Michael Untermeyer, a Democratic candidate for district attorney and perennial runner for public office, has pulled an odd YouTube video from one of his past campaigns after an opponent alleged the political ad had racist and sexist overtones.
"After hearing concerns, I requested the video be removed,” Untermeyer told a reporter, adding that racism and sexism have “no place in our criminal justice system.”
Over the last decade, the attorney and successful real estate developer has rumbled in local elections on both sides of the aisle. He ran unsuccessfully for sheriff as a Democrat in 2007, for district attorney as a Republican in 2009, and for City Council as a Republican in 2011.
Naturally, bits of these past campaigns remain stuck in the unblinking maw of the internet. Exhibit A: This amateurish ad from his 2011 Council bid, which characterized City Hall’s legislative body by its members’ inertia and sexual appetite.
The ad compares council members “in session” and “out of session.” In session, actors playing council members are fast asleep around a table while a bedtime nursery jingle plays in the background. When not in session, however, “City Council is wide awake.” The video then cuts to a black actor in a suit flirting with a leggy blonde actress over drinks. “WAKE UP CITY COUNCIL!” the ad concludes, panning back to the room of sleeping council members.
At the time, rumors had been circulating for over a year about then-Mayor Michael Nutter's after-hours relationship with an "attractive blonde," but it remains unclear if Untermeyer's ad was a jab at the gossip.
Recently, the video was resurrected and by Joe Khan, one of seven Democratic hopefuls in the packed district attorney’s race.
“This not-so-subtly sexist ad that plays on regressive racial stereotypes is not something one would expect to see from a progressive Democrat running in a Democratic Primary, and that’s because Michael Untermeyer isn’t one,” Khan’s camp wrote in a statement.
Within days, the video disappeared from YouTube, at which time Khan’s campaign sent out an email alleging that Untermeyer was trying to “hide his Republican roots.” The campaign also reposted the video on its own YouTube channel for future viewing.
Pressed for comment, Untermeyer’s campaign stressed that they’d like to return to the “larger issues” in the race, but did not shy away from the optics of the video.
“I was one of three attorneys to co-found the Domestic Violence Unit in Philadelphia,” Untermeyer added. “I know sexism and racism have no place in our criminal justice system, and thus far I am the only candidate in the race to release a detailed plan on how to make our criminal justice system less discriminatory."
In an in-depth interview with City & State PA, Untermeyer said that his frequent party registration changes were less a matter of ideological fluidity as they were about putting ideas into action. He added that he ran as a Republican in the 2009 district attorney’s race because it was too late to join the race as a Democrat.
Max Marin is a staff writer at Philadelphia Weekly, where this article first appeared.