Following denunciations of incendiary comments that he posted online, a Los Angeles City Council candidate is calling the criticism a "smear campaign."
Council challenger Joe Bray-Ali, who has forced first district incumbent Gil Cedillo into a runoff election, is facing calls to drop out of the race after his visits to online forums known for offensive comments were reported by the web news site LAist and picked up by other media outlets.
One comment under the handle "ubrayj02" quotes the "n" word from someone else's post. Another questions gender re-assignment surgery. A third speculates on the life expectancy of a particular woman if she were to diet and was characterized by LAist's headline as "fat shaming."
The revelations have stalled the momentum of a campaign that had tapped into a wellspring of community anxiety over a variety of issues and shaken the City Hall establishment.
Bray-Ali has apologized for some of his postings, but sees himself as the victim, and was unrepentant in comments Wednesday.
"Everybody has posted something on the internet they regret; I am not alone there," Bray-Ali said. "What we have seen is a mischaracterization."
Why did he go to those forums? Having been an anthropology major, he said, he's fascinated by observing human nature.
Get Los Angeles's latest local news on crime, entertainment, weather, schools, COVID, cost of living and more. Here's your go-to source for today's LA news.
Earlier Wednesday in Highland Park, a group of military veterans called a news conference demanding Bray-Ali apologize for a 2006 posting in which he refused to denounce those who deface the American flag.
Responding afterwards, Bray-Ali said he does not advocate defacing the flag and views this as "reprehensible," but like the US Supreme Court, recognizes it as legally protected expression under the Constitution.
As he has during his campaign, Bray accused incumbent Cedillo of being beholden to real estate developers and failing to be responsive to the needs of community members struggling to deal with crime, street safety, and rapid gentrification that has led to the displacement of many longtime, but lower income residents.
Cedillo called Bray-Ali a "serial liar" who cannot be trusted.
The two have been at odds since 2014, when they clashed over Bray-Ali's advocacy for changes to improve safety on north Figueroa Street with a "road diet" that would take away a motor vehicle lane and adding a lane for bicycles. The changes have not been made, but Cedillo said they have not been ruled out.
Bray sees a concerted effort to thwart his campaign. He described Cedillo as "running scared."
Last week, after the first of the posting revelations had appeared in media, Bray-Ali disclosed online that he had been unfaithful to his wife and owes $48,000 in sales taxes from his former business.
"He reveals all that on his own. How's that unfair?" Cedillo said.
Bray-Ali said he was seeking to be "transparent, and motivated to get the facts out before his oppponents did. He emphasized he intends to pay the tax bill when the campaign is over and he resumes working.
He closed the bicycle shop he operated for eight years in order to focus on his council bid, he said.
The Los Angeles Times had endorsed Bray-Ali during the primary season, but over this past weekend, citing the revelations, the paper rescinded its endorsement.
Bray-Ali said he is undeterred and will continue campaigning until the May 16 election, now less than two weeks away.