Mayoral candidate forum season is underway

They talk about the arts.

Not exactly

Houston’s mayoral candidates were full of praise for the city’s arts scene Wednesday, when they appeared at a forum together for the first time, though most said they would not support raising taxes or allocating new city funds to support arts and culture.

The forum hosted by four city arts groups – Houston Arts Alliance, Houston Museum District, Theater District Houston and Miller Outdoor Theatre – featured seven of the candidates vying to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker and kicks off a series of similar interest-specific events leading up to November’s election.

The relatively conflict free event at the Asia Society Texas Center drew a standing room only crowd. It opened with statements from each of the candidates, who then went on to answer three arts and culture-related questions.

The first addressed the city’s recently implemented cap on arts funding from hotel occupancy tax revenues, about 19 percent of which are set aside to fund city arts organizations. Two years ago, City Council passed an ordinance capping the city’s arts and culture spending through this revenue stream, prompting criticism from some of the grantees.

Four of the seven candidates – former congressman and City Council member Chris Bell, former mayor of Kemah Bill King, businessman Marty McVey and state Rep. Sylvester Turner – said they do not support the cap. The other three – City Council member Stephen Costello, former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and 2013 mayoral runner-up Ben Hall – did not come out directly in favor of the limit but said they would want to further review it once in office.

The second question addressed whether the candidates would support additional funding for arts education, with the final moderator-posed question touching on whether the candidates would see through Parker’s cultural plan. It is currently being created and is intended to guide Houston’s arts and cultural development in the coming decades.

CultureMap filled in the third question.

While much of the evening was taken up with policy wonk questions about a cap on the Houston Hotel Occupancy Tax (aka the HOT tax), which funds arts projects around the city, the best — and most humanizing question — came from an audience member, who asked, “Who is your favorite artist and why?” You could almost see the wheels turning in each candidate’s head as he scrambled to come up with an unscripted answer.

First up was former Kemah mayor Bill King, who lamely listed Van Gogh, whom he first learned about from his history teacher many years ago. Businessman Marty McVey picked the 13th century poet Rumi for the “great solace” his work provides, which drew applause of one audience member.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner was the first to turn the discussion to Houston artists — John Biggers and Michelle Barnes are among his favorites, and the other candidates quickly followed his lead, with Bell listing Lamar Briggs, Houston City Council member Stephen Costello mentioning Mark Foyle, muralist Ashley Winn and Justin Garcia, and former sheriff Adrian Garcia picking his daughter along with Project Row Houses founder Rick Lowe.

Attorney Ben Hall had the most unconventional answer — he’s mad about Surrealists M.C. Escher and Salvador Dali. “Read into that what you may,” he said cryptically.

I’d have gone with Beans Barton myself, though I have to admit that MC Escher is a fine answer if one doesn’t care about local pandering. Nancy Sims and Texas Leftist also reported on this forum.

Next, they talked about the budget.

Houston mayoral hopefuls swapped plans to shore up the city’s finances at a forum Thursday, pledging everything from pension reform to scrapping the city’s crime lab.

The event drew little in the way of political fireworks, with the rival candidates largely sticking to their own talking points at the University of Houston student center. More than 200 people were in attendance.

The forum was hosted by SPARC Growth Houston, a coalition of economic development groups that encircle the downtown core SPARC representatives asked six of the candidates jockeying to replace term-limited Annise Parker four questions, giving them 90 seconds to respond.

The seventh candidate, Ben Hall, the mayoral runner-up in 2013, was not present Thursday.


The questions from SPARC largely focused on how the candidates would spur economic development in neighborhoods to the north, east and south of downtown. The first question, however, broached how the candidates would curb the city’s looming budget deficit and drew more specific answers.

Looks like the candidate for people who thinks the revenue cap is stupid is Chris Bell, with Sylvester Turner the runnerup. There’s another forum this morning at Talento Bilingue in the East End to focus on labor and community issues, and there will be many many more after that. Find one that appeals to you and go hear what the candidates have to say for themselves. PDiddie has more.

