Exclusive: We Asked Nury Martinez To Explain What She Said On The Secret Tapes. Here’s What She Said

On a warm October morning in 2021, three men and one woman met in a squat, unassuming building in a working-class neighborhood in the middle of Los Angeles.

They were four of the most powerful people in the city: Ron Herrera, the head of a prominent union group, and three L.A. city council members: Gil Cedillo, Kevin de León and then-council president Nury Martinez. They didn’t know it at the time, but everything they were saying was being secretly recorded.

For the next 90 minutes, the four Latino leaders would speak candidly using demeaning and racist terms about colleagues on the council, Black political power, indigenous people and even a child — all within the context of a meeting held to strategize how to advance Latino power in the city.

A year later, on Oct. 9, 2022, that recording was leaked to the public.

When the media began publishing excerpts from the tape, they shook Los Angeles to its core. It led to protests outside — and inside — City Hall and at the homes of the people on the tape. There were calls for resignation from fellow council members, national politicians, and even the president of the United States.

Now, in her first interview since the scandal broke, we pressed former L.A. City Council President Nury Martinez about the racist and offensive things she said.

We also asked Martinez to engage and think through how her comments were connected to the larger systemic issues of anti-Black racism and colorism in the Latino community. Over the course of our six-hour interview, Martinez largely declined to do so.

“I don’t even know if I’m the right person to even have these conversations anymore,” she said, “because I’ve been tainted in such a way where I don’t even know if I would even be welcome. Even in this conversation, I feel really scared and nervous to even dive into that.”

This is from ‘Nury & The Secret Tapes: Part 2.’ You’ll hear Martinez’s interview in this transcript in Episode 3, which debuts Wednesday.

Before the L.A. City Council tape scandal, Nury Martinez, the former council president, was known as a champion of working class immigrants. After, she became the poster child of anti-Blackness and colorism in the Latino community.

She also discussed her experience of the scandal and how it has affected her mental health.

Antonia Cereijido and Martinez spoke over the course of two days at LAist’s Pasadena studio. The conversation below has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Listen to more in LAist Studios’ Imperfect Paradise podcast. The series includes interviews with those who were most impacted by the hurtful comments on the tape including former L.A. city councilmember Mike Bonin, current councilmembers Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Eunisses Hernadnez and Nithya Raman, indigenous human rights organizer Odilia Romero, and Professor Tanya Hernández, who has written about anti-Blackness in the Latinx community.

Learning about the tapes, and the decision to resign

Antonia Cereijido: Let’s talk about the day when the tapes were published. When did you hear about the tapes and their existence?

Nury Martinez: I was having coffee with my husband at our kitchen table, and it’s about 9 or 9:30 a.m. when I get a phone call. My then-chief of staff, Alexis Wesson, calls me and says, “there is a tape.”

And her exact words were, “Do you remember wearing Doc Martens to a meeting?”

[Note: One of the first things Martinez says on the tape is that she’s wearing Doc Martens].

I go, “Doc Martens? Like the shoes? I have Doc Martens, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She goes, “Someone found tapes of you where apparently you’re at some meeting and you’re wearing Doc Martens because you mentioned Doc Martens in the meeting.” And I was like, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’”

By 8:30 or 9:30 a.m. the next day, which was now Oct. 9, there’s a story in the L.A. Times, and now by this time I’m getting phone calls from folks asking me what this is about. By that time it’s now clear to me that the meeting they’re talking about is the Oct. 18, 2021 meeting that the four of us held at the County Federation of Labor. And now it’s like, who taped this? Who could have done this?

By that Sunday, the protesting had begun. I had people at my front door on my driveway shouting just absolute obscenities into my child’s bedroom, calling me the C word. “You, you racist C word, you effing B word. We’re gonna kill you, you should die.” It was all happening really, really fast.

A close up of a white protest sign that reads

Protestors demonstrate outside City Hall calling for the resignations of L.A. City Council members Kevin de Leon and Gil Cedillo in the wake of a leaked audio recording on Oct. 12, 2022.

