Democratic gubernatorial candidate calls ad racist

February 6, 2010 8:42:45 AM PST
A hair-care magnate running for the Texas Democratic gubernatorial nomination said the ads from his opponent take a backhanded swipe at his ethnic roots. Farouk Shami, a Houston businessman born a Palestinian outside Jerusalem, said Thursday that his Democratic opponent, former Houston Mayor Bill White, was stoking discrimination when he talked about being born in San Antonio in his advertising.

"I take that as a racist comment," Shami said during a campaign stop in south Texas that drew about 100 people.

Shami began his stump speech with the story of how he arrived in the U.S. with $71 in his pocket.

"It doesn't matter where we're from," he said. "I'm a better Texan than he could ever be."

Katy Bacon, a spokeswoman for White's campaign, called Shami's comment "ridiculous."

"Bill is introducing himself to voters across the state," Bacon said.

Shami promised to bring jobs to the state, especially in the more economically depressed parts of south Texas. He said green energy growth in solar and wind power alone could account for 150,000 jobs in Texas.

But it was Shami's work pushing his hair-care products that brought him to south Texas early in his career.

Yolanda Salinas, wife of Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas, introduced Shami on Thursday and said she's known him more than 20 years. They met when Salinas, a hairdresser, attended a demonstration Shami did in Houston.

Salinas said Shami was struggling then, but never gave up and they've been friends ever since.

Asked about Shami's lack of experience in public office, Salinas compared him to the outsider campaign her husband ran to be Laredo's mayor -- one that depended on volunteers and free chicken dinners to attract voters.

Chicken dinners and prize giveaways of Shami's hair-care product gift bags were both part of Thursday's event.

It was Shami's second stop in the Rio Grande Valley on Thursday. The first was at an event in Brownsville.

White was scheduled to return to the area Friday.