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15 Responses to Mayoral candidate forum season is underway

  1. Steven Houston says:

    Kuff has asked in the past what constitutes a “frill” when it comes to city spending and I have long stood firm in saying outright that arts spending is such, knowing it doesn’t sit well with the far right. I support the arts out of my own pocket and have in a very big way for decades now but that is a choice regarding my income. The city does not have unlimited money to throw at arts and in most cases, shouldn’t even be in the running to spend or apply for grants in the field. Campos reports that King wanted to lift the cap on arts spending via a Rebecca Elliott tweet, if accurate proves he panders on a scale the others can only dream of (the people I spoke with suggest King is no more arts friendly than anyone else right-of-center, the man telling a select audience what they wanted to hear). McVey isn’t a big enough “name” to discuss, and Turner is a long time supporter of arts so at least he seems in line with his past actions.

    On the second forum, strangely enough I think King was correct on some points even if he over plays the savings they might yield on a scale to match his (and Costello’s) suggestion that pensions are the damnation of all Houston city finance. Why should the city duplicate services with a second, full scale crime lab? In the past, King has suggested this would provide a $20 million savings (give or take) per year which is completely false, the money invested in equipment and real estate is sunk, the elephant in the room being that Harris County is NOT going to do the work for free any more than if we disbanded the police to let HCSO police the city. To a large degree though, he is right that it is a spending problem more than a revenue problem; as long as you buy into the belief that the city should simply drop a multitude of services (maintaining the same services, even handled more efficiently, means more revenue is needed).

    Costello puts most of his eggs in one basket, his long held fantasy that city pensions are the sole harbinger of doom when they amount to under 10% of the total city budget killing off any credibility he thought he had.
    Garcia has had to work under the thumb of the GOP dominated Commissioner’s Court yet shown he learned from his predecessors in “Creative Financing 101” with commissary profits used to fuel projects CC refused to finance, many of the changes in limbo unless successor Hickman can figure out how to take credit for them. In his favor, he did start prioritizing to the point where he wanted to dump as many of the mentally ill on “someone else” other than his jails, sought reforms to bonding to allow more to await trial on personal recognizance bonds, and seek changes in how to determine which inmates were better left incarcerated versus being let out (he never got around to having his deputies write tickets for minor drug charges though).
    Bell’s belief that pensions are unsustainable nets him a low grade considering he voted for each increase in benefits and most benefits were cut heavily after he left. His willingness to look at the whole picture isn’t a bad idea but lacking specifics doesn’t help.
    Hall was the guy who touted that two thirds of Houstonians were not paying their fair share of property taxes and didn’t care to attend the forum.
    McVey’s big focus on bringing in new development is fine until you consider two points; 1) the city routinely gives incentives for new businesses to move here in the form of lowering their taxes substantially and 2) much of the new business moving in the city limits is directed into one of the existing TIRZ zones so the city’s general fund doesn’t see any incremental benefit after the initial move. So bringing in new businesses that use city services but can’t manage to pay their own way strikes me as a bad manner of finance, at least as long as a TIRZ is in place (how many of those to date have fulfilled their mission and dismantled versus finding all new missions to continue on; a rhetorical question at best).
    Turner, if truly supportive of failed budgeting schemes from the 80’s like “Zero Based Budgeting”, also supported by King, loses points for that though picks some of them up for a willingness to consider everything.

    In short, if you are a die hard Republican, by all means vote for Costello, and if you are a die hard Democrat, you aren’t going to find a better representative than Turner, all the others bouncing around trying to form political coalitions to make the runoff before they show their true colors.

  2. Manuel Barrera says:

    Oh my, what is an independent to do:-)

  3. Steven Houston says:

    MB, independents get to pick their poison, though in your case, I’d shy away from Costello since he clearly intends to change pensions for those who’ve retired (dropping your cola, eliminating what’s left of the health care subsidy).

  4. Manuel Barrera says:

    Steven, retired does not necessarily mean not working.

