A racially charged assault captured on video last year at a Pittsburgh train station is now being used in a campaign ad against Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. before Tuesday's Democratic primary election for attorney general.
Montgomery County Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro is running the 60-second ad, which shows video of the beating of an African American man by a white man while the white man's four friends look on. The criminal case was handled by Zappala's office.
The ad, being shown in Philadelphia, uses Pittsburgh TV news footage in which the victim is pushed on the tracks and pummeled, and later says he heard racial epithets being shouted.
It notes that one of the friends in the video is the son of a local mayor.
The friends pleaded no contest and were sentenced to probation. The attacker was sentenced Wednesday to three to six years in prison.
The victim, in the news footage, tells reporters: "If five black guys jumped one white guy, nobody would be going home."
The ad concludes with, "Steve Zappala: He shouldn't be our attorney general."
Zappala's campaign planned to respond with a 30-second ad featuring the Rev. Ricky Burgess, a Pittsburgh city councilman and minister who is African American. The ad lists African American religious and political groups that have endorsed Zappala.
"It's wrong for anyone who has never been a prosecutor to pick out a couple of cases and distort the facts," Burgess says, adding that Zappala "does the right thing, not the political thing."
Shapiro, a former congressional staffer and state legislator, is a lawyer but has not worked as a prosecutor.
State Sen. Anthony H. Williams, a Philadelphia Democrat who has endorsed Zappala, also slammed Shapiro for injecting a racial controversy into the primary campaign.
"This is more of what Josh does, which is calculate and manipulate the moment," Williams said. "It is cheap and desperate politics at its worst."
It is not the first time graphic video of a racially charged incident has sparked controversy in the Democratic primary.
Zappala last month launched an ad meant to tout him as an opponent of racial profiling. It included dash-cam video of the 2015 traffic stop in Texas of Sandra Bland, an African American who was found dead in her jail cell three days later.
Shapiro's campaign alerted Bland's mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and she requested that Zappala remove the dash-cam video. Zappala refused.
Reed-Veal, in an interview on WURD-AM on Thursday, again called on Zappala to remove the dash-cam video.
"You have been asked to take it down," Reed-Veal said. "I'm going to pay a visit to you, sir."
The new ad by Shapiro is the second negative ad the Montgomery County commissioner has launched against Zappala this week.
Zappala and his political allies reacted with outrage when a Shapiro ad being carried in Western Pennsylvania questioned Zappala's prosecution of a woman who had a miscarriage and then stored the fetus in her freezer. The charges were dropped.
Shapiro's ads come late in the three-candidate race for the Democratic nomination, which had been relatively controversy-free. The third candidate, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, has lobbed criticism Shapiro's way but has not used television for his attacks.
Shapiro would seem to have the upper hand in resources for the closing days of the primary. Campaign finance reports filed April 15 showed he had just over $1 million in the bank as of April 11.
Zappala had $117,788 in the bank as of April 11. Morganelli had $367,170.