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L.A. City Council president faces calls to resign after she made racist comments

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In Los Angeles, a racism scandal is engulfing city hall and exposing decades-old racial tensions within city government. The president of the LA City Council was caught on a secret recording making racist comments about a colleague's Black son, along with other cruel remarks. She is now facing calls to resign her seat on the council. NPR's Adrian Florido is in Los Angeles tracking this. Hey, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Hey. Tell me a little more about what is on this audio recording.

FLORIDO: Well, the recording captures a conversation from last year between Nury Martinez, the powerful president of the Los Angeles City Council, and two of her council colleagues, Kevin de Leon and Gil Cedillo, along with an important LA union leader. All four of them are Latino. And that's important to note, Mary Louise, because in the audio, they're strategizing on how to maximize Latino political power in the city as part of the redistricting process that was underway last fall and also on how to take influence away from Black political leaders. It's a long conversation, and throughout it, Martinez uses racist and cruel language to talk about council colleagues and residents of her own city.

KELLY: Without wishing to amplify cruel or racist comments, I'm just trying to get a sense of the severity of this. Can you share any specifics?

FLORIDO: Yeah, and they are quite disturbing comments that she makes. One of the remarks that has most shocked the city since the recording came to light yesterday is one in which Martinez talks about one of her white colleagues on the city council and his adopted Black son. She accuses her colleague of using his son as an accessory. And she says this...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NURY MARTINEZ: And then there's this white guy with this little Black kid who's misbehaved. There's nothing you can do to control him, parece changuito.

FLORIDO: She calls him a changuito, which is Spanish for little monkey. The recording is peppered with these kinds of tropes and crass remarks. At one point, Martinez describes Indigenous immigrants from Mexico using denigrating language. She also uses an expletive to deride LA's progressive top prosecutor because he is, in her words, with the Blacks.

KELLY: Do we know, Adrian, where this recording came from, who made it, how it got out?

FLORIDO: It's not clear who made it or who leaked it. It was posted to Reddit earlier this month but first reported on yesterday by the Los Angeles Times. And since then, the calls for the council president to resign have been swift. Martinez has apologized and earlier today agreed to give up the council presidency but not her seat on the council. But council colleagues and civic leaders are pressuring her to do that. So are protesters, who yesterday gathered outside her house.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Chanting) Resign. Resign. Your racist comments are out of line. Resign. Resign.

FLORIDO: There are also calls for the two councilmen that Martinez was recorded having that conversation with to resign because they also make racially insensitive remarks on the recording.

KELLY: I mentioned this is exposing some longstanding tensions over race within the LA city government. Just give us a little context.

FLORIDO: Well, there's been decades of tension between LA's Black and Latino communities. The Black population is shrinking here and is now under 9%, while Latinos now account for nearly 50% of the city's population. Latino power has been growing at city hall. And there's been this fear among some Black Angelinos that as Latinos become a more dominant force in city politics, Black residents' concerns are going to be ignored. For some Black residents, this recording is confirming those fears. I've spoken with people today who've long worked to promote racial solidarity in LA who say that they are devastated by this recording and all the damage it could do to their work.

KELLY: NPR's Adrian Florido, thank you.

FLORIDO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.