A One Year Retrospective on the Racist Rant and the Blatant Abuse of Power

Editor's Note: As the holiday observance of Indigenous People’s Day draws to a close, it seems timely to punctuate the need for civility in Los Angeles in contrast to the venomous display of racism leaked in October of last year. It is worth noting that former Council President Nury Martinez’s disparaging comments were not limited to Black people, but included Oaxacans and others.    

Less than two weeks after the racist plot to violate the voting rights of African Americans last October laid bare disgraced former Council President Nury Martinez’s motivation for suspending former Council Member Mark Ridley-Thomas (MRT), her leadership of the City Council left a legacy of abuse that will not easily be erased in the memory of Tenth District (CD10) constituents.  

The recording made clear that Martinez harbored racial animosity toward those of a darker hue, including indigenous native Mexicans, and was determined to 1.) damage Mark Ridley-Thomas’ defense; 2.) expedite disenfranchisement of CD10 constituents; 3.)exploit ambiguities in the City Charter; and 4.) promote division within South L.A.’s Black community in order to 5.) weaken its political power for her own politically motivated purposes.

Councilmember Ridley-Thomas went without compensation for over one year with no legal justification; no actual findings of fact or precedent to support the City Controller’s unilateral action to revoke his pay; and no administrative, procedural, evidentiary, or Council Committee hearing respectful of due process traditionally accorded those accused of wrongdoing. The Council’s reputation was seriously damaged by the glaring absence of credible legal advice, transparency, due diligence, poor judgment and leadership that values accountability, integrity, democracy and adherence to the rule of law.

The hasty decision to suspend MRT was arbitrary. The City Charter did not mandate a suspension of a Councilmember under this circumstance. The decision by the City Council proved to be a costly waste of tax-payer dollars, and inconsistent with due process rights. Further, that Council decision—forced by Nury Martinez—was an act of political hostility combined with collective cowardice and a crude violation of the City Charter. 

The rush to judgment was facilitated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s (USAO) exaggerated claims of corruption and falsehoods which they claimed amounted to “millions of dollars” in exchange for benefits that turned out to be one unanimously passed contract negotiated, not by Mark Ridley-Thomas, but by the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.\

In the year since the public release of the recording, we have since learned the indictment and prosecution were considered novel and unique by all the parties involved in USA v. Mark Ridley-Thomas, including the judge. Neither MRT nor his son received any personal benefits, the prosecution called no witnesses and the trial record has left a host of issues worthy of appeal to the Ninth Circuit. Whether intended or not, the suspension produced significant consequences that were pernicious, including revocation of MRT’s pay in violation of the City Charter.

For nearly four months after MRT’s suspension, Martinez never publicly expressed her desire to appoint a temporary representative or publicly communicated the process by which the eligibility or selection would be determined. Nury Martinez announced her intention to appoint a temporary representative in an interview granted to a single English-language news outlet with limited readership among CD10’s diverse neighborhoods. She selectively met with CD10 stakeholders, rather than accept multiple requests for open community meetings and offers by community leaders and activists to host public hearings on the matter. The disgraced former Council President’s motion to appoint an interim representative was introduced and timed for consideration on the Tuesday following a three-day (President’s Day) holiday weekend while still under COVID-19 restrictions on public comment. 

The City Council’s vote on the motion was taken despite what the L.A. Times characterized as “a reasonable request for a one-week delay” and with full knowledge of a legal challenge to the eligibility of Herb Wesson by SCLC - SC and CD 10 residents.  The motion itself followed adoption of an amendment requiring a report back from the City Attorney on the very eligibility question at issue.  The litigation against the City was ultimately successful. The Court found Wesson’s appointment violated the City Charter and barred him from serving on the Council, but not before he fired MRT’s staff and the presumptively-ineligible Wesson hired Nury’s ultimate choice, Heather Hutt, as his hand-picked successor.

Combined with the compensation issue, tax-payers footed a largely avoidable legal settlement with the parties that cost the City $450,000 in legal fees. 

The violations of the City Charter and tax-payer settlements, the expression of anti-Black racial animosity, the brazen attack on Black political power, denial of voting rights, due process and the presumption of innocence are the features of her record she and her allies cannot deny. We must not let them forget, because we certainly will not.


