A Sunday: local news outlets hurry to print the story that would upend the prevailing, stable order in Los Angeles politics. The basic components of the reports (some recorded audio, a surreptitious meeting, and an unusually vivid racism) have gained in depth since that day, but were potent enough in the first hour to set events spinning quickly forward. The rate of progression here has been such that, while the Sunday in question feels some months distant, at the time of this writing, less than three weeks have passed since then.
And the concentrated effect of that small collection of days has been startling. One encounter with the Angelene public, a rare and burdensome occurrence, was enough to make the crystalline warrens of power in City Hall bend back like daffodils beneath a boot. The closed hatch of municipal politics lent up the contents of an hour to scrutiny, and there was enough there to wither the city’s ruling coalition. It should elicit surprise that a whisper of outside air chancing through some gap in the municipal wall should be capable of producing such tremendous dissipation, that it could reduce seeming-solid things to detritus: husks, flakes and scales. Misconduct is not a revelation, but what may be is the extent to which the structure of political power in Los Angeles now appears to be a fluke of geometry, an inversion layer, preserved indefinitely but waiting for a chance to disperse.
The tapes, all of which were dumped unceremoniously online weeks before they were found and circulated, depict the events of at least two separate meetings. The most famous tape is a covert recording of a meeting between Ron Herrera, the former president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Nury Martinez, the former president of the Los Angeles City Council, and the sitting members of the City Council from the 1st and 14th districts, respectively, Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León. A second records the events of a conversation between Herrera and a woman named Hannah, reported by Knock LA to be Hannah Cho, a former council staffer.
While the first tape, which I’ll call the Martinez Tape, covers a single meeting from start to finish with no gaps, it’s less clear that the second, the Hannah Tape, is a single event. The Hannah Tape is chopped up and excerpted, apparently in an attempt to ensure that specific segments and comments would be circulated.
We know little about the provenance of the recordings. No one has claimed credit (or admitted guilt) in producing the tapes. Everything we do know seems to come either through admission from the parties on tape or from inference and deduction based on the contents of the audio. We know from the LA Fed, for instance, that the meetings took place somewhere on their premises. We can infer that none of the participants in either the Martinez or the Hannah Tapes are aware they are being recorded.
This particular post will focus on the timing of the Martinez Tape, an element for which there is some solid basis to make deductions. Specifically, the post will seek to answer the following:
- When did the meeting captured in the recording take place?
- How do we know?
The Martinez Tape
The Martinez Tape was recorded on Monday, October 18, 2021, likely sometime in the late morning or early afternoon. The speakers on the Martinez Tape provide listeners with enough detail to narrow down with some precision when the meeting between Herrera and the three councilmembers took place. Some of the detail may seem trivial or redundant; it has nevertheless been included to indicate the clarity with which we can establish the interval during which this meeting took place.
Context and Comments
The subject of the discussion is the 2021 redistricting process and the discontentment of the three councilmembers with the map options developed by the redistricting commission. The redistricting commission first met on November 19, 2020 and last met on October 28, 2021.
The first thing that is discussed after the participants enter the room is the legal woes of the then-councilmember for the 10th district, Mark Ridley-Thomas. As far back as April 2021, a federal grand jury was empaneled in the government’s investigation into allegations that Ridley-Thomas had engaged in a bribery scheme with the head of the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. However, the indictment in the case was not filed until October 13, 2021; news of the indictment became public on the same day. We have already narrowed down the range to a two week period in October 2021, but we can go much further.
Early in the recording, Nury Martinez says Ridley-Thomas will be “arraigned on Wednesday.” The Wednesday in question must be October 20, 2021, which is both the first Wednesday following Ridley-Thomas’s indictment and also the day on which he was actually arraigned. There is thus no possibility that Martinez was referring to a different Wednesday with the arraignment date then being changed by the court subsequent to the recording.
Our range is now between October 13 and October 20 in definite terms: the meeting took place at some point following Ridley-Thomas’s indictment but before his arraignment. However, it is suggestive that Martinez says “Wednesday,” and not “today” or “tomorrow.” Our expectation should be that the true range is most likely between October 13 and October 18, without definitely ruling out the 19th or 20th.
In the midst of a conversation about his children and grandchildren, Gil Cedillo says, “Let’s go, Dodgers,” in the style of the familiar stadium chant. It is a non sequitur relative to the surrounding discussion. It seems fairly likely based on preceding comments that Cedillo has been showing the other participants photos on his phone, which to me is suggestive of the possibility that the Dodgers comment has been prompted by either a subsequent photo, a push notification, or something else on his phone. It is certainly more speculative than much else we have to go on, but noteworthy that the Dodgers’s postseason had not yet concluded in the window of October 13 to October 20. They defeated the Giants on October 14 before losing the National League championship to the Atlanta Braves on October 23.
Nury Martinez says, “[Councilmember] Curren [Price] is taking the temperature of the council, probably at [Ridley-Thomas’s] request,” with regards to the council’s then-upcoming decision on whether or not to suspend Ridley-Thomas. That action, which was open to council because Ridley-Thomas had been accused of committing a felony, was taken on October 20; in the event, the suspension vote ended up taking place hours prior to Ridley-Thomas’s entry of a not guilty plea during his arraignment. We thus can now conclusively rule out October 20 from our range, leaving the 13th through the 19th as our valid options.
Additionally, Martinez repeatedly says she spoke to Price “last night,” which does not narrow things down in any conclusive way, but is perhaps better not forgotten.
More concrete information arrives: De León says “yesterday” he was at a UCLA event commemorating the infamous Chinatown massacre with Chancellor Gene Block. That event took place on October 17, 2021. With the exception of the possibility that De León misspoke, this would seem conclusively to put the date of the recording on Monday, October 18, 2021, which date happily is also within the range we had arrived at anyway.
