Gerrymandering in Calif., big concern after derogatory, leaked audio from private meeting goes viral
By ONME News
LOS ANGELES – After the recent leaked audio of the city of Los Angeles redistricting committee meeting from last year, high ranking public figures and elected officials behaving badly proved that California is not immune to gerrymandering tactics from desperate politicians trying to keep their powerful seats in office.
Gerrymandering is the act of manipulating the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favor one party or class; California just completed its redistricting process which started in 2020, completing in 2021 in time for the 2022 general elections.
The state of California now has an independent redistricting commission for federal and statewide offices, but the process for local municipalities is still controlled by the mayor and the City Council. Powerful council members are then able to draw districts that ensure their easy reelection, or the easy election of their preferred successor. For Latino politicians, that often means drawing districts with a heavily Latino majority.
The audio was not only demeaning and derogatory towards Black, LGBTG, and Jewish peoples, but also damaging in regards to the rigged redistricting process in Los Angeles, which has a population of almost 4 million residents.
As a result, the California Attorney General, Rob Bonta, announced on October 12 the launch of an independent investigation into the City of Los Angeles and its city council with regard to the city's redistricting process. The investigation was prompted by the leaked audio revealing which aired deeply concerning remarks tied to the city’s 2021 redistricting efforts, and will seek to determine whether there were any violations of state or federal voting rights laws and transparency laws, consistent with the Attorney General’s authority under the California Government Code and the California Constitution.
“Let me be absolutely clear: The job of a public official is to serve the people. We’re
elected to represent our constituents to the best of our abilities, doing the most good for the most people,” said Attorney General Bonta. “As a father and human being, I am deeply appalled by the remarks made by some of Los Angeles’ highest-ranking officials. Their comments were unacceptable, offensive, and deeply painful. There is no place for anti-Black, antisemitic, anti-Indigenous, anti-LGBTQ, or any kind of discriminatory rhetoric in our state, especially in relation to the duties of a public official. As Attorney General, I am committed to doing my part to ensure the rights of the people of California are protected. The decennial redistricting process is foundational for our democracy and for the ability of our communities to make their voices heard — and it must be above reproach. The leaked audio has cast doubt on a cornerstone of our political processes for Los Angeles. Given these unique circumstances, my office will investigate to gather the facts, work to determine the truth, and take action, as necessary, to ensure the fair application of our laws. We will endeavor to bring the truth to light as part of the sorely-needed work to restore confidence in the redistricting process for the people of our state.”
Under the California Constitution and Government Code, the Attorney General has broad authority to investigate any potential violations of the law and ensure the laws of the state are uniformly and adequately enforced. At this stage, the investigation will be conducted by the California Department of Justice’s Racial Justice Bureau within the Civil Rights Enforcement Section. During the course of the investigation, state attorneys will work diligently to consider all relevant information related to the city’s 2021 redistricting process and adopted map. However, it is important to note that the Office of the Attorney General has made no determination at this time with regard to specific complaints or allegations related to the conduct of those involved in the city’s redistricting process. The California Department of Justice is committed to conducting a thorough and independent investigation.
About the leaked recording ...
In the closed door meeting at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor offices that lasted approximately one hour, an audio recording captured a conversation between City Council president Nury Martinez, fellow councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León, and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera. The four discussed specific councilmembers, redistricting, and how to "consolidate and preserve political power." The audio recording is believed to be from one year prior, roughly mid-October 2021, and was leaked anonymously onto Reddit on September 19, 2022 and then deleted.
The four Latino officials speak openly and cynically about defending their political turf from their enemies — namely, from Black and white politicians, according to courthousenews.com. Referring to progressive District Attorney George Gascón, Martinez said, "Fuck that guy. He's with the Blacks." Martinez also calls progressive City Councilman Mike Bonin, a white gay man, a "little bitch."
Martinez also said, "They're raising him like a little white kid, I was like, this kid needs a beatdown. Let me take him around the corner and then I’ll bring him back.” Martinez, who at times uses Spanish phrases while speaking, describes the child as "parece changuito," or "like a monkey."
The council members go on to insult Armenians, a few other City Council members, even a reporter for the LA Times, whom Martinez calls a "fucking little piece of shit."
The audio confirmed the strained relationship between Blacks and Latinos, especially in Los Angeles; although, there are similar such happenings trending in political arenas throughout California.
Listen to total audio below:
A few days after the audio's release, a crowd of protestors disrupted the scheduled city council meeting, demanding Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León leave the room. Bonin gave a tearful and emotional speech saying, "My husband and I are both raw and angry and heartbroken, and sick for our family and for Los Angeles.... Public officials are supposed to call us to our highest selves. These people stabbed us and shot us and cut the spirit of Los Angeles."
Nury Martinez, the 49 year-old Democrat who served as a member of the Los Angeles City Council for the 6th district from 2013 until her resignation in 2022, became President of the Los Angeles City Council in December 2019, after serving as the council's president pro tempore. Martinez was the first Latina to become council president. She previously served as a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education from 2009 to 2013.
On October 10, 2022, Martinez stepped down from her post as council president following the aftermath. She remained a member of the city council, but announced that she would be taking a paid leave of absence. On October 12, facing loud protests and demands to step down from community members and politicians including President Joe Biden, she resigned her seat on the council.
City of Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, said this was the best move by Martinez, so that Los Angeles could move forward.
Read Nury Martinez's full statement here
"Nury made the right decision, one that I realize is painful to her personally but unquestionably in the best interests of a city that I know she loves," said Garcetti. "Racism and hateful words cannot ever be overlooked by our community or within one’s self, and she needs the time and space to reflect, make amends, and move forward with her life. Her two former colleagues must arrive at the same decision soon, because Angelenos deserve a government focused squarely on meeting challenges in their neighborhoods that are too serious to risk a paralyzed City Council.”
After the release of the audio, Herrera faced calls to step down from across the labor movement, including the leaders of eight SEIU California unions with Los Angeles-area members, United Teachers Los Angeles, Unite Here Local 11 and the California Nurses Association. Herrera’s home local union, Teamsters Local 396, joined multiple Teamsters locals in calling for him to leave.
He resigned from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor on the evening of October 10, with the chair of the federation's executive board, Thom Davis, saying, "The Executive Board of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor also calls on those elected officials who were present to follow President Herrera’s example by immediately resigning as well."
What's next to think about ...
As it is illegal in the state of California to record an individual without them knowing, whether it be in a meeting or other wise, the L.A. County Federation of Labor offices called the audio a leak a "serious security and privacy breach" at their offices involving "illegal" recordings of "many private and confidential conversations in private offices and conference rooms," the federation told affiliates Sunday in an email, according to text provided to The Times.
Also, LA's city council is still reeling from last year's indictment of former city councilmember, Mark Ridley-Thomas who served three terms on the Los Angeles City Council from the 8th district from 1991 to 2002, and again for the 10th district from 2020 until his expulsion from the council in 2022. Ridley-Thomas was indicted on federal corruption charges on October 13, 2021 after Ex-USC dean admits bribe of Ridley-Thomas. Since he is about to go on trial, his seat is being filled by a temporary replacement.
So, if the other two council members resign from office, it would leave four out of 15 of the council seats vacant.