Is Black-Latino solidarity in jeopardy after leaked LA City Council audio?

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Angie Perrin and Bennett Purser

LA City Councilmember Nury Martinez speaks prior to a council vote to increase minimum wage at City Hall in Los Angeles, California, September 24, 2014. Credit: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters.

Today LA City Councilmember Nury Martinez resigned as president following a leaked conversation from October 2021, where she made racist comments. That includes some about Councilman Mike Bonin’s young Black son. Martinez also derided LA County District Attorney George Gascón, saying he’s “with the Blacks.” Fellow Councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León, plus the president of the Los Angeles Labor Federation were also in the meeting. These comments were secretly recorded and first published on Reddit. 

In a statement posted on social media on Sunday, Bonin called Martinez “unfit for public office” and urged the council to remove her immediately. In a joint statement, Councilmembers Curren Price, Heather Hutt, and Marqueece Harris-Dawson called it a “dark day in LA politics.” 

The secretly-recorded conversation reinforces concerns among Black communities that Latino politicians aren’t as supportive as they claim to be, says Manuel Pastor, sociology professor and director of USC Equity Research Institute. As a result, he says decades of trust-building has been lost. 

“There is a sense on the part of a lot of Black folks in LA — of a loss of space in terms of gentrification and displacement and communities in South LA, a loss of political power and political voice. And sometimes a suspicion, which in this particular case rightfully confirmed, that Latinos might be saying different things in closed rooms than they are out in public about what it means to build solidarity between communities,” Pastor explains.

Martinez also talked about ensuring that heavily Latino districts, including USC, didn’t lose economic assets. 

Pastor says that type of conversation is allowed, but he adds, “What is not within bounds is thinking about how do you do that in a way that diminishes the political power of another important progressive constituency. … But this was a conversation heavily laden with anti-Black sentiment, anti-Indigenous sentiment, anti-gay sentiment.” 

Also present at the meeting was Ron Herrera, the president of the LA Federation of Labor, the most powerful labor union in the city. Many of its members travel door-to-door during elections, says LA Times reporter Benjamin Oreskes. 

“Ron is central to coordinating that mission and putting people or helping people … get on to the council who will ensure project labor agreements, ensure that any city building construction is done with union labor. So his role in this is essential. He is someone who, behind the scenes, has a lot of power. And I think it was not a surprise when we saw that he was part of this conversation.”