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Election 2017

Offensive Bray-Ali Comments Lead To Rescinded Endorsements, Calls To Quit Race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

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Soon several key Bray-Ali endorsements were rescinded.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.

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