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Election 2003

Postmortem on attack mailers

Remember those anonymous attack mailers from late in the 2003 municipal elections, the ones from a group calling itself “Citizens for a Better America” (not this group, mind you)? I wrote about their sleazy mailers, in which those who funded them hid their tracks very effectively several times, starting here. After getting a tip about these mailers (two days before I received one myself), I called Tim Fleck, then still at the Houston Press, to tell him about them. Unfortunately, he never wrote anything about this before he left the Press, so I was very pleasantly surprised to see John Williams pick up the ball and advance it forward today.

This is a whodunit about a political consultant scrutinizing clues left last year at the scene of some political skulduggery.

The consultant — Marc Campos — is investigating without the help of state law, which aids and abets the very activities he’s probing.


A check of the postal permit on the ads against Adrian Garcia lead Campos to a mailing service in the Timbergrove neighborhood. The mailing service directed him to a print shop near Interstate 45 North and West Gulf Bank.

The print shop said a “Spencer” was its contact and that a graphics arts company in Meyerland prepared the ad.

Campos checked the campaign finance reports of those who opposed Adrian Garcia. He learned that Hector Longoria, one of Adrian Garcia’s opponents, had hired political consultant Spencer Neumann and the graphic arts company.

Campos then reviewed the campaign finance reports of an opponent of Herlinda Garcia. Neumann was there, too.

And so we have a suspect, though of course he denies everything later on in the piece. The evidence against him is suggestive but not conclusive. Perhaps the best we’ll be able to do is to keep an eye on him in the future and hope he gives a stronger clue next time around.

The district attorney’s office investigated and determined that the ads for Citizens for a Better America were prepared by Jamestown Associates. Jamestown Associates and Citizens for a Better America share the same New Jersey address.

But the DA’s investigators determined that no law had been broken because Citizens for a Better America is a nonprofit corporation that can take part in issue advocacy.

Issue advocacy means that voters are not urged to vote for or against a particular candidate or position. The advocate, in this case a nonprofit group that promotes Republican causes, was merely telling voters its thoughts on Adrian Garcia.

Such ads don’t require the same financial disclosure that Texas law requires of direct campaign advocacy, which specifically urges a vote for or against a particular candidate or position.

Assistant District Attorney Don Smyth said Citizens for a Better America did the same thing as Texans for True Mobility did during the fall rail referendum.

That nonprofit group spent more than $1 million on information explaining its belief that light rail cost too much and did too little. The corporation has not disclosed its contributors.

“They are putting out information, not directly asking for a vote,” Smyth said.

This really makes me mad, and I will continue to be mad until something is done about this. I cannot believe for a minute that any sentient being could have looked at those anti-Garcia mailers and concluded that they were anything but a strong advocation to vote against him. If our state laws are too vague or our district attorneys are too candy-assed to address them, then we need a better law. My fear is that there is no law which can adequately balance the needs of public interest and free speech, and as such what we saw here will just be business as usual before you know it.

One last thing:

Neumann says he has been wrongly accused.

“This is a ridiculous and absurd claim,” he said. “I had nothing to do with it. We need to get Marc some work so he can concentrate on business rather than this stuff.”

Neumann may be guilty, and he may be innocent. I don’t know. What I do know is that if our laws were properly written and enforced, we wouldn’t have to speculate – there’d have been a real name and address on those mailers. Wouldn’t that be better?

DA clears TTM

Nearly three months after the election, Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal has finally issued a report which clears Texans for True Mobility of lawbreaking during the runup to the rail referendum.

Texans for True Mobility violated no state campaign laws when it concealed the identity of contributors who underwrote advertisements bashing Metro’s transit expansion plan before the Nov. 4 referendum, Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said Friday.

However, with a civil court lawsuit and a complaint to the Texas Ethics Commission pending against the group, it was unclear whether Rosenthal’s finding clears the way for other groups to enter the political arena with unidentified sources of money.

Voters narrowly approved the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s $7.5 billion regional transportation plan. Its centerpiece calls for constructing 73 more miles of rail by 2025 and issuing $640 million in bonds to help fund the next 22 miles.

Texans for True Mobility’s nonprofit corporation ran advertisements saying the plan “costs too much, does too little.” The group is believed to have spent about $1.5 million.

Rosenthal said his Government Affairs Bureau’s investigation, prompted by a Houston Chronicle complaint, found that the campaign involved educating the public rather than calling specifically for a “no” vote on the referendum.

Only if the corporation had specifically taken a position on the referendum would Texans for True Mobility be subject to the Texas election code requiring political groups to disclose their contributors, Rosenthal said.

The district attorney, a Republican, said the investigation was not affected by the fact that he got political contributions from Texans for True Mobility members for his election campaign in 2000 and his re-election campaign this year.

You all know my position on this. I completely fail to understand how TTM was not advocating defeat of the referendum. Maybe there is no way to “educate” without “advocating”, I don’t know. If so, it seems to me that what we need is consistency in the law, and to me that means full disclosure of donors. I’d be willing to compromise and allow anonymity up to a certain level of donation, say $200 or $500. Anyone who gives five figures to something like this, though, should not be allowed to hide about it. Not that I’ll be holding my breath in anticipation of new laws, mind you.

Meet the new boss

The Bill White Era has officially begun in Houston. He’s got an awful lot on his plate, as you can see from his to-do list. Given the magnitude of his victory, the broad base of his support, and the current City Council lineup, he ought to have a decent honeymoon period, and if he knocks a couple of items off his list quickly, or at least makes good progress on them, he should be in for a good year even if the budget situation looks dire. I don’t know how ugly things might get if he stumbles, and frankly I’d just as soon not find out. I feel pretty confident that I won’t.

Tim Fleck posited that one possible bump in the road is White’s relationship with new City Controller Annise Parker. Personally, I think that if it’s true that both White and Paker also have an eye on their next job – Mayor for Parker and some statewide office for White – then they’re both best served by working together and getting things done. If at the start of 2009, Bill White is set to leave office as beloved as Bob Lanier was, you’d think Parker would want his full endorsement as someone who helped make it all work. If White instead turns out to have the Lee Brown touch, there’ll be plenty of time for Parker to become his archnemesis.

Analysis of the Mayoral race

Via Yellow Dog comes this analysis of the 2003 Houston Mayoral race. I kind of wish now that I’d looked for this earlier, because the cited paper by Richard Murray no longer appears to be posted at the stated URL. Regardless, the long passages quoted have some familiar stuff about the Sanchez and White campaigns, plus something that I hadn’t heard before:

Much of the support Orlando Sanchez received in 2001 election was an anti-Lee Brown vote. In a number of polls done in 2002 and 2003, only about 60% of the respondents who said they had voted for Sanchez in 2001 said they expected to vote for him in 2001.

I had long believed that Sanchez wouldn’t get the same level of Hispanic support that he did in 2001, but this is the first I’ve heard that his support across the board was so shallow. I’d love to know where these polls are that Dr. Murray is talking about. I for one wouldn’t have given in to the conventional-wisdom description of Sanchez as the frontrunner if I’d known this.

One other item for your consideration, for which I’ll try to clean up the formatting:

Estimated Vote Share in Different Voter
Precinct Groupings in 2003

General Election          Runoff

White% Sanchez% Turner%   White% Sanchez%
Racial/Ethnic Anglos     46%      48%      6%      48%      52%
Blacks                   18%       1%     81%      96%       4%
Hispanics                46%      47%      7%      56%      44%
Asians                   70%      25%      5%      72%      28%

No matter how you slice it, that’s what I call broad-based support for Bill White.

UPDATE: Greg found Richard Murray’s full report (PDF). I did come across this link yesterday, but it came up blank on my screen. Oh, well.

Recount resolved

The recount is over in the City Council District G race, and the winner is the same: Pam Holm, now by 24 votes instead of 27 over Jeff Daily.

After Friday’s recount, final but unofficial results had Holm at 18,412 and Daily at 18,388, said David Beirne, spokesman for Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman.

On election night, Daily trailed Holm by 30 votes in the race to replace Bert Keller in the west Houston district. Keller made an unsuccessful bid for an at-large seat.

The margin narrowed to 27 votes last week after ballots mailed by military personnel and civilians overseas were counted.

No recount has ever changed the outcome on an election in Harris County, officials said.

On Friday, county officials re-tallied the Election Day and early votes cast in the District G race using the county’s eSlate electronic voting system. Those votes did not change.

But Daily made up ground among the roughly 4,000 mail-in ballots, which were recounted by hand by representatives of the county, and the Daily and Holm camps.

“The scrutiny always gets very tight when you have anything that falls within the margin of error,” Beirne said. “Our system can withstand the scrutiny. We feel very comfortable with the eSlate system.”

I suppose it should make everyone feel good about the eSlate system that they got the same totals out of it each time. One does expect the same result when one runs the same program twice, after all. I will continue to be skeptical until such time as there’s an alternate way to verify eSlate results in a close contest like this.

Rob Booth, who’s already given an informative analysis of eSlate and the recent report about its potential weaknesses, makes a good point in the comments to my previous post on this subject. He’s talking about a malefactor attempting to tamper with an eSlate memory card:

The tamperer would have to physically access the [eSlates’ Judges Booth Controller] to accomplish this, which makes it an issue of physical security or election judge integrity. These issues were present under the punch card system and will be issues under any voting system.

True, and something to keep in mind. Not every potential security hole is best solved by more technology. Oversight, and knowing the people involved, will always be of paramount importance.

So, unless Jeff Daily takes this to court on the old-fashioned grounds of fraud, we’ve officially survived our first recount involving eSlate machines. Some day, sooner or later, an eSlate card is going to fail, and then we’ll have hell to pay. Here’s Rob again, from his post this time:

Electronic voting is something that several folks have been blogging on and the one thing we all agree on is that there ought to be a paper trail to go back to. The eSlates ought to print out a receipt that can be used in the event of a recount or equipment failure.

If it were up to me, the eSlate machines would simply be the interface used by the public, with paper ballots being collected and counted via optical scanners. Rob’s suggestion of paper strictly as a backup would be acceptable if not preferable to me. However you slice it, operating without any redundancy in the event of a system failure is just begging for trouble.


When you lose by 27 votes out of over 36,000 cast, asking for a recount should be expected.

Houston City Council candidate Jeff Daily, who narrowly lost in a runoff election to Pam Holm, on Wednesday filed an anticipated recount request.

After the Dec. 6 runoff, Daily trailed Holm by 30 votes in the race to replace Bert Keller in west Houston’s District G.

