Sex offender drops mayoral bid in Texas

Times Staff Writer

James Brian Sliter had every legal right to run for mayor of this gritty little city. But as a registered sex offender, Sliter learned, reality is sometimes different.

A week after declaring that he was running for mayor of Wilmer because he was fed up by a local government he claims is sullied by nepotism and corruption, Sliter announced Friday that he was dropping out of the race.

The 42-year-old accountant, who was arrested four years ago after showing up to have sex with what he thought was a 15-year-old girl, said that wide media coverage generated by his candidacy brought attention to the political problems he claims exist in Wilmer. But it also sparked death threats and increasingly hostile pressure on his friends and loved ones, forcing him to reconsider.


“I had a good conversation with the probation department and I agreed that it would be the smart thing to do. I wasn’t strong-armed,” Sliter said. “The public here in Texas have made it pretty clear that they don’t want me in office. It’s not in Wilmer -- people here are supporting me -- but the bottom line is that people elsewhere are so adamantly opposed that it’s starting to get really nasty.”

As a result of being caught in an Internet chat room sting and pleading guilty to trying to sexually assault a child, Sliter is a registered sex offender. Usually, that bars people from public office in Texas. But, because he received 10 years’ probation and will not be formally convicted as long as he completes the probation without trouble, he is free to pursue political dreams.

“I spoke to people about my offense, I was honest about it, and they said they still wanted to me to run,” said Sliter, who claims he was encouraged to run by other residents of Wilmer, population 3,500, after he became a fixture at town meetings. “No one else would run against these corrupt people.”

Sliter’s candidacy rocked the poor town of small wood bungalows just south of Dallas. Some wondered who would vote for such a man, and what would possess him to seek the spotlight.

Sliter, who accepts full responsibility for his sex crime, claims he is simply trying to right wrongs and do something positive.

“I told everyone I was going to be on national media. I knew I was going to be persecuted,” he said. “But maybe this is God’s way of getting this fear of living with what I did out of my heart.”


Some observers of city politics believed Sliter actually had an outside shot of winning the May election. A former mayor said in a letter that she was supporting Sliter because he “couldn’t run the city any worse” than the other candidates: the sitting mayor and a former councilwoman.

Sliter’s name will still appear on the ballot because it is too late to remove it, but he said he will ask supporters vote for someone else.

“There’s a lot of chatter on the Internet that is negative, even dangerous,” said Joe Aldrich, the editor of Wilmer Public Citizen, a blog that chronicles the city’s contentious politics. “But in town, there is also a strong sentiment that what we know about Brian isn’t nearly as bad as what we know about the people in [office] already. He may be a crook but he’s not as bad a crook as some of these folks.”

Wilmer Mayor Don Hudson scoffed at the notion that Sliter had a chance. But walking door to door to chat up voters, he has told them that electing a sex offender would turn Wilmer into a laughingstock.

“If you have a sex offender as a mayor, don’t you think [Wilmer] would become a magnet for other sex criminals? I have grandchildren myself,” said Hudson, 61, who says Sliter’s claims of civic corruption are a sex offender’s way of trying to deflect attention from his crimes.

Wilmer’s civic leadership has a checkered reputation in Dallas County.

Aldrich said he became active in civic affairs after the mayor, who lived next door, sold his home for a handsome profit to a developer, who built a warehouse on the residential street. The mayor’s daughter heads the zoning board.


But despite a flurry of news reports and allegations, none of the city’s current leaders has been convicted of any wrongdoing.

Dallas County prosecutors investigated a nepotism allegation after Wilmer hired the son-in-law of a councilwoman as its city administrator. This week, a grand jury declined to indict three council members in the case.

Though many Wilmer residents seemed fed up with their current officeholders, none interviewed this week was ready to trade them in for a sex offender.

Several expressed outrage that Sliter was even allowed to run.

“It surprises me that people like him would even consider trying to get elected to any kind of office,” said one 46-year-old Wilmer resident, who added that his 12-year-old daughter was undergoing counseling after an acquaintance, who turned out to be a registered sex offender, touched her in a car. “I would never vote for him -- not in a million years.”

Due to the threats on his life, Sliter said he was afraid to walk door to door in search of votes, as small-town politicians typically do.

But despite dropping out, he believes he has conveyed a message that Wilmer is desperate for change -- and that even the lowliest sinners deserve a shot at redemption.


“I feel selfish for what I did in a way, because people around me are being persecuted,” he said. “But if you have an opportunity to do something good and you don’t, you’re like the people in the Good Samaritan story who just walk past instead of helping out. I’m just sick of what’s happening down there.”