Well, we've seen the Sanchez and White camps go negative lately, and now there's a flyer being circulated by some fringe elements which accuses Bill White and several City Council candidates of conspiring to "eliminate black leadership".
After a decorous debate earlier this month, the mayoral candidates and their entourages emerged from a local television station to find splashy fliers pinned under the windshield wipers of their cars.
"Is Bill White secretly funding a campaign to eliminate black leadership?" the flier read as it advertised a town hall meeting in the Third Ward to "preserve black leadership now." The meeting was convened by grass-roots activists, including Robert Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, Quanell X of the New Black Panther Party and several Baptist ministers.
They apparently were reacting to news stories about a scheme to dilute the share of mayoral candidate White's vote by getting another man with the same name to run for mayor. Candidate White paid a woman engineering the scheme $5,000 after she abandoned it, and she claimed she had been paid by Sylvester Turner's campaign to put it together. Turner angrily denied any connection, and his supporters suggested White was trying to discredit Turner.
Anyway, the story has some intriguing angles in it.
White's campaign says the attacks are unfounded and unfair.
"It's offensive, especially for those of us who know how committed Bill is to inclusion," said White campaign spokeswoman Myra Jolivet, who is black. "That inclusion is very visible in our campaign. You can come over to our headquarters any day and see people of every ethnicity, race and walk of life."
Other racial overtones are peculiar to this race.
Former Harris County Democratic Chairwoman Sue Schechter, a former state representative who worked alongside Turner in the House and has endorsed him, says most of her white Democratic friends automatically assumed she would back White.
"Turner's done incredible work in the time he's been in the Legislature and no one can dispute that. He's also speaker pro tem and serves on the appropriations committee overseeing the state's budget. Why can't that be enough to show he can be trusted? It's a subtle racial issue that I'm arguing over and over everyday," Schechter says.
"The money factor also poses the same kind of racial barrier because there are not that many minorities in the upper financial echelon here to do what White is doing," she adds, pointing to the more than $2 million of his own money White is pouring into his campaign.
[Marc] Campos, the Turner consultant, bluntly calls it "the great white hope factor."
"A lot of white Democrats, particularly in this state, are frustrated because there's less and less opportunity for them to vote for other white Democrats. Most single-member districts go for minorities and most Republicans vote for whites," Campos says.
Over on today's editorial page, Andrea Georgsson adds a little gasoline to the fire by speculating about Turner as Houston's Ralph Nader. After concluding that "voters who want a competent mayor" must choose between White and Turner, she wonders if voting for Turner will ultimately help Sanchez.
The nail-biting decision for many voters who support Turner is that they might be throwing their vote away on him, either by preventing Bill White from winning outright -- dubious -- or putting Turner in a runoff with Sanchez, where Turner could lose in a two-man match-up. As much as some might want to see Turner win what he, some say unfairly, lost to Bob Lanier in '91, they don't want to live with the kind of regrets some Democrats have because they voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in 2000, sinking Al Gore's candidacy and putting George W. Bush in the White House.
The real question is why there is this undercurrent to Turner's campaign. Is it lingering doubt that there really was something to the news reports linking Turner to a scandal, one that most people have long forgotten the details of? Or is it because Turner is black? Some people believe that some voters won't vote for a black candidate no matter what his qualifications are. Some people believe that because Mayor Lee Brown -- despite his successes on rail, the new ballpark, the new football stadium, the convention center hotel, the Super Bowl -- is perceived to have been a mediocre black mayor, Turner will be tainted because he's also black.
Turner, for his part, has worked hard to court broad support. He shows a certain amount of frustration with race-based questions: He answered a question about whether Houstonians would be willing to elect a second black mayor in a row with glossed-over, but obvious frustration.
Naturally, many voters will agree with the Chronicle Editorial Board that Bill White would be the best choice for Houston's next mayor. But if voters look at Turner's record and qualifications, decide he is the best candidate and then reject him because they don't believe he can beat Orlando Sanchez, then Houston has not come as far as I have so fervently hoped.