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At Large #2

Chron overview of At Large #2

The Chron looks at one of the most competitive races involving an incumbent on the ballot this year.

CM Andrew Burks

CM Andrew Burks

A minister, architect and city accountant are vying to unseat Councilman Andrew C. Burks Jr. from the Position 2 at-large seat on the Houston City Council, but Burks and his challengers differ on what the most important issue in the campaign should be.

Burks, 62, a minister and owner of AM-PM Telephone Service Inc., is seeking his second term, having won two years ago in his seventh attempt at a city council seat; overall, this is his 13th run for office. He is facing three challengers: David Robinson, 47, owner of Robinson Architectural Workshop; Trebor Gordon, 51, an associate pastor at Central Canaan Christian Church; and Modesto “Moe” Rivera, 58, an accounting supervisor for the city airport system.

The issues they see as key to the campaign are strikingly different, ranging from tax exemptions for senior citizens to the size of the city budget.

Worth reading the whole thing, especially if like me you’re one of those weird people that cares about issues and wants to know what priorities candidates have and what they plan to do about them. My interview with CM Burks is here and with David Robinson is here. I did not interview Trebor Gordon or Modesto Rivera-Colon, but you can see Texpatriate Q&As with them here and here, respectively; Rivera-Colon also did a Q&A with Texas Leftist here. The Chron endorsed Robinson. As I suggested earlier, I think CM Burks may be in some trouble, but we’ll see. Even after two sitting Council members were bounced in 2011, it has still been very difficult in the term limits era to oust an incumbent.

Endorsement watch: Twofer number two

Another pair of endorsements from the Chron, again one obvious and one that required more thought. First, the easy one.

CM Al Hoang

CM Al Hoang

Centered along the Westpark Tollway toward the city’s far west edges, District F is Houston’s international district.

When people from around the world immigrate to Houston, that Houston is often in District F. Home to large parts of Asia Town, especially Vietnamese communities, the district’s diversity also includes a growing Hispanic base. It is almost like the Alief and Westside neighborhoods are the setting for Houston’s own West Side Story – parents seeking the American dream, kids breaking cultural barriers and, unfortunately, gang violence. You may even find choreographed musical numbers at karaoke bars.

Incumbent Council Member Al Hoang’s first term was marred by controversy, but he’s spent the second delivering for his district. Voters should give him a third.

The Chron endorsed his opponent in 2011, but unlike that year CM Hoang drew only a no-name challenger, and as the Chron notes he did have a better term this time around. I’m not exactly the world’s biggest fan of CM Hoang, but the choice this year was clear.

The more interesting choice was in At Large #2, and for the third time so far the Chron recommended a vote for a challenger to an incumbent.

David Robinson

David Robinson

The task of Houston’s five city council members at-large is to see the proverbial big picture while being well-briefed on the needs of City’s Council’s diverse 11 single-member districts. Only the mayor and city controller have similarly broad, citywide duties.

In At-large Position 2, the vision needs to be more expansive than that shown during the two-year incumbency of Andrew C. Burks, whose performance has not met acceptable standards.

Reports of the sitting councilman’s less than courteous behavior toward constituents coming before council on several occasions are especially concerning.

Burks has drawn three capable opponents in this November’s race. From this group, we recommend the candidacy of David Robinson, a challenger to Burks in the 2011 race for the seat formerly held by three-term Council member Sue Lovell.

Robinson, 47, holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Yale and a master’s in architecture from Rice University. He is a practicing architect and planner with strong, informed views on how Houston’s future should be shaped.

Robinson’s previous service to the city is extensive. He was appointed to the city Planning Commission by Mayor Bill White and reappointed by Mayor Annise Parker.

His direct involvement with the city’s neighborhoods runs equally as deep. Robinson’s eight years as an officer of the Neartown Association included two terms as president. He currently serves as president of the citywide Super Neighborhood Alliance.

