Election by Deception

A white Houston man won a seat on the city's community college board by pretending to be black.

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The Houston skyline looms over a brick sidewalk on the Sabine Street bridge over Buffalo Bayou in this July 2004 photo.

Dave Wilson was tired of "all the shenanigans" in the Houston Community College System, so he decided to run for the board of the system against a longtime incumbent. And to prove his commitment to honesty and integrity as he sought a seat on the scandal-tinged board, Wilson, who is white, pretended to be black.

It sounds like a Saturday Night Live sketch – such as the one called "White Like Me," wherein an African-American man makes himself to look white (and does a hilarious impression of an uptight corporate type), then sees how the other race lives. The white folks would wait until everyone else was off the bus, for example, then start having a party. It was tremendously funny. But Wilson's insulting scheme was no joke.

[See a collection of political cartoons on gay marriage.]

Wilson knew his candidacy was a long shot. He's a virulently anti-gay, white conservative in a primarily black district. So he decided he would try deception. He had fliers made up (which his opponent, according to local station KHOU, called "disgusting") which featured glossy photos of African-Americans and the slogan, "Please vote for our friend and neighbor, Dave Wilson." Except that the photos, Wilson mischievously admits, were just lifted from the Internet.

Wilson also sent fliers that said, "endorsed by Ron Wilson," a claim obviously intended to make voters think the anti-gay candidate (he once unsuccessfully fought the mayoral candidacy of Annise Parker by sending a flier with a photo of her next to her same-sex partner and the words "Is this the Image Houston Wants to Portray?") win votes among African-Americans. Ron Wilson, after all, is a former state legislator and prominent African-American figure, and the flier would easily trick people into thinking the two Wilsons were in political synch. In small print, the flier notes that the less-famous Ron Wilson is Dave Wilson's cousin.

Wilson won by just two dozen votes, making the subterfuge even more offensive. True, locals were upset about trouble on the community college board, and other incumbents had tough races because of it. And it begs this question for Wilson himself: If he was elected because people erroneously thought he was black, doesn't that make him an affirmative action beneficiary? It will be interesting to see how he applies that philosophy to people who genuinely have been denied opportunity because of their race.

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