The margin narrowed to 27 votes last week after ballots mailed by military personnel and civilians overseas were counted. According to final but unofficial results, Holm had 18,411 votes and Daily had 18,384.

All right, so how is this going to work?

Daily said he did not question the integrity of the county’s $25 million electronic eSlate voting machines, but that the narrow margin compelled him to make the request. The election was the closest council race since 1999, when Mark Goldberg narrowly beat Maryann Young in a runoff.

David Beirne, a spokesman for County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, said the recount will be done Friday.

County officials will repeat the Election Day vote counting procedure, feeding eSlate memory cards used at District G precincts into a main computer, which then will tally the votes.

Daily said he wants ballots submitted by mail to be reviewed by election officials rather than scanned into a computer.

“I suspect the major part of the correction, if there is correction, will be from that group,” said Daily, a businessman.

So we’ve got the eSlate memory cards, and the (presumably) paper absentee ballots. Daily’s faith in the computer voting machines, coupled with his skepticism of the computer counting machines, especially given the relative maturity of the two technologies, is a little odd to me. Wouldn’t you at least like for the eSlate memory cards to be inserted into a different computer than before, just to see if it gets the same result? Wouldn’t you like something more than Beverly Kaufman’s personal assurances that eSlate glitches Just Can’t Happen? I’m sure I’d want to doublecheck the 95% or so of the votes that those memory cards contain in addition to the so-last-century paper ballots. Wouldn’t you?

What bugs all of us critics of these black box voting systems is that there isn’t a way to doublecheck them. With hardcopy systems, whether punchcard or optical scan or whatever, you could always perform a simple sanity check by taking a handful of ballots, totting up the votes manually, then feeding them into the counting machines to see if they give the same answer. Now you can have some confidence that a subtle error hasn’t crept in somewhere. If all you’re doing during a recount is exactly what was done before, without any way to verify that you’re getting what you should be getting, then what’s the point? You know what answer you’re going to get, but you can’t say with any more certainty that it’s the answer you ought to get.

So go ahead and recount the absentee ballots. Who knows, with such a small margin of victory, even that paltry sample might yield a sufficiently large difference this time to change things. If that does happen, though, maybe Pam Holm will express more doubt about the eSlate totals when she demands her recount.

Guess what? There’s an electronic voting machine controversy!

There may be a recount in the City Council District G election, where Pam Holm won by a 27-vote margin over Jeff Daily. The timing is perfect, coming on the heels of yet another report that electronic voting machines, including the eSlate machines used in Harris County, have security flaws.

The analysis, conducted for the Ohio secretary of state, of Hart InterCivic and three other vendors’ systems found 57 potential security problems. Hart InterCivic, Harris County’s eSlate vendor, had 10 potential risk areas, including four rated as high.

“We believe because of weaknesses we found in all of these systems, the vendors need to go back and take care of the weaknesses,” said Glenn Newkirk, president of InfoSentry, one of two firms hired to conduct the review.


Researchers from InfoSentry, of Raleigh, N.C., and Detroit-based Compuware Corp. reviewed Hart InterCivic, Diebold Election Systems, Election Systems and Software and Sequoia Voting Systems. The six-week review was prompted after security concerns were raised in Ohio and elsewhere.

The review found, among other things, the potential for an unauthorized person to gain access to eSlate’s supervisory controls and shut down the polls early. A password is required to shut down the system here. Hart InterCivic contends that if the system were shut down, voting data would not be lost.

The report also notes that eSlate lacks encryption to protect voting data, and Hart InterCivic is now considering the change.

Another risk identified in the report is that the connection between the system’s units can be accessed by voters and disconnected. More security would alleviate the risk, the report states.

Results in which security breaches failed include: an unsuccessful attempt to access the system from an external source, failure to load a program through external sources and failure to upload results twice.

“Compuware has identified several significant security issues,” the report states of the eSlate system, “which left unmitigated would provide an opportunity for an attacker to disrupt the election process or throw the election results into question.”

The fact that the testers were unable to fully hijack the eSlate system is a point in its favor, but when I read things like “lack of encryption”, I have to wonder what Hart InterCivic was thinking when they designed the system. All we’ve really got here is assurances from the vendor and the County Clerk that we shouldn’t worry our pretty little heads over all of this, and they both have strong incentives to take a sunny view of things. Whether it happens in this recount or not, I believe it’s just a matter of time before we get bitten on the ass. When we do, I hope everyone remembers what the responsible parties have been saying all along.

UPDATE: Rob actually read the report, and has some good thoughts on the subject. Check it out.

Meet the missus

The Chron has a nice profile of incoming First Lady Andrea White, who comes across as a down-to-earth type who’ll be more visible than Frances Brown but less, um, colorful than Elyse Lanier. I had the opportunity to meet her during the course of the campaign, and I think she’ll be someone that folks here generally like. Here’s one reason why:

She was humbled by the campaigning experience — sometimes overwhelmed, often tired.

“In January, if you would have told me I would be campaigning in beauty parlors, I wouldn’t have believed you,” she said. “I now feel perfectly comfortable handing out fliers to women with curlers in their hair.”

White has shared personal thoughts like this in handwritten thank-you notes to her husband’s campaign contributors. With the help of her mother and mother-in-law, she has written 3,000 and counting.

The letters have won her fans.

I donated twice to the White campaign early on, and each time received such a note, once from Andrea White and once from her sister. I thought that was a very classy touch.

Why last-minute attacks are done at the last minute

Received in the mail today: A postcard from the Adrian Garcia campaign which said “We’re tired of late attacks” on one side and which had a message from Houston Police Officers’ Union President Hans Martuciuc on the other defending Garcia’s police record. Fortunately for Garcia and his supporters, this is now just something to chuckle about.

Why White won

John Williams has a good analysis of Bill White’s mayoral victory, which he attributes to good planning, hard work, and of course, money. Williams correctly notes that the latter is an ingredient to success but by no means a guarantee:

But the political graveyards are filled with wealthy candidates who squandered millions in losing causes. Look no further than Democrat Tony Sanchez and the more than $60 million he gave to his defeat in last year’s gubernatorial race.

Don’t forget Tom Reiser, Phil Sudan and Peter Wareing — former congressional candidates who spent millions on a total of five losing races in recent years.

Rob Booth made the same observation with some different examples last week. I certainly agree with the analysis, but I don’t think it goes far enough to answer the question “Why do some guys with tons of money win office while others become the butt of jokes?” Williams gets part of it – White had a great plan which he executed nearly flawlessly, and he worked hard to get people’s votes, but there’s one fact that can’t be overlooked: White was running under very favorable conditions for someone like him.

Think about it. No incumbent, relatively weak opposition (though admittedly no one thought so in January), and a compatible political climate. Compare this to the Tony Sanchez campaign, where Sanchez was taking on a Republican incumbent in a Republican landscape. Rick Perry wasn’t hugely popular, but he wasn’t burdened with a lot of baggage, either. Same sort of thing for Tom Reiser in his attempts to oust Ken Bentsen, while Sudan was running in the same turf against a fairly well-known opponent and experienced politician in Chris Bell. Only Wareing was running for an open seat in friendly territory, but he still had a strong and experienced opponent in John Culberson.

Where White used his money to best effect, I think, was not just in getting his name out to people, but also communicating a clear and compelling reason for why he wanted to be mayor (another big failing of the Tony Sanchez campaign, by the way). When you saw a White ad, you heard him talk about transportation and city services and how he planned to make them better. Agree or disagree, you knew where he stood and what was important to him. I never got that feel from Turner or Sanchez, though I admit that’s partly because White’s message was loud enough to drown everyone else out. Oddly, I felt Michael Berry, the other candidate who jumped in early before dropping out, had the same kind of vision and mission. If he’d started with Sanchez’s level of funding, he could have been dangerous.

Looking forward, White ought to have a reasonably favorable Council to work with. That’s great and bodes very well, but it also means that there will be high expectations from the start. You get 62% of the vote and this kind of let’s-be-friends talk from the Council, you better get stuff done. Greg has some before-and-after thoughts here and here.

Finally, there’s this item from George Strong, in which he notes a last-second attempt by the GOP to smear White by insinuating he’s got his eyes on a statewide office. As Greg noted above, that wouldn’t be a surprise, but my reaction to the charge is “So what?” If White is looking towards Austin, he’d be running in 2006 at the earliest, which would be after he’d completed a full term as mayor. Given the quick turnaround between the November election and the December primary filing season, he’d either have to decline to run for reelection or announce his candidacy for something else almost immediately after winning a second term. Both of these seem extremely unlikely to me. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on White serving three terms in City Hall, then making a statewide run in 2010, when he’ll still be only 56. How he might do then will depend in great part on how he does now.

UPDATE: The Chron and Editorial Board member James Campbell offer their congratulations and advice to Bill White.

White wins big

Wow. Even George Strong’s projection was pessimistic. Annise Parker won by as big a margin, too, and Ron Green knocked off Bert Keller. Only Peter Brown’s close loss kept this from being a clean sweep. Today was a good day.

UPDATE: It’s no longer timely, but Christine has captured and posted a screenshot from a Sanchez campaign commercial in which Orlando appears to be glowing. It’s pretty amusing.

Runoff today

The 2003 election season comes to a close today. Look on the bright side: even if your candidates lose, at least you won’t be getting any more campaign mailers (six for me yesterday) or phone calls (three yesterday, two recorded and one live). Well, at least not until the primaries in March. Whatever, get out there and vote!

White with big lead

The latest poll gives Bill White a failry comfortable lead going into tomorrow’s runoff election.

White narrowly led Sanchez in the Nov. 4 voting, 38 percent to 33 percent. Going into the runoff, White has a 53 percent to 35 percent lead, the poll shows, with 12 percent undecided.


The story of the 2003 campaign is White’s ability to bring together various factions of the city, said Rice University political scientist Bob Stein, who conducted the poll with [University of Houston pollster and political scientist Richard] Murray.

He splits the white vote with Sanchez, the poll shows, and gets 75 percent of the black vote compared with 6 percent for Sanchez.

Sanchez has support from 55 percent of Hispanic poll respondents and 71 percent of Republicans.

But in 2001, Sanchez drew 72 percent of the Hispanic vote and more than 90 percent of the Republican vote when he lost to Lee Brown with 48 percent of the total vote.

“What this means is that if he wins, as he should, Bill White will have support from all groups, which should minimize attacks at the council table,” Stein said. “This should help him govern.”

Murray said that White’s support among African-Americans swings the race strongly to his favor. Of those who voted for Turner Nov. 4, 76 percent now say they support White, compared with 4 percent for Sanchez.

