March 13 2013 12:00 AM

Automated phone messages say Bernero made “anti-woman” comments

Wednesday, July 11 — There’s a robo-call circulating around Lansing that claims Mayor Virg Bernero referred to a City Councilwoman as a “man in drag.” It’s unclear who’s behind the call, but some residents have received it as many as four times in one day.

The message features a female voice, saying she is calling to tell people about “anti-woman comments made by Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero. The Mayor said Councilwoman Jody Washington was, quoting, ‘a man in drag,’ just because she dared to speak her mind. The mayor’s comments do great disservice to women in Lansing. It is time Lansing women be treated with the respect they deserve. Call Mayor Virg Bernero at 483-4141. Tell him to stop disrespecting Lansing women.”

At Monday’s City Council meeting, Washington — who was elected in November to replace her predecessor (and Bernero nemesis) Eric Hewitt — said she had heard the mayor “telling people in our community that I am ‘Eric Hewitt in drag.””

“I am a strong woman and I can accept criticism,” Washington said. “But I will not accept misogyny, whether it’s from a random person on the street or the mayor of Michigan’s capital city.”

Washington said the mayor should act with “class,” but instead “he is calling a female Council member a man in drag.” She added that she felt the comments bordered on a violation of the city’s human rights ordinance.

Bernero denied the accusation. He called Washington’s claims “hearsay and innuendo,” adding, “I’ve never referred to you that way. I can’t apologize for something I didn’t do. I’ll certainly continue to work with you in a professional way.”