ORLANDO, Fla. - The Central Florida Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community is outraged after a political consultant used what has been described as a racist image of an Asian American Circuit Court judge, who's running for re-election. Experts say it's low politics and the judge deserves an apology.
"Those actions have happened, it’s been damaging, and I think an apology is necessary," said AAPI activist Mimi Chan, referring to a picture of Orange County Circuit Court Judge Vincent Chiu.
The image shows Chiu between two Chinese Communist Party leaders, Mao Zedong and President Xi Jinping. It has a big, red "X" on it and a graphic that reads "China's judge."
Political campaign consultant Xavier Villacias admits he showed it during his podcast and on posted it his Facebook page.
"This is me, this is my own opinion, exercising my freedom of speech," he said.
Villacias is a media strategist hired by Circuit Court judicial candidate Aldo Bartolone, who is Chiu's opponent. Bartolone denies having anything to do with the picture of Chiu between the two communist leaders.
During a recent candidates panel, hosted by the Greater Orlando Asian American Bar Association (GOAABA), Bartolone condemned it.
"When I was made aware of that, he was terminated immediately. I demanded that he delete whatever it was that he put out there," he explained. "It was never my intention to target the Asian community, to target Vincent Chiu."
Villacias said the picture had nothing to do with Bartelone’s campaign.
"Democratic Party has ties with the Chinese government and Vincent Chiu accept the endorsement of these Democrat party that has ties with the Chinese government."
During the GOAABA panel, Bartolone said,"He should sincerely apologize to Judge Chiu and Judge Chiu’s family because that was incredibly inappropriate."
Villacias insists he did nothing wrong.
In a statement, Judge Vincent Chiu wrote, "I am saddened that a paid staffer from my opponent’s campaign has engaged in such racialized attacks against me, especially in a judicial campaign. These attacks are nothing new to people of color and speak to how much work remains to be done in our society. But the way our community stands together against such attacks speaks to how far we have come. I have no interest in playing the politics of division. Instead, I continue to commit to the work of serving everyone in our community and striving for justice and equity when our community votes to retain me as their Circuit Judge."
University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett said Chiu deserves an apology.
"You put the face of an Asian American judge who’s serving as a judge right now, in between Chinese communist leaders, it really smacks – it’s really low politics."
Chan said the AAPI community condemns the image. "This can lead to violence, this can lead to divisiveness, and I do feel the strategist saying he’d do it again is completely upsetting and completely not acceptable."
Jewett said the Judicial Qualifications Commission holds judicial races to a higher standard because they don’t want someone walking into a courtroom wondering if they will be judged by a judge because of the way they look or their race. The Circuit Court judicial race is for a seat on the bench in Group 44, representing both Orange and Osceola Counties.