These numbers jibe pretty well with an earlier Survey USA poll, which gave White a 58-40 lead (I’m guessing that “undecided” was not an option in the SUSA poll). Different totals, but same 18-point spread.

As for the other races:

City Councilwoman Annise Parker has a big lead over Councilman Bruce Tatro for city controller.

Too close to call are runoffs for two at-large City Council seats — between architect Peter Brown and incumbent Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs and between lawyer Ronald Green and district Councilman Bert Keller.


In the controller race, Parker, who is term-limited in her at-large council seat, has a 46 percent to 26 percent lead over Tatro, a term-limited district council member from northwest Houston.

The winner will replace Judy Gray Johnson, appointed by the City Council to fill the unexpired term of Sylvia Garcia when Garcia was elected a Harris County commissioner. Gray did not seek election to the office, which oversees city finances.

Parker leads among all ethnic groups, Democrats and independents. She picked up most of those who supported four other candidates she and Tatro eliminated Nov. 4.

Tatro holds a 2-1 lead among Republicans.

In the race for City Council At-large Position 3, Sekula-Gibbs has 32 percent and Peter Brown 31 percent, a statistical tie since the poll’s margin of error is 4.2 percentage points.

Sekula-Gibbs drew strong Hispanic support when she won the seat in 2001 under the name Sekula-Rodriguez, using the name of her late husband, television anchor Sylvan Rodriguez. She has since remarried. This year, she trails Brown among Hispanics, 36 percent to 29 percent.

Brown has substantial support among Democrats and blacks after getting the endorsement of Jolanda Jones, a black lawyer eliminated from the race Nov. 4. Sekula-Gibbs leads among whites and Republicans.

The race for At-large Position 4 also is statistically tied, at 31 percent for Green and 28 percent for Keller, who is completing his second term as councilman in west Houston District G.

Position 4 became open when Councilman Michael Berry shifted to At-large Position 5 after dropping out of the mayor’s race at the filing deadline. Berry, in his first term, ran for Position 5 because he had promised Keller he would vacate Position 4.

Keller, a Republican, drew harsh criticism from Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt and other Republicans when he broke ranks to oppose a proposed city property tax rollback earlier this year. According to the poll, he has support from 47 percent of Republicans compared to 16 percent for Green.

Green leads among blacks and Democrats. The two have about the same support from Hispanics.

A couple of bullet points:

– I know I’m not the only person to speculate that Shelley Sekula Walker Bush Joyner Kersee Cougar Mellencamp Rodriguez Gibbs’ name change might adversely affect her reelection chances, especially among Hispanics, but I’m glad to see that there’s truth to it.

– Good turnout from black voters would help all of the Democratic candidates. Ron Green and Bill White are the movers here.

– Man, Bert Keller really screwed himself with that tax vote. Forty-seven percent support among Republicans? He’s smelling like toast to me.

Other items of interest: As noted yesterday, Diana Davila Martinez picked up endorsements from Gabe Vasquez, and Hector Longoria. You can add Vasquez’ predecessor on City Council Felix Fraga, plus other non-runoff candidates Gonzalo Camacho and Joe Carlson. Richard Cantu endorsed Adrian Garcia. I was going to say that the Longoria and Vasquez endorsements might be a mixed blessing to Davila Martinez, but anyone who can get both Vasquez and Fraga to endorse them must be doing something right, given how vocally Fraga opposed Vasquez’ candidacy in 1999.

Finally, the mud is being slung in District F. Greg has some commentary and visuals here and here.

District H update

I guess things were a little too quiet in the City Council District H runoff.

City Council candidate Adrian Garcia was disciplined for misplacing drug evidence, causing two accidents and missing work in his early days as a Houston police officer.

Diana Davila Martinez, who faces Garcia in a Saturday runoff for the District H council seat, said the incidents “demonstrate a pattern of very irresponsible behavior.” Her campaign distributed the public records of sustained police internal affairs complaints involving Garcia.

“All of these sustained allegations are very serious, and Mr. Garcia cannot simply dismiss them as having occurred early in his career,” Davila Martinez said. “They are part of his record. They represent him as an individual.”

Garcia, who is now director of the city’s Anti-Gang Task Force, said he regrets his mistakes but has served 17 unblemished years since the last allegation.

“I’ve had some bumps in the road, but I’ve tried to learn from those,” Garcia said, adding that he has served under several police chiefs who are “strong disciplinarians” and would not have put him in charge of the Anti-Gang Task Force if there were a question about his integrity.

Garcia joined the Houston Police Department in 1980 and has never scored highly enough on promotion exams to achieve a rank above patrol officer. He has five sustained allegations against him on his police record, including a “criminal activity” charge in 1986 for misplacing a bag of marijuana that was supposed to be submitted to the crime lab for destruction. The marijuana was found a month later.

“It was just a series of errors and miscommunication and time off … that resulted in the evidence not being placed in the proper room at the proper time,” Garcia said.

Garcia also missed a day of work in 1981 because, he said, he was mistaken about his schedule. He was suspended for one day without pay as punishment.

He was in two car accidents while on duty, one in 1981 when he tried to make an illegal U-turn while responding to a call and collided with a bus. Garcia’s partner, Richard J. Guerrero, was hospitalized with injuries including a fractured left leg and a fractured right ankle. That earned Garcia a five-day suspension.

In 1985, Garcia said, he rear-ended a motorist he was pulling over, and in 1984 he was reprimanded for discharging his weapon, which he said happened when he slipped and fell. No one was injured.

First of all, unlike the earlier shenanigans, I’m not upset about Diana Davila Martinez attacking Adrian Garcia’s record in this fashion. She didn’t hide behind any anonymous mailers or outside agitators, she made the charges herself and thus accepted the risk that people may turn on her if they deem her accusations to be without merit. No problem here.

As for the charges themselves, well, the numbers are non-negligible, but there’s nothing of substance since 1986. Garcia has chosen a variation on the “young and foolish” defense, and given the long clean spell in his record it may well suffice.

I find the timing of this charge, like the timing of Orlando Sanchez’s bogus terrorism claim about Bill White, to be interesting. As in the case with White, the information being released is not exactly new. I can understand not wanting to fire such a weapon in the beginning of a campaign, but why wait until early voting is over? Why let 20% or so of the voters cast their ballots before you take your shot? I’m just wondering here. Maybe the fear that it would get forgotten over the Thanksgiving holiday affected the decision. I don’t have a judgment to make about it from a tactical perspective, I’m just wondering what the decisionmaking process was.

UPDATE: According to my neighborhood bulletin board, Diana Davila Martinez has received the endorsements of Hector Longoria (!) and Gabe Vasquez. The mailer she sent which includes the above information about Adrian Garcia’s record with the police force drew a mostly negative reaction on the board as well.

The sweet smell of desperation

Orlando Sanchez may not have scraped the bottom of the barrel yet, but he’s within reach.

Mayoral candidate Orlando Sanchez went on the attack Monday, attempting to link the owner of the company for which opponent Bill White works to international terrorism.


Sanchez started the day with a news conference demanding that White answer questions about why Wedge Group owner Issam Fares defended Hezbollah after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“If he were seeking his old job (as deputy secretary of the U.S. Energy Department), Mr. White’s relationships with a foreign leader and terrorist supporter would likely disqualify him from getting a security clearance,” Sanchez said.

White labeled the allegations “wild and irresponsible.”

“If we drive out international investors with scare tactics and exaggerations, it will hurt our city,” he said.

Sanchez said that White has “tried to dodge the issue by saying that some Republican leaders gave speeches where Mr. Fares was in the room.” Sanchez contended that those speeches occurred “prior to September 11, 2001, and before Mr. Fares made his shocking pro-Hezbollah statements.”

“Desperate” is the only word I can think of that adequately describes this tactic of a Last Minute Shocking Revelation of something that’s been known since White entered the race in February. If this really does demonstrate ties to terrorism, then a few other people have some ‘splaining to do:

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.

And from the Chron article:

White’s campaign distributed a videotape of a speech last February in which former President Bush lauded Fares, deputy prime minister of Lebanon, during the annual Issam Fares lecture at Tufts University. Bush made the inaugural lecture of the series in 1994.

“With Issam Fares here I feel blessed by being with a very good close friend and, Issam, thank you for your role in all of this,” Bush said in his February speech.

Bush and wife, Barbara, who live in Houston, endorsed Sanchez in his 2001 mayoral runoff loss to Mayor Lee Brown. They have stayed out of the 2003 race.

Jean Becker, chief of staff to Bush, said Monday that the former president has known Fares for many years and has no reason to believe he is involved with terrorists. Bush is disappointed that this would become an issue during the final days of the mayoral race, Becker said.

Perhaps this is why the Bush family hasn’t backed Sanchez this year. Perhaps this is Orlando’s revenge on them for not backing him. It’s not nice to accuse people who might appoint you to a consolation-prize job of terrorist ties, Orlando.

Early voting ends today, and the election is Saturday. Get out there and vote!

Runoff rundown

Both Mayoral candidates got front page coverage in yesterday’s Chronicle as the runoff campaign enters its final week. (Aside: Early voting ends tomorrow, so get out there and vote while you still can!) The side-to-side articles were in the “contrast what the candidate says about himself to what others say” style, and as noted before with the Houston Press profile of Bill White, no one had anything negative to say about the frontrunner.

Compare, from the Sanchez overview:

“As a council member, he was definitely above average,” said Rob Todd, who served with him on council from 1996 to 2001 and is supporting Sanchez’s opponent, Bill White. “But the average council member is not qualified to be mayor.” (ed. note: Todd is a Republican)


“I just can’t think of anything that I can specifically point to in terms of an ordinance or a policy item that he really championed,” said County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, a Democrat who served as city controller for four of Sanchez’s years on council and who is supporting White.


Former Councilman Joe Roach, a Republican who served with Sanchez on council and is endorsing White, blasted Sanchez as being “unable to even articulate the city’s bond rating.”

Now look at the White profile. Though the story mentions the failed Frontera deal and the pending lawsuit against Chicago Bridge & Iron, the only negative comments about White come from Orlando Sanchez. Make of that what you will.

One more thing, from the Sanchez article:

“It’s very difficult to be an effective member of City Council when we have such a strong mayor system,” said [Former Harris County Republican Party Chairman Gary] Polland, who served as the head of the GOP during Sanchez’s council tenure. “If you’re not in bed with the mayor, it’s very difficult to get anything done.”

