Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee’s mayoral campaign accused a right-wing blogger of assaulting its chair during a Monday morning scuffle, marring an otherwise quiet first day of early voting.
Polls opened on time across the city and county at 7 a.m. and no major issues were reported, according to the Harris County Clerk’s Office.
Candidates for mayor were spotted campaigning outside polling stations early in the morning, and Jackson Lee was among the first group of Houstonians to cast a vote in the election.
Hours later, the Houston Police Department was called at 9:50 a.m. to a satellite office of her campaign in response to a disturbance, according to HPD spokesperson John Cannon.
Campaign Chair Gerald Womack, 66, told police he was assaulted by a 56-year-old man who had been harassing him for the past five or six months, Cannon said.
The man entered the Almeda Street office and, when asked to leave, struck Womack in the face with his fist, according to Cannon, citing the report. The punch knocked Womack off his feet, causing him to hit his head. The pair then briefly scuffled before the suspect left the office on foot, Cannon said.
A bump was observed by police on the back of Womack’s head, Cannon said.
Womack declined medical care, Cannon said. HPD’s major assault unit will conduct follow-up interviews with Womack and the suspect, Cannon said.
In a Monday afternoon statement, Jackson Lee’s campaign accused a right-wing Houston blogger of attacking Womack at the satellite office in the 4400 block of Almeda Road. The incident occurred one day after the blogger posted an inflammatory piece accusing Womack of running a “ballot harvesting scheme” at that location.
“We are deeply concerned by these attacks and this is yet another example of how dangerous conspiracy rhetoric inflamed by Republican extremists has real consequences where people get hurt,” the Jackson Lee campaign statement read.
The statement said the campaign had increased security measures.
The blogger, who the Houston Landing is not naming because no charges have been filed, referred a request for comment to his attorney, Oliver Brown, who said his client was the victim of the attack.
“Mr. Womack, I think, tried to assault my client. But that’s all that we know right now,” Brown said.
Brown said he was unaware of his client’s blog post, and said he does not believe the interaction between the two men had anything to do with the election.
“I think Mr. Womack may have been upset with him on other reasons,” Brown said, without elaborating.
The incident occurred following a weekend of unwelcome headlines for Jackson Lee’s campaign after an audio recording purporting to be the congresswoman berating a staffer with curse words and insults.
Right-wing media and the accounts run by the Republican National Committee circulated the audio.
The Houston Landing and other local news outlets had been unable to verify the authenticity of the recording, but in a Monday evening statement, Jackson Lee acknowledged the recording and expressed regret for her comments.
“I know that I am not perfect,” Jackson Lee wrote. “I recognize that in my zeal to do everything possible to deliver for my constituents I have in the past fallen short of my own standards and there is no excuse for that. I am passionate about serving my constituents. I want the best for all of them.”
Prior to the statement’s release, Jackson Lee’s campaign declined to confirm or deny the audio’s authenticity and accused state Sen. John Whitmire’s campaign of having a hand in the recording’s circulation. Whitmire’s camp denied having anything to do with the recording.
The audio prompted the Harris County Young Democrats to announce Monday morning that it had withdrawn its endorsement of Jackson Lee. The organization previously had issued a joint endorsement of Jackson Lee and Whitmire.
Jackson Lee blamed her political opponents for the recording’s appearance in the final weeks of the campaign.
“To anyone who has listened to this recording with concern, I am regretful and hope you will judge me not by something trotted out by a political opponent, that worked to exploit this, and backed by extreme Republican supporters on the very day that polls open, but from what I’ve delivered to Houstonians over my years of public service,” she wrote.
Early voting runs through Nov. 3.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a statement to a Houston Police Department spokesman. The story has been updated to delete that statement.