February 07, 2003
Mayoral race update

Bill White officially jumped in to the 2003 Mayoral race on Wednesday. He's got a plan for transportation:

In an announcement speech called "Let's Get Houston Moving," White presented a transportation plan that he said would reduce the average commuting time of Houstonians by 25 hours annually.

The plan includes:

·Working with the business community to shift 5 percent of commutes to non-peak morning and afternoon hours, when freeways are less congested. That will have the same impact as investing $1 billion in highway improvements, he said.

·Creating a "war room" to make sure city street improvements are completed on time and within budget.

·Using computer technology to better manage traffic.

·Seeking consensus for extension of the light rail system under construction downtown. He said he will have a more specific plan later in the campaign.

You all know where I stand on light rail. I'm very interested in his to-be-released specific plan. The thing is, you can make a good case for extending light rail in pretty much any direction as the next step. North-south takes you to the airports, west takes you out the Katy Freeway, and southwest takes you to the Fort Bend area, where mayors of cities like Sugar Land, Missouri City, and Rosenberg have been vocal in support or rail. I've always been a little worried that once a direction is chosen for the next project, the people who live in the other areas won't be nearly as supportive. Nothing kills a coalition faster than the belief that someone else is getting more benefit than you.

Meanwhile, the candidate who has to be considered the favorite got a boost to his campaign yesterday. Port of Houston Chairman Ned Holmes announced he would support Orlando Sanchez instead of running for mayor himself. Holmes backed Lee Brown in 2001, and support from the business establishment has always been key. If Sanchez can keep the same level of Hispanic support he got in 2001, he will be in very good shape.

On the slightly bizarre side, this Houston Press article highlights an issue that might haunt Bill White. White is the CEO of an international oil-and-gas business called the Wedge Group. It's owned by a Lebanese billionaire named Issam Fares, who is now a member of Lebanon's legislature. He's also voiced some unpopular opinions here:

The candidate's relationship with Deputy Prime Minister Fares of Lebanon could also become a campaign issue. Two years ago, a Fares-endowed fund paid incoming Secretary of State Colin Powell $200,000 for a 30-minute talk at Tufts University. Fares also ponied up a $100,000 contribution for President George W. Bush's inaugural festivities. Media reports focused on allegations that the Lebanese official was trying to buy influence with the new administration.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Fares angrily responded in a statement blasting "the Zionist lobby in the United States and its agents" for "distortions and lies." Fares also opposed the U.S. government's decision to add the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militia group Hezbollah to its terrorist list in the wake of 9/11.

"It is a mistake to make a comparison between the [Al Qaeda] network…which Lebanon has condemned, and Hezbollah, which Lebanon considers a resistance party fighting the Israeli occupation," Fares told Agence France-Presse. He claimed the group has never targeted Americans, a position disputed by U.S. officials as well as Fares's own Wedge Group CEO.

"I personally think the Hezbollah militia is a terrorist organization," counters White, who notes that he and Fares rarely talk politics. The candidate says his own position on the Arab-Israeli conflict is clear.

"I think I am the only non-Jew on the board of the American-Israeli public affairs committee," the candidate says. "Regionally, I've been on the board of the Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs out of Washington for six years. I think that Israel has been victimized by terrorism, period."

For what it's worth, Fares is a Christian (he's Greek Orthodox). I can envision some nasty TV ads tying White to Hezbollah, but there's that little matter of Fares' $100,000 donation to GW Bush. President Bush and his parents gave a lot of support to Orlando Sanchez in 2001, including endorsements given in TV ads. I suspect that any mention of Fares' unsavory opinions by the Sanchez campaign will be met with responses linking Fares to Sanchez via the Bushes. One can only hope that we don't go down this road, as the campaign will be ugly and expensive enough without it.

Finally, Greg Wythe has some thoughts about Bill White's chances that are similar to mine, along with some recent examples of unknown candidates who did much better than expected. And everyone's favorite house plant Chronicle columnist Thom Marshall gives some idle speculation about Chief Bradford's theoretical prospects in this race.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 07, 2003 to Election 2003 | TrackBack

Well, if he does as well as mayor of Houston as he did as president of the National League, you should be all right. :)

Posted by: Chris Quinones on February 7, 2003 11:39 AM

Bah... I haven't seen any good cases made for extending rail. Blind faith in the idea doesn't constitute a "good case."

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on February 7, 2003 12:27 PM