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Embattled LA City Councilwoman Nury Martinez resigns her seat after racist comments

: [POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: The organization that convened community members in this piece is the Community Coalition.]


The controversy engulfing the Los Angeles City Council has opened up long-simmering racial tensions in the city. After days of mounting pressure, the former leader of the Los Angeles City Council resigned her seat yesterday. Nury Martinez was one of the most powerful politicians in the city until she was caught on a secret recording making racist remarks during a conversation with two of her council colleagues. The scandal is upending politics in LA as demands for more resignations continue. We're joined now by NPR's Adrian Florido, who is in Los Angeles and has been covering this story.

Adrian, Nury Martinez has been facing calls to resign from the city council for days now. But until yesterday, she had resisted. What finally did it?

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Well, the pressure, A, had just become overwhelming. And the calls for her resignation came from as high up as the White House. What Nury Martinez was heard saying on this leaked tape were just about the worst things you could say as a politician in a city like Los Angeles, where cross-racial coalitions are so important in politics. She used racist language to talk about Black people, Indigenous Mexican immigrants and others. And this all happened during a conversation with two council colleagues, all of them Latinos, about how to increase their political power through the city's redistricting process while diluting the power of Black voters. So people were really outraged.

MARTÍNEZ: And that outrage was very loud in Los Angeles. Now that she has resigned, though, how are people responding?

FLORIDO: Well, they're happy, of course, but they're saying that it's not enough. Last night, I was in South Los Angeles at a meeting that community organizers called to bring Black and Latino residents together to diffuse tension, given that this racism came out of the mouths of Latino politicians. People at this meeting were celebrating Martinez's resignation and the resignation of a union leader who was also part of that conversation. But they said that they were going to keep demanding that the other two council members on that tape, Kevin de Leon and Gil Cedillo, also resign.

ALBERTO RETANA: Two down, how many more to go?


RETANA: Two down, how many more to go?


RETANA: OK. Y'all want Kevin de Leon out, right?


RETANA: You want him out?


MARTÍNEZ: All right, so, Adrian, clearly, this is not over yet. But in what other ways is this racism scandal being felt in LA?

FLORIDO: Well, in a lot of ways. LA is electing a new mayor in less than a month, and a debate between the two candidates this week focused mostly on which of the two - Congresswoman Karen Bass or businessman Rick Caruso - is best equipped to heal the city's racial divides. As I mentioned, a lot of community groups are working to ensure that racial tensions don't flare up. The state attorney general also announced yesterday that he is launching an investigation into the city's redistricting process, since that's what Martinez and her colleagues were discussing on this tape.

MARTÍNEZ: So, Adrian, I don't know if healing starts yet. But, I mean, what's next here? Because just - things are just so raw.

FLORIDO: Well, something that a lot of people here are saying is going to be required before healing can start is that these other two council members must resign, and whether they will is a big question. They, along with Martinez, have been the most high-profile Latino leaders in the city. And so if they do step down, how does that reshape Latino political power here? I'm also sensing an urgency among Latino organizers to start addressing the anti-Blackness and colorism that's common among Latinos but rarely discussed. And that's something that Black people in LA are saying they want, too.

Keyanna Celina, a Black organizer, told me yesterday that she wants more honest talk about the fact that it's not only white people who harbor anti-Black racism.

KEYANNA CELINA: And we're caught up in it, but what happens when it dies down? Are we going to go back to denying anti-Black racism?

FLORIDO: She said she hopes not, but also knows that that will require a lot of work.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR race correspondent Adrian Florido. Thanks a lot, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Thank you, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.