More thoughts on the Mayoral election

I think there are two key things to keep in mind when contemplating Tuesday’s election results in Houston and what they may mean for 2013. First and foremost, I believe you have to see the Mayor’s percentage of the vote, which everyone would agree was underwhelming, as a reflection on her level of support and nothing else. To put it another way, this was her “generic” re-elect number, given that she wasn’t running against any one opponent but against a mostly interchangeable slate of “not Annise Parker” candidates. That’s bad, because some 49% of the people who bothered to vote said they wanted someone else, but it’s not necessarily as bad as it looks. Many incumbents do worse in polls against a generic opponent. Look at President Obama for a clear example of that. The flipside of this, which is also crystal clear with the President, is that it means they generally do better, sometimes much better, against actual named opponents. Every single person who might run against Annise Parker in 2013 has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, and many of them have their own record in public service that can be examined and critiqued. Change the choice from “I’d like somebody else to be Mayor” to “I’d like this specific person to be Mayor” – Paul Bettencourt, Ben Hall, Bill King, whoever – and some people who maybe aren’t too happy with Parker will decide she’s the preferable option. (Or not – it can certainly go either way.) Give the Mayor a single named opponent whose flaws and policy ideas she can attack, and the dynamic of the race changes, because it’s no longer all about her. Like I said, that may or may not ultimately work in her favor, but it will be different than this race was. We can’t know how that will go until someone actually decides to run against her. Further, while it’s easy enough to imagine Parker getting squeezed between a white Republican and an African-American Democrat, what happens if more than one of either or both decides to jump in? This is what I mean when I say it’s far too early to make any grand pronunciations about 2013. There are too many variables in play. I still believe, as I said before the election and before anyone else, that an underperformance by the Mayor would make it more likely she will draw a serious opponent in 2013. That’s not the same as saying I believe she’ll lose, or even that she’s more likely to lose. It’s far too early to tell about that.

The Mayor’s first term was affected by several factors that were beyond her control – things like the economy, the red light camera referendum, various Council hijinx. I believe she is likely to derive some benefit from there being fewer of these external factors over the next two years – I mean, how much more can there be? If it turns out I’m wrong about that, she may well decide this job is a curse and gladly hand it off to someone else. Be that as it may, there’s no shortage of things well within her control where she can and must do better. The Mayor’s biggest political liability isn’t the caprices of fate but the fact that she has done very little to expand her base of support, and quite a bit to antagonize and depress it. I think of the Mayor’s base primarily as people like me – urban progressives. As far as I can tell – I’ll have a better grasp on this when I get the vote canvass, but I don’t need numbers to see the basic problem outline – there’s a lot of discontent among people in my neck of the woods with the Mayor’s actions. First and foremost among them is the 380 agreement situation, which begins but now doesn’t end with Ainbinder and Washington Heights. The fact that Ainbinder chose Wal-Mart as its anchor tenant is another example of uncontrollable bad luck for the Mayor – if they had announced a deal with HEB, no one would have cared enough to kick up a fuss about it – but the decision to offer Ainbinder a 380 agreement in return for what appear to be minor, almost trivial, infrastructure improvements, along with still-unresolved questions about traffic, bridge safety, noise, drainage, and so forth, that was all on the Mayor and her unhelpful department heads. Pursuing historic preservation – which, one must admit, was something she campaigned on – won her more enemies than friends, as support for preservation is broad but shallow, while opposition to it is narrow but deep and fierce and activism-inspiring. However you feel about these things, the fact remains that there are fewer people in neighborhoods that should be her strongholds that are on her side, and more than aren’t. That’s not a good position to be in. I don’t know what she and her advisers have been discussing since Tuesday night, but if I were in on those conversations, I’d strongly recommend they spend less time worrying about who may or may not decide to run against her, and more time figuring out how to do something about this. And if they can’t come up with a good strategy for that, they’d best start working on their oppo research, because they’re going to need plenty of it.

Anyway. I’ll have some analysis of the other results tomorrow, and once I get my hands on canvass data, I’ll start bringing the numbers. In the meantime, here are some more overviews of the election results, from PDiddie, Stace, Greg, BOR, and EoW.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron analysis, which covers much of the same ground as I did.

