By STEFAN MODRICH
A rift between longtime political adversaries in Stafford continues to deepen. City council member Don Jones and Cecil Willis, who succeeded the late Leonard Scarcella as mayor on Dec. 12 after a runoff election victory over AJ Honore, are at odds over an Oct. 12 photo the Willis campaign posted to its Facebook page following an interview with Amber Neal, a host on Houston internet radio station 95.3 Jamz. The photo shows Willis wearing a necktie that is red with diagonal blue stripes that are filled with white stars.
Jones and Stafford resident Christopher Forte have called out the tie for what they say is a resemblance to a necktie associated with the Anglo-Confederate Society, a group in England that sympathized with the Confederacy during the Civil War. Jones and Forte said they found Willis’ tie problematic as African-Americans.
“As a former educator who has always had to enforce a code of conduct and set a standard of expectation, I don’t see why us as public servants in the political sphere don’t live by the same creed,” Jones said. “We have to set a proper example.”
Jones said he bought a tie that he claimed was similar to the one Willis wore, sending the Fort Bend Star a photo of the tie in hand and a receipt from a website that purported to sell “Confederate and rebel merchandise” and challenged Willis to admit where he purchased the tie.
Forte said he felt Willis had a responsibility to not appear in public wearing something that could be viewed ambiguously or seen as potentially symbolic of racism.
“The tie doesn’t look like the American flag,” Forte said.
Willis said the tie bore no resemblance to a Confederate logo.
“There’s just no traction to it,” Willis said. “It’s totally perception. The comments that I watched on social media, why I didn’t respond to it, were overwhelmingly debunking the idea. I can’t control anyone’s perceptions or whatever, but the people that know me, know who I am.”
Willis said his top two campaign staffers, including consultant Roger Moore, are African-American.
“They picked out the ties for every public appearance I made,” Willis said. “There’s nothing racial in it. They’re African-Americans and they picked it out and they weren’t offended.”
Moore said he picked out the tie in question and that he and his political consulting firm performed similar services in the past when he was the associate campaign manager for Scarcella.
“Had I, being an African-American, saw two Xs that resembled the Confederate flag, I would have immediately asked him a question: ‘What the hell is this?’” Moore said. “Because it did not have those Xs, and it has lines going down across, it did not trigger me. It just looked like a nice tie that represented the U.S., the same way that he has other ties that resemble the American flag, and if people go back and look at some of the other pictures, we had those on as well.”
During the executive session of a Jan. 6 city council meeting, Jones said the Stafford City Council voted to make him Mayor Pro Tempore, which he said was a “manipulation of norms” and an attempt to “pacify” him and his concerns about Willis.
He also said the council’s unanimous decision to vote against his bid for the position in 2019 was because he supported Honore in his challenge against Scarcella that year.
“In the very next city council meeting (on Jan. 20), I’m pretty sure I’m going to ask the mayor to resign his position if he’s not going to explain to Stafford residents at large why he is wearing this tie at that particular time,” Jones said.
Willis said he felt the city has supported him and has gone along in dismissing what he sees as specious claims.
“There’s nothing I can say to anybody that’s going to change anything,” Willis said.
“That’s (Jones’) perception. It just looked like a pretty red, white, and blue tie to all of us. This is all political. The election’s over, the people have spoken, and I’m ready to move on and do the business for the people of Stafford.”
Ash Hamirani, a Stafford MSD trustee and supporter of Willis, said Willis was instrumental in helping him become the first South Asian to be elected to the school board. Hamirani said he believed the outcome of the mayoral election would have been different had Willis’ ideology been one that was offensive to people of color.
“My support (of Willis) goes hand-in-hand with this,” Hamirani said. “If I felt this was something that was creditable, something that would be concerning, there’s no way I could support a white supremacist. It would be very detrimental to my personal life, my family, and everything around me. So my support goes hand-in-hand with the belief that I don’t believe he is what he was accused (of). … The idea, the notion that Cecil could be characterized as a racist is ridiculous, and I know for a fact that he is not, he is the furthest thing from one.”