Endorsement season

The Chron has started endorsing candidates in the last week or so. I’m not at all surprised to see today’s endorsement of Bill White for Mayor, since White is exactly the kind of candidate the Chron generally endorses. I’m moderately but pleasantly surprised to see yesterday’s endorsement of Annise Parker for City Comptroller, mostly because Bruce Tatro and Gabriel Vasquez good candidates who also fit the Chron’s endorsement profile. And I’m disappointed but not too surprised that they endorsed Boy Wonder Berry for City Council At Large Position 5.

Two items of interest in the Chron’s endorsement of White. First is how they handled the Other Bill White mini-scandal.

White, in a much publicized incident, paid political activist Brenda Flores $5,000 for “information on effort to confuse voters,” when he learned of a scheme to get a second man named William “Bill” White to enter the mayoral race. Flores said she took money from a consultant for another mayoral candidate but backed out of the trick and needed to pay the money back.

Candidate White demonstrated at best a remarkable political naivete and appalling lack of judgment, and worse, a troubling tin ear on how engaging in murky dealings with campaign cash might be interpreted.

We believe, however, that White will learn from the mistake.

All things considered, White couldn’t have asked for a better treatment on that. Item Two concerns an aspect of White’s experience, which was the major factor in his getting the Chron’s pick.

White has risen to challenges and shown innovation, as when in 2001 he headed a civic task force that formulated a plan to restructure city debt and raise millions of dollars for parks and libraries without increasing taxes or damaging the city’s bond ratings.

That provided some fodder in yesterday’s debate.

Mayoral candidates Sylvester Turner and Orlando Sanchez used a televised debate Saturday to double-team opponent Bill White, criticizing him for helping Mayor Lee Brown with city finances in 2001.

Turner said White’s assistance in refinancing bond debt, which helped the city find an additional $120 million for parks and libraries, also created $51 million in additional debt payments.


[In 2001], White responded to a request by Brown, the Greater Houston Partnership and the City Council to restructure the city’s debt. His plan also included suggestions on how the city could finance its capital improvements program over the next decade, replenish its “rainy day” coffers, and still allow future councils and administrations the financial flexibility to handle contingencies.

The bond package White helped devise allowed the city to issue $776 million in bonds for streets, drainage, police and fire facilities, parks, libraries, housing, and general improvements without a tax increase.

During the debate, Turner said a better plan would have been a debt restructuring that did not cause any additional debt payments.

“Let’s not restructure it like we restructure a debt on a credit card, because I think homeowners try to avoid that,” Turner said.

White responded that while the average maturity of the debt lengthened from just over six years to eight years, the annual debt payments were lower.

“This is why this plan was endorsed by the major employers in town, the Greater Houston Partnership, was passed through council, was endorsed by the city controller and had no organized opposition,” said White, a member of the partnership’s executive committee. “The voters of this community voted 80 percent in favor of the bond issue.”

I’m not exactly sure what Turner had in mind for a different restructuring here. I doubt that getting a significantly lower interest rate was a viable option, so extending the terms in return for lower individual payments is pretty much all that’s left. For sure, you can argue against it, but what would have been Plan B? Orlando Sanchez voted to put the debt plan up for approval via referendum, so he had no grounds for griping there.

Anyway, with the election two weeks off, expect to see an endorsement a day from here on out. I can’t wait to see who they select for District H.

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