In Nury Martinez’s district, Angelenos react with disgust to news of racist recording


A quiet outrage simmered in Nury Martinez’s council district Monday after a leaked audio recording in which she is heard making racist statements as she, two other Los Angeles City Council members and a powerful labor leader disparage other politicians.

Though many residents in Van Nuys, Panorama City and North Hills were unaware of the scandal surrounding Martinez, who has represented their district since 2013, those who knew of Martinez’s racist comments were not coy with their feelings.

“She’s a racist. Plain and simple,” said Joe Salas, a plumber who has lived in Van Nuys for 17 years. “She shouldn’t be in office. That’s someone who does not speak for everyone. It makes me want to vote in the next election, so I can vote her out of office.”

Joe Salas of Van Nuys is asked about racist comments made by Martinez. “She’s a racist. Plain and simple,” Salas said. “She shouldn’t be in office.”

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The morning after the leaked conversation involving Councilmembers Martinez, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo was reported by The Times, Martinez announced she would be stepping down as council president but not from her council seat.

Martinez, 49, apologized for the comments and said she was “truly ashamed” for her actions.

“As someone who believes deeply in the empowerment of communities of color, I recognize my comments undercut that goal,” Martinez said in a written statement. “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.”

Martinez, De León, Cedillo and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera were recorded in a mid-October 2021 conversation about city redistricting in which Martinez called the young Black son of Councilman Mike Bonin “Su negrito, like on the side,” using a Spanish diminutive term for a Black person that can be considered demeaning.

Martinez and Councilmember Kevin de León confer at a City Council meeting last week.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

“They’re raising him like a little white kid,” Martinez said. “I was like, this kid needs a beatdown. Let me take him around the corner and then I’ll bring him back.”

Martinez also said Bonin handled his son as though he were an “accessory” and said “Parece changuito,” or “He’s like a little monkey.”

The conversation took place as several council members were frustrated by a plan from a redistricting commission that would have removed economic assets from heavily Latino districts. Martinez worried that her district would lose Van Nuys Airport and the Anheuser-Busch brewery.

“If you’re going to talk about Latino districts, what kind of districts are you trying to create?” she asked. “Because you’re taking away our assets. You’re just going to create poor Latino districts with nothing?”

At another point, Martinez mocked Oaxacans as “little short dark people” and said “F— that guy … He’s with the Blacks” while speaking about Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón.

Outside the Original Tommy’s Hamburgers location in Van Nuys, 68-year-old Aloit Francois sipped a cup of coffee over his copy of the Los Angeles Times with the story about the racist remarks.

“Of course, she should resign,” Francois said, pointing to the newspaper. Francois lived in the San Fernando Valley more than a decade ago and now visits Van Nuys for his doctor appointments.

“Of course, she should resign,” says Aloit Francois, 68, a former resident of Nury Martinez’s district.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

“The racist comments about African Americans is not surprising when you get down to it. Politicians speak that way about people,” Francois said. “It’s the comments they made about districting. What’s that called in the past? It’s like redlining.”

Martinez, the daughter of Mexican immigrants from Zacatecas, graduated from San Fernando High School and Cal State Northridge. She served on the Los Angeles school board before taking office in 2013, and she lives in Sun Valley with her husband and daughter.

Few shoppers at Plaza del Valle in Panorama City on Monday knew her name. Many customers perusing vaquero boots or waiting for a haircut had not heard of the brewing scandal.

“She shouldn’t be a representative for the city of Los Angeles,” Lucia Perez, 32, says of Nury Martinez.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Lucia Perez, 32, an optometrist’s assistant, didn’t know about the racist comments as she sat down for lunch in the outdoor patio, but she recoiled when told by a Times reporter what Martinez had said.

“She shouldn’t be a representative for the city of Los Angeles,” Perez said.

Though Martinez had apologized for her comments, Perez shook her head and said, “There are other ways to apologize. She should resign.”

A small group of TV cameras was pointed at the front door of Martinez’s home Monday morning.

A group of protesters marched through her neighborhood the night before, but by Monday afternoon the quiet cul-de-sac saw little activity. None of her neighbors in their single-story homes were comfortable speaking about Martinez or the racist comments.

A woman called out from inside her house, “I don’t want to talk bad about that woman. She’s a good woman.”

Another woman called Martinez a “hard worker” but agreed the comments were racist.

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