The Chron endorsed Kristi Thibaut in the open seat race last time. I’ve said plenty about this race, so I’ll just point you to my interviews from this cycle with Robinson and Burks. What are your thoughts on this endorsement?

Interview with David Robinson

David Robinson

David Robinson

Running against CM Burks in At Large #2 is David Robinson, which makes this a rematch of sorts from 2011, as both men ran in AL2 that year, though Robinson did not make the runoff. I had suggested a long time ago that a challenge to a first-term At Large member might offer a better chance at victory than a multi-candidate open seat race. Perhaps we’ll find out. Robinson is an architect and neighborhood activist, having been President of the Neartown Association and the citywide Super Neighborhood Alliance. He has also served on the City of Houston Planning Commission under Mayors Bill White and Annise Parker. Here’s what we talked about:

David Robinson interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

Interview with CM Andrew Burks

CM Andrew Burks

CM Andrew Burks

There are so far three races in which an incumbent Council member faces at least one credible opponent. The first is in At Large #2, where CM Andrew Burks is in his first term. As you know, CM Burks has a fascinating story. He had run for office – mostly but not exclusively Houston City Council – multiple times, enough that it’s hard to keep count of how often. He made it to a couple of runoffs, most recently in 2009 against then-incumbent Sue Lovell, but never won a race. Until 2011, of course, when he bested former State Rep. Kristi Thibaut in a runoff, having survived a field of nine candidates to get there. CM Burks is a native Houstonian, an Air Force veteran, and small business owner. Here’s our conversation:

Andrew Burks interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

July finance reports for At Large candidates

Still plowing my way through all the July finance reports. July and January are very busy months, since everybody has finance reports to do. After I’m done with the city candidates, I’ll be looking at HISD and HCC candidates, then Harris County officeholders and area legislators. Thank $deity the special sessions are finally over.

I’m going to split the At Large candidates into three groups – the three (so far) unchallenged incumbents, the At Large #2 candidates, and the open At Large #3 candidates. Here’s a summary of everyone’s finance reports so far:

Race Candidate Raised Spent On Hand Loan ------------------------------------------------------- AL1 Costello 155,590 42,389 161,646 15,000 AL2 Burks 40,910 17,867 18,042 0 AL2 Robinson 82,454 7,664 52,746 0 AL2 Gordon 1,540 100 1,078 0 AL2 Shabazz AL3 Kubosh 109,057 38,223 85,833 15,000 AL3 Calvert 83,906 18,587 75,318 10,000 AL3 Morales 37,625 2,413 35,211 0 AL3 Chavez 27,255 4,728 23,658 160 AL3 Pool 33,695 28,503 5,192 10,000 AL3 Carmona 0 0 0 0 AL3 Edwards AL4 Bradford 54,225 6,750 51,746 0 AL5 Christie 94,980 36,777 61,588 0

Unchallenged incumbents

Costello report
Bradford report
Christie report

All three are strong fundraisers, though clearly CM Costello is in a class by himself. If the rumblings I have heard about his future Mayoral ambitions are true, he’ll be very well placed in two years’ time. In addition to all of the usual PACs and big name players, with more donations of $1000+ than I’ve seen anywhere else save for perhaps Mayor Parker, the most interesting donation he got might have been the $40 he got from Stuart Rosenberg, who happens to be Mayor Parker’s campaign manager. I haven’t noticed Rosenberg’s name on any other report so far. Since I talked about consultant expenses in my post on Controller finance reports, I will note that Costello spent $36,500 on consultant fees, all of which were recurring expenses for his regular campaign operative. If you’re raising $150K+, that’s a sustainable amount.

CM Bradford, the other sitting Member with rumored Mayoral visions, raised about the same amount as he did in the same period in 2011. Thirty-six hundred of his total was in kind, for use of his personal vehicle and for office space. He had basically no expenses – that was the case for July 2011 as well – so I’m not sure why his cash on hand total isn’t higher. He didn’t file a January report as far as I can tell, and his January 2012 report showed a cash balance of $20K. I presume he had some expenses between then and January 2013, but I couldn’t tell you what they were. I can tell you that his July report showed no expenditures made on consultant services.

