Revelations that LA City Council candidate Josef Bray-Ali frequented racist corners of the internet, leaving offensive comments and posts have led many to charge that he should drop out of the race. Bray-Ali, who won enough votes to force incumbent Gil Cedillo into a runoff for the first La City council district seat, has also lost the majority of his high profile endorsements.
KCRW’s Larry Perel spoke with Josef Bray-Ali about why he’s staying in the race.
KCRW: Now the catalyst for all of this is comments you made on the social media site Voat, which has a no censorship policy. There, you used the n-word, mocked overweight people, and disparaged transgender people seeking reassignment surgery. Is that behavior that’s fit for an elected official?
Josef Bray-Ali: The first thing I would like to say is that the LAist blog post and the media firestorm around it was a complete mischaracterization of who I am, what I said and what I believe. The second thing I would like to say: the reason I was there, this is a big question that the LA Times editorial board had, screamed into the phone quite angrily, “Why were you there in the first place?” I am fascinated by people that I totally disagree with. I’m interested in seeing people that are 100 percent committed to things that I do not believe at all, and that is what drew me to that forum. My statements themselves, I do not think implicate me as anything other than someone with a bit of a morbid fascination in what people I disagree with are saying.
KCRW: But does that fascination warrant being contentious?
JBA: Well, the contentiousness was not mine necessarily. I think the entire situation really exposed more of my campaign, a weakness in my campaign and that we did not prepare for personal attacks in this way.
KCRW: You know a group of veterans has also called you to withdraw from the race over a blog post in which you advocated burning the American flag. Are you going to step down?
JBA: You know it’s, it it takes a really dishonest person to say that I advocated for burning the flag. I think burning the flag is a reprehensible act but I also think dissent and protest are constitutionally protected rights. Our laws, the Constitution and the Supreme Court all agree with me. The blog post I wrote went on to state that the nation is not a flag but the nation the people and the ideas of the nation that live in those people. I was making a point about a recent court case or a decision in 2006 and it was on July 5th just after a July 4th celebration.
KCRW: So clarify for us what you said about the flag.
JBA: There’s a statement the blog post is up on ugrayj02.bolgspot.com, it was in response to a July 4th fireworks celebration in my neighborhood which is a very organic, crazy affair every year. Fireworks went off all over the community, unsanctioned, illegal fireworks most of the time. I heard people proclaiming in many different languages, their wonder and amazement at what was happening, got a bunch of mosquito bites that evening and went home and read a New Yorker article and said, you know, the American flag is a symbol of the nation but it is not the nation.
KCRW: You know what, one thing you did not answer was whether or not you’re going to drop out of the race?
JBA: I have absolutely no intention of handing this race over to the City Hall machine. The reason I am here is because we have an incumbent who has been a very poor servant in this district. People have criticized me for being inexperienced they’ve criticized me for having no money having no political friends not being savvy enough not being good enough and yet here I am able to push this incumbent to a run-off it has really been his race to lose. All the other races in the city have been won were won quite handedly in their primary elections.
KCRW: So let me ask you now, so do you expect voters to look past these offensive comments and vote for you later this month?
JBA: I think the first thing I’d say is that voters first should read the comments before they jump to the conclusion that they are offensive.
KCRW: Well I’ve read the comments, they, many people would say they are offensive.
JBA: Right when they’re completely robbed, devoid of any context, and again I don’t think that much of what was said would be classified as offensive.
(Photo: Josef Bray-Ali at Ciclavia 2016 by Umberto Brayj)