The Los Angeles City Council unanimously elected Nury Martinez as the council’s first Latina president on Dec. 3. Her predecessor, Herb Wesson, is stepping down in January 2020 after eight years as the body’s president to run for a seat on the LA County Board of Supervisors.
Martinez represents District 6 in the San Fernando Valley, which includes Van Nuys, Lake Balboa, Arleta, Sun Valley and Panorama City. Wesson wrote in a statement he is proud of Martinez and is confident she will bring her “experience and dedication to successfully confront the many challenges that face our city."
Martinez was first elected to the council in 2013 after a special election. At the time, she was the only female elected official in the city. Today, as president of the council, she is only the second woman to hold the post since Pat Russell, who was elected president in 1983.
Helen Torres, executive director of Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE), cheered in the audience as Martinez won the election. Torres said she was present to “celebrate the history that has just been made.”
“Being the first, it starts breaking the glass ceiling so other people can see themselves, specifically other Latinas, can see themselves in that role,” said Torres. “It activates a base of women, across the board regardless of race.”
As councilwoman, Martinez has encountered a few hurdles in the past six years. In September, the County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office ended its investigation of allegations of fraud in Martinez’s 2015 campaign fundraising efforts.
Despite this, Carmen Rad, a local business owner, believes “you need someone such as [Martinez] to step up and be the first," said Rad. “It’s about time.”
In a passionate speech in front of the council and members of the public, Martinez spoke about her upbringing as the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Martinez’s described her father, a dishwasher working long hours, as a feminist.
“He always knew that it was important to support his daughters and make sure that they felt supported and empowered,” said Martinez.
Her mother actively fought for fair wages at the factory where she worked.
“The reason we have a home is because of my mother,” explained Martinez. “The reason we were able to move forward is because my mother felt so strongly about ensuring that her children had a good education.”
In her speech, Martinez thanked her parents for inspiring her to “do what is right.”
Martinez’s husband, Jerry, and their ten-year-old daughter, Isabelle, were in the crowd. Martinez explained that her daughter was an inspiration for much of her work.
“I’d like not only my daughter but other little girls just like her to know that women in this city can grow up to be anything they want to be,” said Martinez.
The new president said she will detail her plans for the city council on January 14, 2020, when the council holds its first official meeting of the year. She highlighted some critical issues she wants to address immediately, like the homelessness crisis and opportunities for children to have safe learning and living environments.
“As I’m about to be the first Latina woman to lead the city council, I don’t want to be the last,” Martinez said.