CM Christie also had a solid report, and like CM Bradford the last report I show for him is January 2012, when he had only $3K on hand after his bruising runoff win. He made numerous, mostly modest, contributions to various Republican groups, but I didn’t see any Republican officials among his donors. He spent $18K on consultant services, which represents six monthly payments to his primary person.

At Large #2

Burks report
Robinson report
Gordon report

There is a fourth candidate, Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, according to Campos‘ scouting of the filings with the City Secretary’s office. She did not have a report filed as of this publication. Note that Campos lists a Brent Gordon for At Large #2, and his political page has a Trebor Gordon in At Large #3. I think these are the same person, and he filed a second designation of treasurer to reflect that he switched races. But I’m just guessing.

CM Burks is in his first term after finally winning a race in 2011. This will be the first time he’s had to run as a serious candidate rather than as a gadfly. As you can see, compared to some others his report isn’t that impressive. He did get $17,500 in PAC donations ($5K each from HPD and HFD), which feels like it’s on the low end to me, but I didn’t do the math on the other candidates, so I could be wrong about that. I didn’t see any consultant fees, but he did list an expense of $1,250.65 for “placement of 4X8 signs around Houston”. You’ve probably seen a few of them adorning various hurricane fences around town.

David Robinson’s report is more like what you’d expect from an incumbent. You may recall that Robinson finished just out of the money in At Large #2 in 2011, and he made the calculation that I thought someone would that a rematch against now-CM Burks offered better odds than a multi-candidate pileup on AL3. He received contributions from numerous interesting people, including $3000 from Peter Brown, $500 from Anne Clutterbuck, $200 from Kristi Thibaut, and $100 from Sue Lovell, but none stood out to me more than the $1000 he got from chef/entrepreneur Bobby Heugel. I’m going to step out on a limb here and guess that Robinson will be a food truck supporter.

Gordon’s report omitted $8,610 worth of in kind donations, and $10K in pledged donations in its totals. There are always a few candidates who get confused about how to fill in these forms.

At Large #3

Kubosh report
Calvert report
Morales report
Chavez report
Pool report
Carmona report

Al Edwards and Trebor Gordon, if he is a distinct person from Brent Gordon, did not file reports as of publication.

At Large #3 is the one open At Large seat, and it has drawn a large crowd of candidates that can plausibly claim a path to victory. There’s quite a bit of variation in the finance reports, however.

Michael Kubosh

Michael Kubosh

Greg pointed out that Michael Kubosh’s report contained a $72,000 donation from “Felix M. Kubosh”, which would be illegal if it were a contribution from another person. (“Felix M. Kubosh” also made three more contributions, for another $24K, or $96K in total.) This drew a disdainful response from Big Jolly, because everybody knows that “Felix M. Kubosh” and “Michael Kubosh” are the same person. I mean, duh, right? So obvi.

Greg then fessed up to his sad lack of Kubosh family knowledge. I will simply note two things. One is that as far as I can tell, the name “Felix” is not to be found on the Kubosh for Council webpage. Similarly, a Google search for “Felix M Kubosh” does not display the name “Michael” on the first two result pages, though “Michael Felix” does appear on page 3. Suggestive, but hardly conclusive, since for all we know “Felix” is Michael Kubosh’s middle name, and the “M” in “Felix M Kubosh” could stand for Mark or Milton or Madagascar for all we know.

The other thing is that if you do a search on the name “Kubosh” at the Tax Assessor’s website, you will find not only a registration for Felix Michael Kubosh but also a registration for Christopher Michael Kubosh. Perhaps Big Jolly knows how to tell at a glance who is the One True Michael Kubosh, but I’m afraid that knowledge eludes a mere mortal such as myself. Thank goodness we have Big Jolly around to show us the way.

