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RIP, Louie Welch

Former Houston Mayor Louie Welch has passed away.

Louie Welch, five-term mayor of Houston and longtime president of what is now the Greater Houston Partnership, died on Sunday. He was 89.

Family members said Welch, who served four terms on City Council and won the mayor’s office on his fourth try, suffered lung cancer.

He was known as an effective, aggressive politician whose salty comments occasionally landed him in political trouble. Welch was also considered an able vote-getter with a ready smile. A kind of ambassador-at-large for the city, he sang Houston’s praises across the nation and internationally.

I don’t know much about Mr. Welch’s recent activities. But even though I wasn’t living in Houston at the time, what his name conjures up for me is two words: Straight Slate.

In the end, all the sound and fury over homosexuality and the disease AIDS signified little. Kathy Whitmire easily won re-election as Mayor of Houston Tuesday, political experts said, by convincing Houstonians that she was a good Mayor, better able than her opponent to lead the city out of its economic doldrums.

That was the prevailing interpretation today among politicians after the 39-year-old Mayor’s decisive victory over Louie Welch, the 66-year-old former five-term Mayor who was making a comeback attempt. Mrs. Whitmire won 200,788 or 58.9 percent of the votes; her opponent won 138,552 or 40.6 percent. Four other candidates shared the remaining votes.

Mr. Welch, in the final two weeks of the campaign, had stressed Mrs. Whitmire’s backing of job rights for homosexuals and fear of AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, most of whose victims are homosexual.

”The preference of voters on the gay issue never was correlated to voter choice,” said Robert M. Stein, a political scientist at Rice University who has monitored the changing attitudes of 500 voters polled periodically since May.


The campaign left the once-potent Gay Political Caucus on the defensive. Two years ago 18 candidates sought its endorsement; this year none did. The caucus refrained from making recommendations, fearing they would work against sympathetic candidates.

Mr. Welch entered the race after leading a successful effort by the Houston Chamber of Commerce, of which he was president, to repeal the homosexual job rights bill. But his candidacy suffered a severe blow two weeks ago when, unaware that his voice was being broadcast on television, he said one way to halt the spread of AIDS would be to ”shoot the queers.”

Like I said, I don’t know what Mr. Welch had been doing in recent years. It’s certainly possible that he’s renounced his words from 1985 – as a believer in redemption, I genuinely hope so. I suspect I’ll get a better idea when a more complete obituary is printed, and the people who really knew him get quoted. In the meantime, I’ll just say that I’m glad we’ll never see another campaign like that one again.

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  1. Temple Houston says:

    Louie Welch demonstrated very little redeeming social value in a political career that lasted way too long. When TSU students were organizing lunch counter sit-ins at Woolworth’s, Louie Welch is the person who suggested that the proper response was to remove the cushons from the counter seats. Unfortunately for Mr. Welch, he has since been filmed recounting the events and giggling about his suggestion — which was taken, by the way. Louie Welch appointed Herman Short as police chief. Do I need to explain how eggregious that appointment was? It took years for the City and the police department to recover from his racist leadership. The Straight Slate election was nothing compared to the nastiness of the Welch/Hofheinz elections. Louie Welch was a classic yahoo. When Billy Graham came to town while Louie was mayor, Louie attended that revival/show, got “religion” and announced the next day that the City would be enforcing its blue laws henceforth. Of course, Louie was the key in getting the Houston Chamber of Commerce actively involved in forcing a repeal of the gay rights amendment put forward by Anthony Hall. Louie was not responsible for the candidate boycott of the GPC endorsement. That move was orchestrated by Whitmire, Greanias, and other elected officials (who all supported gay rights) as a pointed rebuke to the GPC’s leadership at that time (e.g., Parker, Lovell, etc.). That Louie finally disgraced himself, again on camera, with his tasteless “shoot the queers” comment is no surprise. Good riddance to him. The City is a much better place without him.

  2. Peter G. Heckler says:

    I worked for the city when Louie Welch was mayor, and when he made the crack about “queers” while standing in front of an open microphone. Louie Welch had gays as top advisors and was not a homophobe; he regretted the remark as it hurt the feelings of close friends and employees. It was not much of an issue with the gays that worked for him; he was fair and even-handed with all his employees. We were fond of him, and he was our friend. I always believed that he was a good and decent man during some tough times.

    Peter G. Heckler