Cross-cultural coalitions have ruled Los Angeles politics for decades, helping elect both Black and Latino politicians to top leadership roles in the huge racially and ethnically diverse city.
But a shocking recording of racist comments by the City Council president has laid bare the tensions over political power that have been quietly simmering between the Latino and Black communities.
Nury Martinez, the first Latina elected president of the Los Angeles City Council, resigned from her leadership role last week, then from the council altogether, after a leaked recording surfaced of her making racist remarks and other coarse comments in discussion with other Hispanic leaders.
Martinez said in the recorded conversation, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, that white Councilmember Mike Bonin handled his young Black son as if he were an “accessory,” and described the son as behaving “parece changuito,” or like a monkey. She also made denigrating comments about other groups, including Indigenous Mexicans from the southern state of Oaxaca, who she termed “feos,” or ugly.
The recording, released anonymously a year after it was made, stunned and hurt many in the Black community, which makes up a little less than 9% of the city’s roughly four million residents. Concerns inside that group, which has long counted on council seats and other city posts in heavily African American neighborhoods, have been growing in recent years as the Latino share of the population has swollen to nearly half and Hispanic politicians have started assuming more high-ranking roles.
Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., the executive publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel, a Black-run newspaper, wrote afterward of “the cancerous divisiveness that has been secretly harming our progress.”
“To discover that these conversations are a part of the dialogue of the very people entrusted to lead the city of Los Angeles and to realize that there is a plot amongst them to minimize the voice and political power of the Black community makes it even more reprehensible,” Bakewell added.
The now-infamous conversation about frustrations over redistricting maps produced by a city commission was recorded in October 2021. The others present were Councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera.
Martinez referred to Bonin, who is gay, as a “little bitch” and De León called Bonin the council’s “fourth Black member.”
For the Rev. Eddie Anderson, the Black senior pastor of the McCarty Memorial Christian Church in Los Angeles, the “horrific statements by the highest officials in local government” were just part of “a plan to dilute the Black vote and power in our community.”
“There was a real plan of Black erasure, of people who have been here a long time building this city,” Anderson said.