Campaign flyer uses unauthorized image of former YWCA CEO, upsetting, but not illegal

The former CEO of the YWCA of Greater Flint said she never gave permission for her image to be used in the current Genesee County Clerk's re-election bid.
Published: Jul. 24, 2020 at 6:16 PM EDT
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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - (7/24/2020) - Over the last several weeks, we’ve seen campaign signs go up across the state ahead of the August 4th primary.

And, we’ve all been inundated with mailers from multiple candidates, delivered to our personal mailboxes.

Heidi McAra didn’t get the one with her photo on it, but her friends did; and, they immediately reached out.

“I didn’t know what to think,” she said. “I was confused. I hadn’t seen that picture in a long time.”

It's a picture used in a local magazine from her time as the CEO of the YWCA of Greater Flint. She left the job in 2018.

That position was one of many McAra has held focused on empowering women in her community.

She said she was frustrated to see her image used in campaign materials for the current Genesee County Clerk's re-election bid.

“He hadn’t asked me; he hadn’t reached out to me and sought permission for that,” McAra explained. “In my opinion, he was implicitly using my reputation in order to bolster his campaign without my permission.”

McAra isn't sure when she last spoke with John Gleason.

While using the photo from a magazine article published in July 2017 isn't illegal, McAra believes what he did was wrong.

She posted to Facebook to clear things up with her friends. But, she also wanted to share a message to the rest of her community.

“I’m fighting and constantly looking for ways and opportunities to empower women in the community. And so I think, I think implying that I endorse him, given some of the stories or things that I’ve heard about his actions and words towards women is ironic,” she explained.

ABC12 News first reported in March that Gleason's coworkers are accusing him of harassment and gender discrimination. It's part of a larger criminal investigation into if he performed an illegal wedding.

In a phone interview, Gleason was asked for a comment on McAra's statement. He declined, instead saying he just wanted to tout a program. He added he wasn't using her photo as an endorsement.

“You can look at all my recent literature. Somebody that endorses me, there’s a quote that’s tied with that photo,” Gleason said.

He acknowledged McAra hasn't had the position in two years; but he said, the flyer is a reproduction of that magazine article.

And he added, he never calls anyone before he uses them in campaign literature.

“I apologize,” Gleason said. “We hire contractors to put literature together for us. That’s how campaigns are run. I hire a consultant to put that literature together.”

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