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6 Responses to More thoughts on the Mayoral election

  1. Joshua bullard says:

    she won-thats what counts-i love the 380 agreements and back the mayor a hundred percent-no doubt-as for washington and the heights-i commend you people once again for keeping the crying to a minimum,you heights people have really become great sports,keep it that way.for years the heights and washington folks always came a running and crying down to city hall and complain,but over the last few years have shown the abilty to join the rest of us.As for the mayor and her advisers worrying about an election in two years-not happening-the mayor is back to city bussiness and could care less about a future opponent-for those of you that feel the mayor is neglecting your needs-i suggest the you write the mayor a letter requesting you get some “mom time”,maybe you will get it,maybe not……as for the heights……”a small town in a city”-my ass

    respectfully submitted joshua ben bullard

  2. mollusk says:

    I think the details can be distilled to “not particularly effective.” The red light camera referendum is what it was, and I think most people can figure that out – but the way she handled it was just weird. Likewise, the lack of bang for the buck on the 380s just tastes like a poorly negotiated sellout – I think the Ainbinder deal would have drawn opposition regardless of what giant suburban box got plopped into a sea of concrete, surrounded by tanning studios and nail salons. After all, the Kroger 380 at the next exit, or the Gulfgate HEB 380 for an existing, operating store, aren’t exactly drawing hosannas either.

    And yes, she’s disappointing her base without doing much to broaden it, save perhaps for the developers, etc. – who give their money to any “in” who doesn’t come after them with long knives anyway.

  3. Jules says:

    “The fact that Ainbinder chose Wal-Mart as its anchor tenant is another example of uncontrollable bad luck for the Mayor ”

    The Mayor knew who the anchor retailer was going to be long before you and I did and yet she still negotiated a 380 Agreement with the developer so that the City ends up paying for infrastructure that the developer would otherwise be required to pay for – and at 10% interest. That’s not bad luck, but it is bad.

  4. landslide says:

    One other thing not yet mentioned: Annise typically doesn’t win big. She’s been on 8 city-wide ballots, starting in 1997, twice unopposed (as re-election for Controller). In the other races, her high-water mark was vs. Bruce Tatro in her first race for Controller in 2003, the only time she’s ever broken 60% of the vote in a contested race.

    In the other years: 57% in ’97 runoff, 50.6% in ’01 (won without a runoff), 54% in ’09 runoff. She has always had tough fights, especially in those years when her opponents weren’t very well known: she seems to do better when her opponent is better known, see ’03 and ’09 as examples. That gets to your point about a choice between two candidates.

    In light of that record, I think it was unfair for many pundits to set the bar at two-thirds of the vote this time. Winning without a runoff historically has not been easy for her, but she does it and that’s a testament to her strengths as a campaigner and the depth of feeling about her from her base.

  5. Phil says:

    Kuff, Always love your insite and in many ways you are spot on with this post but I would like to amplify one point and dispute another. First. This was an absolute referendum on Annise and she lost bigtime. And you are right that the other candidates were non-entities. But to say that she would have picked up votes in a real race is off. If a King or Bettencourt had run, they would have had a walk! Shame on the business and leadership class in Houston for not finding better leaders to run our city debacl.. er government.!

    Annise gets too much credit for being nice and working well with business, communities, etc.. Unknown and unreported is that behind her is an administration that is actually much more focused on strong racial, lifestyle and political agendas and manned by folks with limited skills or interest in attacking the real problems and challenges of the #4 city. We need real people of substance in elected and operational offices, not the superficial margin.

    The electorate didn’t know the details, but they could tell when that dog won’t hunt. That’s why we almost got a runoff in an virtually unopposed race!

  6. landslide says:

    Please excuse the error: Annise was re-elected in ’99 with 63% against Sylvia Ayres, so she’s broken 60% twice. She also missed a runoff in a special election for an At-Large seat to replace Sheila Jackson Lee after her election to Congress in 1995, placing third. So she’s been on 9 city-wide ballots (excludes her Dist C loss to Vince Ryan).

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