What we know about the explosive leaked audio roiling L.A. City Hall and its origins

A leaked audio recording of three members of the Los Angeles City Council and a top county labor official punctuated by racist comments and derisive remarks about colleagues has rocked Los Angeles politics just a month before a key election.

The conversation includes Council President Nury Martinez, who is Latina, saying a white councilman handled his young Black son as though he were an “accessory” and describing the child as like a “changuito,” or little monkey.

Council President Nury Martinez makes racist remarks about Councilmember Mike Bonin’s young son while others chime in during this section of the conversation.

The group was discussing a dispute between Councilmembers Curren Price and Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who were at odds last year over whose district would represent USC and Exposition Park once the new maps were finalized. The clip begins with Martinez recounting a conversation she allegedly had with businessman Danny Bakewell.

She also said, “F— that guy… He’s with the Blacks” while discussing Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón, among other incendiary comments on the tape.

The recording, first reported Sunday by The Times, has sparked outrage, apologies and a legal threat over revealing the contents of the audio. Here is what we know about the recording so far.

What is the origin of the tape?

The conversation took place in mid-October 2021.

Audio of it was posted on Reddit by a now-suspended user several days ago.

“Wow, you know it happens, but when you actually hear it, it’s unbelievable,” the now-suspended Reddit user said in text accompanying the audio, according to a screenshot reviewed by The Times. “The labor movement is in bed with City Hall.”

It was recorded “on LA County Federation of Labor property,” according to Julie Gutman Dickinson, a lawyer representing the L.A. County Federation of Labor.

The participants do not appear to know they are being recorded.

It’s unclear who made the recording or whether there was anyone else in the room at the time.

Who was present during the conversation?

Martinez, Councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera were present during the conversation.

As City Council president, Martinez holds one of the most powerful positions in local politics, leading the city’s 15-member legislative body. De León, a former leader of the California Senate, was elected to council in 2020 and ran in this year’s mayoral primary, finishing third. Cedillo lost a June primary election, and his council term ends in December.

Herrera heads the politically prominent Federation of Labor — a coalition that represents more than 800,000 union members and spends big on behalf of its favored candidates at City Hall.

What was the focus of the conversation?

The group appears to have been meeting to discuss the city’s once-a-decade process of redrawing council district boundaries, which was underway at the time.

The conversation focused heavily on council members’ frustration with maps that had been proposed by the city’s 21-member redistricting commission, as well as the need to reelect Latino council members. Martinez and De León were especially frustrated with proposals for taking economic assets, such as Van Nuys Airport and USC, out of heavily Latino council districts.

The wide-ranging, roughly hourlong conversation also includes discussion of Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas’ indictment and what should happen with his council seat, talk of upcoming council races, derisive remarks about council colleagues and numerous racist comments.

What has the political fallout looked like?

By Sunday afternoon, politicians and candidates in the Nov. 8 election had begun calling for Martinez to step down from her post — or resign altogether. Bonin, Councilmembers Paul Koretz and Nithya Raman and Councilmember-elect Eunisses Hernandez — who will soon fill Cedillo’s seat — have called on Martinez to resign.

The timing of the leak is hugely significant, coming a month before a pivotal city election. Martinez has endorsed a number of candidates in the Nov. 8 contest, including the mayoral bid of U.S. Rep. Karen Bass.

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