Be that as it may, the fact that Felix M. “Michael” Kubosh contributed $96K of his $109 total means he got $13K from everyone else, and if you subtract out the $5K he got from his brother Paul, he raised only $8K from people not named Kubosh. That casts his report in a rather different light. As to why he contributed to himself rather than loaning it to himself, or paying for things from personal funds with the intent to seek repayment later, since one can only repay a maximum of $15K on a loan to oneself for an At Large seat, I don’t know. I do know that Kubosh spent $19,500 on consultants, so perhaps they can explain the different options for self-funding to him. Kubosh also paid $3975 to one of those consultants for advertising and signage, and donated $5K to the Spring Branch Republicans.

That leaves Rogene Calvert with the strongest report among AL3 contenders. Like David Robinson, she had some interesting donors as well – $5K from Andrea White, $1K from Gordon Quan, and $100 from former County Clerk Beverly Kaufmann. Her expenses were fairly modest as well, so she should be in good position going forward. Remember, no one should ever overestimate their name ID in a race like this. Spend your money making sure the voters have at least heard of you.

One person that might be reasonably well known to the voters is former HCDE Trustee Roy Morales, who ran for At Large #3 twice in 2007, and for Mayor in 2011. He needed only 35 donors to generate that $37K in cash, for an average contribution by my calculation of $1077 per person.

Former Houston firefighter Roland Chavez received $10K from the HPFFA, which is the kind of support you’d expect them to show him, but it means they can’t give him any more unless he makes it to a runoff. He also got $200 from Sue Lovell and $100 from Bill White’s former chief of staff Michael Moore.

Jenifer Pool is one of two candidates in this race to have run for an At Large seat in 2011; Chris Carmona, who filed a report claiming no money raised or spent and who ran against AL3 incumbent Melissa Noriega last time, is the other. Pool’s contributions included $5K in kind. Though she spent a fair bit of money, she had no large single expenditures – I think I saw maybe one or two expenses that exceeded $1000. She had many small listings for consulting services that amounted to things like field work, social media, field supplies, and phone calls.

Al Edwards did not have a report filed as of this posting. I still don’t know what to make of his candidacy.

On a side note, PDiddie complains about the emphasis on finance reports as a proxy for candidate viability. He and I disagree on this point, which is fine and I don’t want to rehash any of that. I will simply note that finance reports are public information that candidates are required to disclose. I believe that information deserves to be reviewed and examined, so that anything questionable can be brought up. How else can we know if the candidates are doing what they’re supposed to do? You can assign any value you want to the contents of the report, I see this as an exercise in transparency.

That’s it for the citywide candidates. I’ll wrap up the Houston elections next with a look at the district races. Any questions or requests, let me know.

Midyear 2013 election update

Back in January, I took an early look at the 2013 elections in Houston. At the request of the folks at the Burnt Orange Report, who also printed my initial overview, here’s an update on the races in the city of Houston in 2013.

Mayor

Back in January, Mayor Parker had no declared opponents, though everyone expected former City Attorney Ben Hall to jump in, and there were whispers of other potential entrants. Hall made his candidacy official about two weeks after my initial report, and formally launched his campaign in March, though things have been fairly low key so far. Mayor Parker, who just kicked off her own campaign a couple of weeks ago, has been busy touting her achievements, of which there have been many in recent months, and pointing out all the glowing praise Houston is getting in the national media for its food scene, arts, employment opportunities, and affordable housing. Hall has been introducing himself to voters – he was the featured speaker at a recent event at HCDP headquarters; Mayor Parker will get her turn for that later in June – though thus far he has stuck to general themes and not presented much in the way of specific policy initiatives. He suffered some bad press a month ago when news of his frequent delinquency when paying property taxes surfaced. That subject, and the fact that Hall lived outside Houston in the tony suburb of Piney Point until last year – he was ineligible to vote in the 2009 city election – will likely come up again as the campaigns begin to engage with each other.