Councilman Mark Ellis, a Sanchez supporter who led the push for the 2000 tax cut, explained that Sanchez could not take the principal role because of a personality clash with then-Councilman Chris Bell — now a Democratic U.S. representative — who provided the swing vote in the 8-7 rollback decision.

“We had to get Democrats’ votes,” Ellis said. “I was the guy who could go and articulate the position to Chris Bell.”

Translation: We’re not so good at working with the other team. Maybe if they had Larry Craig on City Council, they could get stuff done.

Meanwhile, John Williams lays out Sanchez’ last hope, a get-out-the-vote drive to counter White’s continued saturation of the airwaves. I’m pretty sure White has that end of it covered, too, but what else are you gonna do? Two items of interest here. First, Williams says that “Sanchez trails by as many as 18 points in one recent opinion poll”. Much as I enjoy reading things like that, I have to ask: What opinion poll? When was it conducted? What are the actual numbers? I like inside baseball stuff as much as the next guy, but let’s not go overboard here.

Second, the obligatory mention of Sanchez’s most prominent feature:

Don’t expect to see Orlando Sanchez’s deep-blue eyes gazing from your television screen this week outside of newscasts and debates.

Whether they’re piercing blue, steel blue, or just plain deep blue, it’s against federal law to write a profile of Orlando Sanchez without fawning about his eyeballs. It’s a good thing the election is nearly over, I think the Chron’s writers were about to start recycling adjectives here.

UPDATE: Greg furnishes the poll data that Williams alluded to. All I’m saying is would it have killed Williams to say “Sanchez trails by as many as 18 points in a recent opinion poll commissioned by KHOU” instead of “Sanchez trails by as many as 18 points in one recent opinion poll”?

Turner endorses everybody and nobody

Who needs to endorse a candidate when you can get both of them to agree to a set of ideals as Sylvester Turner did?

Standing with U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Rep. Al Edwards at the Four Seasons Hotel, Turner had [Orlando Sanchez and Bill White] sign the 15-point covenant he said represents issues he campaigned for.

Sanchez and White are battling for African-American voters, who gave about 80 percent of their support to Turner when he finished third in the Nov. 4 voting.

Jackson Lee said it is important for the two candidates to sign the covenant because this is the first strongly contested mayoral election since 1989 without a black finalist.

That’s a pretty slick maneuver by Turner, especially since I’m not sure he had that much influence to peddle for the runoff. White has already gotten a number of key endorsements from various black officials (including one from Rep. Garnet Coleman from before the November ballot), and it’s a little hard to imagine anyone successfully convincing black voters to push the button for Sanchez. There’s also this to consider:

White said during the covenant signing that Sanchez has not always supported some of its elements. Afterward, the White campaign distributed a copy of a Harris County Republican Party questionnaire to support his claim.

In the GOP questionnaire, Sanchez said he would support “a policy of nondiscrimination in which everyone is equally treated as opposed to affirmative action policies that create special classes of citizens who are entitled to special treatment.”

In the “Community Covenant,” Sanchez agrees to “put forth a good-faith effort to see that diversity is reflected in city contracting and city affairs with an emphasis on those minority businesses which are locally owned and operated and are new and emerging businesses.”

Sanchez claims that support for both statements is not contradictory, but I’m willing to bet there aren’t a lot of proponents of either one who’d agree with that. Ultimately, I don’t think this covenant will make much difference one way or another.

So many keys, so little time

Tim Fleck has already covered the story of Hispanic voters abandoning Orlando Sanchez in favor of Bill White, and now today John Williams picks up the ball in a story entitled “Hispanic vote key to mayoral runoff victory”.

Exit polling and other analysis of the Nov. 4 vote shows that White and Sanchez each got just under half the Hispanic votes. State Rep. Sylvester Turner, who finished third, got less than 4 percent.

That is a stark contrast with 2001, when Sanchez got almost three of every four Hispanic voters in his narrow runoff loss to Mayor Lee Brown. That year, Sanchez benefited from excitement among Hispanics who thought Sanchez might be the city’s first Latino mayor.

Two years later, the largest ethnic group in Houston, making up 37 percent of the city’s population, is up for grabs.


Several phenomena contributed to the slump in Sanchez’s Hispanic support since 2001.

First, term-limited Brown is not in the 2003 race. Two years ago, the city’s first black mayor did little campaigning inside the Hispanic community. That left a huge void that Sanchez was able to fill.

White has been more aggressive.

“It’s hard to keep up with White’s money,” said former City Councilman John Castillo, who does Hispanic outreach for Sanchez. “He has created an image that he is a great businessman who can solve the problems Lee Brown created. It’s hard to keep up with that.

“I think what has happened is that Hispanic voting was depressed.”

Sanchez also has had run-ins with Hispanic media on a couple of occasions.

In October, El Día, a Spanish-language daily newspaper, reported that Sanchez supported driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. He later told other media he was misquoted.

Last week, Sanchez clarified his comments in El Día, telling the newspaper the issue of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants needs special examination and that he is looking for alternatives.

His campaign also banned a reporter with Channel 45, a Spanish-language television station, for asking questions about an Election Day flier that invited illegal immigrants to work for the Sanchez campaign.

The campaign has denied soliciting illegal workers, and dismissed the matter as a political dirty trick intended to embarrass Sanchez.

“He’s being treated a little bit more critically by Spanish-speaking media,” [University of Houston professor Tatcho] Mindiola said. “It’s not the same as two years ago.”

Meanwhile, George Strong crunches some numbers and predicts an easy win for White. There’s something that jumps out at me in looking at Strong’s numbers. Here are Strong’s projections:

Assumption: 270,000 voters in the runoff election on December, 6, 2003. 20% are African-American, 12% are Hispanics and of the 68% of the voters are Anglos, and a third of those Anglo voters are Democrats, Gays, Labor, etc.

African Americans: With Sylvester Turner out of the Mayor’s race, but with Ronald Green in a runoff for an At-Large seat we should see a good turnout but fewer African-Americans voting. At total of 54000 votes of which Bill White will get 90% of that vote or 48600 votes and Sanchez the remainder or 5400 votes

Hispanics: A Total of 32400 votes. I believe that Sanchez will get only about 40% of this vote 12960. Bill White would get 60% or 19440 votes

Anglos: A total of 183,600 votes. Bill White should about split this vote with Orlando Sanchez with each getting 50% of the Anglo vote or 91800 votes for White and 91800 votes for Sanchez.

In this scenario Bill White would win big time with 159,840 votes (59%) to Sanchez’s 110,160 (41%) votes

Strong’s assumption that the proportion of Hispanic voters will be 12% is consistent with the 13% proportion that they were in the general election, as the Williams article notes. If so, and if you accept Strong’s projection about black voters, then Sanchez could get every single Hispanic vote on December 6 and still lose by a 140,000 to 130,000 margin, or 52-48%. Seems to me that the key constituency is going to be white voters, and as long as Bill White can be more or less even with Sanchez there, he will indeed coast. In fact, again if you acecpt Strong’s numbers about black and Hispanic voters, Sanchez needs to win over 63% of the white vote to make up the difference there. Given that black voters will be staking White to such a huge lead, maybe they’re the key constituency.

I’m joking a little, but a search through the Chron archives shows that in the 2001 runoff, Sanchez got 72% of the Hispanic vote on a historically high 18% turnout. That almost carried him to victory, and it’s the reason he was the anointed frontrunner in this race from the beginning. The fact that he’s projected to not even get a majority of their votes in the runoff is a big deal, even if the practical effect winds up being nil.

Anyway, I think Sanchez needs to turn out Republican voters, which is presumably why his first public statement of the runoff campaign was basically “Read my lips: No new streams of revenues”. I don’t think he can get enough of them to make the difference, though.

Break’s over

After a week off, Bill White and Orlando Sanchez are back on the campaign trail. There was the usual carping between camps, but the real news is here:

White, meanwhile, worked on making inroads with Houston’s African-American population, which gave more than 80 percent of its support to mayoral candidate Sylvester Turner. Turner, a black state representative, placed third in the nine-candidate field Nov. 4.

White, an Anglo, announced endorsements by several prominent black elected officials — including Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee, state Sen. Rodney Ellis and Fort Bend County Constable Ruben Jones, who plays an important role getting African-Americans to the polls in the Missouri City area.

During a news conference Thursday at Mickey Leland Memorial Park, White said he and wife Andrea White were with Leland the night before the congressman left on a 1989 trip to Africa, where he died in a plane crash.

“Bill White is no stranger to our community,” Lee said. “Before he was old enough to register himself, Bill worked in the civil rights movement of the ’60s registering minority voters.

“He supports affirmative action in its truest spirit to provide opportunity for those who have been historically denied such opportunities.”

Depending on your perspective, you can thank or blame Ruben Jones for Lee Brown’s victory over Sanchez in the 2001 runoff. His get-out-the-vote operation was the difference. These endorsements make it almost academic whether or not Sylvester Turner now officially supports Bill White.

White did pretty well in the general election in predominantly Hispanic precincts as well. Check out these numbers from Tim Fleck.

Whereas Sanchez had carried a majority of Hispanic voters in his losing 2001 runoff against Lee Brown, an Insider survey of eight key precincts in last week’s election showed a dramatic reversal.

In Magnolia Park’s Box 11, Sanchez had beaten Brown by 294 to 183, a 63 percent majority. Last week Bill White took the same precinct 279 to 160, a 58 percent majority for the leader. Likewise, in Denver Harbor’s Precinct 560, a Sanchez majority of 77 percent over Brown was reversed with White receiving 127 votes to 103 for Sanchez. Sanchez carried only two of the key precincts surveyed.

“The Hispanic community figured out that Orlando is a Republican,” analyzes [consultant Craig] Varoga.

“I think the Republican outreach effort to Hispanics has a lot of explaining to do,” agrees Marc Campos, who worked for Sylvester Turner’s mayoral campaign.

I said before that I didn’t think Sanchez would get the same level of Hispanic support that he did in 2001, and I’m glad to see that I was right.

The most shocking thing I’ve read in a political story this week:

As we went to press some big-bucks Sanchez supporters were reportedly chewing over the idea that their candidate might be better off dropping out of the runoff in a unity gesture. If that happened, Orlando would in defeat have made Houston political history.

Obviously, Sanchez has not dropped out, but just the mention of such a thing is incredible. If he winds up getting pasted in the runoff (say, 60-40 or worse), maybe he should have gotten while the getting was good.

One for two

The sleazy anti-Adrian Garcia mailer that went out in the days before the election did not have their intended effect, as Garcia was the leading vote getter and the candidate that everyone believes was behind the mailer failed to make the runoff. However, Garcia was not the only candidate was was on the receiving end of this attack, and in this case the target wasn’t as lucky.

