Offensive Bray-Ali Comments Lead To Rescinded Endorsements, Calls To Quit Race

Offensive comments resulted in Bike the Vote rescinding their endorsement of bicycle activist candidate Joe Bray-Ali. Bike the Vote photo by Erik Charlot
Offensive comments resulted in Bike the Vote rescinding their endorsement of bicycle activist candidate Joe Bray-Ali. Bike the Vote photo by Erik Charlot

It has been a stormy week for bicycling activist and city council candidate Joe Bray-Ali, and for tensions among L.A.’s cycling communities.

On Wednesday, LAist broke the story that Bray-Ali made offensive comments online that shame fat, transgender, and black people. Bray-Ali made these comments at the Voat website – essentially a moderation-free version of Reddit – in forums titles including “v/Niggers” and “v/FATPEOPLEHATE.”

Bray-Ali issued apologies via Facebook video and email, including:

This is the speech every future leader will need to give as they move the progressive principles forward and reconcile with their online past.

I can’t defend much of what I said online. All I can say is that for those of you criticizing, that you scrub your public profiles too. You don’t know what’s out there.

The not-really-an-apology did not sit well with many.

Soon several key Bray-Ali endorsements were rescinded. City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell un-endorsed Bray-Ali stating “I am deeply disappointed by his highly insensitive comments in online forums that breed hate and dehumanize already marginalized communities. People that I love and care about are hurt by these comments.” The L.A. Times stated “[Bray-Ali’s] comments — both where they appeared and the tone they took — are too troubling to ignore,” in withdrawing their endorsement. Bray-Ali’s opponent, incumbent City Councilmember Gil Cedillo, called for Bray-Ali to drop out of the race. Cedillo’s call was joined by seven additional City Councilmembers.

All this sparked a heated debate in L.A.’s bicycling community (including several Streetsblog staff), prominently in the Facebook group Bike the Vote. The debate fell along factional lines extant in L.A. bike advocacy. Equity advocates, many female, queer, and/or people of color stressed that Bray-Ali had crossed a line:

[Bray-Ali] was contributing to a culture of dehumanizing already marginalized people

Such postings are unsupportable and no explanation can redeem them.

You don’t want an elected official who is a member of an online group called “niggers”…Full Stop. End of Story. And if that means Cedillo, so be it.

Other advocates, more tightly focused on bicycling – many straight, white, and/or male – argued that Bray-Ali’s support of bike facilities, and Cedillo’s antipathy toward them, would be sufficient to maintain Bike the Vote’s endorsement.

Ultimately Bike the Vote rescinded its endorsement. Here is the Bike the Vote statement in its entirety:

In light of recent revelations regarding online activities by City Council District 1 candidate Joe Bray-Ali, Bike the Vote L.A.’s election committee has reevaluated our endorsement. Many of us have known Joe as an impassioned champion for safe streets and a past member of Bike the Vote. Despite that, we cannot and will not ignore his hurtful, hateful, and misinformed comments that have been brought to light. For this reason we are rescinding our endorsement of Joe Bray-Ali for City Council.

Bicycle advocacy is about more than roadway engineering: it’s about communities and building an inclusive, welcoming city for everyone. The discriminatory statements made by Joe Bray-Ali concerning race, gender identity, and weight are unacceptable – and antithetical to the type of community we are building through political advocacy on safe streets.

Joe Bray-Ali’s comments have also adversely served to divide our group and our community of advocates. Some in our community stand by Joe, some are unable to support him, and some aren’t really sure what we as advocates should do in this tough situation. If we are to value all of our members, our partners, our allies, our friends, and our neighbors in the diverse communities of Los Angeles, we cannot let ambivalence get in the way of all that we’ve built. Further, we cannot operate as a unified group while continuing to support a candidate who makes divisive comments like the ones we’ve seen.

Safe streets advocates have accomplished a lot in this race. As a community, we worked hard to force a sitting councilmember into a run-off – a very rare feat. We’ve shown our organizing and fundraising power and have sent a clear message to City Hall: If you are a roadblock to safety, we will take you on and force you to defend your record. Our statement here is not an endorsement for incumbent Gil Cedillo, who to this day has declined to respond to our survey, has blocked projects that would make 1st District streets safer, and has shut us as advocates out of the decision making process. We will continue to work to hold him accountable to his voters and our community in the coming years – and we invite you to continue to work with us to make Los Angeles a safer, more livable, city.

Several bike activists that initially strongly supported Bray-Ali have since distanced themselves from him.

Wolfpack Hustle founder Don Ward wrote:

I’ve known Joe was a heckler and a hot head when taking on the city beast so I expected snippets of crass comments and ranting to come out. What I didn’t expect was the transphobic and racist comments that have zero to do with hammering for safe livable streets. Its shocking, disgusting and I was so caught off guard that there I was yesterday trying to rationalize and dissect his words to find a better outcome rather than just see the words for what they are.

