In the midst of growing calls that he end his campaign, Los Angeles City Council District 1 candidate Joe Bray-Ali vowed Wednesday to stay in the race and win back voters' trust.
In a wide-ranging interview with KPCC, he called some of the recent news coverage a “targeted attempt at character assassination” and said he had not been prepared for the personal attacks.
"In the last two weeks, it has been very hard to respond to these mischaracterizations of who I am as a person," he said.
Last week, the website LAist posted screenshots of offensive comments that Bray-Ali posted online where he disparaged overweight people, criticized transgender surgeries and posted in a forum with the N-word in its title.
Bray-Ali confirmed the posts were his and apologized. Later in the week, he admitted in a Facebook post that he owed back taxes and cheated on his wife, among other revelations. Bray-Ali said he posted the details on Facebook because he was aware the incumbent, Gil Cedillo, knew about them and felt "his smear attacks were going to get worse."
Cedillo said in an email statement that his opponent's troubles are "self-inflicted through his own words and actions."
"The facts are that he engaged in appalling behavior and he must take responsibility for his disgraceful deeds and actions," Cedillo said, through his campaign spokesperson Helen Sanchez.
Bray-Ali said his Facebook admissions were to reveal to voters "that they are not electing a saint to City Council. They are electing someone who is the best choice in this race, and I am still the best choice in this race."
Cedillo and Bray-Ali were the first and second vote-getters in the March primary election to represent District 1 and advance to the May 16 runoff. The district takes in communities such as Highland Park, Cypress Park, Westlake and Chinatown.
Cedillo was the only incumbent seeking re-election to the council this year to be forced into a runoff.
Before the incidents, Bray-Ali had been building a significant coalition of support.
Hans Johnson is the president of the East Area Progressive Democrats and he was among those who voted to rescind the club’s endorsement of Bray-Ali last week. It was the first time the club had ever rescinded an endorsement.
Johnson said most of the club's 750 members supported the decision to pull the endorsement and are no longer supporting Bray-Ali. He said roughly a quarter of the group's members live within the district.
"I feel burned by Joe," Johnson said."I found all the comments profoundly offensive and I found his explanations for their origin completely implausible."
The Los Angeles Times and Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell also pulled back their endorsements of Bray-Ali after the candidate's revelations.
Glassell Park resident Doug Dawson said he donated $250 to Bray-Ali and knew many of his neighbors were also backing him. But since news of Bray-Ali’s offensive online comments broke last week, he's noticed a change.
"Quite honestly, I’ve noticed more Gil Cedillo signs in front yards," Dawson said.
He said while the recent news gave him pause, it didn't change his mind that Bray-Ali is the best candidate. Dawson said Bray-Ali will still get his vote. "I still stand behind him in that I feel that he would provide the leadership that we need in this council district."
Dawson said he's been dissatisfied with Cedillo's leadership, and said the councilman's office hasn’t responded to dozens of emails he’s sent about concerns in the community. Dawson also said he felt encouraged by Bray-Ali’s Facebook post and the way he tackled his critics head-on.
Yesterday, Bray-Ali came under more criticism after it was learned he suggested over 10 years ago that it is acceptable to burn the American flag and smear it in feces. In a 2006 blog post, he wrote: "Let people burn the flag all they want, let ‘em put it in their avant-garde art videos smeared in poo, let them destroy it. In the U.S. the flag is not the state.”
A group of military veterans gathered Wednesday in Highland Park to demand that Bray-Ali drop out of the race, according to NBC4.
Navy veteran Mark Quiroz told the station the blog post was offensive. "How can he say it's OK, that it's a piece of cloth, to burn the flag, to rub it in poo?" he asked.
Bray-Ali said he was only trying to support freedom of speech and point out that it's a founding principle of the United States. He shared a link to the blog post on his Twitter feed.
District voters will decide whether Bray-Ali survives the criticism, but his campaign has an uphill battle as it tries to recover from developments in the past two weeks.
Those voters seeking change may find themselves in a quandary, and many in the district had already voted by mail before Bray-Ali's posts and personal revelations emerged. Mail ballots were accepted beginning on April 17.
The Times editorial board, in an article rescinding its endorsement of Bray-Ali, wrote: 'The hard truth for voters in this district is that they are left without a great choice in May 16’s runoff election."