Houston Community College System trustee runoff candidates Herlinda Garcia and Diane Olmos Guzman on Thursday picked up their campaigns where they’d left them before Tuesday’s election: bickering and vowing to rise above the fray.

Garcia, who received 41 percent of the vote, attributed the runoff to a last-minute mailing of mysterious origin that attacked her for failing to pay taxes and micromanaging the system. It was paid for by a group called Citizens for a Better America.

“Diane bears responsibility because her operatives started circulating the charges long ago,” said Garcia, the incumbent. “It may be some other entity that wanted to force the runoff, but they wouldn’t have had these charges if Diane hadn’t brought them up in the first place.”

Olmos Guzman, who received 39 percent of the vote, said she had nothing to do with the mailing and has no idea who was behind it.

Garcia and Olmos Guzman will go up against each other for the HCCS District 3 trustee job in the Dec. 6 runoff. They outpolled third candidate Jose De La Isla, who received 20 percent of the vote.

As you know but Todd Ackerman apparently doesn’t, the individual or group that was behind this mailer is not the real CFABA, which still has its Open Letter to the people of Houston up on its website. I will try to contact Ackerman to let him know there’s more to this story than he reported. I’m also hoping Tim Fleck will eventually uncover something. We shall see.

Off and running

And so now the candidates who couldn’t quite clear the 50% pole are gearing up for the runoff. Bill White and Orlando Sanchez are all about the money right now.

White, CEO of the Wedge Group, an investment consortium, indicated he will spend whatever it takes in his bid to succeed term-limited Mayor Lee Brown.

So confident was White of making the runoff that he mailed a fund-raising letter on Election Day to supporters who got it Wednesday. Polling in the days before the election showed him leading the race.

White did not say how much more he expects to spend from his own pocket.

“I don’t know how much it will be,” White said. “But I do know that we will have more volunteers and small donations than Mr. Sanchez.”

I got one of those letters yesterday. I confess, it didn’t occur to me at the time that it must’ve been mailed before Election Day. That’s certainly a lot of confidence, but it was also certainly warranted.

To counter White’s ability to dip into his own pocket, Sanchez said he intends to focus on his anti-tax message, which includes streamlining City Hall.

He expects to get considerable support from the Harris County Republican Party, which spent several hundred thousand dollars in the general election attacking White, the former chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, as a liberal Democrat.

During that campaign, Sanchez sometimes downplayed his support from Republicans, boasting of support from Gov. Rick Perry and other Texas GOP leaders in directed mail-outs to Republican voters but not to Democrats.

White, similarly, emphasized his Democratic background before grass-roots Democrats, while focusing on other issues in other appearances.

Last week, Perry visited Houston to help with a fund-raiser for Sanchez. But they did not conduct the joint news conference that typically accompanies such visits just before an election.

Sanchez said he has not heard from national Republican leaders about whether they will help fund his runoff campaign.

Though Sanchez did finally get President Bush to make a recorded phone call just before Tuesday, he’s apparently been out of luck with the national party, and it isn’t likely to get better.

[A]n emergency trip to Washington last month to appeal for Republican National Committee cash netted him nothing in the way of immediate relief, according to GOP sources.


According to a GOP source, Sanchez’s financial prospects will not improve in a runoff, particularly against White.

“The RNC made no promises to Orlando when he asked for a million, and they also said, ‘If it’s White [in the runoff], forget it.’ The cavalry has not come, and from what I was hearing, the cavalry ain’t coming.”

Meanwhile, Sylvester Turner is still smarting from his second loss. I sympathize with his complaint that people associated him with Lee Brown, but I also think Turner needs to realize that he just never really excited the Democratic base, which fairly or unfairly can be pinned on his role as speaker pro tem in the state House. One may say that having a Democrat like Turner on Tom Craddick’s leadership team is a good and necessary thing, but I’d like someone to point out to me some instances of Turner’s presence making Republican-sponsored legislation more palatable, or giving a needed boost to Democratic-sponsored legislation, before I’d be inclined to agree with that.

As for Turner endorsing someone, I think he’ll either endorse White or he’ll endorse no one. Endorsing Sanchez would make him as popular with his Democratic colleagues in the Lege as Ron Wilson is. It’s not out of the question, but it would sure look spiteful. Turner and Sanchez didn’t agree on a whole lot of issues as well, so it would be hard to take such an endorsement seriously. You just never know, though.

Elsewhere, Annise Parker and Bruce Tatro are ready to go at it. Tatro thinks he’s in good shape, and maybe he is.

At first blush, it may appear that Tatro has the more difficult task. Parker, who won 42 percent of the vote Tuesday, outpolled him by more than 2 to 1.

But Tatro points out that the runoff is a new race and that he has until the Dec. 6 runoff to catch Parker.

“Without rail and Sylvester (mayoral candidate Sylvester Turner) on the ballot, those dynamics work in my favor,” he said. “I’m optimistic.”

Perhaps, but there’s still the matter of the mayoral runoff, which if it goes as polls suggest will skew turnout at least somewhat in Parker’s favor. Strictly speaking, if Parker can pick up fellow Democrat Mark Lee’s support, she ought to be in great shape.

There’s another factor that can work in Parker’s favor, and it’s in the City Council runoff races, in particular the one between Bert Keller and Ronald Green.

With Michael Berry winning the historically black Position 5, the contest between Keller and Green is considered key.

Berry, who jettisoned his mayoral bid shortly before the filing deadline, said he had promised Keller, another white Republican, that he would not run against him. Instead, he ran for the Position 5 seat now held by term-limited Carroll Robinson.

The seat had been held by blacks since Judson Robinson Jr. became the city’s first black councilman in 1971.

“I’m not going to say, and never have said, that this is a black seat, but I know this is a sensitive issue from a community perspective,” said Dwight Boykins, who trailed Berry with 25.1 percent of the vote after a campaign season rife with racial overtones.

Boykins is director of governmental affairs and community relations for Texas Southern University.

Keller was upbeat Wednesday, saying he has run a positive campaign and will not change.

“This whole conspiracy stuff about some people wanting to keep blacks out of City Hall is just confusing people,” he said. “Obviously, there’s no conspiracy or a lot of the right-wing members of the Republican Party would not have opposed me.

“Now that some of that is all over, you have a two-candidate race and everybody will completely focus on the merits and the issues. I’m running on efficiency.”

As I understand it, someone at right-wing talk radio station KSEV endorsed Green because he was mad at Keller for his vote against a property tax rollback (see this Press article for some background). I have no idea how this will play out over the next four weeks, but it does have some potential for unintentional comedy.

The other races

If they mayoral runoff leaves you cold, there will be other races to settle in December as well. The Comptroller’s race is down to Annise Parker versus Bruce Tatro. Parker had 42%, Tatro 21%, and three other candidates had between 10 and 15% each. Two items of interest: One, even though this article has a 1:57 AM time stamp and the one on the Mayor’s race is from 6:51 AM, this one specifically names December 6 for the runoff, while the more recent article says nothing. Make of that what you will.

Two is about the candidate who came in fourth and was running fifth early on.

[Gabriel] Vasquez, who changed his political affiliation to the Republican Party earlier this year, is still trying to establish his conservative credentials. He has been threatened with censure by the local GOP, however, after he voted in October against a tax cut the party supported.

Vasquez, who has served two terms on City Council and could have run again under city term limits, risked his virtually guaranteed district council position to run for controller.

Although Vasquez said he had no intention of running for higher office, Tatro contended that it was “no small secret” that Vasquez was running for Congress and was using the controller campaign to test his viability as a Republican candidate.

I’ve heard the same rumors about Vasquez. Under either of the Congressional maps, he currently lives in Sheila Jackson Lee’s district, and he has about as much chance of beating her in a race as I do. Before the new lines were drawn I thought he might try his luck against Chris Bell, but the talk I’ve heard says he wants to go against Gene Green, whose district is heavily Hispanic. I wouldn’t give him good odds there, either, but at least it would be nonzero. He still has to move in either case. If I were his campaign advisor, I’d tell him to take a look at At Large #1 or #4, either or both of which will be open in 2005. He can only serve one more term in Council, but another citywide run will surely give him some of the extra exposure he’ll need for a future Congressional race.

Speaking of the At Large races, there appear to be two more runoffs. Unfortunately, the article has very little hard data, so we go instead to the County Clerk and scroll to Page Four, where we see that Mark Ellis, Gordon Quan, and (sigh) Boy Wonder Berry have won, while Shelley Sekula Rodriguez Joyner Kersee Cougar Mellencamp Gibbs and Bert “Love Potion #9” Keller have to do it again, against Peter Brown and Ronald Green, respectively.

Finally, there will be more runoffs in the Council district races. The one I care about most is District H, where for once there will be an election where I can’t possibly lose as Hector Longoria failed to make the cut, leaving Adrian Garcia and Diana Davila Martinez to face off. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that whoever spent all that money mailing out hit pieces against Garcia (and I got another one on Monday) spent it in vain.

It’s White versus Sanchez

Bill White led the pack, but as expected there will be a runoff, with White facing Orlando Sanchez. Sylvester Turner finished third, which has to be a tough blow for him.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, White had 38 percent of the vote to Sanchez’s 33 percent and Turner’s 29 percent.

Six lesser-known candidates barely registered in the vote.


Sanchez, who nearly defeated Mayor Lee Brown two years ago by assembling a coalition of conservatives and Hispanics, was the presumed front-runner at the outset of the race. But polls showed his support slipping, with significant chunks of self-identified Republicans and Hispanics turning to White.

Initially, City Councilman Michael Berry’s candidacy threatened Sanchez’s support among Republicans. But Berry dropped out of the race at the last minute and endorsed Sanchez.

As Sanchez dropped in the polls, he launched an increasingly nasty attack against White. He called him a liberal — considered a dirty word among some of the GOP voters Sanchez was struggling to hold onto; accused him of trying to block U.S. troops from voting; and linked him to unpopular Mayor Lee Brown, from whom all three candidates worked to distance themselves during the race.

White responded with a mailing showing a picture of an empty chair and listing Sanchez’s poor attendance record at city budget workshops while he was on City Council, his lack of management experience and his troubled and short-lived career as a Harris County probation officer.

Sanchez quit his probation office job under threat of being fired for missing work to campaign for public office.

The article mentions some exit polling, whose data is more fully fleshed out here.