(Mario Tama


Getty Images)

I had already internally, even though I did not say this to anyone, I had already accepted that this was so big that there is nothing that I could say or do to undo this and that I needed to step down. A hundred percent. I knew that there was gonna be consequences, that I needed to pay for this.

On Joe Biden, Karen Bass and Alex Padilla

Over the next 48 hours, dozens of elected officials called for the resignations of Martinez, Cedillo and de León, including U.S. Senator Alex Padilla and former Congressmember Karen Bass, who was, at the time, running for mayor of L.A. Martinez had recently endorsed Bass for mayor, and she was close with Padilla and his family; they went to the same high school in San Fernando, and Padilla’s brother, Ackley Padilla, was her former chief of staff.

On Oct. 11, 2022, President Biden’s press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said during a press conference, “the president is glad to see that one of the participants in that conversation has resigned. But they all should. He believes that they all should resign. The language that was used and tolerated during that conversation was unacceptable and it was appalling. They should all step down.”

NM: During the first 24 hours of the tapes being leaked, Karen Bass did reach out to me and we talked several times. She was very supportive. And at one point I said, “if you have to renounce my endorsement, I will completely understand.” She didn’t think we needed to do that the first 24 hours.

And she actually thought that somehow this would settle down or blow over in about one or two days. And we were actually expecting President Biden in Los Angeles that Thursday, and I was supposed to have a fundraiser, a Latino fundraiser for her that Saturday as well. When I talked to her on the phone, I’m like, “What do we do about President Biden’s visit? Do I not show up? Like, what do you want me to do?” She’s like, “No, we’re moving forward. You show up.” And, you know, thinking this was gonna blow over.

I wanted to believe her, but I think deep down in my heart, I’m like, there is no way that this is gonna blow over. She also reached out to Ron Herrera for a possible press conference with the two of us. And then that didn’t go anywhere. She was discouraged by a group of ministers, I think. But the intent of her standing with us was there. And I appreciate it.

Bass called me afterwards and she said, did you see Senator Alex Padilla’s statement? I said, “No.” She goes, “It’s bad.”

Alex never shared his statement with me. We did have a conversation. In fact, I was curled up in the bathroom when I took Alex’s phone call, like at seven in the morning [on Monday], and he was really hard on me. And I was trying to explain what had happened and I wasn’t getting through. And all I kept saying is, “But you know me.” And I might’ve said, “I don’t know if I can withstand this, I’m scared.” And I didn’t hear anything back.

U.S. Senator Alex Padilla. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

And soon after that, the cries for resignation were so loud. I then got on the phone with [L.A. city councilmember] Paul Krekorian and told him that I was gonna step down as council president.

AC: What strikes me about how you’re describing those couple of days is that it sounds like you were sort of in “logistics brain.” But in terms of sitting down and thinking about why people were upset about the tapes, or processing, was that going through your mind?

NM: Oh yeah. That went through my mind, at night ’cause I wasn’t sleeping. And so the first thing I attempted to do is take full responsibility and apologize, which I know was not accepted at the time, and then fix what I had done. Of course, I thought about what this has done. Of course I thought about Mike’s baby. Of course. But once phone calls kept coming in, I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable with these people on the phone. I didn’t know if I was being recorded. I didn’t know if they were talking to the press. So I didn’t talk about these things with anybody on the phone. The only thing I knew how to do is hand over my responsibilities as a council president and make sure that I didn’t mess up anything else.

AC: How did it feel to hear that President Biden had weighed in?

NM: I was in shock. I wanna believe that he had to do it because he was coming into Los Angeles on that Thursday. Maybe he just wanted to get it out of the way. That’s what I thought.

Senator Padilla told us he does not dispute Nury’s account of this call. LAist reached out repeatedly to Mayor Bass, described this story to her spokesperson and asked for her comment, but we never heard back. In a later interview with LAist’s Larry Mantle, Bass denied she thought it would blow over, and added, “even if it was, I wanna take a crisis and seize it as an opportunity.”

