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District A runoff overview

It’s the same old story, just a little louder this time.

CM Helena Brown

CM Helena Brown

Three years ago, when city voters narrowly approved what would become a controversial monthly drainage fee to fund $8 billion of street and flood projects in the next two decades, City Council District A stood out as an exception.

While the charter amendment that created the dedicated account to fund the Rebuild Houston program passed by a slim 2 percent, voters in the conservative-leaning swath on the northwest side rejected it 55 to 45 percent. That was despite the fact that residents name flooding as one of the district’s biggest problems.

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

“This is a district that doesn’t like any spending at all, even when they’re the beneficiaries of it,” said Rice University political scientist Bob Stein.

Stein discovered a negative correlation between votes for and against the drainage fee in 2010 and votes for or against Mayor Annise Parker and some incumbent City Council members in 2011, including District A’s then-council member Brenda Stardig.

Despite her district’s position, Stardig voted in favor of an ordinance implementing the drainage fee, saying she pressed the mayor to exempt schools and churches from having to pay it. Later that year, the real estate broker and long-time neighborhood activist was ousted after one term by tea party favorite Helena Brown.

Brown had seized on the drainage fee vote and other issues – including an admitted lack of constituent response – to force Stardig into a runoff, which Brown won by 12 points. Two years later, the 36-year-old former civic club president again finds herself in a runoff with Stardig, 51.

The story recaps the issues and themes of this extended campaign, with which we are all familiar. I really have no idea how this election will go. On the one hand, a 38% showing in November for an incumbent usually spells doom. On the other hand, CM Brown has done better than I thought she might in fundraising and endorsements, and like it or not her slash-and-burn philosophy isn’t particularly out of step with the district. She probably has less to fear from a low-turnout race than Stardig does, though for what it’s worth the early vote numbers are heavier in District A than just about anywhere else. I don’t know if the Chron reporter reached out to any of the other three District A candidates, but as far as I can tell none of them has made an endorsement in the runoff. One thing I noted while interviewing Mike Knox, Amy Peck, and Ron Hale is that all three seemed to be running not just against Brown, but also against Stardig. As such, I’m not surprised that they have all gone quiet since the November election, but it’s another suggestion that while many voters may have been willing to make another change in District A, Stardig wasn’t necessarily the change they were looking for. What’s your view on this runoff?

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  1. SB Voter says:

    Much has been reported or assumed about Brown’s relationships with the political establishment at City Hall, but fewer reporters go out and talk to the neighborhood leaders in the district who are on the receiving end of efforts by Brown and her staff. As noted, this a more conservative district that appreciates restrained spending and limited taxation, but many pundits have overlooked the real force driving Brown’s popularity with neighborhood leaders (she is supported by leaders of almost every neighborhood).

    Stardig – now admittedly per the above article – neglected constituent service, ignoring calls of constituents and civic leaders. Many like to measure success in capital improvement project dollars – Brown has achieved her share – but District A had a major backlog of smaller service issues that had gone unanswered for some time (Brenda would have known this if she took time to answer calls and listen), such as street light repairs, ditch cleaning, etc. Brown and her staff aggressively pursued and resolved thousands of minor service requests from neighborhoods, making an immediate impact on quality of life for residents. They are the same issues other council members respond to in their districts – Brown raised the bar and took that response to a new level.

    The few reporters who have talked to people in the district tend to interview one or two of the 60 or more neighborhood leaders that support Brown and then obtain the opposing viewpoint from one of the half dozen or so holdouts who were Stardig insiders. Brown has her flaws – although as many have noted she has grown into the job – while overall she not only represents the values of the district but also has delivered the services requested by its residents.

    You mention her campaign fundraising. What’s most notable there is not merely the amount of dollars but the fact that most of those funds came from the community rather than the usual City Hall interest groups.

    Knox – the only other candidate to break single digits – supported Stardig in 2011 but ran as a “conservative Republican” focusing on precincts where Stardig still is very unpopular, while Stardig campaigned to the left – perhaps between them hoping to divided and conquer the district. Knox’s biggest supporters are now behind Brown and Knox has drifted back into irrelevancy. Ron Hale stayed out of the endorsement game knowing that he would be filing soon to run for another office. No doubt those who oppose Brown are a little dazed and confused by her success. They just don’t get it. But that in itself is the problem – they just don’t get it – but Helena Brown does and that’s why the people of District A support her.

  2. […] honestly it’s true for all of the runoffs, where only the truly hardcore show up. Unlike District A, there’s not a lot of differences between these two on the issues and priorities. Boykins […]

  3. Jake says:

    Great comments especially by the first commenter. In my opinion CM Brown is so much more responsive and more helpful and easier to deal with. This is regardless of whether she knows you support her or not. I was so glad to see that CM Brown was elected because prior to her if you opposed the CM’s on an issue – there might be hell to pay. Sometimes I felt like city employees were reticent to help our neighborhood in District A because of the City Council Members influence. That is certainly not the case now with CM Brown. She has done so much for our area!

  4. joshua bullard says:

    i keep trying to call helena browns cell and she isnt attending the phone and it angers me.
    joshua ben bullard

  5. Doug Hunter says:

    I don’t know who the Brown-supportive commentators are but what they are saying doesn’t jibe with my experiences. Brown may well claim credit for some capital works projects scheduled while Stardig was in office and she may have reached out to some of her hardcore supporters but she has lost more support from the establishment during her term than anyone in recent memory, even Tatro. That she has had her staff try harder to appease angry voices coming into the election cycle is a no brainer but it was not the case for her full term in office. To suggest this means she “grew into the office” versus her just “running scared” is a matter for others to decide.

  6. Jake says:

    I am a member of a Super Neighborhood. Brenda was too busy to attend while she was CM and for most of her term no one attended from her office. CM Brown’s office usually attends and it is not unusual for her to show up at the meeting as well.

    You really expect to talk to a CM member on the cell phone. There are many other methods by which to contact her office.

  7. Jake says:

    I am a member of a Super Neighborhood. Brenda was too busy to attend while she was CM and for most of her term no one attended from her office. CM Brown’s office usually attends and it is not unusual for her to show up at the meeting as well.

    You really expect to talk to a CM member on the cell phone. There are many other methods by which to contact her office.

  8. Mainstream says:

    I am late to respond, but Ron Hale is supporting Stardig, not sitting on the sidelines. He is also an intriguing candidate for the Texas State Senate, perhaps a longshot, but who knows what might happen in a Democrat primary.