Exit polling conducted for the Chronicle by the University of Houston Center for Public Policy indicated that White got 35 percent of Hispanic voters, 17 percent of black voters, 55 percent of white voters and 70 percent of Asian-American voters.

The exit polling also showed that White drew 53 percent from self-described moderates, 58 percent from liberals and 28 percent from conservatives.

White’s support among Republicans, 30 percent, flew in the face of heavy advertising from the Harris County Republican Party, which launched a big campaign to label White a “liberal Democrat.” He was chairman of the Texas Democratic Party from 1995 to 1998.


As the 2003 campaign wore on, Turner and Sanchez appeared unable to maintain their bases.

Turner polled about 75 percent among black voters, according to exit polling, and drew less than 10 percent among Republicans, whites and Hispanics.

Turner was hurt by his support for Rep. Tom Craddick of Midland for state House speaker.

Fellow black Reps. Garnet Coleman and Senfronia Thompson pounded Turner for that and endorsed White.

“White is the first white candidate since the (former Mayor Kathy) Whitmire days who has really gone out and made that effort to woo blacks,” Jones said.

Sanchez, meanwhile, lost his steam among Hispanic voters, who helped galvanize his 2001 campaign in hopes of electing the city’s first Hispanic mayor.

The exit polling indicated that Sanchez got 55 percent of Hispanic voters, compared with more than 70 percent in his 2001 runoff.

Tatcho Mindiola, director of Mexican-American studies at the University of Houston, said Sanchez, a Cuban-American, has lost stature among historically Democratic-voting Mexican-Americans because he is a Republican.

That probably kept his totals down Tuesday and could hurt him in a runoff.

“It’s been two years, and people have taken a close look at him,” Mindiola said. “That didn’t help Orlando, who seems to be captive of a very rigid element inside the Republican Party.”

Sanchez made a hard right turn, coming out against Metro’s plan and siding with tax-cut conservatives after fellow Republican Michael Berry dropped out of the race.

But that didn’t win Sanchez as much Republican support as he had hoped.

Besides, party affiliation appeared less important this year than in 2001, when Republicans heavily supported Sanchez. Only 10 percent of voters in the exit polls listed party affiliation as their top consideration in selecting a mayoral candidate. Of those, 57 percent voted for Sanchez.

I did say that Sanchez would not do as well with Hispanics this time around, didn’t I? Nice to have a prediction turn out correctly. There’s a more interesting group of voters than all this, though. Remember that empty-chair ad that White ran about Sanchez?

Thirty-six percent of voters polled indicated that “ability to do the job” was the most influential criterion in voting for a mayoral candidate. Of those, 51 percent voted for White, 36 voted for Turner and 10 percent voted for Sanchez.

Now that’s effective advertising.

We should find out this week when the runoff will be. My best guess is Saturday, December 6 – the first Saturday in December seems to be the default day. Anything can happen in a runoff, where turnout is often measured in single digits. If you want to see the person you voted for actually win instead of just making it to the finals, you’d better clear your calendar in early December.

Election Day

It’s Election Day, and if conditions aren’t ripe today for good turnout, no such conditions exist: A warm, sunny day, a very high-profile mayoral race, an almost-as-high profile referendum, and only one unopposed candidate on the ballot. Early voting is up 30% over 2001. If you haven’t voted yet, you’ve got twelve hours to do so today. If you don’t know where to vote, click here and find out.

UPDATE: Rob is writing again, and he has his endorsements up. If other local bloggers have an endorsement post, send me your link or leave it in the comments and I’ll add it here.

UPDATE: Another Rice Grad isn’t voting here this year, but he does have his preferences.

UPDATE: Oopsie. Bad eSlate machines!

Those who showed up early at the Holiday Inn at 7787 Katy Freeway to vote found that the eSlate machines that were supposed to make voting so much easier and more accurate were on the fritz. While technicians made repairs, election judges passed out sheets of paper torn in half, along with sample ballots, and telling voters to write in their votes.

David Puckett said he sat down on the floor and spent 25 minutes scribbling down his choices while other voters just took the time to write in their votes on the top races before dropping their homemade ballots into a pasteboard box. He said an election judge told him to write on the back of the paper if he ran out of room and then told him he might need to vote again this afternoon if the eSlate machines come back up. Then, Puckett said, the judges decided a second vote wasn’t such a good idea.

“They’re making up rules as they go,” he said. ” It’s unbelievable.”

Puckett’s worried his vote won’t count.

“I will come back if I need to. I want my vote to count,” he said. “It’s my privilege. It’s my duty. I want my people to win.

Despite the assurances from the County Clerk’s office that those handwritten ballots would count, I’d make a return trip. No one can read my handwriting, anyway.


You may wonder why I’m spending so much time and figurative ink on the smear job against Adrian Garcia, which is something that maybe five people reading this have a direct stake in. I’m pissed that someone who may or may not live in this district, indeed may or may not even live in Houston, is doing this sort of cowardly thing to try and affect this election. I don’t necessarily have a beef with the content of the mailers themselves – they’re misleading and trivially debunked as I’ve already shown, but they’re no worse than what you see every damn year. A good candidate, and I believe Adrian Garcia is a good candidate, can stand up to that sort of attack most of the time.

No, what chaps my ass is that the jerks behind this thing are thumbing their noses at us under a cloak of secrecy. We can’t evaluate the reasons behind the attack because we don’t know who it is. We don’t know if this is someone in District H who may or may not have a legitimate gripe against Adrian Garcia, or if it’s some outside agitator who is working clandestinely for another candidate, or if it’s just some wanker with too much money on his hands. All we can do is speculate and try to track them down.

It’s for this reason that I hold groups like the Texas Association of Business and Texans for True Mobility in such contempt. Both groups, through their mouthpiece Andy Taylor, claim that their members would suffer somehow if their contributions towards electing Republican legislators or defeating a Metro referendum were made public. I say that’s just tough. Those of us who are directly affected by their actions have a right to know what their stake is in the outcome that they’re trying to shape. How do we know that the TAB contributors are really all Texas businesses and not companies from elsewhere trying to curry favor from Tom DeLay? It’s not as if the very notion is absurd, after all. How do we know that TTM members are all in the area Metro services? It’s not as if someone like James Leininger doesn’t have an antirail track record, more money than God, and a fetish for secrecy.

In a way, the skulduggery behind the anti-Garcia mailer does Hector Longoria no favors, either. I’m ready to accept the notion that the Longoria campaign ordered or at least knew about this hit piece based on the fact that the return address on the mailer can be traced to a Republican PR firm and the fact that Longoria hasn’t responded to an email asking him about it, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. Obviously, this falls short of reasonable doubt, but as the person perceived to be the biggest beneficiary, the mailer puts Longoria under suspicion. If he really had nothing to do with it, he ought to be as upset as everyone else is.

So yeah, I think this is bigger than just a kefuffle in a local election. It’s probably just a matter of time before it happens in one of your local elections, too.

A little further context on Adrian Garcia

After I received the second anti-Adrian Garcia flyer from the group that’s masquerading as “Citizens for a Better America”, I searched the Chronicle’s archives to get some context on one of the quotes they’re using to smear Garcia. I’ve now searched the Austin American Statesman and the San Antonio Express News for the others. Here are the results.

Quote from flyer: People need to “change their habits and develop more safety-minded type attitude.” (Austin American Statesman, 12/24/91)

From the archive:

Stun gun sales rise with crime in Houston
Author: AP AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN Date: December 24, 1991 Publication: Austin American-Statesman Page Number: B3 Word Count: 336

HOUSTON (AP) – With fear about the city’s robbery and homicide rates on the rise, Houston retailers say stun guns and other “personal safety devices” have become popular Christmas presents.

“They don’t feel safe, and they want their loved ones to be safe, and this gives them security,” said Ron Hardman, manager of The Spy Factory. “They say they hate to have to buy this kind of gift for Christmas, but they think it’s a good one.”

I can’t get the full story without paying for it (if anyone has an account with the Statesman and wants to retrieve the full text for me, I’ll be glad to excerpt the relevant bits). Clearly, though, this is as I thought. In respose to a story about people buying stun guns for personal safety, Adrian Garcia suggests that “changing habits” and developing a more “safety-minded attitude” would be time and money better spent. Anyone want to quibble with that? I don’t. I presume he offered specific tips about what habits should be changed and what a more safety-minded attitude looks like. Perhaps twelve years later, some of the specifics of his advice might be considered misguided, but we weren’t given that for consideration.

Quote from flyer: Believes “Houston gangs rarely attempt to terrorize their own neighborhoods.” (San Antonio Express News, 12/13/00)

From the archive:

December 13, 2000 San Antonio Express-News
Family gun safety needed to avoid problems, misuse


With so many guns on the street today, some people feel owning a firearm is the best way to stay safe at home. But for curious children and untrained individuals, a gun can be a ticking time bomb. Adrian Garcia, 39, is a police officer, husband and father of a 5-year-old girl. In his 20 years with the police department, Garcia has seen the problem of firearm misuse firsthand. “Nowadays, more and more people are arming themselves with handguns in order to solve their problems,

[View the full-text article, 418 words]

It’s an op-ed on gun safety (as above, payment is required to view the whole thing). I’m not sure what the quote about gangs has to do with this, though I’d guess it’s to say that most people probably don’t need to buy a gun to defend their homes from gang violence. Without getting into an argument about risk acceptance and aversion, I’m fairly certain that national crime statistics would support that assertion. I should note that a news article upon which this column was apparently based appears two other times in the E-N’s archives, on December 6 and November 23 of 2000. The headlines for the earlier articles are “Handgun safety is important” and “Gun locks can stop accidents”, respectively.

We’ll see if this winds up having an effect on the District H race. A few other tidbits from the Woodland Heights chat board: At least one person has contacted District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal to see if any campaign laws have been broken; Hector Longoria has not replied to email from a WH person asking him if he had any knowledge of or involvement in this mailer; the faux CFABA group has apparently also targeted Herlinda Garcia (HCC Trustee District 3). Stay tuned.

White leading, rail holding steady

Bill White continues to be the frontrunner in the latest poll taken on the upcoming election.

In the race to replace term-limited Mayor Lee Brown, White has 35 percent support while Sanchez has 25 percent and Turner has 19 percent.


At the beginning of the mayoral campaign, some analysts questioned if White, an Anglo businessman, could succeed against two better-known public figures with ethnic and partisan identities. Sanchez, a former city councilman, is a Hispanic Republican, and Turner, a state representative, is an African-American Democrat.