Redistricting and Black political power

In another part of the tape, the four Latino leaders discuss redistricting, the once in a decade process of drawing new city council district lines. 

They focus on Council District 9, a majority Latino district in South L.A. that’s currently represented by a Black man, Curren Price. They care about this district because it’s become the district with the highest percentage of Latino residents in the city, and they think it will be represented by a Latino in the future. They want District 9 to have some good economic “assets,” like universities, stadiums, airports, etc, that are tied to good union jobs and bring resources into the district.  And they’re concerned the redistricting commission might take some of those “assets” away.

In particular, the four people in the room wanted the University of Southern California – USC – to remain in Council District 9. But that would mean leaving Council District 8, which is also right next door to USC in South LA, with very few economic assets. 

District 8 has the highest percentage of Black residents in the city. On the tape, Martinez proposed that Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents Council District 8 take LAX from his “brother,” Mike Bonin, whose district included the airport. Some people interpreted this as the four Latino leaders scheming to keep resources out of the hands of the Black community. 

AC: For me, listening to the tapes, just the fact that you do hear redistricting talked about in these racialized terms and it does sound like there’s a zero sum. Like, “us Latinos get this, Black people get this.” I think it was shocking for the average person to hear that. I wanna give you the opportunity to respond to that.

NM: That wasn’t the intent, and I think … of course, it’s shocking. It makes people angry.

I think the Latino community, particularly that the Latino leaders in Los Angeles, have been incredibly cognizant about not starting a war over these seats, that eventually these seats will flip and they will turn Latino because that’s what they’re trending. But we as leaders in Los Angeles have never engaged in trying to, for example, run a Latino candidate against an African American candidate. I don’t remember the time that I’ve been on the city council that I have not supported an African American colleague or an African American friend who happens to be running for that seat. And so that is, I think the misperception about why we were in that room is that there is this false narrative that we were meeting to dilute or take away political power from the African American community. And that’s simply not true.

AC: Do you think Black people have disproportionate political power in Los Angeles and do you think it’s come at the expense of Latinos?

NM: Not necessarily. I think the Latinos need to work on unifying our community. I don’t think we have to blame anybody else. I think it’s up to us to get people to turn out to vote.

AC: One thing that comes through in the tapes is that there’s sort of a positioning of like, it’s like white liberals in L.A. are allied with Black progressives and like Latinos seem left out. Do you think that’s an accurate–

NM: You know what, I don’t, I don’t know if that was an accurate description of it.

I will tell you that the conversation and other conversations we’ve had as Latinos is, Latinos are becoming more and more invisible.

And that is something that I saw not only in the media, but I see in politics. I see in everyday life. When you turn on the television, our stories are not being told. And when we do tell them and when we are frustrated, even in a private conversation, it’s turned against us. Like we don’t have a right as a community to advocate for ourselves because somehow that goes against another ethnic group. I don’t know why we do that.

AC: The way the Latino and Black community were talked about was like a zero sum game. Like there’s a Latino seat and there’s a Black seat, and that would negate Afro-Latinos as a community. I don’t know if when you say Latinos, if you think of the Afro-Latino community.

NM: No, I can’t say I do, but it’s not on purpose. ‘Cause Afro-Latinos, particularly in Los Angeles … I think you see more Afro-Latinos in Florida and New York and DC.

On L.A. District Attorney George Gascón

On the tape, Martinez disparages L.A. district attorney George Gascón, saying, “F*** that guy. I’m telling you now, he’s with the Blacks.” Gascón was elected in 2020 on a platform of criminal justice reform and ending mass incarceration in the city. 

L.A. district attorney George Gascón, a man with light skin tone, grey hair and glasses, is speaking at a podium. Officials are behind him.

L.A. district attorney George Gascón,

(Justin Sullivan


Getty Images)

AC: You said, “Gascón, he’s with the Blacks.” What does that mean?

NM: You know, I walked in there really angry and frustrated and it was, it was a mean and insensitive thing to say, and I didn’t mean anything by it.

