LA mayoral candidates Bass, Caruso weigh in on racist remarks in leaked audio

Tuesday, October 11, 2022
Councilman believe audio was leaked in 'employee-employer conflict'
"We can't have a city council where every day we go in, there's someone sitting there that called a Black child a monkey," he said. "It's not tenable, it's inconsistent with the city of Los Angeles, it's not who we want to be. I don't even think it's who [Martinez] wants us to be."

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- As calls mount for Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez to resign over racist comments she made about a colleague's son, fallout of the leaked audio is now spilling into the race for L.A. mayor.

Mayoral candidates Karen Bass and Rick Caruso weighed in on the controversy in statements after the audio from an October 2021 conversation became public over the weekend. In it, Martinez is heard referring to Councilman Mike Bonin's Black son by a racist slur in Spanish and referring to his misbehavior during a parade by remarking "I was like, this kid needs a beatdown."

Councilman Kevin de León contributed insensitive remarks during the conversation with Martinez. Both of them on Sunday issued apologies.

Congresswoman Bass issued a statement that read, in part: "Let me be clear about what was on those tapes: appalling, anti-Black racism.... The challenges we face already threaten to tear us apart and, now, this hateful and shocking conversation among some of our city's most powerful leaders could divide us even further."

Caruso, her opponent in the race for city mayor, also issued a statement attempting to connect Bass to the scandal.

WATCH | LA City Hall audio leak: What are the long-term ramifications?

Dr. Fernando Guerra, the director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at LMU, speaks out on the racial dynamics among members of City Council and what the long-term ramifications could look like after a recorded conversation showed Nury Martinez making a a series of racially charged remarks.

"The entire situation shows that city hall is fundamentally broken and dysfunctional. Most of the people involved in this ugly episode have endorsed Karen Bass... I hope she'll do the right thing and demand for their accountability and renounce the endorsement of those who used hate speech."

Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez and Councilman Kevin de León are facing a growing chorus of protests and calls for their resignation after they were caught on a recording making racist comments about another councilmember's toddler son.

In the scandal's aftermath, Bonin called for Martinez and de León to resign after making what he described as "horrific racist slurs" about his son. Protesters also showed up to Martinez's home on Sunday, calling for her to step down, as a chorus of city leaders and civil rights activists condemned the remarks.

Bonin issued a statement Sunday calling for the City Council to remove Martinez as president and for her to resign from her council seat. He added that de Leon and union head Ron Herrera - who was part of the conversation - should also resign from their positions. Bonin said he was also upset at the "tacit acceptance" of the remarks by Councilman Gil Cedillo who was also present.

"We are appalled, angry and absolutely disgusted that Nury Martinez attacked our son with horrific racist slurs, and talked about her desire to physically harm him," Bonin wrote in a statement with his partner Sean Arian. "It's vile, abhorrent, and utterly disgraceful."

Bonin says his son was under 3 years old at the time of the 2017 parade referred to in the conversation.

The remarks were made during a conversation involving Cedillo and de León and L.A. County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera focused on the politically sensitive process of redrawing council district boundaries. Their talk also touched on the efforts to replace Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who's been indicted on federal corruption charges.

It was not clear who recorded and initially leaked the conversation, which first appeared anonymously on Reddit but was later removed from the site. The conversation was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The site Knock LA preserved and posted the audio before it was taken down from Reddit.

Martinez issued a statement apologizing for her comments: "In a moment of intense frustration and anger, I let the situation get the best of me and I hold myself accountable for these comments. For that I am sorry," Martinez said.

"The context of this conversation was concern over the redistricting process and concern about the potential negative impact it might have on communities of color," the statement said. "My work speaks for itself. I've worked hard to lead this city through its most difficult time."

De León also issued an apology Sunday.

"There were comments made in the context of this meeting that are wholly inappropriate; and I regret appearing to condone and even contribute to certain insensitive comments made about a colleague and his family in private. I've reached out to that colleague personally," he said. "On that day, I fell short of the expectations we set for our leaders -- and I will hold myself to a higher standard."

