Two days after a leaked audio recording rocked Los Angeles, angry and pained citizens filled the city council chambers.
They chanted, mocked, cursed and vowed to prevent the Tuesday morning meeting from taking place as long as the three council members heard on the racist recording remained in office.
As the council leaders struggled to regain control of the room, a figure in a brightly embroidered blouse stood out among the sea of dark suits.
Eunisses Hernandez, a 32-year-old activist who ousted Council member Gil Cedillo for two terms in the June primary, is not expected to return to her seat until December. It was her first time on the council floor – a space separated from the general public by a partition and a handful of police officers.
She turned to the gallery and urged the crowd to give council member Mike Bonin, whose young son had been the subject of racist vitriol in the taping, a chance to speak.
The crowd did not completely calm down. But it was clear that Hernandez had real credibility with the organizers leading the chants.
She then crossed the council floor and approached Cedillo, one of the three council members heard on the inflammatory recording.
“‘It’s extremely disrespectful,'” Hernandez recalled telling the veteran politician of his presence, saying the “‘community would like you to leave and I think that’s the right decision.’ ”
He made eye contact with her but did not respond, she said.
“As a Latina, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, I felt it was my responsibility to stand in solidarity with my colleagues who have been affected by this,” she told a reporter from her perch on the council. That day. “It is my responsibility to push back against this anti-darkness and this racism.”
While it’s unusual for an elected council member to appear on the board, Hernandez wasn’t the only one bending protocol that day. She was joined by two political allies inside the burgundy rope, neither of whom are members: City Council candidate Hugo Soto-Martínez and Assemblyman Isaac Bryan, who is considered a potential candidate for the board in the future.
Hernandez’s appearance among her future colleagues, some of whom she had never met in person, presented a stark visual symbol of the changes sweeping the council and the city’s political landscape, and a reminder that Hernandez itself remains between two worlds.
She is still weeks away from holding formal power as a council member — a five-month vacuum stemming from Hernandez’s unexpected primary triumph and a realignment of the election calendar to coincide with the midterm elections. In the meantime, she spends her days meeting with community groups, municipal department heads and other stakeholders.
Hernandez’s victory in June came just two years after her political ally and soon-to-be fellow Council member Nithya Raman defeated an incumbent to take her seat in 2020. The outcome of both races was widely seen as a testament to the power of solidification of the city’s progressive movement.
Two other potential progressive council allies are on the November ballot, and if both or either win, Hernandez could be part of a major political bloc in December. But the size of this bloc – and its corresponding political weight within the council – remains to be seen.
The seeds of the partnership between Soto-Martínez, Bryan and Hernandez were sown in 2020 during the campaign for Measure J, which demanded that 10% of locally generated, unrestricted county money be spent on a variety of social services. , and prohibited the money from being used on jails, jails or law enforcement. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, it was perhaps the most concrete way to transfer anger to the streets that summer at the polls.
Implementation of the change was delayed and potentially scuttled by litigation, but Hernandez and Bryan were key to passing it.
They served as campaign co-chairs, arguing during the campaign trail that communities like the one Hernandez will soon represent have been starved of investment as the prison system has grown. Soto-Martínez was also involved in Measure J as an organizer for a union that represents hotel workers.
Tommy Newman, senior director of United Way of Greater Los Angeles, served as the campaign’s treasurer and is a keen observer of local politics. He said Hernandez’s rise, along with the potential for two more special elections and the expulsion of those longtime players at City Hall, could “accelerate a slowly happening shift” toward a board. more progressive municipal.
“They are fearless. They’re fearless in a way that you don’t often see in elected officials because all the incentive is to be careful and careful and sometimes fearful,” Newman, who backed Hernandez’s council campaign, said of his former compatriots on Measure J.
“We’ve seen that fearlessness show up in the Mesure J campaign, we’ve seen it in Eunisses’ own campaign and you see it show up in their willingness to support candidates who challenge the incumbents. Then you see them appear on one of the darkest days of the city council and be physically present and in the middle of it all.