The conversation that we were having didn’t have to do with Gascón himself, just had to do with so much of the frustration and anger that I was carrying with me inside me when I walked into that room. And that is no fault of the African American community.

It’s just everything that was going on during COVID, with me as council president, the lack of support for what we were trying to do on the council, the amount of personal attacks against me, my leadership and my family were taking a toll on me. And that was it. There is absolutely no excuse for us. I think I let my anger and my frustration get the best of me, and that was it.

AC: There was no policy issue that you –

NM: No. I have absolutely no relationship with him whatsoever.

Racist comments about former Councilmember Mike Bonin’s son

On the tape, Martinez told a story about being on a float during L.A.’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade in 2017 with a number of elected officials and their family members, including Karen Bass, Karrie Harris-Dawson, who is married to councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, former city councilmember Mike Bonin and his son, Jacob, who was then a toddler. According to Martinez, the women were discussing Jacob’s behavior on the float. In recounting the story during the meeting that was secretly recorded, Martinez described Jacob, who is Black, by saying, “parece changuito,” which means, “he seems like a little monkey.” 

Martinez and the other leaders on the tape also described how Bonin would bring Jacob to city council and other events during Black History Month, which Kevin de León compared to Martinez bringing her designer handbags to council meetings. Herrera suggested the child was a prop and a statue on a plantation, and Martinez compared him to an accessory. Martinez later said, “Ahí trae su negrito, like on the side,” which means, “there he brings his little Black one.” 

AC: What did you mean when you said, about Mike Bonin’s son, “parece changuito”?

NM: The way I grew up with that word, “parece changuito.” It has nothing to do with skin color. It has more to do with behavior. You’re sort of just playing around. You’re horsing around. Another word that we use in Spanish, “es travieso” [mischievous], you can’t stay put.

It’s a conversation I should not have repeated. And I think that’s an example of a bunch of moms sitting around you know, being critical of little boys’ behavior. That was my mistake.

It was insensitive. It was mean. I never meant to hurt Jacob, and I’m going to have to live with that for the rest of my life, you know? I’ve never romanticized motherhood. Anybody who knows me and has been around me knows my child is also pretty wild. And now she’s a teenager and it’s even crazier at a different level. I’ve never romanticized parenthood. It’s really, really hard. And I’ve been around those moms who sometimes we’re critical of other children and we kind of talk smack about with one another. We’re moms, right? I never meant to hurt Jacob. I thought about this a hundred times of what I would say to him if I would see him.

Former councilmember Mike Bonin, a bald man with light-brown skin tone, photographed in his home.

Former councilmember Mike Bonin photographed in his home.

(Samanta Helou Hernandez



AC: What would you say?

NM: I would hug him. [I would say,] “I never meant to hurt you baby. That was never my intent. It was a conversation I had with four women that I should not have repeated.”

AC: Had you used that particular word [changuito] to describe children before?

NM: Yes, in my family, yes. In fact, my mother said that to me. It was common when I was growing up, and my mom actually pointed that out to me when the tapes broke. She said we used that word at home. [I told her] my mistake was that I was referencing an African American baby and I shouldn’t have done that.

AC:  Why do you think it’s different to say it about a Black kid versus a kid of another race?

NM: I did not mean it in a derogatory way, and it wasn’t meant to describe him as a Black child. That was not the intent of the word.

AC: But do you understand why is it that that word specifically is offensive when talked about a Black kid versus another kid?

NM: Oh, a hundred percent.

AC: No, just the why –

NM: The word was not meant to be derogatory, and I was not describing him in that way because he is a Black child. I was simply referring to his behavior and that was it.

AC: Mike Bonin and [councilmember] Marqueece Harris-Dawson told me that the way you were talking about Jacob on the float is what a lot of people do to Black boys, treating him like he’s older, like he has more agency or responsibility than he really does. What do you think about that characterization?

Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson photographed near USC. He has dark skin tone and is wearing a suit, looking at the viewer.

Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson photographed near USC.

(Samanta Helou Hernandez



NM: No, I think it was just moms just being critical of you know, a rowdy kid. Just like they would’ve been of my own kid. That was just us being moms.

