"You lying, cheating, white piece of trash."
That's just the beginning of a crude email sitting in Dave Wilson's inbox from somebody wishing him a painful death while performing a homosexual act. But it isn't nearly as menacing as the threatening phone call from another guy.
"Some Marine from Florida was going to come over and whoop me," Wilson said with a chuckle.
Such is life for the newly elected Houston Community College System board trustee.
Wilson's surprising election day defeat of a 24 year incumbent has turned a sometime anti-gay political activist with a mischievous sense of humor into something of a national celebrity. His provocative campaign tactic -- a white guy implying to his predominantly African-American voting base that he's black -- has provoked anger, laughter, arguments and comedy bits about race and politics in America.
Al Sharpton has yelled at him, Jimmy Kimmel has joked about him and bloggers have both lauded and condemned his unorthodox campaign strategy.
"He's a white guy pretending to be a black guy," Kimmel joked earlier this week. "It's known in politics as the Vanilla Ice offensive."
All of this attention came after a report from WFAA sister station KHOU last week about Wilson's victory after sending voters thousands of controversial direct mail pieces. None of them showed Wilson's face, but they did show stock photographs of smiling African-American faces. Beneath some of the photos a caption read, "Please vote for our friend and neighbor, Dave Wilson."
Another mailer bore the words, "Endorsed by Ron Wilson," which longtime Houston voters could easily have construed as a statement of support from a longtime African-American state representative by the same name. Only the fine print beneath the headline explained that Dave has a cousin named Ron, who the candidate said lives in Iowa.
He also produced a radio commercial in which what sound like two African-American women diss the incumbent and agree to vote for Wilson. ("Girl, have you been keeping up with the HCC District 2 Race?")
Before the election, Wilson laughed about his mailers but predicted he'd still lose the race in a heavily African-American district. Instead, he defeated incumbent Bruce Austin by a razor-thin margin of 26 votes.
Wilson's victory triggered surprise and even shock around Houston's political community. For decades, elected officials whom he delights in annoying have seen him as a right-leaning gadfly, but he's proven himself capable of causing them serious trouble. Although his fringe mayoral campaign against Annise Parker attracted little attention, he was largely responsible for a referendum that banned Houston's city government from offering benefits to the same sex partners of gay employees.
But his staunch anti-gay stances -- his mailers accused his opponent of supporting "sodomy" and "marriage between a man and a man" -- attracted little attention from the national media outlets that focused on his racially-tinged campaign. Dozens of websites picked up KHOU's story and Wilson received requests for interviews from everyone from CNN to the BBC to The Colbert Report.
"Why play a cynical game? ..." Sharpton yelled at Wilson during an interview on his prime-time cable show. "A white just won as mayor of Detroit in a city that hasn't had a white mayor in years. He didn't go hide who he was."
Kimmel's staff produced a parody commercial showing a black concert crowd cheering and yelling as an announcer with a bad Texas accent says. "Yo ho ho there, my homey people. Whazzuupp?! I'm Dave 'D-Dog' Wilson and I'm run DMC-ing for Houston Community College Board of Trustees, yo. Everybody say hey!!!"
Wilson laughed at the gag, but a week after his upset victory and a wave of national media appearances he's getting a little tired of all the jokes. Indeed, he's beginning to worry people won't take his ascendancy to the community college board seriously.
"I'm real serious about trying to be an effective change at the Houston Community College System," Wilson said. "I've been watching them and following them for two to three years. And they're going in the wrong direction. I'm going to put all my efforts into straightening that place out and helping them, begin positive over there.
"They've got some serious problems with money," he said. "Their tuition is up enrollment is down. Morale is down over there. There's just some cultural problems that need change. That whole institution needs to be shifted in a more positive direction."