Rafu Staff and Wire Reports
A year-old recording that captured remarks by Los Angeles City Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Kevin de Leon, and Gilbert Cedillo and L.A. County Labor Federation President Ron Herrera has unleashed a firestorm of reaction from the Japanese American community and former City Council member Jan Perry.
On Sunday, The Los Angeles Times reported that an October 2021 recording of a conversation between Martinez, de León, Cedillo, and Herrera contained comments deemed to be racist.
The weekend leak of the conversation has unleashed a firestorm of criticism toward Martinez, de León and Cedillo. Herrera resigned from his post Monday night.
Martinez on Monday stepped down as council president, but she has resisted calls to resign her seat altogether. Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell is acting council president.
In the recording, Martinez made racist comments aimed at Councilmember Mike Bonin’s 2-year-old Black adopted son and at other ethnic groups while the group discussed the politically sensitive process of redrawing council district boundaries.
Among other comments in the recorded conversation, Martinez belittled Bonin, who is white, 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—ing ever say peep about Latinos. He’ll never say a f—ing word about us.”
De León 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.
Elected officials calling for Martinez, de Leon and Cedillo to resign include Mayor Eric Garcetti; City Attorney Mike Feuer; Controller Ron Galperin; Councilmembers O’Farrell, Bonin, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Curren Price, Nithya Raman and Heather Hutt; L.A. County Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis; Assemblymembers Isaac Bryan and Tina McKinnor; Sen. Alex Padilla; and Reps. Tony Cárdenas, Adam Schiff, and Ted Lieu.
Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a White House briefing that President Biden also wants the councilmembers to step down.
“I know Mike Bonin, his husband Sean, and their wonderful son. Nothing can change the fact that they are a beautiful, amazing family,” Lieu said in a statement. “When Mike and Sean’s son grows up, he will read that a small handful of so-called leaders in Los Angeles made vile, disgraceful and racist comments. He will also read that the entire community rose up and shamed these officials, lifted up Mike and his family, and showed the love and respect that make Southern California such an inviting place for all people.
“L.A. Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo must resign from the council and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera must step down from his post.”
Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California issued the following statement: “There is no justification for the appalling racist remarks…and their tacit endorsement by Councilmember Gilbert Cedillo. As such, we call for their resignation for their failure to uphold their oath to our communities and for their racial divisiveness and urgently call for an independent redistricting process.
“Their racism is the antithesis of the solidarity that API, Black and Latinx communty leaders in Los Angeles strive to acheve for our diverse city. Anti-Black, anti-indigenous, anti-LGBTQ and other forms of white supremacist rhetoric are direct forms of violence against all our communities. History has shown us time and time again that tbe words uttered by our leaders can either help heal or continue to harm.
“Their disregard of an Asian American city councilmember (Raman) as being ‘without merit’ is troubling. But most appalling is their ridicule of Black Angelenos, including a two-year-old child, and their collective strategizing to disempower the Black community. The actions of these leaders cannot and should not be tolerated for the future of our movement, communities and healing.
“Their blatant disrespect for redistricting and the redistricting process is shameful. We worked tirelessly in collaboration with many other organizations and community members during the redistricting process to ensure that diverse voices of the community — including the Bangladeshi, Latinx and Koreans in Koreatown — were represented as we developed and advocated for our communities of interest.
“Redistricting is too important of a process to be ridiculed and put into question by those who have the power to decide on these significant boundaries. These councilmembers and their actions highlight the need for an indepdenent commission vote on the map boundaries, not city councilmembers who are drawing and haggling lines to meet their personal interests.
“To know that these City Council members and their leaders have utter disregard for multiracial coalition-building is tragic. We deserve public officials and labor leaders that authentically believe and champion a democracy built on diversity, inclusivity and unity at all times. Not ones that seek self-interest and advancements by pitting us against one another.
“We call on all API organizations to stand in unity with our Black and Brown siblings during this time, and to demand accountability for the sake of justice — without which there is no healing.”
In its statement, the Japanese American National Museum said that it “unequivocally condemns racism, prejudice, and discrimination in all its forms. The hateful statements by Los Angeles City Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Kevin de Leon and Gilbert Cedillo, and Ron Herrera, the now former president of the L.A. Labor Federation, are wholly unacceptable and demonstrate a breaking of the covenant of trust with the people they serve. We require that our elected leaders hold themselves to the highest standards and when they fail to do so, we must hold them to account.
“These statements go against JANM’s core values and the interconnectedness and solidarity that we promote through our National Center for the Preservation of Democracy. We are aligned with the calls for accountability because we believe that residents of Los Angeles deserve leaders that champion a democracy built on diversity, inclusivity, and unity.”
Perry served on the City Council from 2001-2013 representing most of Downtown L.A. including Little Tokyo until redistricting paved the way for Jose Huizar to step in as the Downtown representative. Huizar, who sat on the council from 2005-2020 and succeeded Perry as Little Tokyo’s representative, is currently under indictment on federal corruption charges.
Reacting to the predicament faced by Little Tokyo’s sitting Councilmember de Leon, Perry stated, “(He) has to give serious thought to what he decides to do next. I think he will have a very difficult time governing with any credibility going forward.
“They have all been pulled into this tornado. It doesn’t matter where you are in life, you should never speak ill of someone’s family member and particularly a child. That is absolutely unforgivable. While parents may choose to be in politics, their children did not. Children deserve to be protected, but you don’t make comments about a child in a pejorative way and refer to a child or anyone for that matter as some kind of an animal. It’s inhumane and perpetuates the worst of racist tropes.”
Matthew Weisbly, education and communications coordinator for the Japanese American Citizens League, stated, “JACL is appalled and deeply disappointed by the statements made by (those) who are supposed to represent the best that the city has to offer and be allies to our communities, especially when representing districts like Little Tokyo.
“Such racist rhetoric has no place anywhere, let alone a City Council chamber. We join in the calls for accountability because the broader Los Angeles community deserves to be represented by those whom they can trust to promote diversity and inclusion in this city.”
Leaders of the Koreatown Redistricting Task Force said that they “vehemently condemn racism and disrespect against our communities, and do not condone the hateful statements made in the leaked October 2021 conversation. We demand accountability of these leaders who failed to uphold their oath to serve all communities.
“An attack against any community is an attack against all of our communities. As elected leaders, they have a higher standard to stand by – one we must defend. Therefore, we call for the immediate resignation of Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Kevin de Leon, Gil Cedillo, and labor leader Ron Herrera. The values and behaviors which threaten our city’s diversity, our human dignity, and our civic progress are an imminent danger to all communities.
“We call on our community to come together to stand shoulder to shoulder against these tides of racism that emanated from top city leadership and emerge stronger as we work together to stand against it. We stand in solidarity with the Black, Brown, Asian, and all communities in Los Angeles, and we demand accountability for the sake of justice — without which there is no healing.”
The Ktown-RTF leaders available at the time of the statement represent the following organizations: Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California (AJSOCAL), Center for the Pacific Asian Family (CPAF), Faith And Community Empowerment (FACE), Korean American Coalition-Los Angeles (KACLA), Korean American Family Services (KFAM), Korean American Federation of Los Angeles (Kafla1962), and Koreatown Youth & Community Center (KYCC).