April 14, 2003
Four simple rules for electing our Mayor

I'm not exactly sure what we're to make of this op-ed piece in today's Chron. It outlines four "ground rules" that are supposed to produce "leadership that will protect and advance our city over the long term". Frankly, they sound like idealism to me, but let's take a look and see, shall we?

Be nonpartisan.

Until recently, Houston benefited from a tradition of nonpartisan politics. Our leader should be elected upon his or her ability to serve Houston, not based upon political party affiliation. There are those who wish to abandon this tradition to further a state or a national agenda. If that results in Houston's having anything less than the finest leadership possible, then our city's good would be sacrificed for the benefit of someone else's objectives. This cannot be permitted to happen.

Nonpartisanship is like the weather - everybody talks about it, but no one does anything about it. At least, no one is willing to do anything about it until the other guy does, which amounts to the same thing.

The two announced candidates, Bill White and Michael Berry, have both said the usual stuff about being a mayor for everyone and so on. Both have tried to reach across party lines and have succeeded to some extent. Of course, these are the two candidates who are perceived to have no natural base of support, so draw your own conclusions.

I can't speak for Sylvester Turner, but Orlando Sanchez ran in 2001 as Mister Republican and he did pretty well. I don't know if he'll do that again in 2003 or if he'll try the mayor-for-everyone routine, as he hasn't officially kicked off his candidacy. He does have some former Lee Brown strategists on his staff, and it's interesting to note that Berry has picked up endorsements from Republicans who are pissed at Sanchez for that. How ironic it would be if Sanchez lost support for not being partisan enough to someone whose initial rhetoric is from the uniter-not-divider school.

Bottom line is that like it or not, a candidate without some partisan backing is going to be sitting out the runoff. So what's next?

Do not be influenced by ethnic, racial or religious factors.

Houston has thrived because it has offered opportunity to all who come here, regardless of ethnic, racial or religious background. This is an important tradition that should make every Houstonian proud. Houston's citizens should support and vote for the person they feel will become the best mayor -- not discriminate for or against a candidate because of extraneous factors. We should elect a mayor to unite us, not divide us. We need to work together for the betterment of our city, if we are to succeed.

Each candidate has at least some credibility across racial and ethnic lines. There's certainly the potential for some ugliness here, especially if Sanchez draws support from nominally Democratic Hispanic voters and opposition from Democratic Hispanic politicians as was the case in 2001, but I doubt it'll be more than a subtext.

Emphasize the long term.

This election should select a leader who has the experience, intelligence and vision to understand how decisions today will affect our city for many years to come. Voters should select the candidate who understands that our quality of life affects our long-term economic well-being. Short-term thinking is not appropriate here.

At the risk of drawing a snarky comment from Kevin, I'm going to point out that an officeholder who knows he'll be moving on in six years has no strong reason to think beyond those six years. Our system of term limits are a disincentive to long term thinking, a commodity that's rare enough already. Besides, how many CEOs have made millions by focusing on the next quarterly report? Politicians are no different in this regard.

Select the best leader -- it is not a horse race.

Some people seem to regard an election as an opportunity to place a bet on a likely winner, not a hallowed process to select leaders to guide us through difficult times. Houston will have the best leaders when we stop wasting time and energy trying to guess who is most likely to win and start working to educate ourselves on who should be elected. It is not too much to ask that each person in Houston rise to the highest standard, fulfill the most important responsibility as citizens, and demonstrate that we cherish the privileges of our democracy. Obviously, not everyone will agree on the best candidate -- but surely it is not too much to ask that each of us inform ourselves and vote for who we honestly feel will make the best mayor.

And here we finally cross the line into patronization. I don't know about you, but I approach each election with one of two goals in mind: Vote for the best guy, or vote against the worst one. That sometimes means voting strategically - I was prepared to vote for either Brown or Bell in 2001, depending on how the runoff was likely to go. I make no apologies for it, because I'm still aiming for what I believe to be an optimal result. If this is intended to be a message to the behind-the-scenes power brokers, then call a spade a spade. Otherwise, it's a bit insulting to imply that people vote for any reason other than to elect the best candidate.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 14, 2003 to Local politics | TrackBack

I'd be more likely to regard elections as hallowed if they'd give us some decent candidates we didn't have to hold our noses to vote for.

It's hard to vote for the "best" candidate when all the candidates can best be described as "sorry", "mediocre", and "less bad than the other guy".

Posted by: Ginger on April 14, 2003 3:56 PM