HOUSTON — Mayoral candidate Louie Welch, who has made morality the No. 1 issue in his campaign, was already behind incumbent Kathy Whitmire in the polls when he blurted out on live television that a way to stop AIDS would be to "shoot the queers."
Welch, who held the mayor's office for five two-year terms, was awaiting a live interview Thursday night about his proposals to halt the spread of AIDS when a microphone inadvertently left on by a technician picked up his comment.
'Moment of Levity'
"I apologize, but I don't think I had the gay vote anyway. There was nothing serious about it," he said. "It was a moment of levity before we went on camera. It was an unfortunate choice of humor."
After losing an early lead in the polls, Welch was trailing Whitmire, a two-term incumbent, by a hefty margin. The nonpartisan election will be held Nov. 5.
Welch, 66, a Republican, entered the race because of the overwhelming defeat in January of a referendum that would have banned discrimination because of sexual preference in city hiring.
At that time, Welch spearheaded efforts against the proposal, while Whitmire, 39, a Democrat, backed the gay rights effort and has received the support of the city's gay community in her previous races.
Impact on Families
In debates and other campaign appearances, Welch has stressed the morality issue, contending that prostitution, homosexuality and the spread of adult bookstores have made the city a less attractive place to rear a family.
On Thursday, he characterized AIDS in the city as epidemic and said that, if elected, he would require that anyone arrested for prostitution be tested for acquired immune deficiency syndrome, require that health cards be issued for food and health service workers and close homosexual bathhouses.