We just love shenanigans, so it's no wonder why we found ourselves roped in by claims from Eric Johnson's campaign that some of the petitions attached to state Representative Terri Hodge's ballot application didn't pass the smell test. It appeared as though Hodge, who submitted 610 signatures from registered voters (500 are required) just prior to Monday's filing deadline in lieu of paying the $750 filing fee, might have been circulating petitions with Dallas County Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons' name on them, nabbing the signatures, whiting out his name and then replacing it with hers.
"I was able to hold the petition up to the light, and by looking through it, Gary Fitzsimmons was typed under the whiteout," said Ben Setnick, one of Johnson's two campaign operatives dispatched to Dallas County Democratic Party headquarters.
"Of course, I have no way of knowing when that occurred," Setnick stressed to Unfair Park late last night. "I guess it's possible that it occurred prior to people signing the petitions, but it's certainly suspicious and possibly improper."
The discovery appeared to be a coup for Johnson, who's raised more than $200,000 and is the only one standing in the way of Hodge's eighth term in office -- provided, of course, that Hodge doesn't end up serving a term in the pokey instead. Her federal trial on bribery and corruption charges connected to the City Hall corruption case begins just six days after the March 2 primary.
Upon our inspection of Hodge's petitions this morning, there were indeed two pages where Fitzsimmons' name was previously typed and whited out, and Hodge's was written in ink on top. But here's where things get ... interesting? Sure, let's go with that.
Cynthia Cole, one of the signatures, told us that Hodge's name was already on the petition when she signed it. Felicia Pitre, who works as a special assistant for Fitzsimmons, said she simply goofed by using some petitions she had in her truck with Fitzsimmons' name preprinted on them. He decided against using them himself and paid the 750 bucks on December 11, she said, so when she ran out of blank ones while collecting signatures for Hodge, she grabbed a couple of Fitzsimmons' and changed the name.
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"It was just a mistake," she said, noting that she didn't know that using whiteout was frowned upon. "I had no idea that it was going to cause this -- none at all."
Pitre has known Hodge for 22 years and says Hodge had originally planned to simply pay the $750 filing fee to avoid collecting signatures but was convinced otherwise by her advisors who wanted her to demonstrate constituent support. Most of Hodge's signatures were collected in the past few days, with Hodge tracking down 124 by herself since January 1, according to the petitions.
Or perhaps it's just not in Hodge's nature to give money -- the feds allege she's much better at receiving it. We can definitely agree with Pitre on this much, though: "It would have saved her a lot of grief if she would have just paid the 750."