Mayoral race gets ugly down the home stretch

Well, we’ve seen the Sanchez and White camps go negative lately, and now there’s a flyer being circulated by some fringe elements which accuses Bill White and several City Council candidates of conspiring to “eliminate black leadership”.

After a decorous debate earlier this month, the mayoral candidates and their entourages emerged from a local television station to find splashy fliers pinned under the windshield wipers of their cars.

“Is Bill White secretly funding a campaign to eliminate black leadership?” the flier read as it advertised a town hall meeting in the Third Ward to “preserve black leadership now.” The meeting was convened by grass-roots activists, including Robert Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, Quanell X of the New Black Panther Party and several Baptist ministers.

They apparently were reacting to news stories about a scheme to dilute the share of mayoral candidate White’s vote by getting another man with the same name to run for mayor. Candidate White paid a woman engineering the scheme $5,000 after she abandoned it, and she claimed she had been paid by Sylvester Turner’s campaign to put it together. Turner angrily denied any connection, and his supporters suggested White was trying to discredit Turner.

That fake-Bill-White story still has legs, doesn’t it? It’s not front and center, but it’s still there, and if this effort is taken at all seriously, it could really hurt White in a runoff.

Anyway, the story has some intriguing angles in it.

White’s campaign says the attacks are unfounded and unfair.

“It’s offensive, especially for those of us who know how committed Bill is to inclusion,” said White campaign spokeswoman Myra Jolivet, who is black. “That inclusion is very visible in our campaign. You can come over to our headquarters any day and see people of every ethnicity, race and walk of life.”

Other racial overtones are peculiar to this race.

Former Harris County Democratic Chairwoman Sue Schechter, a former state representative who worked alongside Turner in the House and has endorsed him, says most of her white Democratic friends automatically assumed she would back White.

“Turner’s done incredible work in the time he’s been in the Legislature and no one can dispute that. He’s also speaker pro tem and serves on the appropriations committee overseeing the state’s budget. Why can’t that be enough to show he can be trusted? It’s a subtle racial issue that I’m arguing over and over everyday,” Schechter says.

“The money factor also poses the same kind of racial barrier because there are not that many minorities in the upper financial echelon here to do what White is doing,” she adds, pointing to the more than $2 million of his own money White is pouring into his campaign.

[Marc] Campos, the Turner consultant, bluntly calls it “the great white hope factor.”

“A lot of white Democrats, particularly in this state, are frustrated because there’s less and less opportunity for them to vote for other white Democrats. Most single-member districts go for minorities and most Republicans vote for whites,” Campos says.

You know, somewhere Grover Norquist is reading this and patting himself on the back. Do we really need to make his job any easier? For what it’s worth, Marc, this white Democrat is frustrated because there’s less and less opportunity to vote for Democrats who win. Think about that for awhile and get back to me when you’re ready to talk about it.

Over on today’s editorial page, Andrea Georgsson adds a little gasoline to the fire by speculating about Turner as Houston’s Ralph Nader. After concluding that “voters who want a competent mayor” must choose between White and Turner, she wonders if voting for Turner will ultimately help Sanchez.

The nail-biting decision for many voters who support Turner is that they might be throwing their vote away on him, either by preventing Bill White from winning outright — dubious — or putting Turner in a runoff with Sanchez, where Turner could lose in a two-man match-up. As much as some might want to see Turner win what he, some say unfairly, lost to Bob Lanier in ’91, they don’t want to live with the kind of regrets some Democrats have because they voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in 2000, sinking Al Gore’s candidacy and putting George W. Bush in the White House.

The real question is why there is this undercurrent to Turner’s campaign. Is it lingering doubt that there really was something to the news reports linking Turner to a scandal, one that most people have long forgotten the details of? Or is it because Turner is black? Some people believe that some voters won’t vote for a black candidate no matter what his qualifications are. Some people believe that because Mayor Lee Brown — despite his successes on rail, the new ballpark, the new football stadium, the convention center hotel, the Super Bowl — is perceived to have been a mediocre black mayor, Turner will be tainted because he’s also black.

Turner, for his part, has worked hard to court broad support. He shows a certain amount of frustration with race-based questions: He answered a question about whether Houstonians would be willing to elect a second black mayor in a row with glossed-over, but obvious frustration.

