Racist remarks could cause problems for LA political maps
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Three Latino politicians’ effort to maximize their influence in Los Angeles has backfired after a leaked recording of their meeting revealed crude and, at times, racist banter that has already led to the resignation of a member of the municipal council and could have wider legal consequences. and political consequences.
If the other two council members heed calls to resign, their constituents will have lost some of their most powerful leaders and a state investigation into their private meeting could lead to criminal charges and undo efforts to entice the districts in their favour.
Pressure mounted Thursday on Gil Cedillo and Kevin de Leon to step down a day after former board chairman Nury Martinez resigned for comparing another colleague’s black son to a monkey, belittling Mexicans of state of Oaxaca and making crude remarks about Armenians and Jews.
Acting City Council Speaker Mitch O’Farrell canceled the meeting scheduled for Friday, saying members could not conduct business until the two stepped down.
The recording from a year ago of three interviews with a labor leader has revealed a rare glimpse into the behind-the-scenes maneuvers during the politically charged process of redrawing political boundaries every decade.
Besides the shocking and salty dialogue, the unusual thing was that the conversation was recorded and broadcast publicly, said Sara Sadhwani, a politics professor at Pomona College and a member of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission that draws district boundaries for Congress. , the legislature and others. state-level races.
“What we hear in these tapes are classic behind-the-scenes redistricting negotiations,” Sadhwani said. so that their friends can also win places. It is the worst form of abuse of power. »
Whether it crossed the line into criminal activity or resulted in a civil action, possibly leading to the redrawing of district boundaries, will depend on what Attorney General Rob Bonta’s investigation finds.
Bonta did not mention what type of crime might have been committed. But Gregory Totten, chief executive of the California District Attorneys Association, said he could focus on whether politicians had a conflict of interest that influenced their actions.
Totten and Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School and a member of the City of Los Angeles Ethics Commission, said criminal charges would be less likely than an order to draw new maps for the districts.
Investigators could determine whether the rights of a particular racial or ethnic group have been diluted in violation of federal voting rights law.
In the recording, the issue of race frequently surfaced.
Latinos, who make up nearly half of the city’s population, had just four — or just over a quarter — of the 15 seats on the council at the time. Blacks, who make up less than 10% of the population, have three – one-fifth – of the seats.
De Leon says Bonin, who is white, is like the « fourth black » on the board and has hinted he won’t support Latinos.
« He’ll never say a (expletive) word about us, » de Leon said.
The group discussed how to fill the seat held by Mark Ridley-Thomas, a black member accused of federal corruption, who was eventually suspended by the board.
Martinez said « African Americans see this as a hostile takeover » if they name an ally.
“The one who will support us is Heather Hutt,” Cedillo said, referring to the black woman who was ultimately chosen to fill the Ridley-Thomas seat.
Hutt joined other members calling for the resignation of Cedillo and Leon. She said in a statement that she was unaware of the conversation the three had and said she was rightfully chosen for the council.
« The audio tapes released this week present a dangerous plot to weaken black political representation in Los Angeles County, » Hutt said. « Let’s be clear – I’m a black woman, not a pawn. »
Levinson said the recording makes it seem like they are explicitly drawing lines based on race. She said she wouldn’t be surprised to see a lawsuit to throw the cards away.
« It all comes down to: did they draw the lines to hurt black voting power? » said Levinson. “What Bonta will ultimately have to figure out is… (they say) basically, ‘We want to make it easy for African-American voters to elect the candidate of their choice. ”
Challenges to district maps drawn through a partisan process are not uncommon in other states, and the US Supreme Court last week heard arguments on a challenge in Alabama.
But the attorney general’s office and experts have been unable to report any other cases in California since voters in 2008 passed the independent Citizens’ Redistribution Commission that drew up the maps after the last two censuses.
Local courts operate under different rules.
The City of Los Angeles has a commission appointed by council members to draw up maps which can then be approved or rejected by the council. The recording was of a discussion about frustration with the proposed cards.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer called on the city council to call a special election in the spring with an amendment to redraw the lines for the 2024 election regardless of influence from city officials.
« It’s ultimately about political power in this city, » Feuer said. « The credibility of these lines (of the redistricting map), and the power these lines reflect, will now be tainted given this conversation for sure, until a substitute is provided. »
The council, meanwhile, has been thrown into chaos by the scandal. Loud protesters broke up a meeting on Wednesday.
O’Farrell said he spoke with Cedillo, who was unsuccessful in the primary and was due to leave office at the end of the year, and believes he will step down.
O’Farrell and others were unable to reach de Leon, who will not be re-elected until 2024.
De Leon apologized for his remarks and for what he said, he seemed to tolerate Martinez’s comments. Cedillo said he should have intervened.
Both men appeared at Tuesday’s meeting and left after being booed and shouted at.
Thompson reported from Sacramento. Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Brian Melley and Don Thompson, Associated Press