Seattle mayoral candidate M. Lorena González said Monday she is discontinuing a controversial TV ad attacking rival Bruce Harrell after a backlash from critics who said the ad perpetuated racist tropes.
The ad sought to remind voters of Harrell’s statements during the sexual abuse scandal that enveloped former Mayor Ed Murray in 2017. Harrell expressed doubts about the allegations and did not join González that summer in calling for Murray to consider resigning.
But the ad’s use of a white rape survivor — not a Murray accuser — who said she could not trust Harrell triggered blowback from Harrell supporters and Black political and civic leaders who said at a weekend news conference that it was racist and hurtful.
In a video statement to supporters, González, the Seattle City Council president, emphasized she believes Harrell, a former council president, has a “troubling” record of responding to sexual abuse and harassment allegations, including during the Murray scandal.
But she acknowledged her campaign ad’s use of a white rape survivor was problematic when juxtaposed with Harrell, who is Black and Asian American. “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,” González said.
Harrell, in a statement, thanked those who had spoken out against the ad.
“The intense community outpouring this false and racist commercial sparked speaks to the pain it brought not just to the Black community, but to our entire city. The damage done by these ads and mailers cannot be erased, but neither can the strength and resolve of our city,” he said.
The remarkable about-face in the closing days of the Nov. 2 election came after the González campaign initially doubled down on its message in response to the criticism from Harrell and Black community leaders.
González had issued a news release Saturday defending her messaging, and as of earlier Monday she had continued to pin the ad at the top of her Twitter profile.
But she reversed course as the blowback intensified. By Monday, the Harrell campaign said more than 400 community members had signed a letter calling for the ad to be taken down. A group of more than 200 Asian American Harrell supporters also chimed in with a separate letter denouncing the commercial.
González had already included a rape survivor message in mailers to Seattle households in addition to the TV and online ad.
In a news release, the González campaign said it would stop airing the ad during the final week of the election and replace it with an ad blaming Seattle’s homelessness crisis on “large corporations” backing Harrell that “refused to pay their fair share” in taxes.
In her video, González said despite her decision to pull down her ad, she stands by her message that Harrell “has a troubling history” of defending accused abusers. “I am ready to talk about my strong record fighting for sexual assault survivors as compared to my opponent,” she said.
Harrell and González are competing to succeed Mayor Jenny Durkan, who declined to seek reelection to a second term this year.
The rivals are set to square off Thursday at 7 p.m. in the second of two televised debates organized by the Washington Debate Coalition. The debate will be televised on multiple local TV news outlets, and streamed at seattletimes.com.