AC: Would you have used that word in English?

NM: Never. Never have I ever used those words in English. I think in Spanish, then I speak in English. And so my vocabulary comes from me being an English learner. And I think for me, those words are not meant to hurt anybody, or to sound racist at all. I think it’s just words that I grew up with.

Racist comments about Oaxacans

The four leaders discussed Koreatown, a neighborhood in Los Angeles that has a large Indigenous Mexican population. On the tape, Herrera says, “my mom used to call them indios.” 

Martinez says, “I see a lot of little short dark people,” and, “I don’t know where these people are from, like I don’t know what village they came out of, how they got here, but, tán [short for están] feos!,” which means, “they’re ugly.”

Four protesters dance outside City Hall while calling for the resignations of L.A. City Council members Kevin de Leon and Gil Cedillo in the wake of a leaked audio recording on October 12, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.

Protesters dance outside City Hall while calling for the resignations of L.A. City Council members Kevin de Leon and Gil Cedillo in the wake of a leaked audio recording on Oct. 12, 2022 in Los Angeles.

AC: So the next part of the tapes I want to talk about is actually the part that, knowing your personal and political history, I was most surprised to hear, and that was your comments about Oaxacans. What did you mean when you called them ‘tan feos’?

NM: Oh my goodness. That’s another thing that I will never forgive myself for. That was just a horrible, insensitive thing to say. I certainly don’t have anything against the Oaxacan community. I feel horrible for having insulted the community.

AC: Do you think there’s a colorism problem in Latino communities?

NM: Yes. Yes. I think there is. I think we’re getting better and certainly my comments didn’t help.

AC: So you, you don’t think though, that you harbor a bias against people with darker skin?

NM: No way.

Anti-Black bias in the Latino/x community

AC:, I’m curious, looking back, why do you think you said that? Where was it coming from? Have you thought about why you said what you said?

NM: I’ve thought about that particular day, God, a thousand times, if not more. I was so frustrated. It’s so angry and so alone and so abandoned by, by just, by everyone, particularly other members. And I think that over the two and a half years that I was council president, I just grew more frustrated and angry and pissed off at everything. And that’s what you saw. That’s it.

AC:  I understand the frustration, but I think there’s like a difference between being frustrated and saying things that are insensitive, like you said. And so what I’m trying to do with this interview is unpack where the things were coming from. Because I think that there are a lot of internal biases that we as Latinos hold in the community that people picked up on, and they wanted to use it as an example to talk about this larger conversation about race. Do you think there’s an anti-Blackness problem in the Latino community?

NM: I don’t know. I mean, that’s a really good question. I never felt we had one, um, on the council. Just speaking personally. My personal experience, that’s all I can speak to.

AC: Do you think that there is a conversation to be had about anti-Blackness in the Latino community?

NM: Not in my household. Those conversations, um, have never, we’ve never had to have those conversations ’cause we’ve never felt that way. And that’s just me personally. I don’t know about other households or what else is happening in other communities, but I certainly have never felt that.

AC: One of the things that did happen was this larger conversation about how we talk about race in our communities and in many ways I think that part of it is good, like that we have to try more to have–

NM: You know, I wish I could dive more into that, because what this has caused for me is I don’t even know if I’m the right person to even have these conversations anymore. ‘Cause I’ve been tainted in such a way where I don’t even know if I would even be welcome on a panel or in a group conversation to really dive into these issues, to figure out how we really feel about this. Because of what, how I’ve been perceived and characterized, that I could even in this conversation — I’m very worried, um, and feel really scared and nervous to even dive into that, if that makes any sense.

I’m not avoiding your question, but I’m just really scared to answer it. What if I say the wrong thing and now we’re back to square one? I do not know if today I’m the right person to have those conversations. Do I believe they need to be had? Yes. I’m just being honest. I just don’t know how to answer that.

The tape leak

In California, secretly recording a private conversation is a crime. The LAPD is investigating who recorded the meeting. Over the summer, Los Angeles Magazine and the L.A. Times reported that the police were investigating a former employee of the LA County Federation of Labor and his wife, who also worked there. The LAPD declined to comment or provide LAist with an update into the investigation.