SBLA founder Damien Newton wrote:

I do think you [Bray-Ali] showed some pretty shit judgement here.

But if I had taken the time to stand up to you online or in person about the way you wrote about [SBLA Communities Editor] Sahra [Sulaiman], and [L.A. County Bicycle Coalition Executive Director] Tamika [Butler], and equity issues in general; maybe it would have gotten through that what you were doing on Voat was screwed up before you even got to Voat.

The L.A. County Bicycle Coalition, whose non-profit status prevents them from endorsing candidates, weighed in with a statement on their commitment to inclusivity. Though the statement does not mention names, it is fairly clear that it applies to Bray-Ali:

In recent months, weeks, and days, we have witnessed leaders on the national and local level make hateful and divisive comments that make groups of individuals the other, rather than including them. We have also seen many people make excuses for this behavior or simply refuse to call it what it is. Hate. Racism. Xenophobia. Homophobia. Transphobia. Sexism.

We want to be clear: statements that bully, ridicule, and stereotype groups of people or individuals based on characteristics or identity […] are hateful and cause real harm.

Members of our community, members of our board, and members of our staff have been the victims of these types of attacks and they do not reflect the bicycle advocacy community we represent. For years, many bicycle advocates have been fighting to center social justice in their work. Many of those advocates have been low-income people, women, or people of color, whose voices are often ignored or muted, compared to those with more privilege claiming to represent the bicycle community. We are a diverse and vibrant community. Many of us live at the intersections of multiple identities. It is a misconception that bicycle advocates care only about bike lanes. Many of us see the bike as a tool to bring people and communities together.

Streetsblog L.A. gives the last word to candidate Bray-Ali, who states that he is committed to staying in the race. In order to stave off some future damning revelations, Bray-Ali posted the following statement on Facebook:

Here is the dirt on me:

– Flying Pigeon-LA, LLC owes the State Board of Equalization for a failure to pay an audit and several quarters of sales taxes. The amount is ~$48,000 the last time I bothered to open the envelope
– I slept with several other women from 2011 to 2014. Not my wife. For a time I even had a Tinder profile.
– I painted bike symbols (sharrows) in the middle of the night with friends, and on camera with German documentary film maker.
– I have said many profane, rude, statements to people I’ve gotten into arguments with online.

The social media scandals about a video asking why my neighbors honk their horns, me visiting racist and fat-hating site, a comment made about trans people getting surgery, my offensive and profane comments online – they are a distraction from what this election is about and not a reflection of who I am as a person. They are a verification that I am a human being with flaws, like everyone.

A career built around serving our community, all colors and creeds and genders, a campaign built around neighbor-to-neighbor connections and not institutional support and developer backing – that is who I am.

I’ve been called a hippie, a racist, a Republican, a bigot, a transphobe, a hipster, and now you know what else is coming my way. This election is bigger than me, and I can take the hits. The network of supporters and donors I’ve built can take the hits.

This district cannot afford 5.5 more years of Senator Cedillo, and I am going out today and until May 16 to make sure voters have a choice for a new leader in this district.

 

  • calwatch

    Ironically the automatically selected posts below the comments show a lot of praise of Bray-Ali who at the time six years ago was the site’s all time commenting MVP (although I think me and Erik Griswold have it beat now). I’d love to read Damien’s comments in detail although he has locked it up to only his friends to view, but it seems a little bit piling on at this point.

  • love_me_do

    wow, that last statement admitting to tax evasion, creeping on tinder and cheating on his wife with multiple women, but he’s the face of the progressive movement so vote for him.

    the guy is an admitted troll, possible pervert, definite bully, certain tax cheat and probable racist. it’s like, if you’re voting for this guy because of bike lanes, it’s no better than the people voting for trump because of lower taxes. literally, the ends justify electing a true creep.

  • Matt

    I always knew he was a hothead and an overall jerk online. Not really surprised about the racism since he is such a bully in general. The fact that he admits to blatant tax evasion and just says he is human and we humans are all flawed and it is just a distraction to the election is incredible. Oh, and he seems like he has no intention of actually paying the taxes and doesn’t even bother to open the notices now. I guess he thinks remitting sales taxes that were never his to begin with is more something for the little people in the City to do and not somebody important like a city council candidate. Wow – just wow.

  • Elle Nicole

    Its clear to me now why the bicycle movement in LA is so ineffective. Its unfocused, fractioned and, for all its talk, accomplishes precious little.

  • calwatch

    Bray-Ali used to have tax sales at his Flying Pigeon shop, but I never heard how that was resolved. I care less about what he said online than about not trying to settle with the Board of Equalization and essentially evading taxes. The BOE and IRS will listen to reasonable compromises and are not going to send you to poverty, but you have to make a payment plan. The fact that Bray-Ali is not doing that is worse than spouting off bullshit from his mouth, since those are actions and not words.

