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Los Angeles City Council president steps down from leadership role after leak of racist comments

Nury Martinez apologized in a statement before she announced her resignation.

The president of the Los Angeles City Council stepped down from her leadership role Monday after an audio recording of racist remarks surfaced.

Nury Martinez apologized in a statement as she announced her resignation.

“I take responsibility for what I said and there are no excuses for those comments. I’m so sorry,” she said.

Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez at Los Angeles City Hall on April 1, 2022.
Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez at City Hall on April 1.Damian Dovarganes / AP file

In comments during a meeting last year, Martinez likened a colleague’s Black son, who was 2 years old at the time, to an animal and seemed to imply that the county’s progressive district attorney shouldn’t be supported because he might be popular with Black Angelenos.

The 2021 audio from a political strategy meeting attended by a handful of Latino Democrats on the council was first reported Sunday by the Los Angeles Times.

Martinez said in the statement: "As someone who believes deeply in the empowerment of communities of color, I recognize my comments undercut that goal. Going forward, reconciliation will be my priority. I have already reached out to many of my Black colleagues and other Black leaders to express my regret in order for us to heal.

"I ask for forgiveness from my colleagues and from the residents of this city that I love so much. In the end, it is not my apologies that matter most; it will be the actions I take from this day forward. I hope that you will give me the opportunity to make amends," she added.

"Therefore, effective immediately I am resigning as President of the Los Angeles City Council," she said.

The statement didn’t say Martinez was resigning from her council seat. A representative couldn't immediately be reached for comment Monday.

The audio surfaced on a Reddit discussion board this month but was deleted. The source of the recording is unknown, and NBC News hasn’t determined whether it has been edited.

News of the racist comments caused politicians to weigh in throughout the state.

In a statement about the remarks Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said "racist language can do real harm."

"I'm encouraged that those involved in this have apologized and begun to take responsibility for their actions," Newsom said. "These comments have no place in our state, or in our politics, and we must all model better behavior to live the values that so many of us fight every day to protect."

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., himself a former president of the Los Angeles City Council, said in a statement that the comments were "racist" and "dehumanizing."

"At a time when our nation is grappling with a rise in hate speech and hate crimes, these racist comments have deepened the pain that our communities have endured. Los Angeles deserves better," Padilla said.

The controversy has also become a hot topic among mayoral candidates Karen Bass, a Democratic member of Congress, and billionaire former Republican Rick Caruso. They are competing to replace Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Bass said in a statement: "Los Angeles must move in a new direction, and that is not possible unless the four individuals caught on tape resign from their offices immediately."

Caruso also called on Martinez and council members Gil Cedillo, whom he called "my friend," and Kevin de León to resign in a statement, calling the remarks "racist and deeply offensive."

"This is a heartbreaking day for our proud, diverse city," Caruso said. "I do believe that in their hearts they are better people than the vile comments we heard on that tape. But they also know they are role models and they have let our city down."

The meeting, apparently about political strategy and redistricting, was attended by Martinez, Cedillo and de León, as well as Ron Herrera, the president of the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. All are Latino Democrats.

The remarks about the child, the son of departing council member Mike Bonin, concerned his behavior at a parade in 2017, when he was 2. Martinez used a Spanish term to refer to the boy as an animal.

Martinez also dismissed Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, a justice reform advocate who is reviled by law-and-order politicians and has survived two Republican-led recall attempts, as unworthy of the support of the people in the room.

“F--- that guy. He’s with the Blacks,” she said.

Also on the recording, De León called Bonin, who is white, the 15-seat council’s “fourth Black member.” De León said Bonin doesn’t support Latinos — that he has never said “a peep” about them.

Martinez asked why Bonin allegedly thinks he’s Black, and De León responded, “His kid is.”

De León — a San Diego-raised politician who rose to statewide prominence as a legislator and then unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Los Angeles — suggested Bonin treated his son like a fashion accessory, a handbag.

Herrera didn’t appear to utter any racist remarks. He did say the group’s support for a leader to take over the seat for a traditionally Black district should be someone who would be an ally on Latino interests.

Bonin has called for Martinez, De León and Herrera to resign, saying the episode points to deep fissures in the city’s population.

He characterized Martinez’s comments about his son in a statement as “dehumanizing” and said, “It is painful to know he will someday read these comments.”

The family statement said only Cedillo couldn’t be implicated in making or supporting racist views, but it expressed disappointment, saying his apparent silence was “tacit acceptance of those remarks.”

All four have apologized in statements.