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RIP, Bob Lanier

Houston’s iconic Mayor of the 1990s has passed away.

Bob Lanier, a 6-foot-4 cowboy boot-wearing, sports-crazy political sharpshooter who rose from modest beginnings in blue-collar Baytown to become one of Houston’s biggest developers and most influential mayors, died Saturday. He was 89.

In January 1992, Lanier began a six-year tenure as mayor that, in its successes, was hailed as a model for reducing crime and revitalizing the inner city.

At various times, for various reasons, Lanier was likened to Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. The commonality was that Lanier, the son of a Methodist minister turned oilfield roustabout, invariably was measured against America’s greatest movers and shakers.

“I’d put him with (Chicago Mayor Richard) Daley and (New York City Mayor Fiorello) La Guardia as one of the great mayors in 20th century history,” University of Houston political science guru Richard Murray once said. “He has the ability to get things done.”

To former state Sen. Jon Lindsay, who entered public life as a county judge in 1975, Lanier was the most powerful person on the Houston scene in the century’s closing decades. To county Commissioner Steve Radack, he was “authoritarian with a smile.” For former city councilman and current Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, Lanier simply was “the 800-pound gorilla.”

The news of his death Saturday prompted remembrances of his fierce intelligence and confident swagger.

Mayor Annise Parker said Lanier “left a lasting mark” on Houston.

“Never one to shy away from a tough battle, he used his strength and popularity to push through affirmative action protections, rebuild the city’s wastewater system, improve neighborhoods and add hundreds of officers to the police force,” Parker said in a statement.

Lanier’s wife, Elyse, whom he married in 1984, said in a statement that his decades of public service “brought a smile to his face and a twinkle to his eye these last few years.”

“Bob wanted me to pass on a final goodbye and a hearty, ‘Thank you for making a guy like me look good!’‚ÄČ” she wrote.

Lanier certainly left his mark on Houston, and his influence on Houston politics continued well past his last day in office. I confess I wasn’t his biggest fan – he was not a friend to mass transit, to say the least – but now is not the time to get into that. He was an iconic figure in Houston politics, he did a lot of good, and he will be missed. My sincere condolences to his family and friends. Rest in peace, Bob Lanier. Texpatriate has more.

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One Comment

  1. Charly Hoarse says:

    My favorite Lanier story is one that he told himself, that he worked as a newspaper reporter until he found out how much money his editor was making and then he decided to go to law school. I got a kick out of seeing him at a John Whitmire fundraiser once. He was wearing a nice brown jacket and tie over a pair of black tuxedo pants with the satin stripe down the sides (and cowboy boots of course.) You could tell that he didn’t have anybody laying out his clothes for him.