Two other candidates have joined the race as well. One is Green Party perennial Don Cook, who ran for an At Large Council seat in 2009 and 2011, for County Clerk in 2010, and for CD22 in 2012. The other is 2011 At Large #2 candidate Eric Dick, and you can keep the jokes to yourself, he’s way ahead of you on that. Besides his name, Dick is best known for covering the city with bandit campaign signs two years ago; the signs and the controversy that accompanied them did wonders for his name recognition and no doubt his law firm’s bottom line. It’s not clear if he intends to run a more serious campaign this time or if it’s just going to be another round of nailing things to utility poles and denying all knowledge of how they got there, but Dick’s emphasizing that he’s the “Republican” candidate in this nominally non-partisan race suggests that at least one person is thinking about the old pincer strategy.

We’ll have a better idea of where things stand when the campaign finance reports come out in six weeks. Hall has made much noise about his willingness to self-finance his campaign, but nothing says “broad-based support”, or the lack of it, than one’s list of small-dollar donors. It will also be interesting to see where the establishment goes, and if there are any defections from Parker 09 to Hall or Gene Locke 09 to Parker. Finally, on the subject of Republicans, it’s well known among insiders but not at all outside that circle that Hall has a couple of Republican operatives on his campaign payroll. I feel confident saying that fact will gain prominence after the July 15 reports begin to emerge. Until then, there’s the parody Ben Hall Twitter feed to keep those of you who are into that sort of thing amused.

City Controller

Incumbent Ronald Green, who like Mayor Parker is running for a third term, also now has an opponent, a Republican accountant by the name of Bill Frazer. Frazer now has a Facebook page for his campaign, but still no webpage that I can find. As noted before, Green has had some bad press, and he has never been a dynamic fundraiser or campaigner. He didn’t have a lot of cash on hand in January, and I don’t recall much activity there since then. He could conceivably be vulnerable to the right candidate and some bad luck. I don’t think Frazer is that candidate, and as far as luck goes all Green really needs is no more dirt to come out about him before November. Outside of open seat years, we really don’t have a history of Controller races in Houston. The office tends to get a lot less attention than Council does.

City Council At Large

I took an early look at At Large #3, the one open At Large seat, back in April, and nothing much has changed since then. It’s an interesting field, to say the least, with three candidates that have run citywide in the past, and the three that haven’t can credibly claim to have a base of support. There is no clear frontrunner, though the lack of a prominent African American candidate in the race is a factor that could ultimately affect its trajectory. I continue to believe that’s a void that will eventually be filled. Again, the campaign finance reports will bring a bit of focus to the picture, but most likely there will be not that much to see just yet. Generally speaking, the usual powers that be steer clear of these multi-candidate pileups until the runoff.

I noted before that there might be more opportunity in a head-to-head matchup against one of the two freshmen At Large Council members than in the wide open At Large #3 scramble. David Robinson, who finished fourth in the open At Large #2 race in 2011, has apparently taken that to heart and is challenging CM Andrew Burks for that seat. Burks has not particularly distinguished himself in his first term, but he is generally well liked and remains well known due to his many previous candidacies. So far, no one has emerged to take on Burks’ fellow freshman, CM Jack Christie, and the two members running for their third terms, CMs Stephen Costello and Brad Bradford, are also unopposed. Both Costello and Bradford are known to have future Mayoral ambitions, so the tea leaf readers will have some material to work with after the election. Actually, they’ll have some before it as well, since Bradford is listed as a Hall supporter, while Costello, along with CMs Ed Gonzalez and Al Hoang, are Parker supporters.

