Will LA City Council fiasco lead to redistricting reform?
Racism, redistricting and resignation.
Those were the three R-words that rocked the California political world on Monday, as everyone from Gov. Gavin Newsom to U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla to statewide candidates in the Nov. 8 election weighed in on a leaked 2021 recording obtained by the Los Angeles Times in which three Los Angeles City Council members and an influential local labor leader made racist comments, mocked their colleagues and plotted how to consolidate political power in the city’s once-in-a-decade redistricting process.
Amid fallout from the recording — in which then-City Council President Nury Martinez can be heard insulting Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ and white people and appearing to threaten the young Black adopted son of a white gay councilmember — Martinez stepped down Monday morning from her leadership position, but not from the council itself.
- Martinez said in a statement: “I take responsibility for what I said and there are no excuses for those comments. I’m so sorry. …. As someone who believes deeply in the empowerment of communities of color, I recognize my comments undercut that goal.”
That wasn’t enough for many Californians, including Padilla, Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, mayoral candidates Karen Bass and Rick Caruso, state lawmakers representing Los Angeles, Legislative Diversity Caucus leaders, California Democratic Party officials and prominent organized labor groups.
They called on Martinez — along with city councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera — to immediately resign from their posts. Herrera stepped down Monday night. Today, an hour before a city council meeting, Martinez announced she’s taking a leave of absence.
- Newsom, however, stopped short of calling for resignations, saying in a statement: “These comments have no place in our state, or in our politics, and we must all model better behavior to live the values that so many of us fight every day to protect.”
The four officials have apologized for their role in the conversation, which the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor said was recorded at its offices amid a “serious security and privacy breach” that resulted in “illegal” recordings of “many private and confidential conversations,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Meanwhile, the explosive recording has refocused attention on redistricting in California. In the recording, the officials expressed concern about Los Angeles’ city council districts being redrawn last year to benefit Black residents while disenfranchising Latinos. The remarks, which were peppered with racist commentary, reveal “a sort of concerted effort to dilute the strength of Black voters,” Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who is Black, told the Times.
- At the state level, an independent commission is charged with the politically perilous task of redrawing the boundaries of legislative, congressional and board of equalization districts every ten years after the U.S. Census to reflect population shifts and protect “communities of interest” — a term that encompasses both racial and ethnic groups and those formed around shared environmental, economic concerns or social concerns.
- The landscape is different at the local level, where lines are drawn for county supervisor, city council and school board districts, among others. About 17.5 million of California’s nearly 40 million residents live in a city or county with an independent redistricting commission, according to one estimate. In other areas, local politicians lead the process — and tend to draw lines benefiting themselves and their party.
To address those concerns, Newsom recently signed bills to create independent redistricting commissions in Fresno, Kern and Riverside counties. However, CalMatters columnist Dan Walters argued Monday they simply “create gerrymanders of a different kind.”
In the city of Los Angeles, a commission appointed by elected officials is tasked with recommending new district lines to the city council, which has the final say over the maps — a system the Los Angeles Times editorial board described as “fundamentally flawed in ways that erode public trust and discourage civic participation.”
For California Common Cause, an advocacy group that pushed for the state’s independent redistricting commission, the leaked tapes demonstrate the need for a similar approach at all levels of government — and serve as a call to action for state lawmakers.
- Jonathan Mehta Stein, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement: “The manipulation of district lines to serve those in power, at the expense of regular people and communities of color, is not unique to Los Angeles. It occurred across many California cities, counties, and school boards during the most recent redistricting cycle. And it will continue if the state legislature does not take action to put an end to these sorts of democratic abuses through widespread reform of our local redistricting systems.”
Get ready to vote: Find out everything you need to know about voting in California’s Nov. 8 election in the CalMatters Voter Guide, which includes information on races, candidates and propositions, as well as videos, interactives and campaign finance data.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 A quartet of California election stories
With California’s Nov. 8 election in less than a month, let’s dive into the latest campaign news:
- Newsom has finally released a campaign ad in California after running them in a bevy of red states — but it doesn’t address his gubernatorial reelection bid against Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle of Bieber. Instead, the ad, unveiled Monday and first shared with Politico, is part of a $5 million buy encouraging voters to support Proposition 1, which would enshrine the right to abortion and contraception in the California constitution. “In state after state, fundamental freedoms are vanishing,” Newsom says in the ad while striding through a health clinic. “Women are under attack. But this November, we say, ‘Not here’ … and California remains a freedom state forever.” The ad buy will catapult Newsom to the second-largest donor supporting Prop. 1 after the Federated Indians of Graton Ranchiera, a Native American tribe also helping bankroll one of the November ballot’s sports betting measures.
