Joe Bray-Ali. Photo via
Joe Bray-Ali. Photo via

After a tumultuous two weeks that saw him lose the endorsement of the Los Angeles Times and Councilman Mitch O’Farrell over provocative and derogatory online comments, City Council candidate Joe Bray-Ali announced a shakeup in his campaign staff Thursday.

Bray-Ali brought on a new communications director, Rohnda Ammouri, who is replacing Michael Atkins, along with a new campaign manager, Carlos Penilla, who replaces Ari Bessendorf.

Both Ammouri and Penilla bring previous experience working on political campaigns. Ammouri described Atkins and Bessendorf as essentially neighborhood volunteers.

“I think he just wanted to gear up and be ready for what’s ahead. As a neighborhood grassroots candidate, he felt like he needed to bring on some experienced campaign people who have been down this road before, and he thought we could help him out a little bit more,” Ammouri told City News Service.

Bray-Ali, who has never held elective office, is a former bicycle shop owner and activist who forced City Councilman Gil Cedillo into a runoff in the 1st Council District. The incumbent fell just short of the required 50 percent of the vote on March 7, finishing with 49.34 percent to Bray-Ali’s 37.97 percent. The runoff is May 16.

“These veterans will be replacing the strong team that got me through the primary election,” Bray-Ali said, “I am grateful to the departing staff for their contributions.”

On April 26, LAist reported that Bray-Ali had made online comments on a website called Voat targeting the black and transgender communities, along with mentally disabled and overweight people. The comments included using the N-word and “retard” while commenting on some videos of black people fighting with derogatory and racist headlines, and saying that people who get gender reassignment surgery are guilty of a “shameless excess.”

Bray-Ali lost the endorsements of The Times and O’Farrell as a result of the comments. Seven City Council members also called for him to withdraw from the race, as did the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. City Controller Ron Galperin denounced his comments, as did Equality California, the Courage Campaign, the Los Angeles chapter of the National Action Network and some LGBT leaders.

Some veterans in CD1 also denounced Bray-Ali at a news conference this week over an old blog post in which he expressed support for flag burning. Bray-Ali said the comments were taken out of context.

Despite the blowback from his comments, Bray-Ali has vowed to stay in the race while offering a variety of apologies and explanations for his words.

Bray-Ali first apologized to LAist on April 26, saying, “Looking back on the comments, I’m embarrassed and ashamed. I apologize to my wife, daughter, family and community for putting them in this situation. My commitment to being accountable and of service to the community continues.”

In a post on his campaign’s Facebook page, he then explained the purpose of the comments were because he wanted to engage “bigots and hate-mongers” to understand them better and “ended up sounding like a bigot myself. And I’m not proud of it.”

But then in an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News this week, Bray-Ali suggested the LAist story was “a smear job,” and that, “A blogger twisted my words in a convenient click-based story. Everyone ran around screaming and shouting that I was a racist and even people on my staff, they believed the blogger.”

The Times editorial board said it found Bray-Ali’s explanations for his comments on Voat to be hollow.

“He has said he went to the site to ‘track’ bigots and hatemongers out of ‘morbid fascination’ and that he sought to pick fights with them. But there is no indication he was ‘tracking’ anyone, and picking fights is exactly what he didn’t do,” The Times board wrote.

“He participated in the conversations without once criticizing the headlines, the participants or the subject matter, without once noting that such talk was unacceptable or offensive.”

The shifting explanations from Bray-Ali also occurred after City News Service reported in April about online comments he made about Mexicans.

In the 9-year-old YouTube video, Bray-Ali spoke into the camera and asked why Mexicans in his neighborhood always honk their horns instead of using a doorbell. Bray-Ali first apologized for the video to City News Service, and through Atkins said, “The comment was stupid and it’s amazing how social media can remind of the mistakes of youth. This was nine years ago.”

In a follow-up email, Atkins pointed out that the line was once used as a joke by Latino comedian George Lopez before later telling The Times the video was intended to be directed at the OC Weekly for its humorous OC Weekly column, “Ask a Mexican.”

–City News Service

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