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Beleaguered City Council Candidate Shakes Up His Campaign Staff

LOS ANGELES (  —  After a tumultuous two weeks that saw him lose several key endorsements, including the Los Angeles Times and Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, City Council candidate Joe Bray-Ali has shaken up his campaign staff.

Bray-Ali first made headlines when controversial and disparaging comments he wrote about minorities, transgender folks and overweight and mentally ill people came to light about a year after he wrote them on an uncensored online site called Voat.

Many distanced themselves from Bray-Ali. The following day, he went on Facebook and discussed having many extra-marital affairs and having a Tinder profile. He also talked about owing nearly $50,000 in back taxes from a business he owned.

Bray-Ali said Thursday he has brought on a new communications director, Rohnda Ammouri, who is replacing Michael Atkins, along with a new campaign manager, Carlos Penilla, who replaces Ari Bessendorf.

Ammouri and Penilla both bring previous experience working on political campaigns. Ammouri described Atkins and Bessendorf as essentially neighborhood volunteers.

"I think he just wanted to gear up and be ready for what's ahead. As a neighborhood grassroots candidate, he felt like he needed to bring on some
experienced campaign people who have been down this road before, and he thought we could help him out a little bit more," Ammouri told City News Service.

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Bray-Ali, who has never held elective office, is a former bicycle shop owner and activist. He forced City Councilman Gil Cedillo into a runoff in the
1st Council District. Incumbent Cedillo fell just short of the required 50 percent of the vote on March 7, finishing with 49.34 percent to Bray-Ali's 37.97
percent. The runoff is May 16.

"These veterans will be replacing the strong team that got me through the primary election," Bray-Ali said, "I am grateful to the departing staff
for their contributions."

Some actual veterans in CD1 also denounced Bray-Ali at a news conference this week over another old blog post surfaced in which he expressed support for flag burning. Bray-Ali said his comments were taken out of context.

In a post on his campaign's Facebook page, he explained the purpose of the Voat comments were because he wanted to engage "bigots and hate-mongers"
to understand them better and "ended up sounding like a bigot myself. And I'm not proud of it."

The Times editorial board said it found Bray-Ali's explanations for his comments on Voat to be hollow.

"He has said he went to the site to `track' bigots and hatemongers out of 'morbid fascination' and that he sought to pick fights with them. But there
is no indication he was `tracking' anyone, and picking fights is exactly what he didn't do," The Times board wrote.

"He participated in the conversations without once criticizing the headlines, the participants or the subject matter, without once noting that
such talk was unacceptable or offensive."

The shifting explanations from Bray-Ali also occurred after City News Service reported in April about online comments he made about Mexicans.

In a 9-year-old YouTube video, Bray-Ali spoke into the camera and asked why Mexicans in his neighborhood always honk their horns instead of using
a doorbell. Bray-Ali first apologized for the video to City News Service, and through Atkins said, "The comment was stupid and it's amazing how social media can remind of the mistakes of youth. This was nine years ago."

In a follow-up email, Atkins pointed out that the line was once used as a joke by Latino comedian George Lopez before later telling The Times the video
was intended to be directed at the OC Weekly for its humorous OC Weekly column, "Ask a Mexican."

(©2017 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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