  • Matt

    I don’t think everyone (although some people do) realizes that his candidacy is now hurting the bike and complete streets movement as well as future challenges to city council incumbents. Bray-Ali’s indiscretions were all over all the papers and even the news radio over the weekend about. People feel duped. The LA Times and other influencers will be slow to get behind bike and incumbent challengers in the future since they have been embarrassed and burned by Bray-Ali. For the public, it just reinforces some of the perceived negatives about the bike movement in regards to the bullying and the “rules don’t apply to me” attitude. This scumbag has not only blown his candidacy, but done some lasting damage.

  • calwatch

    I don’t think so, although I think the LA Times and others will be inclined to do deeper vetting and listen to the dissension of other advocates more. To her credit Sahra was really up front on calling Bray-Ali out early on, although maybe she could have shouted louder when the snowball started heading towards Bray-Ali.

    And it certainly seemed that the last dump of all the negative items seemed like a rash overreaction and was bizarre. Rather than closing out the campaign focused on the issues, apologizing, and showing class, he has to reopen old wounds with his wife and kids (who are old enough to understand what is going on) and remind everyone who supported him in one of the “pay off my taxes sales” that no taxes seemingly were actually paid with the funds raised.

  • Walt Arrrrr

    Sahra shouted plenty. We chose to ignore it for the greater good. As far as the tax bill, it was much higher initially, and he was supposedly paying it off.

    But there I go again, trying to defend Josef when he should be doing it himself.

  • Matt

    Yet, Joe Linton is still supporting Bray-Ali after everything. Others like Damien Newton have dropped their endorsements.

  • michael macdonald

    Both the Sierra Club and the L.A. League of Conservation Voters rescinded their endorsements of Joe without a swarm of advocates rushing to downplay and excuse Joe’s discriminatory comments. Only in the bike movement do we see voices like yours display that indifference to racism, sexism, weight shaming, and transphobia.

  • It’s fairly clear that Josef does harbor some racist, homophobic, and otherwise prejudiced opinions. But with his public explanation, he missed an opportunity to stay consistent with what was otherwise the trajectory of his campaign, namely to make it about more than mere personalities. If he had owned up to his prejudices and explained their personal and societal origins, then described his efforts to recognize, analyze, and transform them, he would have moved the discussion into an area which, arguably, everyone in the US shares to some degree.
    Instead, he refocused the scrutiny to exclusively personal grounds, and in the worst possible way, implying through the tone and the content of his words, that we should just shrug our collective shoulders and accept him as he is, since he’s not going to change.
    This move compounded the initial problem, and perhaps revealed more about him than the internet posts.
    We desperately need issue focused politics, at all levels, up to and including the federal, and, as Josef’s failed campaign indicates, we also need the candidates who will refuse the relentless need we, as a political collective, seem to have to focus all attention on the exclusively personal.

  • Elle Nicole

    Wow, you sure illustrated my point nicely. Guess we’re not on the same team, after all, hey? This tent gets smaller all the time.

    There’s a big difference between indifference and succumbing to character assassinations. People continue to die on their bikes in LA whilst those who profess to care squabble about words uttered online. JBA, for all his faults, was the one beacon of hope to penetrate the fortress of LA City Hall and make things happen in a city that is one of the MOST DANGEROUS for cyclists. That might not mean much to you in the grand scheme of things that are offensive but its more important to me than comments on some douche-bro website.

  • michael macdonald

    Do you think that the Sierra Club and L.A. League of Conservation Voters set back the environmental movement by speaking out against racist, sexist, weight shaming & transphobic comments? Or do you hink that the bike movement alone operates outside of issues of race, gender & equity?

  • Joe Commuter

    Yes they did set back the environment and environmental causes. And bicyclists set safe streets back. And the LA Times and Mitch O Farrell set back a progressive vision for the City. All over comments taken out of context. And now we could be stuck with 5+ years of unsafe streets under the oh-so perfect Gil Cedillo.

  • michael macdonald

    It’s so disappointing that you view this as a failure by everyone but yourself, Joe.

  • grave soul

    Way to downplay his comments as simply some “words uttered online.” Context matters and the sites, along with some of his comments, were racist and transphobic. Look in the mirror — your white privilege and cluelessness are showing. Do something about that. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/34a30dd217c58fd4e268852678c879adba6c8a3fb49c6568c45ba98208defad7.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/66fab469273a70fd35391110bda79158965488223e21dcb7d20dca22d58cb586.jpg

  • Joe Commuter

    What is my failure for supporting the better of the two candidates? Did you also give people crap for voting for Clinton after Bernie lost primary? I’m not saying Joe isn’t an idiot for what he said. I’m saying despite all that, he remains the better candidate for everything streetsblog readers claim to care about, including things like social justice.

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