- What would Democratic incumbent Shirley Weber do if reelected as California secretary of state over her Republican opponent Rob Bernosky? In an hour-long interview with CalMatters, Weber shared her desire to push for reforms to the gubernatorial recall process, scrap California’s top-two primary election system, expand small business services and fix the state’s unwieldy campaign finance database. For more, check out these takeaways from CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff.
- In what could be the least-watched statewide races on the ballot, voters will decide whether to keep three California Supreme Court justices and confirm as chief justice Newsom’s nominee, Associate Justice Patricia Guerrero. But the state’s highest court didn’t always fly under the radar, the San Francisco Chronicle reports: It used to be a political lightning rod. “I think we’re doing our job if we’re not on the front page,” said outgoing Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. But, she added, “I think the public suffers from not knowing the interpretation of laws governing their lives.”
- One of California’s hottest congressional races just got hotter. Democratic U.S. Rep. Josh Harder and Republican San Joaquin County Supervisor Tom Patti are duking it out for a new seat centered in San Joaquin County. The latest flashpoint: An independent investigation that cleared Patti of bribery allegations but found he “threatened” local government staff and community organization members, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Patti said the complaints and investigation were biased against him because of his party affiliation: “I’m a white Christian heterosexual male,” he told the Chronicle. “I’m the Antichrist to the leftist agenda.”
2 Siebel Newsom to testify against Weinstein
Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the governor’s wife, will take the stand against Harvey Weinstein when the convicted rapist and former film producer goes on criminal trial in Los Angeles, the city where he rose to fame and power and allegedly assaulted numerous women, the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press report. Siebel Newsom, a documentary filmmaker and former actress, wrote in a 2017 essay in the Huffington Post that she believed other women’s allegations against Weinstein “based on my years in the industry and unfortunately, my own personal experience with Harvey Weinstein.” She continued, “I was naive, new to the industry, and didn’t know how to deal with his aggressive advances,” including “an invitation to meet with him about a role in The Peninsula Hotel, where staff were present and then all of a sudden disappeared like clockwork, leaving me alone with this extremely powerful and intimidating Hollywood legend.”
Jury selection in the Weinstein trial started Monday and is expected to last two weeks. Although Siebel Newsom is not named in court documents, three people with knowledge of the case told the Los Angeles Times she’s referred to as “Jane Doe 4,” who accused Weinstein of forcible rape sometime between September 2004 and September 2005. Weinstein has denied all allegations against him and has said any sexual encounters were consensual.
- Elizabeth Fegan, Siebel Newsom’s attorney, told the Times: “Like many other women, my client was sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein at a purported business meeting that turned out to be a trap. She intends to testify at his trial in order to seek some measure of justice for survivors, and as part of her life’s work to improve the lives of women. Please respect her choice to not further discuss this matter outside of the courtroom.”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Some California county redistricting commissions are being stacked to enhance the power of the dominant local party — exactly contrary to the nonpartisan intent of the statewide commission.
Other things worth your time
Prosecutors file enhanced murder charges against suspect in kidnapping, murder of Merced family. // CBS News
Despite promises, California doesn’t know how many people died in record summer heat wave. // Los Angeles Times
Critics say Newsom’s Medicaid reforms leave patients behind. // Kaiser Health News
Overwhelming demand for online classes is reshaping California’s community colleges. // Los Angeles Times
College Corps, with California’s first state-run tutoring initiative, is off and running. // EdSource
The suicide of a star athlete exposed deep problems at Stanford. Students say the university is still ‘turning a blind eye.’ // San Francisco Chronicle
Is it apathy or anxiety? What’s keeping some young Californians from voting. // Los Angeles Times
These Bay Area cities could get millions from new taxes on November ballot. // Mercury News
North Hollywood dancers aim to be only unionized strippers in U.S. // Daily News
As warehouses multiply, some California cities say: Enough. // New York Times
California wildfires spur new real estate development guidelines. // Bloomberg
Emissions at ports of L.A., Long Beach rise ‘significantly’ since 2020, reports say. // Daily News
Train from Los Angeles to Palm Springs area — at a $1 billion cost — planned. // Daily News
California’s drought withers tomatoes, pushing grocery prices higher. // Reuters
A California city’s water supply is expected to run out in two months. // Washington Post
2,560-pound pumpkin wins California contest; sets record. // ABC News
See you tomorrow
Tips, insight or feedback? Email email@example.com.
Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven
Subscribe to CalMatters newsletters here.
Follow CalMatters on Facebook and Twitter.
CalMatters is now available in Spanish on Twitter, Facebook and RSS.