In October 2022, a Reddit user named Honest-Finding-1581 posted nine pieces of audio – portions of various conversations that were secretly recorded in the L.A. County Federation of Labor a year or so earlier, which is how journalists discovered the tapes.

NM: I have always felt that as a Latina, I have never really been given a fair shake by the media. The coverage of these tapes in and of itself, says it all. I think there was a deliberate concerted effort to take snippets of the conversation and put them out to the general public. I have not found anyone who said to me, “I actually listened to the entire thing to get some context about what was taking place.”

AC: So you think if it had been presented whole, it wouldn’t have blown up in the same way?

NM: Yeah, I do. [NOTE: The LA Times posted the full audio on YouTube within a week of publishing their first article about the tapes, and later published an annotated transcript of the full conversation.]

AC:  So what I hear you saying is that you feel like this is something that happened to you, not something you did.

NM: No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying, this is a conversation that took place in a private setting out of frustration and anger for whatever, everything that was going on. And I take full responsibility for it. And there’s nothing that I’m ever gonna be able to do to express how horrible I feel about it. That’s what I’m saying.

On Kevin de León

Kevin de León sits behind his wooden dais he turns towards his left as he speaks to Paul Krekorian, who is in Marqueece Harris-Dawson's seat.  There are three men standing behind them.

Kevin de León speaks to council member Paul Krekorian on Oct. 12, 2022, during the first L.A. city council meeting after the media began reporting on the secret tapes.

(Brian Feinzimer



AC: What do you think about Kevin de León’s decision not to resign?

NM: I think it was the right decision for him. Kevin didn’t commit a crime. I think we can count how many members on the city council have been indicted to date for really troubling corruption charges. But Kevin did not commit a crime, and Kevin is not a racist.

The effect of the tape scandal on her life

NM: If it wasn’t for my mom, I wouldn’t even be alive. There were so many times during the first three months of what had happened where I didn’t get out of bed. And I remember my mom was so scared that I would hurt myself, that she would call me every hour on the hour.

She couldn’t come over ’cause there were so many cameras. And I was so ashamed that I have — I still can’t talk about those horrible, dark, dark days. I would go to sleep and, I remember this, I don’t wanna wake up tomorrow.

And then I would have visions of my mom burying me. And I just couldn’t, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t see my mom burying me. I am not at all suggesting that all should be forgotten. Absolutely not. I think these conversations need to be had. Um, but the sense of not being worthy enough to be forgiven or to be listened to was so hard.

People make mistakes. I would hope that after this people would find a different way to hold people accountable. Um, I hope you do it differently. I don’t want this to happen to anybody.

AC: What is a typical day like for you now?

NM: I see my daughter off to school and make breakfast, have a cup of coffee with my husband, talk about the day. He’s also not working. So we’re constantly trying to figure out what our finances are gonna look like the next month, which has been really, really hard.

On the really, really difficult days, I’ll just go to church. My mom, to get me out of the house, told me, “You need to go to church and you need to go ask God to forgive you. Man isn’t gonna forgive you. God is. You own up to everything you said and what you meant, and that’s all you can do.”

When I would have these dark thoughts, I would get so scared that I just would jump in my car and go to church, and oftentimes I would sit there by myself and just cry. For hours. I would come home around dinner time, and I would start making dinner or lunch for my daughter after she got home from school. And that would be my day.

I journal just to get some of these things off my chest, to remind myself that I’m still a good person even though I didn’t hear it at the time. That I’m worthy. That I did a lot of good work, that I helped a lot of people, that I loved my career, my job. It was my passion. And that this too shall pass. I don’t know what’s next, but I do believe this too shall pass. But, I just gotta just be honest. What this has done to me and my family has completely destroyed us. I don’t know what’s next. I know that this took my passion and my light. I don’t know how to describe it in any other way besides, I’m lost.

Rebecca Katz contributed to this story.

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