Editor’s note: After this story published, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera resigned, according to several reports.
Leaked audio of three Los Angeles City Council members making racist remarks has set that city’s politics aflame in the last two days, but the wide-reaching influence of the fourth person in that conversation, labor organizer Ron Herrera, has the potential to spread that fire across the region, including into Long Beach.
In the audio recorded last year but published by the Los Angeles Times and Knock LA over the weekend, Los Angeles City Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Kevin De Leon and Gil Cedillo are upset over the proposed City Council lines drawn by Los Angeles’ redistricting commission last year. They talked about solidifying power for Latinos at the expense of Black residents, mocking their political clout.
The hour-long conversation is laced with racist language aimed at Central Americans and a Black son of their council colleague Mike Bonin, among others. Martinez refers to the boy as a “little monkey” in Spanish.
While the council members’ comments have received the most attention, Herrera’s presence may loom the largest for Long Beach. It’s put some prominent local politicians in an awkward position of choosing whether to condemn someone who has helped bankroll their campaigns.
Herrera is president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. The organization coordinates political activity for over 800,000 union members in the region, issuing endorsements and mobilizing volunteers and voters during elections in the Los Angeles region, with 300 unions under its umbrella, including the one that represents Long Beach firefighters and the Police Officers Association.
The LA Fed has an army of volunteers that can make phone calls and knock on doors in massive get-out-the-vote efforts. Its endorsement can be an anointment of sorts for candidates seeking office.
In Long Beach, the organization has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into local races, including $500,000 to support Councilmember Rex Richardson’s bid to be mayor. He would be the city’s first Black mayor.
After the racist audio went public on Sunday, Richardson’s campaign quickly removed Martinez’s endorsement from his website, and, in an interview Monday, Richardson said he thought she should resign, but he would not go that far with Herrera.
“This is an issue that happened in Los Angeles,” said Richardson, who also employs Herrera’s daughter, Shawna, as his chief of staff. “I’m running for mayor in Long Beach.”
The wide-ranging audio recording included discussions about politics and elected officials in cities and school districts across the region, beyond Los Angeles.
He called the situation heartbreaking but put the responsibility on voters to decide if anyone should be thrown out of office.
“I think LA should hold its leaders accountable,” he said. “I think we should all hold people accountable if they’re making these statements.”
Richardson later retweeted Mayor Robert Garcia, adding he agreed that the LA councilmembers should resign but did not address Herrera.
I’m proud to call Mike Bonin a friend. He and Sean are great Dads and amazing people. I’m disgusted by the anti-Black and racist comments that have been said. I don’t live in LA, but there’s no question that all three Councilmembers should resign.— Robert Garcia (@RobertGarcia) October 10, 2022
Other groups were more forceful, with several chapters of the SEIU, including the local where Richardson worked as an organizer, saying Herrera should step down. Others calling for Herrera’s resignation include the NAACP, congresswoman and LA mayoral candidate Karen Bass, and Long Beach Councilmember Al Austin.
Herrera has apologized but made no indication he’ll step aside.
“There is no justification and no excuse for the vile remarks made in that room,” he said in a statement. “Period. And I don’t step up to stop them and I will have to bear that cross moving forward.”
The LA Fed’s committee supporting Richardson, “Working Families and Communities in Support of Rex Richardson for Mayor,” which Herrera controls, is also contributing to three other City Council races in Long Beach’s 3rd, 5th and 9th districts. It’s spent money to boost candidates Megan Kerr, Kailee Caruso and Joni Ricks-Oddie in the Nov. 8 election.
In text messages to the Post, Caruso and Kerr denounced the racist comments that were leaked over the weekend, but they did not say whether anyone should resign. Ricks-Oddie, who is running to replace Richardson on the council, did not respond to a request for comment.
The LA Fed’s influence in local politics has been obvious in the numerous mailers it has sent out in Long Beach, specifically in the mayoral race, where it has compared Richardson’s opponent, Councilmember Suzie Price, to former President Donald Trump. The latest seized on past votes that it said proved she was anti-immigration and anti-LGBTQ.
Portions of the conversation published Sunday included denigrating darker-skinned Mexicans from Oaxaca and numerous jabs at Bonin, who they say carried around his son like a Louis Vuitton handbag. Martinez also refers to Bonin, who is gay, as a “little bitch.” Herrera did not object to the language.
In a statement, Price said these kinds of “LA-style politics” are playing an active role in Long Beach elections, calling them corrosive to the community and toxic.
“If you are silent in the face of this, you are fundamentally part of the problem,” Price said in the statement.
A campaign spokesperson clarified Price is “absolutely calling for resignations,” and said it’s important to understand that Herrera and the LA County Fed have been the largest spenders in Long Beach elections and Price believes the character of the leadership at that institution matters.