What Did She Say?

The Importance of Holding Leadership Accountable


A large number of council members attended the African American Heritage Celebration in Los Angeles City Hall in 2015.

Nury Martinez was considered a trailblazer for Latinos in politics—now she’s resigned due to demand from the community that elected her. A recording of the former Councilwoman making blatantly racist comments toward Councilmember Mike Bonin’s son and the Oaxacan community in Koreatown was leaked in early October. Martinez called Bonin’s son “changuito” which translates to little monkey, and implied he needed to be beaten. Martinez said of District Attorney George Gascón, “F— that guy… He’s with the Blacks”. She also referred to the Oaxacans living in Koreatown as “little short dark people”.

    Some Latinos assert that “changuito” is not an offensive term, but this doesn’t absolve Martinez from the hours of tape containing other racist and colorist rhetoric. A large majority of the LA Latino community disagrees with the language used in the recordings and were some of the first people to hold Nury Martinez accountable. California Senator and member of the Latino community Alex Padilla was quick to condemn the councilmembers’ comments, saying Los Angeles deserves better than hate speech. 

    Many Notre Dame juniors were recently exposed to this scandal through their social justice class. When asked why he brought up the topic, the social justice teacher, Mr. Reding said, “I brought this up because I wanted students to have a meaningful and productive conversation about public discourse, the power of words, and the choices we make as a society—what we will and won’t tolerate from leadership.”

    The council members’ topic of discussion also focused on division of districts and how they could use redistricting to their advantage in future elections by creating racial divides. A similar approach was adopted in 2003 by Texas Republicans who began to redraw district lines in an attempt to re-elect their incumbent. This redistricting ultimately took 100,000 Latino voters, majority of whom did not support the incumbent, out of the district, or in the Supreme Court’s words, “[Taking] away the Latinos’ opportunity because they were about to exercise it.”

Gerrymandering, or the manipulation of electoral district boundaries for the purpose of giving an undue advantage to a political party, group, or socio-economic class, has existed in America since Patrick Henry attempted to block James Madison’s election into Congress. The biggest potential consequence of this happening in LA is the dilution of minority votes and splitting communities. 

    This redistricting could further the racial divide between black and Latino communities in LA and inadvertently encourage colorism within Latino communities. Colorism as defined by Oxford Languages is the prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group–and it’s a prevalent issue within the Latino community. Afro-Latinos make up a large portion of the population, but the phrase “mejorar la raza,” or “improve the race,” is a popular saying that promotes making Latinos whiter. 

“As a person who is half Mexican and half white, I am treated very differently in the Latino community than my fully Indigenous grandfather who has a darker complexion,” says Ali Horvath ‘24. 

The tapes of the conversation between these incumbents were recorded over a year ago, but went unaddressed until the audio was leaked. Martinez was in the company of Councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera. During the conversation no one present attempted to defend the groups Martinez was attacking, even agreeing and encouraging her at times. 

    At first, Martinez solely resigned as council president, but following a large push from other council members as well President Biden she stepped down from the council entirely. The other council members involved in the tapes are adamant that they aren’t resigning, despite a similar call for them to step down. By ignoring the demands from the communities that elected them, these councilmembers are demonstrating that they don’t care about improving Los Angeles, they only care about maintaining their influence and power.

Language and intent matters; the council members involved in this scandal know that. There’s a reason they said those words in private. They knew the people of LA would not tolerate those beliefs in a position of power. Leadership needs to be held accountable for their actions. As students and future voters it is up to us to educate ourselves on the candidates we elect and hold them accountable when they fail to meet our expectations of what an elected official should do for those they represent.