CD10 Voices for Empowerment

Please see the related articles below for more information:

‘Completely destroyed’: Nury Martinez talks about the leaked recording and her life today

LA Times - Dakota Smith | OCT. 9, 2023 4:16 PM

“In Nury Martinez’s first interview since a leaked audio that prompted her resignation from City Hall, the former Los Angeles City Council president said that her comments were not intended to be racist, and that the scandal has left her and her family “completely destroyed.”

During the interview with LAist, Martinez said that on the day the audio became public, she had already accepted that the scandal was so huge she would need to step down — and that there was nothing she could say or do to undo the damage. ‘I knew that there was gonna be consequences, that I needed to pay for this,’ Martinez said.”

Exclusive: We Asked Nury Martinez To Explain What She Said On The Secret Tapes. Here’s What She Said

LAist - Antonia Cereijido & Emily Guerin |  Oct 9, 2023 5:00 AM

“Oh yeah. That went through my mind, at night 'cause I wasn't sleeping. And so the first thing I attempted to do is take full responsibility and apologize, which I know was not accepted at the time, and then fix what I had done. Of course, I thought about what this has done. Of course I thought about Mike's baby. Of course. But once phone calls kept coming in, I didn't necessarily feel comfortable with these people on the phone. I didn't know if I was being recorded. I didn't know if they were talking to the press. So I didn't talk about these things with anybody on the phone. The only thing I knew how to do is hand over my responsibilities as a council president and make sure that I didn't mess up anything else.” - Nury Martinez 

LA City Councilmember Kevin de León joins Gil Cedillo in suing for racist recordings

ABC 7 - City News Service | October 8, 2023 5:06 PM

“Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León has joined his former colleague, Gil Cedillo, in suing two ex-employees of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor in connection with the 2022 release of a secret recording where racist language was used during a discussion of redistricting plans for the city, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Like Cedillo, de León filed his lawsuit Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court and used some of the same language alleging the recording was an invasion of privacy and the result of negligence, the newspaper said.”

Secret Tape Scandal One Year Later: What’s Changed At LA City Hall?

LAist - Frank Stoltze | Oct 9, 2023 5:00 AM

“The scandal involved former councilmembers Nury Martinez and Gil Cedillo, Councilmember Kevin de León, and Ron Herrera, the former president of the influential L.A. County Federation of Labor. The audio was from a meeting where the four were discussing how to redraw council district boundaries in a way that would maintain their power.”

How LA City Hall has changed a year after racist remarks were leaked in a secret recording

LA Daily News - Linh Tat | October 8, 2023 at 5:00 AM

“An independent commission would be a dramatic departure from the city’s current redistricting process, in which councilmembers get to appoint commissioners and have final say in how the maps are drawn. The current system enables councilmembers to determine their own district boundaries and is what led to the backroom meeting between Martinez, de León, Cedillo and Herrera.”

Kevin de León says he deserves another chance. Critics say he’s ‘gaslighting’ L.A.

LA Times - Brittny Mejia & David Zahniser | OCT. 8, 2023 3:00 AM

“By refusing to step down, De León forced his colleagues to continually reassess their strategies for interacting with him. Should they stay in the room when he enters? Even his toughest critics on the council quickly realized that if they walked out, they would lose the ability to pass new renter protections and homelessness initiatives.

Then the next question: Should they put their signatures on De León’s written proposals? That was eventually resolved as well, with more than half of his 14 colleagues deciding they would. By mid-September, dozens of De León motions had passed with little fanfare.”

‘Ain’t a damn thing changed.’ Black L.A. skeptical a year after racist audio leak that roiled City Hall

LA Times - Salvador Hernandez & Nathan Solis | OCT. 8, 2023 3:00 AM

Martinez and Herrera resigned amid the fallout. Cedillo is also no longer on the City Council, having lost his reelection bid months before the audio was released; De León is running for another term in March. The Times spoke with Black Los Angeles residents this week to ask whether they thought anything had changed in the year since the racist audio leak was published.

LA councilman who rebuffed Biden’s call to resign after racism scandal is running for reelection

AP News - Michael R. Blood | September 20, 2023 2:17 PM

Democrat Kevin de Leon has apologized repeatedly, but his refusal to resign set off long-running protests that disrupted council meetings. He said in a statement he would seek another term after making “unprecedented strides” in his district, which cuts through downtown Los Angeles. He has continued to collect his annual salary of about $229,000 — among the most lucrative paydays for city council members in the nation.