District City Council

There are only two open district Council seats thanks to the resignation of now-Harris County Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan, who was succeeded by CM Dave Martin last November. Martin will likely draw a challenger or two as the newbie on Council, but so far all of the action is elsewhere. I am aware of four candidates for the District D seat now held by CM Wanda Adams: businessman and former ReBuild Houston oversight board member Dwight Boykins, who had previously run for At Large #5 in 2003, losing to Michael Berry; Houston Housing Authority board member Assata Richards; photojournalist and businesswoman Georgia Provost; and community advocate Keith Caldwell, who ran for D in 2007 and finished fifth in the field of seven. There had been some buzz about former At Large #5 CM Jolanda Jones throwing her hat in and forcing a legal decision to clarify Houston’s term limits ordinance, but I haven’t heard anything about that in months and have no idea if it is still a possibility.

District I has proven to be the liveliest race so far, as candidates Graci Garces and Ben Mendez have already gotten into the kind of spat that one only sees in election years. Garces is the Chief of Staff to current District I member James Rodriguez, who in turn was Chief of Staff to State Rep. Carol Alvarado when she held that seat; Garces was also on Alvarado’s staff. Mendez is a businessman. They are joined in the race by community activist and Sheriff’s Department employee Robert Gallegos, and Leticia Ablaza. Ablaza is the former Chief of Staff to District A CM Helena Brown, who resigned from that position along with Deputy Chief of Staff RW Bray after less than five months on the job, and she challenged CM Rodriguez in 2011, finishing with 35% of the vote. To say the least, her presence in this race makes it one to watch.

Speaking of CM Helena Brown, the field for District A is big enough to make you think it was an open seat as well. In addition to the incumbent, candidates include former CM Brenda Stardig, who assured me on the phone a few weeks ago that she’s going to run a much more organized and focused campaign than she did in 2011 when Brown ousted her; Amy Peck, the District Director for Sen. Dan Patrick who finished third in District A in 2009; and Mike Knox, who has been an HPD officer, Board Member of the Houston Police Patrolmen’s Union, and Director of Community Service for the Spring Branch Management District. All three have good establishment Republican credentials, and I suspect the strategy for all three is to get into a runoff with Brown and hope to consolidate enough support against her to win. As always, the July finance report will tell an interesting tale, and this is one time where I think the usual suspects will not be on the sidelines early but will already be backing one horse or another.

HISD and HCC

There is one update to report on HISD races. District I Board Member and current Board President Anna Eastman is now opposed by community activist Hugo Mojica, who ran in the special election for City Council District H in May 2009 to succeed Sheriff Adrian Garcia and finished eighth in the field of nine. District I is my district, and while I think Hugo is a perfectly nice person, I think Anna Eastman is an outstanding Trustee, and I’ll be voting for her in the fall. There are no other active races I’m aware of, but the impending takeover of North Forest ISD will necessitate a redraw of Trustee districts that could force a special election in Districts II and VIII, where Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Juliet Stipeche now serve. Neither would be on the ballot in 2013 otherwise. I don’t know what all of the ramifications of this will be, but that’s a possibility to watch out for. Finally, while no one has yet announced a campaign against him, District IX Trustee Larry Marshall continues to provide ammunition for whoever does take the plunge.

Lastly, there are two developments in HCC. There is now a second special election on the ballot, as former Board President Richard Schechter stepped down in January after successfully leading the push for HCC’s bond referendum in November. The board appointed attorney and former General Counsel for HCC Leila Feldman to succeed Schechter. Feldman is also the daughter-in-law of Houston City Attorney David Feldman and is married to Cris Feldman, whom aficionados of all things Tom DeLay will recognize as a key player in bringing about his demise. In any event, she will be on the ballot in November along with appointee Herlinda Garcia, who succeeded State Rep. Mary Perez, and incumbents Bruce Austin, Neeta Sane, and Yolanda Navarro Flores. In the second development, Navarro has drawn two opponents, Zeph Capo, the vice-president and legislative director for the Houston Federation of Teachers, and community and Democratic activist Kevin Hoffman, who lost to Navarro Flores in 2007. HCC Trustee races never get much attention, but this one will be as high profile as these races get.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll be taking a close look at the finance reports when they come out.