Put on a huipil which she bought in her mother’s hometown of Guadalajara to show solidarity with the Oaxaca community and migrants in general, Hernandez said she and others felt their presence was needed at this time of city crisis. Not only to show their support, but also to signal that they were ready to fight for their communities.
Amid a heated political atmosphere in which protests have become a mainstay in council chambers, Hernandez has deep ties to many grassroots organizers whom some of his colleagues seem to openly disdain.
Soto-Martínez described Hernandez’s role at the meeting as a “conduit between the current leaders and the people there to stand together or protest.”
She recognized almost every face in the front section of the spectators, she said, and knew several of them well.
There are a handful of city officials who have connections to some of the organizers who led protests in the chambers. But in Hernandez’ view, many other members “see these people as disruptive” and don’t understand “why they push so hard.”
“When you come from a community and your job is to move the bureaucracy around to do the right thing, it’s a different kind of connection and understanding,” she said.
But Hernandez herself will soon be part of that bureaucracy. Maintaining community credibility while dealing with the messy reality and attendant compromises of the local office will be a delicate balancing act in the months and years to come.
The Hernandez neighborhood stretches from Lincoln Heights to the far reaches of southern LA and includes many rapidly changing communities. It remains nearly two-thirds Latino, but some of its neighborhoods — including its longtime Highland Park home — have become whiter and wealthier in recent years, as gentrification displaces longtime residents.
Hernandez is the co-founder of La Defensa, an advocacy group that focuses on electing progressive judges and creating alternatives to criminalization and incarceration, and she is committed to fighting gentrification in the district.
Almost exactly a year ago, the same establishment figures now under siege struggled to remember Hernandez’s name — and make sense of his place in the local power structure.
“With Gil’s opponent, she comes out of nowhere, a 31-year-old lawyer. Who is she?” labor leader Ron Herrera asked during the October 2021 chat, mislabeling Hernandez as a lawyer. “Once Isaac Bryan endorsed her, opposition surfaced. … It’s deeper than you think. It’s not a 31-year-old rookie running.
Kevin de León, a third council member who took part in the conversation, intervenes as Hernandez “runs alone”.
“She’s not showing up on her own,” Herrera retorts, describing Hernandez as part of a larger political coalition that elected leaders shouldn’t underestimate.
Then-Council Speaker Nury Martinez, who made some of the most incendiary racist comments on the tape, refers to Hernandez as “that kid” and then makes a few attempts to pronounce “Eunisses” before speaking. write as “whatever his name”. ”
Herrera, who was president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and Martinez both resigned from their positions. Cedillo has apologized but appears unwilling to step down before his term ends in December. In a TV interview on Wednesday, De León apologized but vowed not to step down until his term ends in 2024.
For his part, Bryan says he’s considering but doesn’t know if he’ll run for suspended Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas’ seat if it opens up. Joining Hernandez and Soto-Martínez on the board was spontaneous, he said. He didn’t know they would be there.
“I hadn’t made up my mind until I woke up that morning,” Bryan said. “Actually, I had a meeting that I was supposed to [to attend] and I just thought, “I can’t join a Zoom meeting when this is happening.” ”
Appointed board member Heather Hutt currently represents Ridley-Thomas’ South LA seat, but it’s possible a special election could be called to take the seat next year – one of many potentially on the horizon . A special election to fill the Martinez Northeast Valley council seat will be held next year.
Hernandez says she’s ready to take on the role before December if Cedillo steps down before her term ends. She put job offers on saturday for a number of positions within its consultancy office and already has some of its senior staff in place.
In the days following the leak, preparing to join the council dominated not only his waking hours, but also his sleep.
“I kept dreaming about corruption and dreaming like, ‘Oh, we have to start – we have to start immediately,'” she recalled.
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