By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
SEATTLE — Council President Lorena González pulled a campaign ad on Oct. 25—after calls from local Asian and Black community leaders to apologize for the video that tangentially linked her opponent Bruce Harrell, a man of Japanese and Black descent, to a white rape survivor.
Both Harrell and González are running to be Seattle’s next mayor.
During an Oct. 24 fundraiser at Tai Tung Restaurant, Harrell spoke exclusively to the Northwest Asian Weekly and said that he was “sad and angry” when he first saw the ad.
“I want to run on issues and I would rather debate on policies with my opponent. It’s a poor display of leadership.”
Back in 2017, when Harrell was Seattle City Council president, he defended then-mayor Ed Murray over sexual assault accusations. González was the first council member to call for Murray’s resignation, Harrell did not. Instead, he suggested Murray shouldn’t be judged “for something that happened 33 years ago or maybe didn’t happen.”
Caitlin F. in González’s ad, says, “I was sexually assaulted five years ago. The person who attacked me was never prosecuted. So it was horrifying to me to hear Harrell defend Ed Murray, saying people shouldn’t be judged by what they’ve done in the past.”
Local Black community leaders said that González’s ad preyed on fear and racial stereotypes—in this case—a white woman trying to connect her trauma as a victim of assault to the unrelated actions of Harrell, who is Black.
In pulling the ad off the air, González said she stood by the core message in her ad, but said it should have centered on a survivor of color instead of a white woman.
“I invite my opponent to directly respond to the thousands of people in our city who were harmed by his deliberate choices to discredit survivors and defend those accused of sexual assault to protect people in power,” she said of Harrell.
“It is sort of politicizing victims of sexual violence and trying to prey upon people’s fears to say don’t vote for that person, vote for me,” Harrell said. “The only one retraumatizing victims is her bringing this up constantly because people are not asking about that issue. They are asking about homelessness, race or social justice, police reform, small business revitalization, or climate change.”
An open letter signed by more than 200 Asian community members stated that the ad was “designed to invoke racial bias and stereotypes that persist against Black men in America.”
That letter campaign was organized by James Wong, Cindy Li, Tony Au, Shiao-Yen Wu, and Dr. Xiao Ming in 24 hours.
It also said, “We as members of the Chinese American community of Seattle experienced similar race-based fear mongering from González’s consultant in 2017 when she worked for then mayoral candidate Cary Moon” who advocated for a foreign buyers tax. The letter said it “was a thinly veiled xenophobic and discriminatory attack on false stereotypes of Asians and Chinese people.”
This ad was pulled due to the hundreds of citizens who publicly denounced this kind of racism, said community member Elaine Ikoma Ko.
“Again and again, we must continue to call it out,” Ko told the Northwest Asian Weekly. “In this case, this city will not tolerate racist ads straight out of the Republican playbook, but in this case, sadly, between progressives and people of color. This election is about the issues and the differences between the candidates, as it should always be.”
Poll results released on Oct. 19 by Northwest Progressive Institute showed Harrell had a double digit lead over González.
48% of 617 likely voters in Seattle said they were voting for Harrell for mayor, while 32% said they were voting for González. 18% said they were not sure and 2% said they would not cast a vote for the city’s top elected position.
Ruth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.