THURSDAY, Oct. 12 — Like a lot of people who knew Ted Lawson, Lansing City Council candidate Jody Washington posted her feelings about him after he was fatally shot last Sunday.
“Ted was one of the gentlest souls you would ever encounter. He was kind and willing to help anyone in need. His dedication to anything he took on was nothing less than amazing. We have lost a man of great integrity with a kind heart. I can't even begin to imagine the pain his family must be enduring,” she wrote.
But that post struck some who attended a Sept. 13 Ingham County Democratic Party meeting as off-putting, considering what they witnessed that evening in the back room of the Fiesta Charra restaurant. Witnesses said that Washington publicly berated Lawson over his work for one of her competitors for the at-large seat Washington is seeking in the Nov. 7 general election.
Lawson, 63, was fatally shot Sunday on North Jenison Avenue as he canvassed for Trini Lopez Pehivanoglu, who is seeking one of the two at-large Council openings against Washington and two other candidates.
Some 50 Democrats had gathered a month ago to discuss potential City Council endorsements when Washington, a former Councilmember, stood up to speak.
She said that Lawson, the group’s secretary, had been acting as a campaign manager for one of her opponents, Trini Lopez Pehlivanoglu. Washington said Lawson had a conflict of interest in deciding endorsements because he was working for Lopez Pehlivanoglou.
Washington proceeded to question Lawson’s ethics and character, according to two witnesses who spoke to City Pulse with the agreement that their names would not be reported.
The witnesses described Washington as “angry,” “red in the face” and speaking in an “accusatory” tone. At one point, Lopez Pehlivanoglu stood up and said the claim was unsubstantiated. Her campaign is managed by Scott Hughes, an information officer for the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office, she said.
“Ted had this horrified look on his face, because, ironically enough, he was talking to many people about filling in the second endorsement slot with Jody. He couldn't get the committee's support to do it,” one witness said. “So, he looked completely shocked, and rightfully so, when she stood up and was questioning his motives and his ethical integrity.”
“I remember Trini saying, ‘that's not true,’” the witness said, whereas Washington “legitimately thought that it was true,” a witness said. Lawson also denied the claim during the interaction, the witness added.
In an interview yesterday, Washington said that Lawson told her himself that he was Pehlivanoglu’s field manager — “part of his management team,” she said.
“He's the one that was contributing or collaborating with Scott” (Hughes), she said. “I'm telling you, Ted’s my friend. I knew what he was doing.”
Washington explained that when she stood up to speak, she was trying to curb a precedent that she found “disingenuous.”
“I said, ‘Four years ago, one of the candidates’ campaign managers was on the selection committee, and now we have it again,’ I told them: ‘Do whatever you're going to do tonight. However, in the future, I think we need to reconsider this’. I don’t think we should even be endorsing in a local, nonpartisan election when everybody is running as a Democrat, because what we are doing is tearing at the fabric of our local party,” Washington said.
Regarding her alleged demeanor at the time: “First of all, I have rosacea, so shame on them,” Washington said, referring to a long-term inflammatory skin condition that causes reddened skin and a rash, usually on the nose and cheeks. “Secondly, that's just not true. Was I making my point? Yes. Can I be passionate? Why not?”
According to witnesses, the reaction in the room was “a sort of bewilderment.”
“People were looking around, some in disbelief, some even nodding their heads because they assumed what she said was true. Which, if it was true, then it would be a conflict. It wasn't true. So, it wasn't a conflict,” one said.
“She was fairly angry,” said another. After the meeting,” the witness added, Washington “did have a conversation with her. She was off base. And then, you know, they just sort of walked away from that conversation.”
Washington confirmed that they had spoken afterward.
“If he hadn't died, we wouldn't be having this conversation. But people want to politicize it because they want somebody to win, and I find it grossly disgusting,” she said. “The guy is dead, for God's sake. His family is mourning. And we're trying to make a scandal for political purpose. This is not about me. This is not about Trini. Ted was my friend too. I had a loss also.”
Some who witnessed the incident felt differently when they saw Washington’s Facebook post.
“It's so gross and disheartening to see that considering how she was treating the poor guy just a couple of weeks ago,” a witness said. “He was a nice guy, and he didn't deserve that treatment a few weeks back, and he certainly didn't deserve what happened to him Sunday.”
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