In recent weeks an unattributed flyer has popped up at various polling places in black neighborhoods in District D. It bears this headline:
"Do you want Ada Edwards and 'the gay and lesbian community' as a 'working partner in govering [sic] District D.'"
The handout notes that the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus has endorsed Edwards in her candidacy against Gerald Womack for City Council. The obvious implication: Womack's opponent, who held an 8 percentage point lead going into the runoff, is a tool of gay interests. Witnesses affiliated with the Edwards campaign say workers wearing Womack T-shirts passed out the flyer.
At the same time, the Womack campaign is circulating a campaign sheet attributed to him in heavily gay Montrose precincts. This one features his endorsement by prominent gay Houstonians like Eugene Harrington and proclaiming the candidate's support for domestic partner benefits, and health, education and other preventive measures in the battle against HIV and AIDS.
Womack denies his campaign is involved in gay-baiting Edwards. State Representative Garnet Coleman, Edwards's campaign chairman, says campaign workers for Womack confirmed that the antigay flyers were distributed at Womack's headquarters. Even more damning, he claims Womack told him directly that "gays are trying to take over the district and take over the Democratic Party."
Adding to the confusion, most of the city's gay political community assumes that Womack, a 44-year-old single man, is gay. When Womack sought the gay political caucus endorsement, he signed a questionnaire agreeing that candidates should be open about their sexual orientation.
However, when asked by The Insider whether he was gay, Womack responded: "I don't think that my orientation is running for office. I believe that I'm running as a candidate to represent all the people in District D."
Political consultant Grant Martin, an Edwards ally, encountered Womack recently at the Black Tie Dinner, a major gay social event. Referring to the allegations of gay bashing in the campaign, Martin warned Womack, "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."
He wonders who's at the controls of Womack's campaign.
Martin remembers Womack standing up at the gay caucus and telling of his concern for Montrose residents and gays and lesbians. "And now it's like there's a totally different person going around another part of the district saying completely different things," Martin says. "It's like the guy has two personalities. I can't figure it out."
It's all too reminiscent of Womack's checkered past as a real estate broker (see The Insider, August 9), when he created alter ego Wayne Womack, complete with a Sakowitz clothing account and bogus ID.
Representative Coleman says he first got wind of the smear campaign during a meeting of a black political group, the Harris County Council of Organizations. The main topic was the re-election of Mayor Lee Brown -- but after Womack briefly spoke and left, one of his campaign supporters delivered a very different message.
"What are we going to do?" the woman asked. "These people are trying to take over our district." She mentioned Edwards's white backers, particularly Progressive Voters in Action, a Montrose-based coalition of liberal and gay activists.
Several days later, Coleman says, he witnessed the offensive flyer being circulated at the early voting station at Palm Center. He spoke to a Womack campaign worker, who lamented that the flyer also was being passed out at Womack's headquarters.
"For someone who's part of a group who's been victimized by oppression, and has been race-baited before, to turn around for the purposes of winning a campaign to stoop to the low point of both gay-baiting and race-baiting, that is a double wrong," declares Coleman. "This is hypocrisy with a capital H."
While driving along Almeda in mid-November, Coleman crossed paths with Womack as the candidate flashed his headlights, honked and motioned for Coleman to pull his own car into a parking lot for a chat.
Coleman recalls immediately denouncing the antigay flyer as wrong and hateful, and Womack denying any involvement with it. But as the conversation heated up, he claims Womack declared, "You know those gays are trying to take over our district. They're trying to take over the Democratic Party. They are trying to take over our world, those gays and that Sue Lovell." (Lovell is an openly gay Democratic national committeewoman from Houston.)
According to Coleman, Womack defended the flyer -- "You know people do this to us, to the black community" -- and the representative shot back, "Gerald, two wrongs don't make a right. That is hateful."
Womack confirms that they chatted in the parking lot but says Coleman is not telling the truth about the comments. He believes Coleman is trying to tip the election to Edwards, partly because her son has worked as the representative's chief of staff for several years.
He says he's not interested in what Coleman says. "I want to deal with Miss Edwards and I, who are in the runoff, and that's who I'm running against." Womack states that gays and lesbians know that neither he nor his campaign would promote any kind of hatred or disrespect.
Friends in the gay community are supporting his candidacy, he says, "and I think it's just poor taste on the end of this campaign and the runoff for people to get to that level, and especially to try to damage my record in that community of support."
As for the campaign worker Coleman quoted, Womack claims she told him that the representative "was not telling the truth." Coleman counters that eyewitnesses can back up his account.
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Ada Edwards says the evidence indicates that even if Womack did not originate the flyer, his workers are helping spread it. She cites numerous sightings of Womack campaigners distributing the material outside polling places.
"District D deserves better politics than this," she continues. "We have enough real issues in our community, from health to immigration to development, that affect people's daily lives [not] to be wasting time and resources on this kind of foolishness."
Edwards is amazed that any candidates would think they could get away with wooing gays in one neighborhood and bashing them in another.
"It's an insult to the intelligence of all the voters of District D to think that you can say one thing one night in one forum and then go to another forum and say something else and think people will not know what's being said," Edwards explains. "It's ridiculous. If it weren't so vile, it would be really funny, 'cause it's so stupid."