UPDATE: Whenever I write one of these posts, I’m going by what I’ve seen and heard. Until the July finance reports come out, there’s no easy way to compile a list of candidate names, unless you drop in on the City Secretary and ask to see the dead tree document of people who have filed designation of campaign treasurer forms. As such, I’m going to miss some people, and I inevitably hear about them after I publish.

Three such names have come to my attention since I posted this. One is former State Rep. Al Edwards, who apparently is actively campaigning for At Large #3. The second is Clyde Lemon, who according to Burt Levine is going to run against HISD Trustee Larry Marshall. Neither has a webpage or a campaign Facebook page that I can find, and Google told me nothing about their efforts, so make of that what you will.

The third candidate I’ve heard of since posting is Ron Hale, who is running in the increasingly large District A field. Hale left a bizarre comment on Levine’s Facebook page, saying that I’m “another blogger trying to keep [his] name out of the article as if it hurts my campaign” and “one person in the district A race is a contributor to off the cuff (sic)”. I have no idea what he’s talking about – I am of course the only “contributor” to Off the Kuff – but whatever. Ron Hale is also running for District A, and now you know.

Runoff precinct analysis, At Large #2

One of Santa’s election elves came by on Friday with a delivery of Harris County precinct data for the 2011 runoff elections. You can guess how I spent some of my weekend. Before I launch into the numbers, here are a few caveats about them. First and foremost, this is the first election under the new Council districts, so comparisons to prior elections are dicey propositions. That won’t stop me from making them, of course, just remember that the districts in question are different now, so be even more careful about the inferences you draw. Unlike the 2009 runoffs, the spreadsheet I got did not indicate what district the precincts were in. I had to figure that out as best I could by fitting that sheet next to the regular election data, for which I must first filter out the non-Houston precincts. I got it maybe 98 or 99 percent lined up, but I know it’s off a little because the numbers derived from the districts don’t total up exactly. And of course, this is all draft data, meaning it hasn’t been officially canvassed and may not include provisional ballots that will count later. Oh, and it’s Harris County only, too. In short, take all this as an approximation of the truth, as best I can put it together.

With all that said, here’s how the numbers look for the At Large #2 race between CM-elect Andrew Burks and Kristi Thibaut. Thibaut won the Harris County portion of the city by a small margin, but lost the Fort Bend portion by a slightly larger margin, making Burks the winner. Since Burks was also in a runoff in 2009 for this seat against outgoing incumbent CM Sue Lovell, I thought I’d put those numbers in as well.

Dist Thibaut Burks Thib% Burks% Lovell Burks Lovell% Burks% ================================================================== A 2,535 2,180 53.8 46.2 8,953 5,571 61.6 38.4 B 1,703 4,042 29.4 70.4 3,128 7,773 28.7 71.3 C 5,834 2,922 66.6 33.4 12,427 5,962 67.6 32.4 D 2,183 4,802 32.2 68.8 8,015 11,974 40.1 59.9 E 2,478 2,370 51.1 48.9 7,659 6,834 52.9 47.1 F 851 655 56.5 43.5 3,967 2,966 57.2 42.8 G 4,441 3,696 54.6 45.4 12,963 8,770 59.7 40.3 H 1,385 1,214 53.3 46.7 7,235 3,721 66.0 34.0 I 981 775 55.9 44.1 3,625 3,036 54.4 45.6 J 957 617 60.8 39.2 K 2,192 2,248 49.4 50.6

Bearing in mind that these districts are different, the results aren’t all that different. The main exception is District H, where Lovell nearly doubled up Burks while Thibaut squeaked past him. I wish I had an easy way of knowing which precincts were in the old districts, but not only are the districts different, there are differences in the individual precincts as well. Nonetheless, that one comparison stands out like a sore thumb.

