It’s often said that politics is a blood sport—but that usually refers to verbal mudslinging, rather than outbreaks of actual, blood-drawing violence. But the politics in Tarrant County nearly turned physical after two District Clerk candidates met at the offices of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram earlier this week.
At some point during the discussion with the newspaper’s editorial board, challenger Frank Palomino started wagging his finger at incumbent Tom Wilder and alleged that Wilder’s marriage to his longtime wife, Charlene, was a sham. “You got divorced in 1972,” Palomino said. “You’re not married.”
Wilder responded: “You’re a lyin’ dog!”
Palomino wouldn’t relent, and he continued his finger wagging until his pointer was inches from the enraged face of Wilder, who had jumped forward in his swiveling office chair to engage with Palomino. “I have got your divorce papers at my house!” Palomino said. Wilder then threw his hands up, and called Palomino a snake. “No, you’re a snake!” Palomino shouted back.
Apparently these guys kept it up for quite a bit, and things continued to dissolve. At one point, Palomino loudly accused Wilder of being “a politician.” Both men are campaigning for a political office.
“You open your mouth about my wife again, Frank…” said Wilder, who, by this point, had clearly had enough.
“What are you gonna do about it?” Palomino responded.
“Watch,” Wilder said.
Then the video cuts out, but the tension continued. According to the Star-Telegram, the two men “almost came to blows” and had to be escorted separately from the building.
It turns out Palomino was off the mark. Wilder told the Star-Telegram on Tuesday that he married his first wife, Charlene, in 1962. They divorced on March 1, 1972, in Dallas County, but were remarried in Tarrant County later that year. Online marriage records confirm this, though it’s easy to understand how Palomino may have gotten the wrong idea. Searching “Thomas Wilder” in Tarrant County’s online marriage records database yields no results—but searching for his wife, Charlene, shows a 1972 marriage with “Thos” Wilder, which a common abbreviation for Thomas.
Palomino later admitted to the Star-Telegram that he was not aware of the existing marriage license, adding that Wilder wouldn’t clarify for him his marriage status when he was confronted with the divorce records. “I’m sorry I brought it up, but he’s trying to belittle me every chance he gets,” Palomino told the Star-Telegram. “I don’t like to play dirty politics, but he’s trying to bring up everything he can find against me. He’s picking on every little thing he can.”
Wilder has served as District Clerk since 1995, and Palomino is a familiar foe. According to the Star-Telegram, Palomino was cited by the Texas Ethics Commission in 2002 after Wilder filed a complaint claiming he improperly reported his campaign expenses. That year, and again in 2010, Palomino ran against Wilder as a Democrat, and Wilder has used Palomino’s former party affiliation against him throughout the 2018 campaign, accusing him of colluding with the current Democratic district clerk candidate John Derewitz to beat him. “All of this is an orchestrated attempt to ding me,” Wilder told the Star-Telegram on Tuesday. “Obviously, they’re working in tandem against me.”
Suddenly, the campaign for Tarrant County District Clerk has become one of the state’s most interesting races to watch this election cycle.