California attorney general to investigate LA redistricting after leaked audio of racist comments

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Wednesday, October 12, 2022
Bonta to investigate LA redistricting after leaked racist audio
California's attorney general will investigate L.A.'s redistricting process as three of the city's councilmembers face calls to resign over a recording of them making racist comments.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- California's attorney general says he will investigate the redistricting process in Los Angeles as three of the city's councilmembers, including Nury Martinez, face calls to resign over a recording of them making racist comments.

The move by Attorney General Rob Bonta comes amid growing calls to address the way politics can still influence the redrawing of district maps after the census count each decade.

"My office will conduct an investigation into the City of LA's redistricting process," Bonta said, without providing much detail. "We're going to gather the facts. We're going to work to determine the truth."

"It's clear an investigation is sorely needed to help restore confidence in the redistricting process for the people of L.A.," he added.

Bonta's announcement comes after days of public outcry stemming from the leaked audio in which councilmembers Martinez and Kevin de León were heard making racist comments, at one point targeting Councilman Mike Bonin's Black son. Councilman Gil Cedillo was present when the racist remarks were made.

All three have apologized but are still all facing demands that they fully step down from their seats.

Martinez stepped down as council president and apologized Monday, saying she was ashamed of her racially offensive language in the year-old recording. However, she did not resign her council seat. She announced Tuesday that "I need to take a leave of absence and take some time to have an honest and heartfelt conversation with my family, my constituents, and community leaders."

Protesters are demanding that Los Angeles councilmembers heard in leaked audio making racist remarks resign from office.

On Tuesday, protesters showed up at the first City Council meeting since the audio was leaked and delivered emotionally-charged comments during the public hearing section.

In emotional remarks at Tuesday's meeting, Bonin said he was deeply wounded by the taped discussion. He lamented the harm to his young son and the fact that the city was in international headlines spotlighting the racist language. "I'm sickened by it," he said, calling again for his colleagues' resignations.

"Los Angeles is going to heal," he said at one point. "I want to lead with love."

Tuesday's meeting got a delayed start as councilmembers struggled to speak over attendees in the packed council chambers as they chanted and booed.

The leaked audio of the October 2021 conversation was recorded behind closed doors as the council was redrawing its own district boundaries.

The discussion - which also included a powerful Latino labor leader, who has since resigned - 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.

Bonta said the results of his investigation could potentially bring civil or criminal results.

"It could lead to criminality if that's where the facts and the law dictate," he said. "There's certainly the potential for civil liability based on civil rights and voting rights laws here in the state of California."

He said the process "is just starting and we don't like to make conclusions first and get facts later." The investigation will determine the outcome, he said, but he noted it could also lead to changes in policy at the state or local level.

Black and Latino constituents often build alliances in politics. But tensions and rivalries among groups separated by race, geography, partisanship or religion have a long history in Los Angeles and, indeed, the country. The friction can cross into housing, education and jobs - even prisons - as well as the spoils of political power.

The California Legislative Black Caucus said the recording "reveals an appalling effort to decentralize Black voices during the critical redistricting process."

In one of the most diverse cities in the nation, a long line of public speakers at the meeting said the disclosure of the secretly taped meeting brought with it echoes of the Jim Crow era, and was a stark example of "anti-Blackness."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.