latino political power while ensuring they and their colleagues would have districts that help them win reelection.

Martinez is only the latest in a string of councilmembers to be caught up in scandal. Last year, Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas was indicted on bribery and conspiracy charges and was suspended by his colleagues.

Before that, Councilmember Jose Huizar was charged with racketeering, bribery and fraud — and was suspended six months before leaving office. Councilmember Mitchell Englander resigned in 2018, just as he was under federal investigation. Englander was later convicted of scheming to obstruct a federal inquiry into Huizar.

Huizar and Ridley-Thomas have pleaded not guilty and are headed to trial. Also Wednesday, prosecutors announced that Huizar’s brother, Salvador, had agreed to plead guilty to giving false information to federal investigators.

Dan Halden, spokesperson for acting Council President Mitch O'Farrell, said O'Farrell will designate the office of the chief legislative analyst, which advises the council on policy matters, as the nonvoting caretaker of Martinez's vacant seat.

That process has been relatively common immediately following a vacancy at City Hall. The council would have to decide whether to appoint a temporary replacement or leave it without a voting member until there is a special election.

Gov. Gavin Newsom called Martinez's resignation "the right move."

"Again, these comments have no place in our state, or in our politics, and we must all model better behavior to live the values that so many of us fight every day to protect," he said in a statement.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said that he recognized how “painful” a decision it was for Martinez, but that it was the right one. He added that De León and Cedillo should do the same.

"Angelenos deserve a government focused squarely on meeting challenges in their neighborhoods that are too serious to risk a paralyzed City Council,” he said in a statement.

In her resignation letter, Martinez described how her family had been her “biggest cheerleaders” and spoke of the sacrifices they made for her. She also addressed her young daughter, saying, ”I know I have fallen short recently of the expectations we have for our family. I vow to you that I will strive to be a better woman to make you proud.”

The move came amid mounting pressures from all corners of politics, including President Biden, councilmembers and many community activists. On Monday, Herrera, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, resigned.

Several councilmembers said Wednesday that the departures of Martinez and Herrera are not enough.

“Two down. Two to go,” Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said.

Harris-Dawson said the council should not pursue any policy changes until all three members have left and the city can begin to move forward. Whether he would actually not show up in person at Friday's council meeting? He wasn’t sure.

“We shouldn’t do any business until these folks are gone. Rushing to do major pieces of legislation — like the good stuff that was submitted yesterday — is a mistake,” he said, referring to proposals at Tuesday's council meeting to explore increasing the size of the City Council.

In the recording, Martinez focused in particular on Councilmember Mike Bonin, who is white, and Bonin’s young son, who is Black. At one point, Martinez called Bonin a “little bitch” and referred to his son as “parece changuito,” or “like a monkey.” She also said Bonin’s son had misbehaved on a parade float and needed a “beatdown.” But that is just one aspect of the leak, which has sent shock waves through City Hall and led to widespread disgust and outrage.

The three councilmembers are heard expressing frustration with maps that had been proposed by the city’s 21-member redistricting commission.

The recording remained private for nearly a year. The Times published details Sunday, just a month before a pivotal city election, after the audio was posted on Reddit. It remained unclear who recorded it, who uploaded it and whether anyone else was present.

Martinez had apologized repeatedly in recent days and announced Tuesday she was taking a leave of absence from the council. De León said he regretted his actions and “fell short.” Cedillo said he should have intervened during the conversation but did not mock his colleagues or make racist statements.

On Tuesday, Biden called on the three councilmembers to step down.

“The president is glad to see that one of the participants in that conversation has resigned, but they all should,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, calling the language in the conversation “unacceptable” and “appalling.”

Some L.A. City Council members responded to the fury by announcing a series of reform proposals. One would ask voters to expand the size of the council in 2024. Another would create a committee to look at ways of limiting corruption.

O’Farrell, the acting council president, announced his support for those proposals. Earlier this week, he denounced what he called “the casual racism,” the “abhorrent language,” the “dehumanizing racist reference” to Bonin’s son, the “denigration of Indigenous peoples” and “the familiar tropes against LBGTQ+ individuals” uttered during the recorded conversation.

O’Farrell joined Councilmember Curren Price, who has expressed interest in replacing Martinez as president, and three other city councilmembers at a news event Wednesday.

Price described Martinez’s resignation as “the beginning of the end of this nightmare,” and said “accountability” is needed.

“In order for us to govern and handle the people’s business ... we need Kevin and Gil to listen to their conscience, own their mistakes and do what’s morally right,” he said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.