But White is running at least second in all three major demographic groups. He leads among whites, splits the Hispanic vote with Sanchez and draws about a fifth of the black support. Just under half of the black support goes to Turner, with most of the rest undecided.

White — former chairman of the state Democratic Party — split 70 percent of the Democratic support evenly with Turner, and also drew almost 30 percent of the respondents who identified themselves as Republicans. Fewer than 10 percent of Democrats supported Sanchez.

Sanchez drew support of half the respondents who identified themselves as Republicans, with just 2 percent supporting Turner.

“Bill White seems to be putting together what academics call the rainbow coalition,” Stein said.

Sanchez, who would be the city’s first Hispanic mayor, appears to be losing the base that nearly helped him beat Brown in a 2001 runoff. The poll indicates that about 25 percent of voters who said they supported Sanchez in 2001 now support White.

If White gets into a runoff, he would fare well against either Sanchez or Turner, according to the poll.

In a hypothetical runoff with Sanchez, respondents preferred White 49 percent to 33 percent. Paired with Turner, White got 48 percent to 26 percent.

Turner and Sanchez are statistically tied at about 40 percent in a hypothetical runoff.

Though White leads the poll, his support is the softest while Turner’s is strongest. More than three-fourths of Turner supporters described their support as “strong,” compared with 69 percent strong support for Sanchez and 58 percent for White.

“I think that’s because Bill White is a new face to a lot of voters and they still don’t know a lot about him other than what they have seen in this campaign,” Murray said.

Don’t think you could ask for any better than that if you’re a White fan. As Greg notes, George Strong has revised his projection to suggest a tiny lead for White. If this is on target, it validates something I’ve said all along, namely that Sanchez will not do as well with Hispanic voters as he did in 2001.

For that matter, Sanchez isn’t doing that well with Anglo voters, and he’s no longer close personal television buddies with the Bush family, as Rick Casey notes.

Two years ago, the president and his mother and father had jumped into the Houston mayor’s race by this point.

President Bush had endorsed Orlando Sanchez. Former President Bush and Barbara cut a warm television spot for him.

This summer, political pros were predicting the same dynamic. The national Republicans would love to be able to show off an attractive Republican Hispanic as mayor of the nation’s fourth-largest city.

A Mayor Sanchez could be an appreciated campaigner in some key states, including the still-crucial state of Florida.

But days before the election, the Bushes are nowhere to be seen.

This is not an oversight. President Bush recently spoke by phone to several Houston leaders, asking their take on the race.

What he heard from a number of sources was that Sanchez was not doing well.

The president also heard that the Republicans would benefit from supporting Sanchez only if he did a good job as mayor, an “if” made large by Sanchez’s sketchy job background.

Chances are Bush was not surprised. A number of his friends and supporters were early supporters of Bill White.

Though he’s far from alone in doing so, Sanchez’s advertising has gotten increasingly negative lately. Unfortunately for him, White has bought up most of the good time slots already. Oops. This article notes the earlier anti-White radio advertising by “Citizens for a Better America” that Strong alluded to. I guess this means that the deception has been going on longer than we thought.

In other poll news, light rail is holding to its lead though still not polling over 50%. The local experts expect it to pass, but I’ll be nervous until the numbers are crunched. Finally, pretty much every other race is a question mark as nobody seems to know who any of the candidates are. “None of the above” still isn’t an option on the eSlate machines, so we’ll know soon enough. BTW, am I the only person wondering what the margin of error on these numbers is?

Another anti-Garcia mailer

There’s another anti-Adrian Garcia mailer going around, also purportedly from “Citizens for a Better America”, and this time it came to my mailbox. Unlike the previous flyer, this one actually attacks a part of Garcia’s record, but it’s still amazingly flimsy.

Both sides show a photo of a man in a cap and gloves attempting to pry open a window, with a grainy photo of Garcia standing at a microphone (the pic is so fuzzy you can barely tell it’s a mike) inset in the bottom right. Side one reads as follows:

In Houston:

Crime is up 5%.
Robbery is up 12%.
Aggravated assault is up 3%.
Burglary is up 7%.

All statistics are a comparison of the Houston 2002 and 2001 FBI Uniform Crime Report/January-December 2002.

Adrian Garcia serves as a cop under Lee Brown.

We need to tell him crime is on the rise.

This is a valid area for criticism, but it’s curious that they only mention 2002 compared to 2001. Lee Brown has been in office since 1998, and Adrian Garcia as been a cop for much longer than that. How do the 2002 numbers compare to 1998? How did Houston’s crime rate increase compare to other cities? We have no idea.

Side two shows the same photos, with the burglar photo tinted red. It asks what Garcia, the Director of the anti-gang unit, thinks about “Houston’s rising crime rate”, and recycles the same three contextless quotes as before. Here they are, reprinted as they appear on the flyer, with my comments.

1. People need to “change their habits and develop more safety-minded type attitude.” (Austin American Statesman, 12/24/91)

My comment: This sounds like standard crime-prevention advice. I’m at a loss to understand why the people behind this mailer think it’s controversial.

2. Called citizen patrols “a crazy remedy.” (Houston Chronicle, 12/03/02)

My comment: As I expected, this has to do with a story about vigilantism. I’ve reproduced the entire story below the More link, but here are the key grafs:

A band of residents of an East End neighborhood, fed up with cowering on their porches, has decided to respond to street gangs with a two-by-four to the head – and maybe worse.

The loose collaboration that includes dads, military veterans and young men who spurned gangs has gone on the offensive, patrolling for gang members and attacking at least one when they believed they had caught him committing a crime.

“If we have to use violence, we’ll use it,” said Frank Black, the posse’s leader.

The group began enforcing its own brand of street justice recently after seeking help from city officials and concluding that they couldn’t count on Houston police to keep their neighborhood safe.

Black and his partners have agreed to suspend patrols for two weeks, however, after city officials promised to investigate the problem and put more officers on the streets.

Police added a warning that they will not tolerate vigilante justice and will treat lawbreakers the same, regardless of which side they’re on.


Adrian Garcia , director the Anti-Gang Office, said forming an armed posse is “a crazy remedy. We would never encourage residents to do that.”

A violent response to street thugs might only foment more violence, Garcia said. The gang task force, he said, instead tries to find creative, peaceful resolutions to street conflicts.

In a 1998 case in southeast Houston, Garcia ‘s office found that a family feud centering on two young lovers had sparked what seemed to be a gang war. The office began trying Monday to get to the root of the East End battles.

If a real resurgence in East End gang activity is occurring, Garcia said, it may be because some leaders convicted of crimes in the 1990s are making parole.

Garcia also noted that Houston gangs rarely attempt to terrorize their neighborhoods to the degree that Black describes.

Seems like a perfectly reasonable thing for a police officer to say, and one I agree with 100%.

3. Believes “Houston gangs rarely attempt to terrorize their own neighborhoods.” (San Antonio Express News, 12/13/00)

My comment: Essentially the same quote that appeared in the above story. Presumably, it’s the sort of thing that can be verified or contradicted by crime statistics. It makes sense to me, but there could be something to it. Regardless, it’s a statement of fact, which the mailer presents as wrongheaded without any evidence.

I plan on contacting CFABA to let them know there’s another piece floating around. We shall see if any evidence of their origins gets uncovered.


Endorsements and a mini-scandal

I went and voted this morning, so all you candidates out there can stop calling and mailing me, at least until the runoffs begin. My slate of candidates is remarkably similar to Greg Wythe‘s. Here’s how I voted:

Mayor: Bill White
Controller: Annise Parker
At Large #1: Brian Wozniak
At Large #2: Gordon Quan
At Large #3: Peter Brown
At Large #4: Sue Lovell
At Large #5: Beulah Shepard
District H: Adrian Garcia
Metro: Yes
Collective bargaining for firefighters: Yes

Like Greg, I was torn on At Large #1. What eventually tipped it for me was that Brian Wozniak had an actual web page that I could read and get a feel for his positions, while Andrew Burks didn’t. As for Beulah Shepard, I kinda went with the heart over the head on this one, but she’s got a pretty strong resume, too.

District H was another tough call. In my opinion, there are two excellent candidates. The rules say I can only pick one, and it was Adrian Garcia by a nose. I should note that my next-door neighbors are in a sense the mirror image of Greg on this one – they broke the tie in favor of Diana Davila Martinez because they know and like her husband. In any event, I can endorse a vote for either, and I will put a sign in my yard for whichever one ends up in a runoff against Hector Longoria.

Speaking of District H: There’s some buzz in my neighborhood over a campaign flyer that was received in the mail yesterday by many Heights residents. The flyer, which purports to be from a group called “Citizens for a Better America”, is a straight-on hatchet job on Adrian Garcia, including grainy photos, three context-free quotes (none of which, in my opinion, were particularly damning) from the Chron, the Statesman, and the Express-News going back as far as 1991, and an exhortation to “call Adrian Garcia at 713 xxx xxxx and tell him to stop messing with our neighborhoods” or words to that effect. I’ve been mailed a copy of the flyer in PDF format from a neighbor, but it’s 2MB in size so I haven’t FTPed it to the site. I may put it up over the weekend if there’s interest in seeing it.

Anyway, the only contact info on the flyer is the name “Citizens for a Better America” and a return address. It turns out there is such a group, and they’re a traditional-values organization in the Moral Majority mold. If you actually click on that link, you’ll note that they have specifically denied any involvement in the mailer. From their “Open Letter to the Citizens of Houston”:

Citizens For A Better America ® has not sent out any mailings or spent any money to influence the Nov. 4, 2003 election in Houston, Texas. Any use of our name is unauthorized and is identify theft and will be treated as such.

Citizens For A Better America ® is a registered trademark with the United States Patents and Trademarks office, Registration Number: 2500525. Any search of the name Citizens For A Better America ® on the internet brings up our website at We have been an organization, using our name, since October 15, 1992. We are on file with the Federal Election Commission our number is C00278333. We have a very high national visibility and we do not consider the unauthorized use of our name to be accidental.

We take it very seriously when someone(s) uses our name without our permission. If you have any information about the individual or individuals who are using our name please contact us by either e-mail, regular mail or phone.

In other words, whoever did this is a criminal in the minds of the actual CFABA folks. The Woodland Heights has a chat board, where this flyer has been discussed at length. (Some of the info and links for this post came from the message thread on the board about this.) According to the board, the return address on the flyer can be traced to a non-Texas based public affairs group with ties to the Republican Party and which does direct mail. Since I have no idea if they were involved or not – after all, if someone can use CFABA’s name without authorization, they can fake a return address – I won’t give any further information about them. I do know that several people, myself included, have contacted reporters about this (I called Tim Fleck at the Houston Press), so maybe we’ll find out.

