Column: Council President Nury Martinez shamed the office, let down the city. She should step down



Resign from the presidency?

That’s not good enough.

Nury Martinez needs to clean out her office, turn out the lights and disappear.

She’s morally compromised, racially divisive and politically damaged.

“I take responsibility for what I said and there are no excuses for those comments,” Martinez said in a statement about giving up the top post on the Los Angeles City Council.

When I started to read what she had to say, I assumed she was going to let the city know she was resigning altogether.

That’s what taking responsibility would mean.

But she didn’t. And so now, a month away from mayoral and council elections in a city that already had a voter confidence problem, against a smoldering backdrop of corruption and unmet challenges, we’ve got this new whopper of a scandal involving ugly remarks by one of the most powerful people in local government.

Martinez insulted Councilman Mike Bonin and referred to his young Black son as a monkey. Isn’t that alone enough to shame her into retirement from public office?

She called Bonin, who is white and gay, a “little bitch” who was working on the side of “the Blacks.”

She went after Oaxacans, calling them short, dark and ugly.

All these redneck remarks became public with the release of a recording made one year ago, and she’s not packing her bags?

I reached out to Miriham Antonio, a USC grad and first-year law school student at UC Irvine, because I know how determined she is to become a community leader herself, and I know how much she has been inspired by people she thought of as role models.

“As an Angeleno and Oaxacan woman, I am both infuriated and saddened by the racist and insensitive comments uttered by the three L.A. City Council representatives against the Indigenous and Black community,” said Antonio, whom I met when she was running a voter registration drive as a Fairfax High School student.

“Those comments are representative of the racism and colorism that Black and Indigenous folks continue to endure in this country,” Antonio said. “These ‘representatives’ are a disgrace to Latinos and Angelenos; they do not deserve to remain in office.”

By “they,” she was referring to the others heard on the tape of the conversation, in which the focus was on redistricting the city, with a goal of putting more Latinos in office. That would be councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, along with labor leader Ron Herrera.

Their comments were by degrees somewhat less offensive than those of Martinez. But political consultant Mike Trujillo made a good point about whether residents in Martinez’s and De León’s districts might pay a price for their transgressions. (Cedillo lost his reelection bid and will be out of office soon.)

“If you’re a constituent of theirs,” Trujillo said, you want your rep to be as effective as possible, whether the issue is homelessness, picking up trash or filling potholes. “So who’s going to be the first person to second Nury’s motion? Do you really want to be the first person?”

Jane Demian, who’s on the Neighborhood Council in De León’s district, was disappointed in him but shocked by what Martinez said.

“I’m glad she stepped down as council president, and she may have to resign altogether,” said Demian, who has worked hard in her community to address homelessness. “My confidence in Martinez has been destroyed.”

The fair representation discussed on the recording is a legitimate issue in a city in which Latinos are under-represented in elective office and management positions. But the petty, coarse and demeaning language the participants used may serve to sabotage the cause and further divide the city.

“This is a big story that has many tentacles,” said political consultant Dermot Givens.

Indeed it does.

Who recorded the conversation and why? Who released the recording and why?

Might it have anything to do with a corruption probe in a building that offers full employment opportunities to federal investigators?

And what effect might it have on the mayoral race between Rep. Karen Bass (who says she’s a consensus builder) and Rick Caruso (who says he’s running to put an end to corruption and lousy leadership by career politicians)?

Already, there’s messy maneuvering behind the scenes to determine who will slide into the council president slot and try to put out the dumpster fire. But I don’t know if anyone has a big enough fire hose.

Meanwhile, outgoing Mayor Eric Garcetti awaits notice of whether his nomination to serve as President Biden’s ambassador to India is on hold due to a sexual harassment scandal involving one of his former top deputies.

“There’s no playbook for this,” Trujillo said of the latest fiasco. “This is pretty unprecedented. I think each of these individuals who want to become a better person — and I believe they do — probably have to walk away from City Hall for quite some time.”

Martinez should be the first to go.

Steve.lopez@latimes.com

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