Can Bass or Caruso rebuild Black-Latino relations after leaked council audio?

Written by Amy Ta and Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Angie Perrin

Going into the November 8 election, LA’s next mayor will have to focus on healing racial divisions that may have reopened since the City Council audio leak, says LA Times Columnist Erika D. Smith. Photo by Shutterstock.

Protesters packed today’s LA City Hall meeting after three members of City Council were caught on tape making racist and demeaning comments, including about Councilman Mike Bonin’s adopted Black son. 

Bonin said today, “I’m a dad who loves his son in ways that words cannot capture. And I take a lot of hits, and hell, I know I practically invite a bunch of them. But my son? Man, that makes my soul bleed and it makes my temper burn. And I know I’m not alone because Los Angeles has spoken, and it feels the same way.”

One of those members speaking in the leaked audio — Nury Martinez — today took a leave of absence. The two others – Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo – were in the chambers at the beginning of today’s meeting but were forced to leave amid loud heckling from protestors. All three are facing more calls to resign — not just from voters but U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, both candidates to be the next LA mayor, and some of their colleagues on the council. 

LA Times Columnist Erika D. Smith has been writing about what this scandal means for the next mayor, and how it threatens to reopen long-standing tensions between LA’s Black and Latino communities. 

A leave of absence may not be enough for Martinez, and it may be impossible for de León and Cedillo to be effective now, she suggests. 

“They're not only just the racist comments, but the clear strategy session they were using to try to dilute the Black vote and boost the Latino vote instead. And I think there's a lot of distrust that's not going to be addressed until they're off the council.”

Smith says that the next generation of Angelenos, including city leaders, appear to be more willing to embrace multiculturalism and could help mend broken trust. 

“You're not so much talking about the tribalism of ‘it's the Black voters, it’s the Latino voters, and it’s the Asian American voters.’ It's more of a sense of ‘how can we bond together over issues of poverty … or homelessness or police brutality,” she says. 

Going into the November 8 election, Smith points out that LA’s next mayor will have to focus on healing racial divisions that may have reopened since the audio leak. 

“You're potentially going to have Kevin de León and potentially Nury Martinez off the council by the time they take office. And so it's about rebuilding trust with the community, and it's about convincing people that public policy isn’t being made at the expense of one group for another.”

LA mayoral hopeful Karen Bass is in a “touchy position” because she won Martinez’s endorsement, Smith says. Many people also see Bass as part of the establishment. 

However, Smith points out, “She has a long track record to draw on as founder of Community Coalition, which was designed in many ways to build … bridges that we're looking to rebuild now, particularly between Black and Latino communities. … The question is whether she can convince voters that she's the right person to deploy that expertise, or do we need somebody who's more of an outsider like Rick Caruso?”

Smith says billionaire businessman Caruso isn’t in an ideal situation either because he’s not part of the community.

​​”It's great for him that he's a billionaire. But I think there's some distrust among people, particularly with the vastness of income inequality we have in the city and in this county. And so I think he has the same challenge he's always had, which is proving to voters that he is the person who can understand their issues and help fix them.”

Meanwhile, the rest of LA City Council must now show that they’re dedicated to their jobs. 

"Those who are left have to right the ship as much as they possibly can and really show … that they care what the public [and voters] think. … There has to be a level of anger that's being expressed, but also there has to be some resolution where people feel like … they're actually getting something in return.”

She adds, “I'm not really convinced that any real work on public policy is going to get done until … there’s accountability there [with the three council members].”