November 13, 2002
Out Of Town Orlando

Houston Mayor Lee Brown has often been called "Out Of Town Brown" because of his penchant for taking trips hither and yon for various, sometimes unfathomable, purposes. Now it appears that this habit is shared by Orlando Sanchez, who nearly defeated Brown in the 2001 mayoral race and is considered a likely top contender in 2003 when Brown can't run due to term limits.

"Out Of Town Orlando" doesn't seem too broken up by the fact that his excursions are all on the taxpayers' dime, either:

Sanchez used taxpayer money to go to Washington, D.C., four times since 2000, costing taxpayers more than $6,000 for those trips.

The first of the four trips was in August 2000, costing $1,200. Why did he go? The only reason listed on the required paperwork -- city business.

News2Houston Investigator Robert Arnold asked Sanchez about the trips.

"Can you remember what you did on that trip?" Arnold asked.

"I can hardly remember what I had for dinner last week," Sanchez said.

In May 2001, Sanchez took two more overnight trips to Washington and this time listing no reason for his travel. Yet, the trips cost taxpayers more than $4,400.

Sanchez took a couple of taxpayer-funded trips to Washington, DC during 2001, including one to a Christmas party in December, after the election and during his lame duck time in the City Council.

"Why did the taxpayers have to send you to a Christmas party?" Arnold asked.

"You'd have to ask the White House why they thought it important to invite people," Sanchez said.

"I'm not asking why you were invited, I'm asking why the taxpayers had to pay to send you there?" Arnold asked.

"The taxpayers paid for the trip, again, because I'm an elected official representing almost 2 million people in the city of Houston," Sanchez said.

Sanchez again insisted that he was talking with congressional leaders about Houston's needs, such as housing and infrastructure.

But, since he got so much backing from the Bush administration and family during his mayoral race, Arnold asked if there was a connection.

"So you didn't discuss your political campaign at all?" Arnold asked.

"Absolutely not," Sanchez replied.

"Never at any time with anyone?" Arnold asked.

"Never at any time with anyone in any of those trips," Sanchez said.

I'm so sure.

What is it about Houston politicians and a penchant for free travel? And I swear, I'll smack anyone who suggests it's a natural desire to spend as little time in Houston as possible.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 13, 2002 to Election 2003 | TrackBack

I consider myself a Sanchez supporter, but that's just bad news for him. This may well be an issue in the next campaign, especially as the city faces its usual budget problems, and potential candidates describe how they will be different than Out-Of-Town Brown. I don't know if Sanchez is huddling with any political advisors these days, but my completely free advice would be that he could make himself look a lot better if he simply reimbursed the city. It's not like it's a huge amount, but it's hugely symbolic and annoying to people who wonder why their local library hours had to be cut back, or why potholes can't be fixed faster, etc. And he could get some good press out of it if done properly....

Posted by: Kevin Whited on November 14, 2002 10:25 AM

Agreed. If I were a Sylvester Turner operative, I'd be taking detailed notes on this. Sanchez should deal with this sooner rather than later.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on November 14, 2002 1:06 PM

Because it comes with the job. Good to see someone's publicizing the mileage. Makes people think.

Posted by: Anna on November 14, 2002 6:57 PM