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Endorsement watch: Turner and Brown

The Chron saved its biggest endorsement editorials for the Sunday edition. I did expect them to endorse Mayor Turner for another term, and they delivered, with more of an emphasis on the campaign than I would have thought.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Bats aren’t blind. The Great Wall of China is not really visible from space. And vaccines do not cause autism.

Many people believe these myths because they’ve heard them repeated enough times. Statements that are familiar start to feel right, regardless of accuracy.

It’s called illusory truth effect. And it’s been a powerful weapon in Houston’s rough-and-tumble mayoral race.

Houstonians have been told – at forums, in news articles, and in a barrage of TV ads – that Mayor Sylvester Turner’s tenure has been mired in corruption, that Houston has grown into a dangerous place under his watch, that he ignored the will of the people on firefighter raises.

If true, this editorial board would have no qualms about recommending that voters throw the bum out.

But facts – the real ones, scrutinized thoroughly by the Chronicle’s reporters in the newsroom – show a different picture.

While weak ethics rules make pay-to-play politics a perennial concern in Houston and Harris County politics, Turner’s opponents have failed to land a bombshell that proves he has abused his power. The most high-profile attempt to discredit Turner, involving a $95,000 “executive internship” created at the airport for a man who called Turner his mentor, fizzled after it was reported that the salary was in line with the employee’s experience and education, including three degrees.

While Houston’s violent crime has risen 6 percent during Turner’s tenure, FBI data show the rate of nonviolent crime has fallen 9 percent and overall crime has dropped 6 percent. Houston, like many major cities across America, has experienced a significant drop in crime over the past 30 years.

On Prop B, the voter-approved measure that granted firefighters pay parity with police – and, on average, a 29 percent raise in a cash-strapped, revenue-capped city – the mayor made good on his word to implement the measure, and the consequences, including layoffs, before the police union successfully overturned it in court.

[…]

Bats aren’t blind and neither are we. Prop B showed Turner was willing to do the right thing even when it was the hard thing. That’s the vision Houston needs, and it’s why we recommend Sylvester Turner, once again, for mayor.

It’s a solid editorial, and obviously I agree with its conclusion. We could have a conversation about the media’s role in those “myths” – the KPRC story about the “intern” was an embarrassment – but what’s done is done. And if as the polls suggest Turner wins and we never have to hear the words “Tony Buzbee” again, then I’ll live with it.

Over in the Controller’s race, the Chron endorses Chris Brown, in a less ringing fashion.

Chris Brown

In a city where the mayor’s office holds as much power as it does in Houston, checks and balances to that power ought to be nurtured and protected.

One of the biggest — and let’s face it, one of the few — checks on the Houston mayor’s office is the city controller. That office, elected independently every four years, is responsible for reviewing the city’s finances and reporting on their soundness without fear or favor.

Just as important, the controller has sole discretion to decide which areas of government — from the police to affordable housing to garbage collection, or any of the hundreds of functions of City Hall — should be subjected to performance audits.

Orlando Sanchez, the former City Council member and three-term Harris County treasurer, argues that incumbent Controller Chris Brown has failed to make adequate use of his auditing authority and thus provide the vitally important independent check on Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Sanchez, who was voted out as Harris County treasurer in 2018, raises a legitimate concern: A review of audits authorized by Brown reveals mostly efforts to find ways City Hall can save money — always a welcome goal — and few sweeping assessments of high-profile city departments, which could help hold the administration accountable.

Consider how many of the major debates involving the races for mayor and Council have turned on questions about operations at major city departments — from police use of body cameras and no-knock warrants to the city’s use of drainage fee revenues and how Turner processed Harvey recovery funds.

But while Sanchez promises to use the audit function more aggressively, he has no experience doing so. As county treasurer, he mostly focused on writing checks and managing the county’s bills. The kind of aggressive, independent audit function he promises would be an entirely new role for him.

Honestly, the cold statement that Orlando Sanchez has no relevant experience after twelve years in elective office is all you really need. Use that paragraph in any future story that mentions Orlando Sanchez, if there ever is a need for there to be a story that mentions Orlando Sanchez. And vote for Chris Brown, he’s fine.

