It wasn’t out of character when Dixon Vice Mayor Ted Hickman wrote a controversial column on June 28 calling for a Straight Pride American Month and referring to gay men as “faries” and “tinker bells.”
He had written derogatory things about gay people and other groups in his column for years, but this was the first time one had gone viral. The column prompted angry emails and calls to city leaders and a protest Tuesday at City Hall urging Hickman to resign.
A review of Hickman’s “That’s Life” columns in Dixon’s Independent Voice showed dozens of disparaging comments and offensive images denigrating Muslims who, he says, are planning to destroy the American way of life.
Hickman, 74, who for years ran the town’s Toys for Tots program, proclaimed in a Dec. 18, 2015, column, that no devout Muslim or their child would benefit from the toy program. He backtracked to readers about his directive the next month.
“Seeing how it’s a new year and all I’ve decided to give in to all the clatter about my limited Muslim Christmas humor saying Toys for Tots wouldn’t give and (sic) gifts to radical Muslim’s children. … Because of all the ruckus (one writer and a man and wife who were “embarrassed”) I’ve decided to cool it somewhat. See pressure does change me,” he wrote in January 2016.
In that same column he shared a picture of a dog in a burqa. The caption said, “Guide dog for a Muslim woman. It’s called a Barka.”
In a 2014 column, he defends statements he made in opposition to the “gay” judge who overturned Proposition 8, the 2008 voter initiative that banned gay marriage. He also defended his contention that radical Muslims are trying to take over the country, and that he should not have to pay for Spanish-language television channels he doesn’t want.
“Well guess what,” he wrote. “I’ll stick by my guns (literally) and once again if you don’t like what I write don’t read it. Also remember I have a long memory and all of you shadow bitchers who don’t have the guts to stand up for your beliefs T.S.”
For residents, it’s hard not to get a copy of Dixon’s Independent Voice. The eight-page weekly newspaper is mailed or delivered to about 90 percent of the homes in and around Dixon, according to its publisher and editor, Dave Scholl.
He says he fielded eight calls from people who no longer want to receive the paper because of Hickman’s latest column, but he got a few new subscribers as well. Scholl says none of his advertisers withdrew ads, although it looked like some would initially.
Outrage over the column has not prompted the longtime newspaper publisher to change the way he does things. “I’m a cantankerous and adamant defender of freedom of the press,“ he told The Bee on Friday.
Scholl says he edits columns written by Hickman and others for typos, but does not alter the content unless it is libelous, indecent or a violation of copyright law.
“I don’t allow racist comments,” he said.
He brushed aside questions about the numerous anti-Islamic statements in Hickman’s columns. “He doesn’t like the Orthodox Muslim countries where they are misogynistic and kill people that are gay,” he said.
Scholl said he and Hickman share some of the same beliefs, but that they sometimes disagree.
He says he could be open to printing a column with a more liberal viewpoint. “It depends what they are writing about,” he said. “I won’t print anything that attacks any of the beliefs of the Catholic church.“
Hickman isn’t the only controversial voice found on the pages of Dixon’s Independent Voice. Mike Ceremello, a candidate for City Council, came to Hickman’s defense in his July 9 column, which Hickman also posted on his website.
Ceremello wrote that people should be able to say whatever they want in print or otherwise, no matter what their viewpoint. He then complained about emails and calls Hickman received strongly opposing the column – labeling them as hate speech.
Ceremello also offered a warning to advertisers in the column: “For those of you advertisers who pull your ads, I intend to identify you and tell the real Americans who believe in the First Amendment to boycott your business,” he wrote.
Then Ceremello wrote about his own feelings on gay men. “How exactly does the leather brigade of two men in the parade with one whipping the other honor anything but sexual deviance? Ever see the picture of naked people on ten speed at these parades? Somehow the struggle gets confused with hedonism.”
Ceremello could not be reached for comment for this story.
Ironically, Hickman who uses the term fake news and says the media must be curbed, has written over 700 columns and started The Dixon Newspaper, which eventually became Dixon’s Independent Voice. Scholl said he has owned the newspaper for 23 of the 25 years it has been in existence.
Scholl defends Hickman, saying he is a kind man who gives back to his community without discrimination. “Ted is a curmudgeon,” he said. “He is who he is. He did not intend to become the poster boy on anything and he doesn’t have a filter.”
Hickman, who spoke before public comment on Tuesday night, said he regretted using the title of vice mayor in the column but made no apologies for the content of the column.
“I didn’t give up my First Amendment rights when I became a public official,” he said. “If I could rewind time and write the column again I would not use the words sarcastically of vice mayor because I see it might not be acceptable to some.”
When asked for a comment for this story Friday, Hickman said: “My side is simple: the First Amendment.”
Hickman was first elected to the Dixon City Council in 1968 and served for 12 years. In 2014, he ran and was elected again; his term will expire in 2019.
Speakers at Tuesday’s meeting asked the City Council to strip Hickman of the title of vice mayor, remove him from committees, or censure or formally reprimand him. Some said the councilman violated city code when he mentioned his city title in the column.
That night, council members called for a special meeting with the city attorney to review whether any action could be taken against Hickman. The meeting, which can be called with just a day’s notice, has yet to be scheduled.
Councilman Devon Minnema, an outspoken critic of the content of Hickman’s columns, said it could take the council about a month to decide what to do about Hickman’s comments. Based on the community comments, the council is likely to call a meeting of the Rules Committee, which will offer a recommendation to the entire council for a vote, he said.
Minnema is among a group of residents who are planning to field a candidate to run against Hickman. “We hope to have an announcement in the future,” he said.