WATCH | LA civil rights, religious leaders say apologies on racist remarks 'not enough'

"They're sitting in the back room telling monkey jokes," said Rev. John Cager with the AME Ministerial Alliance. "L.A. is better than that, and when we look at a way forward for Los Angeles. We cannot play the politics of racial division. We need to find ways to work together to make L.A. better."

Among other comments, Martinez belittled Bonin, who is white and has a 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-----g ever say peep about Latinos. He'll never say a f-----g 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.

Cedillo, who was present for the conversation but was not reported to have made any offensive remarks himself, issued an apology for not intervening:

"I want to start by apologizing. While I did not engage in the conversation in question, I was present at times during this meeting last year. It is my instinct to hold others accountable when they use derogatory or racially divisive language. Clearly, I should have intervened. I failed in holding others and myself to the highest standard. The hurtful and harmful remarks made about my colleague's son were simply unacceptable. We choose public life, but our families should always be off limits and never part of the political discourse."

Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statement and is notably not calling for any resignations, saying he's "encouraged that those involved in this have apologized."

On the other hand, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla is calling on all three council members to resign. He expressed his support for Bonin via a statement posted on Twitter, saying "As a father, I am offended that an innocent child was a target of these remarks."

Councilman Paul Krekorian, who represents L.A.'s second district, saying a child should never be subjected to "such extraordinarily hurtful comments under any circumstances."

"My longtime colleague Mike Bonin and I don't always agree, but he is also my longtime friend, and I am heartsick to think of the pain that he and his family are experiencing," said Krekorian.

Civil rights groups and other city leaders have issued statements condemning the remarks, with some calling for disciplinary measures against the councilmembers.

"The Los Angeles I love is a welcoming and nurturing place," Mayor Eric Garcetti said. "As Mayor, as a father, and as an Angeleno, I am saddened by what I read. There is no place in our city family for attacks on colleagues and their loved ones, and there is no place for racism anywhere in LA. Everyone in our city deserves to feel safe and treated with equal respect. These words fall short of those values."

Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Assemblyman Isaac Bryan, who was mentioned during the conversation, spoke out Monday afternoon, calling for the full resignation of Cedillo, De León and Martinez.

"These are folks that I work with, folks that I've been colleagues with, folks that I considered allies and friends, and I think what we heard on the tape disqualifies them from service on the Los Angeles City Council," said Harris-Dawson, who believes the recordings were released by what he called "an employee-employer conflict."

"We can't have a city council where every day we go in, there's someone sitting there that called a Black child a monkey," he said. "It's not tenable, it's inconsistent with the city of Los Angeles, it's not who we want to be. I don't even think it's who [Martinez] wants us to be."

Bryan said the recordings suggested he was anti-labor, which he said "is counter to the values that I hold for working people."

"I think my name was wobbled in the Council District 10 conversation along with [Assemblyman] Reggie Jones-Sawyers name when they were talking about allies and enemies and that appointment process," said Bryan.

"But overall, I'm hurt today. I think most Angelenos are hurt today. I think most people in California are hurt today, and so I'm grateful to the Latino leaders in the community who have stepped up and condemned these remarks. I'm grateful to the labor leaders who have stepped up and condemned these remarks."

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Albert Carvalho says though this was a disturbing learning moment for the city, comments like these will continue to be made in the community and we must "continue working to stamp out the ugliest parts of our history and bias."

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials called the comments appalling, heartbreaking and unacceptable.

"First off, there is absolutely no place, zero place, for racism among anyone in public service," said Erica Bernal-Martinez with NALEAO. "With Los Angeles being the diverse city that it is, there are very complex challenges before us affecting they everyday day lives of Angelenos."

The California Nurses Association shared similar sentiments, calling the remarks "vile and disgraceful."

The group issued a statement that reads in part, "Each one of these individuals should have plenty of opportunity to reflect on why they would perpetuate racist stereotypes and to consider how they can make amends to a community whose public trust they have violated - out of the office they now hold."

City News Service contributed to this report.