On Tuesday, calls for the resignation of three Los Angeles city council members who were caught on tape making racist comments in a meeting last year remained strong, as the revelations sparked an intense debate about racial rivalries and the sometimes-hidden battle to seize and hold political power in America’s second largest city.
Nury Martinez, president of the Los Angeles City Council, resigned and apologized Monday, saying she was ashamed of her racially offensive language in the meeting recording.
However, pressure is mounting for her to resign from the council completely, with some of the state’s top politicians, including Governor Gavin Newsom, US Senator Alex Padilla, and outgoing Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, urging her to “take responsibility.”
Politicians, Indigenous groups, and the state Democratic Party also demanded the resignations of two other council members who attended the meeting: Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León, a powerful player in California politics who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Los Angeles and the Senate. On Monday, both men apologized but did not leave their seats.
Los Angeles County Federation of Labor president Ron Herrera, who also participated, resigned on Monday evening.
The profanity-laced audio recording of the October 2021 meeting shows Latino politicians and a labor leader discussing the city’s redistricting of council district boundaries, as well as the need to re-elect Latino members and protect economic interests within Latino districts.
It also shows Martinez making fun of a white councilman’s Black son, as well as Latino leaders crudely discussing Black voters and Indigenous residents of certain LA neighborhoods.
Herrera stressed the importance of exercising caution when dealing with a district represented by a Black councilman indicted on federal corruption charges. He warned that the Black community might see it as a “hostile takeover.”
The recording surfaced at a time when rude political discourse has become commonplace across the country, but in this case, members of the same party were involved, exposing power struggles in a changing city.
Latinos make up roughly half of the population in Los Angeles. About 9% of the population is black.
In politics, black and Latino people frequently form alliances, but tensions and rivalries among groups divided by race, geography, partisanship, or religion have a long history in the city.
The racist language was “horrific,” according to Fernando Guerra of Loyola Marymount University’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles, but the recording highlighted the reality of politics. “You are not going to give it to someone else once you have it.”
“There is a political axiom that power is never given up; it is always taken,” he explained. Despite the hostility, “there has not been a single case of a Latino taking a Black seat in a significant position in LA,” such as congress or the legislature.
“Essentially, those two communities were vying for the same pie crumbs,” Michael Trujillo, a veteran Democratic consultant based in Los Angeles, explained.
Jaime Regalado, former executive director of California State University, Los Angeles’ Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs, said the recording reveals the nature of political power struggles that often take place behind closed doors.
“What we hear on the tape is everybody else be damned,” he said, referring to the African American community.
“A lot of it stems from when Latinos first began to organize and gain political power.” “That meant breaking down the door to City Hall,” Regalado explained.
“Black politicians are attempting to safeguard what they have.” At the same time, given the growing Latino population, he said, “you can understand the Latino wishes for parity” on the council.
The squabble has engulfed the city’s mayoral election.
US Representative Karen Bass, who is running for mayor against fellow Democrat and billionaire developer Rick Caruso and could become the city’s first Black woman mayor, said the Latino council members were “stoking the divide between our city’s Black and Latino communities.” She also demanded that those involved resign.
Caruso has promised to address dysfunction at city hall, and the release of the recording may play into that message. He also demanded that those involved resign. He called it “a heartbreaking day”.