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8 Comments

  1. I posed this question on Twitter yesterday and no one could answer it. But maybe you can.

    Has the Chronicle ever not endorsed an incumbent candidate for mayor of Houston?

  2. Good question. Maybe 1991, when Bob Lanier and Sylvester Turner were running against Kathy Whitmire? I’m just guessing.

  3. Mainstream says:

    No, the Chronicle supported Whitmire in the first round of the 1991 Mayoral contest.

  4. Mainstream says:

    But maybe 1981 when Whitmire challenged incumbent Jim McConn and Jack Heard?

  5. IIRC, the Chronicle endorsed McConn in the three-way 1981 race and then Whitmire in the runoff against Heard when McConn didn’t make the runoff.

  6. Jason Hochman says:

    The Chronicle is part of the courtesan class that stands at the cafeteria counter and dishes out the tripe that the random quote generators in the ruling class prepare for public consumption. What happened to the days when newspapers had a muck rake to keep the rulers in check, keep them honest. Does nobody remember when Wayne Dolcefino landed a bombshell about Turner and someone named Sylvester Foster, who signed his will, bought millions of dollars of life insurance, and then fell overboard and drowned until he turned up in prison some where, and Turner was living with a man who was going to probate the will, and Turner sued Dolcefino, won a judgment, which was then over turned. You can watch the news report on You Tube.

    Does nobody care that HUD determined that Turner and COH violated Title VI? You can read the voluntary compliance agreement with HUD, but YOU probably want to keep all of the people in their proper place. You will say that no, that agreement says that Turner admits no guilt. I am a progressive and would love to hear one progressive thing that Turner has done for the city.

    Chris Brown and Orlando Sanchez are both professional candidates, who hope to get into whatever office they can get into, instead of getting a job or something. The Chronicle reasoning that Sanchez has never used the audit function makes him unqualified is absurd. I got news for ya: that stuff ain’t rocket surgery. How could anyone do a job for the first time, if experience is the only qualifier for the job. So yeah, that’s the rationale for keeping the guy who allegedly approved the low interest loan to a company that bought property he owned above market value…no conflict there, right? I also wonder why the Chronicle endorses someone who violated Title VI and endorses someone with an English name over someone with a Spanish sounding name?

  7. Jules says:

    The Chronicle is all about access journalism and getting a lot of nice stories from their embedded reporter at City Hall – not about getting their hands dirty and bringing real journalism.

    The Chronicle is all about printing press releases from companies as news stories.

    The Chronicle is all about having ads cover their access journalism/press releases/articles from other papers making them impossible to read online.

  8. Steve Houston says:

    Jason, what you are leaving out was how Turner was vindicated in that trial, the yellow “journalist” thoroughly discredited by the trial and appellate courts even if he ultimately won the appeal based on technical grounds. After all these years of his detractors using the bogus story as though it proved Turner’s alleged wrongdoing, his detractors still cling to proven falsehoods that he did anything illegal. The same holds true for your repeated desperation regarding the HUD story except the city never was given an actual trial, both parties entering into the agreement to improve longstanding policies that existed for years before Turner became mayor.

    The fact is that not a single challenger for the mayor’s office has even close to the levels of experience needed to run the city. Buzbee is a civil lawyer with absolutely no experience in managing a municipality and given his stated positions, would bankrupt the city if allowed. King ran a tiny bedroom community and did so in a manner that really wasn’t encouraging, perhaps you forget how he supported a sexual predator of children:
    “King also opposed the ouster of the former chief of the Kemah Volunteer Fire Department, David Dockens, after it was discovered he had a 1987 conviction for sexually assaulting a ten-year-old girl. Dockens was forced to resign in 2002 due to pressure from the water board, which controls the department’s funding. Water board members say they were incensed that King and other Kemah city officials knew of Dockens’s past long before his appointment as chief.” (from the Michael Barajas story in the Press)

    Of course you’ve also gone on record as supporting Demetria Smith so I’ll just let others decide what to make of your endorsements…