He said, she said, they said

By Sam Inglot

Automated phone calls hit on name-calling claims; Jody Washington calls them a "public nuisance" and wants them to stop

Lansing residents were blanketed last week with robo-calls alleging that Mayor Virg Bernero called a female City Council member a drag queen. Some houses received as many as four in 24 hours.

The automated phone message contains a woman’s voice saying she was 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 a 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.”

The message alludes to a confrontation at a July 10 Council meeting when Washington — the 1st Ward representative — said someone in the community informed her that Bernero was calling her “Eric Hewitt in drag” behind her back.

Hewitt, the previous 1st Ward Councilman, and Bernero had heated exchanges. Hewitt could not be reached for comment.

You might think Washington would support unknown political operatives sticking up for her, yet she said she felt “mortified” when she received the robo-call (she it got twice). She said she doesn’t know who is behind it but she wants them to stop. She called the calls a “public nuisance.” She said she would never “hide behind” a robo-call.

And whoever is behind the calls is unknown. The company who forwarded the calls, Insight Teleservices, which is based in Southfield, did not respond to several requests for an interview.

Recently, when asked to identify the gossiper, Washington said she could not reveal who had supposedly leaked the mayor’s comments to her.

“The person asked me not to use their name,” she said, because it is “somebody very involved in the city” that would have “a lot to lose” if his or her identity were revealed.

Washington’s speech came as a bit of a shock at an otherwise uneventful July 10 Council meeting.

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

That night, 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.

The mayor denied the rumors at the meeting, calling them “hearsay” and “innuendo.”

She went on to mention the mayor’s history of what she called “derogatory” comments toward political opponents and Native Americans.

Earlier this year Bernero referred to an opponent of his casino plan as “Chief Chicken Little.”

Bernero said in a follow-up email that Washington’s claims are an “orchestrated political attack.”

“I never said what she alleges,” he wrote. “She does not allege that she heard anything directly nor can she produce any evidence of what I am purported to have said.”