HOUSTON – Dave Wilson, the white political candidate who won an election after leading voters to believe he’s black, went to court Friday fighting county officials who argue he doesn’t meet the residency requirement for his office.
Wilson claims he lives in an apartment above a business he owns, but county attorneys argue that it is just a ruse he assumed to run for the Houston Community College Board of Trustees. They are trying to convince a judge to issue a restraining order against him.
“He claims to live in a warehouse,” said Robert Soard, first assistant with the Harris County Attorney’s Office. “He claims to not live with his wife, and there’s other evidence that will come out.”
Wilson suggests HCC officials want to keep him off the board because he plans to use his position to expose corruption in the community college system.
“The will of the people is what needs to be considered,” he said. “I got voted in and they’re wanting to overturn the will of the people.”
State District Judge Mike Englehart delayed ruling on the restraining order request, asking the lawyers to file more briefs next week.
Meanwhile, HCC officials expect county attorneys to ask for another order that would prevent Wilson from voting at next week’s board meeting.
Wilson’s campaign attracted national attention after he sent voters in the mostly African-American district direct mail pieces implying was black. The mailers were decorated with photographs of African-American faces he later admitted he simply pulled off of websites.
One of the pieces asserted he was endorsed by Ron Wilson, a claim clearly intended to create the impression he was supported by a former state representative who is black. The fine print beneath the headline explained that one of the candidate’s cousins was named Ron.
Wilson defeated incumbent trustee Bruce Austin, who had been in office more than 20 years, by a mere 26 votes. His election triggered outrage among some liberal commentators and Wilson appeared on a number of national talk shows.
Within weeks, the Harris County Attorney’s Office said it had received a complaint that Wilson didn’t actually live in the district where he was elected. City inspectors showed up at the warehouse-style building Wilson claimed as his residence, taking photographs that county lawyers apparently intend to introduce into evidence.
County officials obtained a restraining order intended to prevent him from taking office, but Wilson hastily filed paperwork assuming his elected position. He later claimed he didn’t know about the court order.
A number of elected officials in the Houston area have been rumored to live outside their districts over the years. When George H.W. Bush served as vice-president, he fought in court to stop election officials from removing him from Harris County’s voting rolls because he claimed a hotel as his residence.
Wilson’s lawyer argues the county attorney’s office seems to be selectively pursuing a case against Wilson. County officials said they are simply responding to complaint filed by a citizen.
Political analysts say courts traditionally shy away from intervening in residency disputes like this. Wilson’s attorney also points out that state law defining where politicians can claim their residency is not entirely clear.
“The law is vague,” Keith Gross, Wilson’s attorney, said. “It’s up for argument. There could be one case after another. The question I’d be concerned about is, why are they going after Dave Wilson on a position for a trustee for HCC when there are so many bigger fish to fry?”