By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
I find Woertendyke, a perennial candidate, activist and yard-sign merchant, at his home in Oak Cliff. He explains the problem with the phone number: He simply wrote it down wrong at City Hall.
We chat about many things. I actually have known Woertendyke for more than 15 years. I first ran across him when he lived in my area in East Dallas and was running against Lee Simpson for the council. He says he is now a loyal Oak Cliffite.
"We've been here for two years now. We lost my ex-brother-in-law's mom. She got rid of the house. Her daughters gave it up. Actually, this is my son's house. It's not even my house. It will be my son's house. He made a deal with my brother-in-law."
At times in our conversation, Woertendyke seems to be telling me that he and Baker worked the area in question together, canvassing voters to see who wanted to apply for a mail-in ballot. "We went out at the same time, many many times," he says.
At other times, he paints Baker as more of a lone wolf, especially in Precinct 3016, the area where I have found all the fake signatures. "Precinct 3016 is the ones he did. I didn't. I only did a few. Maybe 10 or 15 I got out of that one precinct."
That would be enough to cover me. I do point out, just for grins, the uncanny similarity between the culprit's handwriting and Woertendyke's, but he dismisses that suggestion emphatically: "I don't see any damned resemblance. None at all."
All right. Whatever. I ask him why there are so many fake signatures, no matter who did the forging, on the ballot applications he shipped in. He seems to point ever so gingerly in the direction of Baker.
"Something fishy happened during the middle of this," he says, "and he stopped talking to me." Woertendyke says he was suspicious of the signatures on some of the ballot applications Baker brought him. "He brought me a bunch of them. And I looked at them myself, and I gotta admit, I wasn't sure. But I wasn't going to accuse anybody of anything. That's not my job."
He explains to me that his use of Baker's name as the shipper of the ballot applications was perfectly proper, even though he himself was the shipper, because, "I had his permission to use his name on the package."
Got it. I ask why, if this was Woertendyke's shipment of ballot applications, did he want to put Baker's name on it?
"It was just from the standpoint, if, if anybody questioned anything, I didn't want to have my name on it."
Got that, too. And yet sadly, here we are, a bunch of bad signatures and one bad phone number later, with questions.
Woertendyke tells me there is real consternation among the people he knows in the field of mail-in ballotology, a fear that their days may be numbered. "Wolens has got this law coming up," he says, "and it's going to practically make everything a felony or a misdemeanor. It's crazy."
The shadows are growing long, and it is time to take leave of Château Woertendyke. But let's take a final swing through West Dallas to visit again with Baker's mom, who seemed like such a nice lady. We urge her to have her son call. She says she will, and about the time I get back to my desk, I have a call from Mark Baker.
Baker concedes that he allowed Woertendyke to use his name on the bundle of ballot applications. He suggests he knows little more about the matter than that. He asks, "Mr. Jim, can I talk to Mr. Woertendyke first?"
Sure. It's a free country, and we all need to have our stories straight. I don't hear from him again.
Both Woertendyke and Baker, by the way, have political signs in their yards urging people to vote yes on the full bond package that will be on the ballot May 3. Baker has a couple. Both say they are not on the bond campaign's staff and are not being paid. They are supporting the bond program out of a sense of civic duty.
Isn't civic duty grand? Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to pop home and take a long bath with a bar of lye soap.