October 04, 2003
This is the strangest story I've seen all year

As if redistricting weren't enough to fry my brain, there's this strange story of an attempt to run a fake mayoral candidate with the same name as a real one in order to confuse voters.

It is a bizarre tale that includes a Democratic U.S. congressman, a secret tape recording, a $5,000 campaign check and a floppy straw hat sold for $1,200.

And it is a tale that raises as many questions as it answers.

At the heart of the story is a $5,000 campaign check that mayoral candidate Bill White cut to political gadfly Brenda Flores after thwarting plans she said she devised to put another Bill White on the Nov. 4 ballot.

During the week before the Sept. 22 filing deadline, Flores claims, she gave an Acres Homes man named William White $1,200 in cash after he signed candidacy papers to run for mayor.

Flores backed out of her plans to file the papers the day before the filing deadline, after meeting at her Spring Branch home with candidate Bill White and Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, a friend of Flores' since his days on City Council.

Flores told White and Bell that she had originally received cash to carry out the ballot chicanery from a consultant associated with the mayoral campaign of state Rep. Sylvester Turner.

Turner vehemently denied that his campaign had any involvement in the scheme, calling the claim "outlandish."

"There is no basis in fact to that," Turner said.

Flores said she has no knowledge that Turner was personally aware of the plan.

Flores claims she used $2,600 of the money White gave her to repay the Turner consultant after Flores backed out of the plan. A friend of Flores', Dennis Keim, said he delivered the cash to Turner campaign headquarters and secretly tape-recorded the encounter.

Turner said he is worried that his campaign may have been set up. He questioned why White would give Flores money.

"I think I am entitled, and so is the public, entitled to know -- did he (White) write this check because he was extorted? Did he write this check in order to concoct this story?" Turner said. "I think I am entitled to know this."

White said he was not extorted. He said he did not concoct the story to hurt the Turner campaign.

Instead, White said, he gave the money to Flores two days after the filing deadline because she said she had spent most of the money she received from the Turner consultant and feared retaliation if she did not repay it.

White said there was no discussion about paying Flores during the meeting at her home and that the idea was presented to him after the filing deadline.

"She called Chris Bell several times to say that she had been threatened, and I relied on his judgment that she felt threatened," White said. "So, I relied on the judgment of an experienced and credible person."

There's more, and it just gets weirder. Whatever else may or may not have happened, I'll bet they're exchanging high-fives at the Sanchez campaign headquarters today.

Kevin has some good coverage of this as well. I'd never heard of Brenda Flores before now, but I wholeheartedly agree with Kevin on this point - the design of her Housnitch.com (no link - it's not worth it to me) web page sucks rocks and takes forever to load to boot (and I've got a cable modem and a fast machine). I've now written the name Brenda Flores down on the same piece of paper that contains the likes of Sam Texas and Whitney Broach so I'll know to pay attention to the alarm bells that will ring the next time I hear her name mentioned.

UPDATE: Stephen Bates has a take on this as well.

UPDATE: Beldar asks some good questions and points to this account from White and Rep. Chris Bell on George Strong's site. Having read that, it reminded me that I'd seen this earlier mention of the "two Bill Whites" but never gave it a second thought. Jack wonders if being Mayor is worth all this. No update in today's Chron.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 04, 2003 to Election 2003 | TrackBack

This just doesn't compute. I'm hoping that some light might be shed on this during Monday night's televised debate, if not sooner.

Posted by: Beldar on October 4, 2003 7:20 PM

Ah. I am so glad that other people are confused by this story. My husband and I just don't get it. Even our waiter at Chili's didn't get it, either.

Was it confusing reporting in the Chronic or am I just getting a sense that there is a scam going on here?

Posted by: Jaye on October 5, 2003 2:50 AM

This story is indeed strange. If all that is reported is true, it looks bad for both the perp (Turner's campaign for creating the dirty trick) and the mark (White's campaign for giving a $5,000 check to the crackpot at the center of the mini-scandal).

However, in the grand scheme of things, this story will have little effect. No votes will be changed to or from White or Turner. Without anything new, and I don't forsee anything new, this story will be forgotten by election day.

Just like redistricting, this story is raw meat for political junkies. And again like redistricting, the public at large sighs with a collective yawn at this story.

Posted by: Greg V. on October 6, 2003 10:42 AM

Greg V, you're probably right. If there's no further reporting on this story (we'll see what Tim Fleck has to say on Wednesday), you're assuredly right.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on October 6, 2003 11:55 AM

Dunno, guys. The first and third questions in tonight's televised debate were on this topic. Turner & White bobbed and weaved and evaded. This kind of weirdness has at least as much intrinsic interest as light rail vs. bus routes.

Posted by: Beldar on October 6, 2003 8:37 PM