Naturally, many voters will agree with the Chronicle Editorial Board that Bill White would be the best choice for Houston’s next mayor. But if voters look at Turner’s record and qualifications, decide he is the best candidate and then reject him because they don’t believe he can beat Orlando Sanchez, then Houston has not come as far as I have so fervently hoped.

Brown has been a mediocre mayor, full stop. I think Turner would be a decent mayor, I just think he’s the second best candidate behind White. I also think White has a much better shot at beating Sanchez in a runoff than Turner would, though I will certainly support Turner in that runoff. If someone wants to impute racial motives into that, I can’t stop them.

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5 Responses to Mayoral race gets ugly down the home stretch

  1. Steve Bates says:

    I also think White has a much better shot at beating Sanchez in a runoff than Turner would, though I will certainly support Turner in that runoff. If someone wants to impute racial motives into that, I can’t stop them.

    No racial motives imputed, Charles, and I’ll deal with other issues on my own blog tomorrow (as if it will make any difference)… but I don’t see how the most recent numbers in the Click2Houston poll a couple of days ago (White 38%, Sanchez 32%, Turner 26%), if they are credible, spell what you say.

    With White well in the lead, and Sanchez slipping over the last week or so, I just don’t see a White/Turner vote split allowing Sanchez to win it outright without a runoff. And while I’m sure there are some White supporters who wouldn’t support Turner in a runoff, and there are probably Turner supporters who wouldn’t support White, by and large, either candidate’s supporters seem to me more likely to back the other in a runoff if Sanchez is the other choice. I’ll be happy if either Turner or White ends up mayor, but I voted yesterday for my first choice… Turner… based on that assumption.

    The “Nader of Houston” rhetoric seems way out of line to me: IIRC, Nader spoiled with less than five percent, and was never a credible candidate. Turner has run a sufficiently credible campaign that at various times he seemed to have a chance of winning the office. I.e., Nader was a spoiler, pure and simple; Turner is and has always been a serious candidate, even if he looks unlikely to win now.

  2. I agree the Nader comparison is an overbid, but any time there are multiple candidates in a race, some calculation has to be done. I did the same thing in 2001, weighing the value of a vote for Chris Bell depending on the relative poll positions of Brown and Sanchez. Many of the Council races are like that this year, with multiple Democrats and one Republican.

    Anyway, I hope you’re right about crossover support. Barring an unlikely White-Turner runoff, we’ll find out soon enough.

  3. The Houston Mayoral Race

    Kuffner posts some thoughts on the Houston mayoral race, and links to this account that suggests some black activists in Houston aren’t exactly enamored with Bill White.

    Charles concludes that W…

  4. Craig Stewart says:

    Don’t be shocked when Turner makes it to the runoff, and then wins the whole enchilada. He is the most qualified, experienced, and proven candidate. If votes were cast without bias for the purely best candidate, he would place first, White second, Sanchez a distant third.

    Turner has more years of business experience than the other two combined. He has more years of political experience than the other two combined. He grew up dirt poor, but pulled himself up by his bootstraps, valedictorian of Klein during the era of integration, graduated with honors from U of H, and then with honors from Harvard Law School. Yet wherever I go, people seem surprised that he is he most articulate and knowledgeable candidate. Is this subtle racism?

    And about Bill White’s alleged diversity within his campaign: where was that diversity when he was assembling a management team for his corperation? Every single person on the Wedge Group’s management team is a white male. Seems like his actions should speak louder than his words. Check it out at, click on management team.

  5. Tim says:

    The Nader comparison is a non-starter. The U.S. presidential election doesn’t have a runoff between only Bush and Gore. I don’t believe a U.S. President has received a true majority of the popular vote since Bush Senior in ’88.

    The “spoiler factor” really doesn’t come into major play unless one can win an election outright with a plurality (i.e. less than 50% + 1 of the total vote).

    As long as there is a runoff required, a vote for Turner is NOT a vote for Sanchez in the same way a vote for Nader was a vote for Bush. The only way Sanchez could win is if he got more than 50% of the first ballot — and I see none of these three doing that.

    The only way this could be an significant issue is if you believe that substantially more White voters would vote for Sanchez over Turner than Turner voters who would pick Sanchez over White. I’m not really convinced of that.

    I’d love to see an instant runoff here, so that the two survivors couldn’t have time to “reinvent” themselves in a phony way to court the voters for the failed third candidate. If you alienated someone in early November, you don’t have a chance to suck up to them and suddenly claim that you want what they want.

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