'Racist' campaign ad shakes up final days of Seattle mayoral race

In the final stretch of Seattle’s mayoral race, progressive candidate Lorena González is fending off accusations of racism. 

Amid calls from Black community leaders to apologize, González pulled a campaign ad on Monday that tangentially linked her opponent, a Black man, to a white rape survivor whom he has nothing to do with.

The ad, released in video form and depicted on mailers, targeted Bruce Harrell for past statements on sexual abuse. 

In 2017, while serving as Seattle City Council president, Harrell defended then-mayor Ed Murray over decades-old accusations of sexual assault. 

While 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." 

The comments were controversial at the time and have surfaced repeatedly during Harrell’s current campaign for mayor, but Black community leaders said the latest ad preyed on fear and racial stereotypes. 

"I was sexually assaulted five years ago. The person who attacked me was never prosecuted," the ad began, identifying the speaker by Caitlin F. "So it was horrifying to me to hear Harrell defended Ed Murray, saying people shouldn’t be judged by what they’ve done in the past."

The woman’s sexual assault has no connection to accusations against Murray, leaving some to wonder why she was chosen to be in the ad. 

"Everyone will see that ad differently, but I’ll tell you as a Black man, the first thing I saw was the impression and imagery to falsely portray Bruce Harrell and to use inflammatory rhetoric while doing so," said Lincoln Beauregard, an attorney who represented one of Murray’s accusers. 

"That ad was heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, and something has to be said," said James Bible, former head of the Seattle-King County NAACP. Bible also donated to the González campaign. "Lorena, I actually believed in you. And I believed that you wouldn’t put me in this spot but you did."

The ad also accused Harrell of directing the board of a nonprofit to discredit sexual harassment accusers in the early 2000’s. Harrell worked as legal counsel for the nonprofit and the accused was a senior staffer. The accusation against Harrell was made by a former board member of the nonprofit, although another board member disputed the account this week. 

In pulling the ad from airwaves on Monday, González said in a video message to supporters that she "had many conversations with survivors from all backgrounds with varying reactions to this moment."

González stood by the core message in her ad, but said the ad 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.  

The second and final televised mayoral debate will take place Thursday, Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. on FOX 13+. 

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