A group of Jacksonville pastors is demanding that City Council candidate Jimmy Peluso drop out of the District 7 race after his campaign released a video they say degraded the meaning of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade as well as all African American women.
Calling Peluso’s video “demeaning, degrading, derogatory, disparaging, insulting” and more, they also encouraged people to not vote for him, saying his actions were a “disgrace to the community.”
Peluso’s short Tik Tok video includes brief lyrics from Tai Verdes’ song “Stuck In The Middle,” which said in part, “Ya’ll a player, aren’t you? And I bet you got hoes.”
“It’s bad enough for the hip hop music, and we are fighting against that,” said the Rev. R.L. Gundy, pastor of Mt. Sinai Baptist Church on Silver Street. “But for him to be a political candidate and put something out like that advertising who he is, it is just degrading. It is slighting. And what has happened is that he is talking about my wife, my grandaughter, my mother, my grandmother. I don’t think he realized what he did.”
In a statement, Peluso told Jacksonville Today the song was auto-generated by an algorithm and a consultant allowed it without hearing the lyrics. The campaign “immediately” took down the video after learning about the song, the statement says. The consultant was removed.
“To those who have been hurt or disrespected by the video, I am truly sorry,” Peluso said in an email. “This video absolutely does not represent the campaign I run or how I intend to legislate as a council member. I welcome the opportunity to engage in further dialogue that helps to move our city forward and better represent District 7.”
Gundy was joined by other pastors who live in District 7, including Bishop Rudolph McKissick Jr., Russell Meyers and Randy Sewell, as well as organizations like Mothers Against Wrongfully Incarcerated and The First Coast Leadership Foundation.
Many of those people planned a news conference about their concerns Friday in front of the Duval County Supervisors of Election Office Downtown.
Peluso is running in the March 21 primary against four candidates: fellow Democrats John Phillips and Kim Pryor, Republican Joseph Hogan and Parrish King, who is listed as No Declared Party.
Gundy endorsed Phillips in a tweet Feb. 1, according to a post on Phillips’ Twitter account.
“I believe in @JohnPhillips because he is a man of integrity. He is a man that will speak truth to power,” the endorsement said.
In Jacksonville Today’s voter guide, Peluso describes himself as a Navy Reserve officer and registered lobbyist, employed in government affairs at VyStar Credit Union. He said he serves on a number of community boards, including the Changing Homelessness Continuum of Care Board, Northeast Florida Literacy Alliance, Veterans Council of Duval County, Memorial Park Association and the Riverside Avondale Preservation Committee on Infrastructure.
According to photos in his Tic Tok video, Peluso attended the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade on Jan. 16 in a campaign T-shirt, posing with audience members.
Gundy said they learned later of Peluso’s Tic Tok video, which Gundy said contained explicit and misogynistic lyrics under the statement: “Had an amazing time at the MLK parade! Always fun to meet people who care.”
Gundy said pastors met in recent weeks to discuss the video and decided they “don’t want him representing us in District 7,” which includes Downtown and a section of the Northwest side. He also said that adding part of King’s 1963 speech in the Tic Tok video was wrong.
“It was disrespectful to Martin Luther King to play that,” he said. “How do you equate the two? Dr. King would never call a Black woman a ‘W,” or anybody else as a matter of fact.”
Gundy and the pastors incorrectly say Peluso has been endorsed by the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department. He actually has been endorsed by the Jacksonville Firefighters Association, according to Peluso’s campaign website.
Gundy said the group tried to reach out to Peluso’s campaign and got no response.