LOS ANGELES – Leadership behind the second most-populous city in the country was in a state of uncertainty Wednesday as the Los Angeles City Council’s former president, Nury Martinez, resigned in disgrace after audio leaked this week of her using racist language.
The development happened after Martinez, a rising star in California politics, already announced she was taking a leave of absence and resigned her post leading the 15-member body. The announcement came hours after a rowdy city council meeting ended with protesters drowning out officials. They demanded all officials on the recording resign.
“It is with a broken heart that I resign my seat for Council District 6, the community I grew up in and my home,” Martinez said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.
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What else happened today: The LA City Council met for the second time since leaked audio revealed the council’s then-president, Martinez, made racist remarks and disparaged colleagues in a recording obtained by the Los Angeles Times. Protesters gathered inside the chambers and halted the meeting from even starting.
What’s in the audio: In the recording obtained by the Times, Martinez could be heard making racist statements about a white councilmember’s child, saying her colleague, Mike Bonin, “handled his young Black son as though he were an accessory” and describing the colleague’s son in Spanish as “like a monkey.”
Who has resigned? Martinez announced Wednesday she was resigning her seat on city council, a day after she decided to take a “leave of absence.” Martinez and Ron Herrera, president of Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, both resigned from their presidency positions on Monday, according to the Times. The two other councilmembers heard on the call, Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León, have not resigned despite widespread calls.
The complications: In addition to the three councilmembers heard on the leaked audio, three current or former councilmembers have been indicted or pleaded guilty to corruption charges. It was unclear whether the city council would be able to assemble the required 10 members – out of 15 total – to conduct business on Wednesday.
City Council meeting ends after hour-long protest
For more than an hour, protesters stood on wooden benches inside the marbled City Hall chambers chanting, booing and delaying Wednesday’s meeting until all officials on the audio recording resigned. By 11:15 a.m. PDT – more than an hour after the 10 a.m. meeting was set to begin – the council adjourned and ended the meeting before it even started.
Protesters stomped, clapped and chanted in celebration as the chamber’s lights dimmed and officials filed out of the room. Some donned Black Lives Matter apparel, and others wore “I’m with the Blacks,” a reference to Martinez’s comments in the leaked recording. Many held up signs reading phrases like, “RACISTS RESIGN.”
Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who is acting as president after Martinez resigned, tried to start the meeting several times, at one point trying to begin with comments from the public and another time with remarks by councilmember Mike Bonin, whose family was the target of the incendiary remarks. But each time, protesters drowned him out.
Later, O’Farrell said the meeting ended because they no longer had a quorum on the council, meaning two-thirds, or 10 of the 15, councilmembers were no longer present.
The crowd chanted, “Sin renuncia, no hay justia” – “Without resigning, there isn’t justice.”
Acting council president says officials have ‘no other option’ but to resign
After Wednesday’s meeting, O’Farrell said the three councilmembers in the leaked recording must resign from their positions to allow the city to heal and move past this moment.
“I’m hopeful that Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo and Kevin de Leon will understand that there is no other option than for them to resign,” O’Farrell told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
He told reporters that he had spoken with each of the councilmembers one-on-one and told them to resign. The fact that they have yet to do so is “very frustrating,” the acting city council president said.
“It is personally and professionally frustrating, but it is frustrating for the whole city, because it’s holding us up. It’s holding us up from moving forward,” O’Farrell said.
Acknowledging the nationwide attention on the local government scandal, O’Farrell defended Los Angeles’ diversity and culture.
“There’s no perfect solution to this. There are no winners in all of this that’s happening now. There are only casualties,” he said. “But the heart and soul of Los Angeles does not need to be a casualty of this.”
Biden joins calls for councilmember resignations
The three councilmembers heard on the recording have faced sustained calls for their full resignation from the council from local politicians, mayoral candidates, labor groups and even President Joe Biden.
White House press secretary Jean-Pierre said Biden calls on all of the leaders heard on the call to resign.
“The president is glad to see that one of the participants in that conversation has resigned,” Jean-Pierre said. “He believes that they all should resign. The language that was used during that conversation was unacceptable and it was appalling.”
Other notable names who have called for resignations: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the California Democratic Party, multiple labor unions, current mayoral candidates. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California’s longest-serving U.S. senator, also joined the chorus Wednesday.
What happens if city council members don’t resign?
While everyone from local residents all the way to Biden are calling for all officials on the explicit audio to resign, there isn’t much that can be done if they don’t resign themselves.
Los Angeles doesn’t have a mechanism to suspend or remove members of its 15-member city council for such actions, the Los Angeles Times reported. There is a provision that allows for members to be suspended if they’ve been charged with a crime and are awaiting trial, the City Charter states.
Another option could be recalling members, a popular mechanism in California due to laws that make it relatively easy to launch such efforts. But at least one of the city council members, Cedillo, has a term that’s ending in December.
Meanwhile, concerns have arisen on whether the council can assemble the required 10 members – out of 15 total – to conduct business on Wednesday should the two involved councilmembers resign.
Contributing: The Associated Press; Christal Hayes, USA TODAY