Gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried took fire for using an image of a Women’s March Florida leader in advertising without permission. She’s now apologized and pulled the “racially insensitive ad.”
Fried ran digital ads starting last week that pictured Democratic Primary opponent Charlie Crist holding a set of chains on the Florida Senate floor. The ad ran side-by-side with an image of Fried next to Women’s March Florida President Cortés Marià Lewis James.
In one version of the ad, the words “’Chain Gang’ Charlie” appear with Crist’s photo, while Fried’s photo is captioned “Our Justice Champion.”
But Lewis James never consented to use of the photo and hasn’t made an endorsement in the Governor’s race to date.
“The image of Commissioner Fried and Mrs. Lewis, a Black woman, had been cropped from a group photo taken the first time Commissioner Fried met Mrs. Lewis at a rally,” reads a statement issued by Women’s March Florida.
“Mrs. Lewis neither endorsed Commissioner Fried nor gave consent to the Fried Campaign to either use the photo, create an ad with the photo, or use her likeness in any campaign ad. The ad did not identify Mrs. Lewis by name or as a community leader or advocate. Mrs. Lewis was used to disingenuously secure Black votes, and the ad was triggering and extremely offensive to many people in the Black community who called Mrs. Lewis to express the same.”
Fried has run numerous ads showing the picture of Crist holding chains and using the ‘Chain Gang’ Charlie moniker dating back to 1995. That year, Crist as a state Senator sponsored legislation allowing Florida Sheriffs to employ inmates in chain gangs and perform public labor while working in leg irons, as noted by PolitiFact.
Crist, a former Republican Governor-turned-Democratic U.S. Congressman, has faced criticism in following decades for his tough-on-crime policies while still serving in the Florida Legislature.
The ad ran with and without those captions, and with a promoted text post that reads: “Our community deserves better than ‘Chain Gang Charlie.’ ‘Chain Gang Charlie’ earned his nickname fighting to bring chained prison work back to Florida in a disgusting display of bigotry. Meanwhile, Nikki fought for criminal justice reform as a public defender.”
But Fried acknowledged that running the advertisement alongside a picture of a Black community activist crossed a line. After the Women’s March issued a statement, Fried pulled the ad and issued an apology.
“I called Ms. Cortes Maria Lewis James immediately after learning about this racially insensitive ad. I told her I am deeply sorry it happened, and I am,” Fried tweeted. “The ad was removed. It was 100% wrong. I’m so sorry for the pain it caused her and your important organization.”
Facebook analytics show Fried spent as much as $1,500 on that platform, a relatively low amount, to reach women in Florida, according to Christian Ziegler, founder of digital advertising company Microtargeted Media.
“For this ad specifically, the high end of the range shows that this ad received up to 100,000 impressions targeting up to 530,000 individuals over the period of July 15 to July 17. It also appears that they were specifically targeting women ages 35 and up living in Florida with the ad,” said Ziegler, who also serves as Vice Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and is supporting Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ re-election.
Women’s March called for Fried to publicize the retraction of the ad across all digital platforms in which it ran. The statement also suggests that regardless of what Fried said in the tweet, the candidate was made aware of the concern more than a day before the ad stopped appearing.
“Mrs. Lewis was contacted by the communication company that works with the Fried Campaign. Such company attempted to absolve Commissioner Fried of all responsibility for the ad, claiming it was their mistake alone and asking how they could resolve the matter. Mrs. Lewis again insisted on an adequate and meaningful retraction,” the statement reads.
“That night, over 36 hours after Women’s March Florida flagged the ad to the Fried Campaign, the Fried Campaign posted on their Facebook page, where the ad had not even run, ‘An affiliated PC ran an ad through FB/Meta featuring a photo of Nikki with Cortés Marià Lewis without Cortés Marià’s prior approval. We have pulled the ad and would like to apologize and clarify she is not affiliated with the committee or the campaign.’”
A disclaimer on the ad shows it was posted by Florida Consumers First, the political committee affiliated with Fried.
Women’s March asserted in its statement that referring to the committee simply as “an affiliated PC” was an attempt to “avoid any real responsibility as well as its complete failure to address the content of the ad and the harm that it has caused.”