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Seattle mayoral candidate Lorena Gonzalez will stop running political ad after backlash

caption: Lorena Gonzalez and her supporters described her proposals to address Seattle's homelessness crisis on Capitol Hill Thursday, Sept. 24, 2021.
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Lorena Gonzalez and her supporters described her proposals to address Seattle's homelessness crisis on Capitol Hill Thursday, Sept. 24, 2021.
KUOW/Amy Radil

More than 190 Asian-American leaders and residents signed on to a letter demanding the removal of a political ad against Seattle mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell, which was paid for by Lorena Gonzalez’s campaign, who he is running against.

The open letter said the ad invoked racial bias and stereotypes. Harrell called the ad "wrong" and said it politicized "victims of sexual violence."

Gonzalez issued a statement Monday evening that said her campaign would not renew the ad titled "Survivor" for the final week of the campaign, but in its place would run another ad, "Day One."

"In an effort to give voice to survivors, my campaign produced an ad with a white survivor of sexual assault, who was willing to tell her story," Gonzalez said in a video message shared with the media. "As someone who has dedicated her life to fighting for and lifting up the needs and voices of people of color, I am sorry we did not work harder to center the voice of a sexual assault survivor from our community of color, who was also willing to tell their story.

"But I will not let my opponents choice to attack the messenger, instead of explaining his actions to silence survivors. "

The ad centers Harrell's past statements on alleged sexual misconduct by other elected officials.

“I was sexually assaulted five years ago,” the ad begins. A person named “Caitlin F. from north Seattle, who appears to be a white woman appears on screen. “The person who attacked me was never prosecuted.”

“So it was horrifying to me to hear Bruce Harrell defend Ed Murray, saying people shouldn’t be judged by what they may have done in the past,” Caitlin F. continues.

Former Seattle Mayor Ed Murray resigned in 2017, after allegations of child abuse and sexual molestation surfaced. Both Harrell and Gonzalez were on the Seattle City Council then, and Gonzalez publicly called for Murray’s resignation at that time.

Crosscut reported then that Harrell, then the council president, said he wouldn’t ask Murray to step down and that Seattle residents "did not ask us to judge anyone for something that happened 33 years ago or maybe didn’t happen.”

"I don’t have to justify that for anyone,” Harrell said in 2017. “I make my decisions on what’s in the best interest in the city right now. The question is, is he doing his job? I haven’t heard any of you say he’s not doing his job every single day. That governs whether he should step down or not. Now, if I see some indication he’s abdicated his responsibility and the people of Seattle are suffering because of that, then we’ll have a conversation. I’m not afraid to ask anyone to step down."

The ad, which debuted last week, has drawn a mixed response from Seattle’s Asian and Black communities. Harrell is of Black and Japanese heritage.

On Saturday, James Bible, a local lawyer most known for his work on civil rights cases, spoke during a news conference denouncing the ad.

He said he was a supporter of both Harrell and Gonzalez at first. That he even donated $500 to Gonzalez’s campaign when she asked.

“It absolutely broke my heart when I walked out of a courtroom yesterday and I received an email from Lorena’s campaign saying that on some level, Bruce Harrell, the man I know to support as many people as possible that are having difficult times, doesn't support people that are victims of sex abuse,” Bible said.

He added that he wanted “those $500 back.”

James Wong, co-founder and CEO of Vibrant Cities, a real estate development company, circulated an open letter condemning the ad, which was signed by 190 Asian-American leaders and concerned citizens.

The letter says that Gonzalez and her paid consultants “resorted to racist fear mongering tactics,” that the new ad linked Harrell to “the trauma of a victim of sexual assault” and is “designed to invoke racial bias and stereotypes that persist against Black men in America.”

Wong further elaborated in an interview with KUOW:

“They have a white woman talking about a sexual assault that's unrelated to Bruce in any way,” Wong said. “Okay, and then [they] put Bruce's picture as a Black man on there with a white woman. I mean that's pretty obvious, there's some racist undertones in there.”

Meanwhile, Ijeoma Oluo, a Seattle-based author who is Nigerian-American, took to Facebook to assert that the advertisement was not anti-Black.

“We all saw Bruce Harrell cape for a whyte man in power accused of sexually abusing Black boys,” Oluo wrote. “We all saw that. It is not anti-Black to point out the ways that Harrell has defended abusers. It is not anti-Black to let voters know what kind of man he is. And it's beyond an insult to those of us who have survived abuse to try to intimidate people out of talking about it.”

Ballots for the general election are due by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 2.

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