    Costello I would never vote for, wish we could find out how much his company has made from the rain tax. But him and the mayor have made it very difficult to find out.

    There are two people that I will not support one is Costello and the other is Garcia. I believe that Ben Hall will make a good mayor, but he does not how to pick people to help with his campaigns.

  5. Steven Houston says:

    Manuel, I had a feeling about that (you working post retirement) before you alluded to your pension. My impression was that Costello made some serious bank off the arrangement, Parker perhaps going along to gain more secure footing. But yes, Costello is a one trick pony when it comes to where his focus is, a modern day Bruce Tatro of sorts in this mayoral run, and lacking in any real credibility given his assertions. Garcia is far from an optimal choice either but Hall did enough damage on his own that assigning blame on his ill fated run to others seems misplaced. Whatever happens later this year, I just can’t help feeling there were many much better equipped candidates that should have run but didn’t.

  6. Ross says:

    Manuel, just ask the City for a list of payments to Costello’s company. They City doesn’t get ti hide stuff like that.

  7. Manuel Barrera says:

    Ross, that used to be case, getting information from the city now is a big ordeal. I will state that now that the former City Attorney is gone, maybe things have changed.

    I do open records requests often, the worse government agency at this time is Houston Community College, they have sued the Attorney General rather than provide me with information.

    The City of Houston is a close second, so much so that I am used to them sending everything to the AG for a ruling, means about a 3 months delay.

    HISD, is pretty good about getting information to one, but they tend to forget that one requested information, so you have to sometimes remind them.

    The County is also good, the problem is finding where to send the request.

    Will point out that HCC has gotten much worse under the leadership of Zeph Capo as chair. I.E. I sent four requests to HCC all of them were sent to the AG, including a request of how the Chancellor was using his credit card, how much were they spending on attorneys. Before Capo those two requests would have been sent without a 3 months delay. I blame Capo because as Chair he has the power to do something about it.

  8. Manuel Barrera says:

    Oh yes, after the AG ruled against HCC, they asked for a rehearing which is not an option, another 3 week delay. I wrote them telling them it was not an option, but they did not care.

  9. Manuel Barrera says:

    Steven, funny you brought up Tatro, as I had the please of working with him, I was senior aide (for another council member) when Tatro was council member. I remember pointing out things to him that any true conservative would find troubling, his response was I don’t care, he talked a good game. Like when Lee Brown started using hocus pocus to show a balanced budget.

  10. Steven Houston says:

    Manuel, I suspect most people visiting this blog have little idea just how much work it is getting information from certain agencies, especially the city, unless they want you to have something (whatever information they want you to have which isn’t the same thing as what we usually ask for). Tatro was one of the first people I ever met that didn’t care about residency requirements, listing his mother’s little blue house to run for office yet clearly not living anywhere near there (a running joke between “Housnitch” Flores and I, may she RIP). His minion, Earl LaBlanc, taught me all sorts of things about the reality vs the perception of public media accounts in regards to what “really” happened, furthering my education from Helen Huey and Martha Wong (no wonder I’m so cynical).

  11. Ross says:

    Well, that’s all bad, Manuel. Perhaps all government entities in Texas ought to be required to put their checkbooks online, just like school districts do, along with the account coding for each check, so we know what it was for.

  12. Mainstream says:

    I was a guest in Tatro’s little blue house before he was elected to council, and I find it hard to believe the allegation that he did not truly live there.

  13. Steven Houston says:

    If he lived there briefly or on rare occasion, that’s fine but three of his neighbors made it crystal clear that he did not visit the house very often (I thought I’d drop off something for him one night rather than try to catch him at city hall later that week). I was looking at houses in the area and the realtor who lived right up the street thought it was funny that I believed he lived there as well when I commented about the experience.

  14. Pingback: The other stuff that got discussed at the third forum – Off the Kuff

  15. Manuel Barrera says:

    Brenda Flores a good person who exposed much of what was wrong with the city.

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