The Los Angeles Times endorsed community activist Joe Bray-Ali for City Council over incumbent Gil Cedillo because he seemed refreshingly energetic, well-prepared on the issues, knowledgeable about land-use policy — and likely to shake up what had become an entrenched political system.
But this week, another side of Bray-Ali was revealed when the website LAist reported that he had frequented viciously racist areas of the Internet and participated in shocking and entirely unacceptable conversations. The revelations are so deeply disturbing — raising serious questions about both his judgment and his character — that The Times has re-evaluated its original position. For the first time in recent memory, the editorial board is officially rescinding its endorsement.
The specific catalyst for the decision is Bray-Ali's participation on Voat, a "no censorship" social media site which has become a haven for racists and bigots. One of the threads on which Bray-Ali commented was known as "v/Niggers," and in one of his comments on it Bray-Ali repeated that highly offensive epithet not once but twice as he discussed who should or shouldn't be designated by the word. He also commented uncritically on a video of a fight between two African American girls; that thread was titled "Sheboons fighting in a gas station." He posted an offensive comment on "v/FATPEOPLEHATE," a forum for mean-spirited mocking of overweight people. And on another thread, he disparaged transgender people who seek gender-reassignment surgery.
Bray-Ali has acknowledged that the offending posts were his. He's apologized, calling himself embarrassed and ashamed. Yet his explanations are unsatisfying. He has said that he went on the site to "track" bigots and hatemongers out of "morbid fascination" and that he sought to pick fights with them. But there's no indication that he was "tracking" anyone, and picking fights is exactly what he didn't do. 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The Times' endorsement is not being rescinded lightly. We realize that it can be difficult, after the fact, to understand the context in which an Internet comment was made. It can be unfair or overly harsh to blame a person for something he or she said or wrote a long time ago. Hasn't everybody said something they later regretted or which they wouldn't want to have repeated publicly? As today's Internet-era children grow older, there will no doubt be many examples of that coming to light.
But Bray-Ali is not a child; he is not in high school or college or even recently graduated. He is a 38-year-old candidate for public office. And his comments were not written many years ago; they are a year-and-a-half old. While we cannot ever know for sure what's in Bray-Ali's heart or what his thinking was, the comments — both where they appeared and the tone they took — are too troubling to ignore.
In the end, the question facing The Times was this: What kind of leader would he be? How well would he represent the people of Council District 1, with its diverse population of Latinos and Asians as well as African Americans and whites? After re-interviewing Bray-Ali on Thursday, the editorial board felt it could no longer back him.
The hard truth for voters in this district is that they are left without a great choice in May 16's runoff election. Cedillo's spotty performance, his coziness with developers and the deep discontent among his constituents about his responsiveness to their concerns made The Times eager to find a credible alternative. But Joe Bray-Ali is not that person.
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