LA Councilman O’Farrell drafted for tough role amid political storm – Orange County Register

Just two days after a leaked recording by Los Angeles City Council members and a labor official revealed racist remarks about the scandal, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell has been drafted into a tough, unexpected new role.

He must take over the council following the resignation of President Nury Martinez as a wave of outraged officials and citizens are calling for her ouster and two of her fellow councillors. Many are also expressing emotion, urging the scandal-stricken city to reconsider its business practices and guarantee its citizens that such controversies will never happen again.

On Tuesday, Oct. 11, Martinez said she was taking a leave of absence amid growing excitement over her insensitive comments about a leaked audio recording during a meeting with Council members Kevin de Leon and Gil Cedillo, along with Ron Herrera, the association’s president Los Angeles County workers. Herrera has already resigned his post.

As a longtime representative of Council District 13, O’Farrell faces an unenviable, unprecedented role as interim city council president, experts say.

O’Farrell must – in particularly complex post-pandemic days – navigate an already-changing city council and deal with the aftermath of the burgeoning scandal that this week has prompted almost every elected official and community group to express anger and disappointment. On Tuesday, even President Joe Biden was bullied into urging scandal-plagued Council members to resign.

“Part of that is trying to drive the ship,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School who served on the LA City Ethics Committee from 2013 to 2018.

“The ship is facing an iceberg taking on water, and those who remain must declare that they can still keep us afloat while addressing the incredibly pressing issues facing our city: homelessness, income inequality and Criminal justice issues,” Levinson said. “It’s not like we can take a moment together and just talk about good government reforms. We have to do these two things at the same time.”

The furor was sparked by a leaked recording of Martinez mocking council member Mike Bonin’s 2-year-old black son and making offensive comments about other officers, with much of the conversation revolving around the controversial redistribution process.

Martinez apologized Monday, adding that she was ashamed of her racially offensive comments in the 2021 conversation.

“I need to take a leave of absence and some time to have an honest and heartfelt conversation with my family, constituents and community leaders,” she said in a statement. De Leon and Cedillo also apologized for their offensive language. None of the politicians resigned from their council seats.

The first step for council members will be to “clean the house,” Levinson said.

“Step Two explains why association guilt isn’t fair. For someone like Mitch O’Farrell, he wasn’t part of that call and why he can be trusted,” she added.

This new crisis is just the latest scandal to hit a controversy-ridden town hall.

It has been just a year since Mark Ridley-Thomas was suspended from his council while facing federal bribery charges over alleged acts that took place during his time as district head.

Former city councilor José Huizar, accused of bribery and extortion, is due to stand trial next year.

Councilor Mitch Englander pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice. He resigned from the council and was later imprisoned for obstructing an FBI investigation into his accepting gifts from a favor-seeker.

And then there’s the Department of Water and Energy billing scandal.

Ethical allegations are also fueling a major career controversy for Mayor Eric Garcetti, who months ago was hoping to be named ambassador to India. But after a Senate report suggested he may have ignored alleged longstanding sexual harassment by one of his top aides, the trail to Washington DC went cold. The mayor said he was unaware of any sexual harassment involving his aide, Rick Jacobs.

Los Angeles City Council President Pro Tem Mitch O'Farrall speaks with council members Gil Cedillo and Kevin De Leon during Tuesday's council meeting on October 11, 2022 at the Los Angeles City Hall, Council Chambers. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
Los Angeles City Council President Pro Tem Mitch O’Farrall speaks with council members Gil Cedillo and Kevin De Leon during Tuesday’s council meeting on October 11, 2022 at the Los Angeles City Hall, Council Chambers. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

“Obviously they’re all separate, but it’s just common sense to think there’s a huge crisis of confidence in public officials and we’ve seen chaos in the city council chambers and that’s how people feel,” Levinson said. “People believe this is a dumpster fire.”

Fernando Guerra, a professor of political science and Chicana/o Latina/o students and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, said O’Farrell’s perhaps most difficult challenge is ensuring the city council can function in the following months.

“There’s going to be a lack of trust, so he has to deal with the lack of trust between the communities and council members and everyone else,” he said.

If all three council members who participated in the leaked talk resign, they could potentially be replaced by very progressive council members, Guerra added.

“It could be that eight of the 15 council members are new,” Guerra said. “All previous coalitions and alliances within the Council must be restored, especially the larger coalition that elected the President.”

Regarding turnout for the upcoming November election, Guerra said the recent uproar could potentially increase or decrease turnout.

“The scandal has the potential to mobilize people greatly, and also has the potential to upset others who are just like, ‘Look, they’re all the same. You are terrible. Why choose? We chose those who we thought were great people who are also scandalous,'” added Guerra.

It doesn’t help that O’Farrell himself faces competition to keep his own seat on the city council.

On Tuesday, O’Farrell was struggling to start a meeting when a tumultuous crowd of protesters filled the city council chambers, demanding the resignation of three members and shouting “Out!” and “resign now” in de Leon and Cedillo, driven from the Chambers by the riot.

During the meeting, Bonin said he was deeply hurt by his colleagues’ comments and urged them to resign.

“I’m disgusted with that,” he said.

Joel Fox, an associate professor at Pepperdine University School of Public Policy and a political analyst, said O’Farrell must stage a comeback to win back his own seat. In the primary against challenger Hugo Soto-Martinez, a labor and community organizer, O’Farrell finished second.

“It was a great move by progressives to vote for more progressive candidates,” Fox said. “So he has to deal with it.”

This outbreak of this scandal could further fuel candidates who want to push LA’s leadership further to the left, Fox said.

“He’s going to be seen as part of the establishment,” Fox said. “He’s going to have to work very hard to get over that. He will have to contend with the general left movement of many who want to change the way the Los Angeles government works.” LA Councilman O’Farrell drafted for tough role amid political storm – Orange County Register

Dais Johnston

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