The better question is who in Houston is responsible. George Strong thinks it could be Longoria.

Could it be that the Chair of the Harris County Republican Party, Jared Woodfill, whose law partner is running against Garcia got that group involved the that race? Hector Longoria is that candidate and his jumping into the District H race at the last minute has been of some concern. Longoria claimed he made his switch from At-Large 5 to District H the day of the filing deadline, on Monday September 22. In Thursday’s mail, that same week, voters in District H got a very specific Longoria mailer, clearly not something that was created & mailed in 3 days. Longoria’s next mailer, that came a few days later, claimed endorsements that have actually gone to other District H candidates, but which Longoria had when he was in his first race, for At-large 5. It including the Houston Police Officer Union, HPOU, which later went to its member a fellow police officer, Adrian Garcia. The Gossips are told that Bob Perry of Perry Homes is the largest contributor to Hector. Perry has lots of Condos in the Heights and apparently wants to build more.

Strong says that CFABA was behind some earlier attack ads on radio about Bill White. For what it’s worth, I searched CFABA’s website and found no mention at all of Bill White and no recent mention of Houston. Strong wrote his post before the CFABA founder disavowed the anti-Garcia mailer, so perhaps the “identity theft” they speak of has been going on longer than anyone thought, or perhaps Strong is just confused. I don’t know.

Finally, at least two other candidates in District H have specifically denied any knowledge about this mailer. I myself got to ask Diana Davila Martinez about it, last night at a happy hour for the Houston Democratic Forum, and she said she knew nothing about it. She has since replied to an email from a WH message board poster, which he replicated on the board, again saying that “neither I nor my campaign had any knowledge of this effort”. Gonzalo Camacho was also contacted via email by a member and gave a similar denial. Hector Longoria was emailed as well but as of this writing had not replied. I will keep an eye on that and will post an update here if I see a reply from him.

And still nastier

In the final televised debate before the election (and may I say that with all the debates and candidate fora we’ve had, no one can legitimately claim to be unfamiliar with the three hopefuls), Bill White and Orlando Sanchez stepped up their attacks on each other.

White, CEO of a large investment firm, questioned whether Sanchez would be capable of running City Hall with its staff of 20,000, asking how many employees he has had in his work history.

Sanchez responded with an attack of his own.

“You’re running to represent big business, Enron-size business,” Sanchez said. “I’m a small-business person.”

White pointed out that Sanchez did not answer the question.

“I’ve built many small businesses, and I know how many people report to me,” he said.

The runoff will be such fun if this is the lineup for it. While Sylvester Turner threw jabs of his own, the other two mostly let him be.

Given an opportunity to question each other, White and Sanchez acted more like runoff opponents, attacking each other instead of Turner. White even complimented Turner’s commitment to after-school programs.

The most recent polls show a fairly close race, with White leading the field and Sanchez in second place. If the two do make it into a runoff, neither would want to alienate Turner’s supporters.

Some time ago in a world championship bridge tournament, a highly regarded team from Poland seemed to try to throw a round-robin match against an overmatched opponent. Their apparent strategy was to alter where they finished among the top four qualifiers so that they would face a squad from Iceland in the semifinals instead of a Brazilian team that was considered to be stronger. The Poles wound up winning that match anyway, so their gambit failed. As it happened, Poland beat Brazil, and faced Iceland in the finals, where the team they thought they’d handle easily in the semifinals clobbered them.

I was reminded of that story as I read about how Turner, currently running third in the polls, is being allowed to be above the fray while White and Sanchez attack each other. It would be pretty ironic if the negativity turned off enough voters to allow Turner to get into the runoff. White has more to lose from this in the general election, since Turner seems to be likelier to pick up disaffected White supporters, but if he makes it to the runoff he should be in good shape. I can’t see Sanchez successfully wooing too many Turner voters, not after his orgy of using the Clintons as a club against White. As noted before, Kevin sees it differently.

It’s almost jarring after reading that article to peruse this Houston Press cover story on Bill White. No one in this piece, and that includes White’s ex-wife and a former boss who lost a million bucks investing in a business White set up a few years back, had anything negative to say about him. That’s pretty amazing, and quite the contrast to this earlier profile of Michael Berry, in which there was no shortage of naysayers.

UPDATE: Christine comments on a Sanchez TV ad that has stuck in her mind.

One week to go

Election day is a week from today, so the most expensive mayoral race in Houston’s history is, well, not exactly drawing to a close, but about to enter a new phase. Greg notes that Sylvester Turner has the most cash on hand right now, so he should be in good shape to get his supporters out on Tuesday. He also notes that George Strong has projected a Sanchez/White runoff, but Turner’s total is sufficiently close to White’s to keep him from resting easily. Strong has presumably made some different assumptions about turnout than this poll, which shows White leading Sanchez and Turner by 38-32-26. It’s a Survey USA poll, though, with a 4.7% margin of error, so take it with some salt.

Meanwhile, Kevin thinks Turner might be stronger in a runoff against Sanchez than White would, and Steve Bates has already cast his ballot for Turner. Early voting ends Friday, so there’s not much time to waste.

We got a mailer from the Sanchez campaign today that was a total “Bill White is a big Clinton-loving LIBERAL!!!” piece, including the de rigeur grainy photo of White with Her Hillaryness, presumably taken during a weekly meeting of the Communists for Totally Confiscatory Taxes Club. Some free advice, Orlando: If you’re still courting voters who aren’t already Republicans, this is probably not your most effective message.

I know who I’m voting for in the Mayoral and Controller races, but I still have to figure out who I’m voting for in some of the Council races. It’s hard to judge some of the candidates because they either have no websites (something I completely fail to understand in this day and age – more on that in a later post) or their websites are, for lack of a better word, crappy. Since I got such good information on Adrian Garcia and Diana Davila Martinez by writing about my indecision in District H earlier, I’ll try again. If any of the following candidates want to contact me and give a short pitch as to why I and anyone reading this should vote for you, pleaes drop me a note at kuff-at-offthekuff-dot-com: Andrew Burks, Brian Wozniak, Peter Brown, Jolanda Jones, Sue Lovell, Ronald Green, Dwight Boykins, and Beulah Shepard. Short notice, I know, but at least you know people have started to pay attention.

Mayoral race gets ugly down the home stretch

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.

That fake-Bill-White story still has legs, doesn’t it? It’s not front and center, but it’s still there, and if this effort is taken at all seriously, it could really hurt White in a runoff.

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.

You know, somewhere Grover Norquist is reading this and patting himself on the back. Do we really need to make his job any easier? For what it’s worth, Marc, this white Democrat is frustrated because there’s less and less opportunity to vote for Democrats who win. Think about that for awhile and get back to me when you’re ready to talk about it.

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.

Brown has been a mediocre mayor, full stop. I think Turner would be a decent mayor, I just think he’s the second best candidate behind White. I also think White has a much better shot at beating Sanchez in a runoff than Turner would, though I will certainly support Turner in that runoff. If someone wants to impute racial motives into that, I can’t stop them.

Reponse from Diana Davila Martinez

As I mentioned earlier, I got a call from Diana Davila Martinez after I’d published an email from Diane Mosier of the Greater Heights Democratic Club. Ms. Davila Martinez objected to some of the things that had been said about her, and I promised her an opportunity to respond. Here’s the email she sent me, so you can judge for yourself.

Let me start by saying that we are excited about the widespread support we are receiving in this effort. In addition to the Houston Chronicle endorsement I am proud to have received yesterday, I have been endorsed by Houston Voters Against Flooding, Council Members Gordan Quan and Carroll Robinson, State Representative Harold Dutton, Former District H City Council Member Felix Fraga, Latina PAC, HCC Trustees Bruce Austin and Herlinda Garcia, Baptist Ministers Association of Houston and Vicinity, Houston Black American Democrats and Harris County Democratic Party Secretary Francisco Sanchez.

While I understand politics well, I like most voters detest backroom politics and strong armed maneuvers by political bosses. I am very disappointed that several organizations, including HGLPC and Harris County Democrats, totally denied me, the only candidate with a solid voting record of support for their issues, the opportunity to even screen before them.

I am a Democrat, one that not only espouses the principles of the party, but has as a State Representative for three terms fought hard to implement them in
public policy. I have been a strong voice on redistricting, affirmative action, labor issues, education, women’s rights, and civil rights. And contrary to some of the misinformation that is being circulated or insinuated about me, I am not supporting any Republican candidates and I have not received any money from Mr. Perry.

As a candidate, being afforded a fair opportunity to present my qualifications and what I hope to accomplish through this office is all I can ask of voters. I grew up in District H and I’m rearing my boys in District H. District H will be well served with my academic training and legislative experience. I intend to be a strong independent voice on Council who can effectively represent the residents of District H.

So there you have it. It’s a difficult choice in District H, but at least it’s a choice between good candidates rather than lesser evils. I expect that either Davila Martinez or Adrian Garcia will wind up in a runoff with Hector Longoria, and when that happens I will support whoever that person is.

Oh, yeah, that election

I don’t know how many people get mail from the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus PAC and the Harris County GOP PAC on the same day, but it sure feels special to be in that group. The HCGOPers endorsed pretty much the same group as the Conservative Republicans of Harris County, with three exceptions: MJ Khan instead of Terry McConn in District F, Jeff Daily instead of Greg Myers in the all-GOP District G, and fascinatingly, no one in At Large #5. I’m not sure if they’ve got an axe to grind with Boy Wonder Berry or what, but that oversight really stands out to me.

Not too surprisingly, there’s no intersection with the HGLPCPAC, whose picks are: Bill White for Mayor, Annise Parker for Controller, Brian Wozniak, Gordon Quan, Jolanda Jones, Sue Lovell, and Dwight Boykins for At Large #1-5, Malaki Sims, Ada Edwards, Vickie Keller, Derrick Wesley, and Adrian Garcia for District C, D, E, F, and H, plus Michael Gomez and Dr. G. San Miguel for HISD #3 and 4. For the most part, these line up with my own choices, which I’ll post about shortly.

We also got a mailer from the Houston Police Officers Union, who endorsed White for Mayor and the Republican candidates for At Large 1, 3, 4, and 5 as well as Districts C and E. Say this for White, he’s got support that crosses ideological boundaries.

If all that ain’t enough for you, the Harris County Democratic Party and the Harris County GOP both have useful candidate info pages with links to their email addresses and relevant websites. Take some time and check it all out, there’s a lot of new names and faces to learn about.