The possibility of a misstatement becomes a near impossibility, however, when, immediately following De León’s comment, Martinez says that “tomorrow” Hilda Solis of the County Board of Supervisors will be introducing a motion to audit contracts during the term of Ridley-Thomas’s tenure as a county supervisor. Martinez brings it up to say that Solis has asked Martinez to help her secure votes for this motion, a request Martinez says she rebuffed. Nonetheless, such a motion does go before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, October 19, 2021, where it passes unanimously. This comment also provides support for Monday, October 18, 2021. At this point, the date becomes conclusive.
[n.b.: If we were to define in the broadest terms the valid range within which the meeting might have happened, we must say it is some time “at least one day following the UCLA event attended by De León and at least one day prior to the Board of Supervisors meeting at which Solis introduces the audit motion.” But there is only one day that meets this definition.]
Martinez tells De León, “It was your anniversary this weekend,” in reference to his swearing-in party at the Walt Disney Concert Hall; she clarifies that she got a Facebook notification that seven years ago on that day she had been at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. De León responds, “Oh, October 15th.”
Gil Cedillo refers to the October 15 closure of half of MacArthur Park, commenting on the placement of hundreds of homeless individuals into interim housing or shelters and the resultant press coverage. De León says that “tomorrow, Tuesday” Cedillo should put out a press release amplifying his office’s efforts in the park. This is a third point that directly confirms the date of the meeting as Monday, October 18.
Herrera refers mockingly to comments made by former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that the city is a “rudderless ship.” Martinez picks up on the reference with another from the same interview, in which Villaraigosa says that “Rome is burning.” The comments were made on Sunday, October 17, 2021 on a local TV news program.
Herrera references having been at “Taste of Soul with [Assemblymember] Isaac Bryan.” The Taste of Soul event in Crenshaw was held in a modified, drive-through fashion due to the COVID-19 pandemic on October 16. Bryan was a Co-Chair of the event, which was sponsored by the LA Fed, among many other organizations.
Herrera references a labor meeting he attended “this morning” on Zoom with Alexandra Suh, the executive director of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA). During that meeting, Suh, according to Herrera, spoke negatively about Alma Hernandez, who had stepped down as executive director of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) California on October 13 after California Attorney General Rob Bonta brought felony charges against Hernandez and her husband. Herrera implied that SEIU members on the call were angered by Suh’s comments. In further discussion, the participants suggest that Hernandez’s arrest was the result of her having been targeted either on account of her ethnicity or the product of political machinations within the union. This meeting could be used to pinpoint more exactly the time of day on October 18 at which the Martinez Tape was recorded, but it was not a public meeting and so far I have not been able to find information on it. As is, the “this morning” comment is suggestive, though not concrete, evidence that the meeting took place in the afternoon or evening.
[n.b.: Until a few days prior, Suh had also been the Redistricting Commission appointee of Councilmember Nithya Raman. Raman replaced Suh with Los Angeles Unified School District member Jackie Goldberg on October 13.]
The councilmembers discuss having their chiefs of staff meet to iron out the street-level details of how they want their new districts drawn. Martinez then asks what time the meeting “tonight” is, referring to the October 18 meeting of the 2021 City of Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission. That meeting was scheduled for 6 p.m. and called to order at 6:07 p.m. Martinez’s comments strongly imply that the meeting has not begun yet, especially taking into account that she takes a phone call during the meeting with (presumably) a staffer to discuss the redistricting process. Martinez appears to be following commission events closely and in real time.
Cedillo references the redistricting commission having met for “7.5 hours on Saturday,” which matches the meeting on October 15.
A California Public Records Act (CPRA) request sent to the office of Councilmember Cedillo by Knock LA journalist Jon Peltz returned only two events for the day of October 18: a phone call to “Tim” during the window of 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and a dinner with Antonia Hernandez, longtime president of the California Community Foundation from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. at a restaurant in downtown.
The phone meeting lists CANVAS LA, an apartment complex in Cedillo’s district, as the location; it is not clear whether this is an indication that Tim is a representative of the apartment complex or that Cedillo actually would be present at the building. It is not an important detail in general, and probability would seem to favor the former option. Cedillo’s calendar was booked from 2:30 p.m. until the redistricting commission met at 6:00 p.m., suggestive but not conclusive evidence that the meeting took place before 2:30 p.m. Calendars are not perfect reflections of what actually occurred even under normal circumstances. Councilmembers, who are accustomed to people rearranging their schedules to meet with them, should be considered at least capable of showing up late or no-showing an appointment if a more pressing need arose. A two-hour phone call calendar event, additionally, seems as though it could conceivably have been a window in which to call Tim, rather than a phone call that would take two hours to complete. Nonetheless, we can now put the presumptive window as prior to 2:30 p.m. on October 18.
A food bank billed as having the partnership and participation of Nury Martinez took place on October 18 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. in Van Nuys. It is possible but far from certain that Martinez was present for the entire three hours. It is possible, even equally so, that she did not attend at all.
It has been established that there is sufficient detail in the conversation itself to concretely identify that the Martinez Tape was recorded on Monday, October 18, 2021. There are multiple pieces of evidence directly supporting such this candidate date, and none at all contradicting it. But, even further, by pulling in contextual information from social media, it is also possible to narrow down the window to a likely span of just a few hours between around 12 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. While our official window remains “before 6 p.m. on October 18,” there is mutually supporting information that suggests the four participants had a window of time that would have been free and during which this 80 minute meeting could have occurred.