Watch CBS News

What can happen if LA city councilmembers refuse to resign?

What can happen if LA city councilmembers refuse to resign?
What can happen if LA city councilmembers refuse to resign? 02:25

Following any wrongdoing or political scandal, the Los Angeles City Council and the people they represent have few options to hold elected officials accountable. 

"Well the career of an elected official is dependent on winning elections," said LMU political science professor Fernando Guerra.

Over the weekend, a leaked recording of councilmembers Gil Cedillo, Kevin de León, now-former City Council President Nury Martinez and L.A. County Labor Federation President Ron Herrera, captured the group making racist comments while on a phone call. 

"Most people realize these remarks, as terrible as they were, were actually directed at a [2]-year-old child," said Guerra. "As bad as the remarks were, the context is even more horrible." 

In a recording obtained by Knock LA,  Martinez allegedly referred to Councilmember Mike Bonin's son, who is Black, as "ese changuito," which translates from Spanish to English as "that little monkey." The racist remarks along with several other aspects of the recording have garnered a widespread call by activists and residents for Martinez and the other council members to resign from their positions.

While Martinez has stepped down as City Council president, the council members — Cedillo, de León and Martinez — have not yet resigned from their elected positions. If they do not resign, there are a few options for voters to hold the council members accountable, one of which is a recall election.

"It is difficult for colleagues to oust a member of the City Council unless they just bow to political pressure," said Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson. "But one of the routes to try and remove somebody who the voters think is simply not fit to serve an office is to start a recall election."

Los Angeles City Council has voted to end long-standing renter eviction protections due to COVID-19 hardship on Jan. 31, 2023.
Los Angeles, CA - October 04: Councilman Kevin de León, left, and Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez confer at city council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images) Irfan Khan

If a recall election happened only Martinez and de León would be eligible since Cedillo already lost his re-election bid in June. The costly process could last six to eight months. Recent recalls against Gov. Gavin Newsom and District Attorney George Gascón failed. 

"History indicates that it's difficult to qualify these recall elections," said Levinson. "Then once they do qualify, it's difficult for them to be successful."

Another option the City Council can do is to censure the offending members. Censure is a formal statement of disapproval approved and adopted by the majority of a political body. 

"You can censure them, but they will be a full voting member until they resigned, or recalled, or do not run for office or get defeated in re-election," Guerra said.   

In some cases, council members can be suspended from office, stripping them of their voting powers, salaries and benefits. This happened to former Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas who is facing corruption and bribery charges as well as former Councilmember Jose Huizar who was indicted with federal corruption charges. 

However, a suspension would not be possible for Martinez, de León and Cedillo. 

"Nothing is happening at this point with respect to a criminal proceeding or criminal investigation," said Levinson. "And so at this point, we are really looking at political pressure to try and ask Kevin de León [and] Nury Martinez voluntarily step down."

If the council members resigned, someone would be appointed to their seats or officials would hold a special election to elect someone else to represent their districts. 

"We have really pressing problems that need to be addressed on the city level," said Levinson. "What we could potentially see here is that Nury Martinez's district could have an absence for a certain period of time. The same with respect to Kevin de León's district."

Whether the council members decide to resign, are voted out of office or remain in their seats for the remainder of their terms, Guerra believes that their political careers are effectively over, especially for Martinez.

"It is either over right now or within the next two years," he said. I don't see her winning reelection in her district or winning any other political office.

"Everybody's going to remember this. There's no way that she would be able to run for office in two years and not have people bring this up and remind everybody about what happened."

The City Council will meet for the first time since the recordings surfaced on Tuesday. Councilmember Monica Rodriguez is expected to introduce a motion to vote for a new council president. 

"I think it's imperative that we move swiftly," she said. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.