Looking at these numbers, there’s not much there to change my mind about how this election played out. Burks did just well enough in the African-American districts to outweigh Thibaut’s advantage everywhere else. Alternately, you could say Thibaut did not do well enough outside the African-American districts to overcome Burks’ lead there, even though she did reasonably well in them; you’ll get a clearer picture of that when I show you the At Large #5 data. Robert Miller wrote on Friday about how Burks was finally able to win on a coalition of African-Americans and westside Republicans, which was visible to him at a fundraiser held for Burks at the home of Republican Fred Zeidman:

In attendance were Democratic elected stalwarts Judge Zinetta Burney, Constable May Walker and State Rep. Ron Reynolds; and Republicans Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel and former Judge Levi Benton (Burk’s treasurer). Mayor Annise Parker was the Special Guest. Burks announced that he had hired Sandra Strachan from the Greater Houston Partnership as his Chief of Staff, and former Council Member Mark Goldberg as an Executive Advisor — two strong hires.

I’m curious to know what Burks’ supporters here think of that. Is this the Council member you thought you were getting? I personally will be eagerly awaiting Burks’ January finance report, to see who has hopped on the late train for him.

Be that as it may, the question is whether this coalition can be successful in a normal-turnout election, or if it’s an artifact of the unique conditions that a runoff like this one entails. I continue to believe that Burks will be vulnerable in 2013 in a way that freshman Council member usually aren’t, but I have no more history or precedent to go on than anyone else does.

One other interesting aspect of this race was the undervote, which was considerably higher than the undervote in At Large #5. That’s not surprising, since clearly AL5 was the marquee race, but I’ve heard several disappointed Thibaut supporters grumble about how that affected the outcome. Here’s how the non-votes went by district, for both At Large runoffs:

Dist Thibaut Burks Under Under% AL5 UV AL5 UV% =================================================== A 2,535 2,180 826 14.9 152 2.7 B 1,703 4,042 622 9.8 112 1.8 C 5,834 2,922 623 6.6 58 0.6 D 2,183 4,802 641 8.4 51 0.6 E 2,478 2,370 450 8.5 31 0.6 F 851 655 101 6.3 19 1.2 G 4,441 3,696 800 9.0 36 0.4 H 1,385 1,214 196 7.0 34 1.2 I 981 775 145 7.6 15 0.8 J 957 617 108 6.4 25 1.5 K 2,192 2,248 332 7.0 42 0.9

Clearly, Thibaut left some votes on the table in District C, but then so did Burks in Districts B and D. Again, this was the pattern for him from 2009 – far fewer people vote for him in the African-American districts than for Jolanda Jones, or any other such candidate. I think that may hurt him in a normal election, assuming he doesn’t gain some polish and add a professional campaign to address these shortcomings, but it’s hard to say that the dropoff in voting helped or hurt either candidate in this race. I don’t think you can make assumptions about who the non-voters in the Republican districts would have chosen if they had bothered to do so. I’m certain quite a few of them made the deliberate “none of the above” choice. Will those voters, presumably mostly Republicans, be part of a Burks coalition in 2013? His re-election likely gets a lot harder if they aren’t. On the other hand, if he does enough to merit their support (and keep out a Helena Brown type from his race), how much does he lose from the Democratic side? It’s going to be fun to watch, that’s for sure.

In any close race, it’s easy to point at this factor or that as a key to the outcome. I think it’s equally fair to say that if Thibaut had done a better job driving turnout in the Anglo Dem areas she could have won as it is to say that if Burks had run an actual campaign he’d have won more comfortably. After all this time, and with the precinct data in hand, I still don’t know what to make of this race. Greg has more.

Don’t draw broad conclusions from muddled evidence

I have a number of issues with the analysis presented in this Chron story about what happened in the runoffs and What It All Means.

The results illustrate a continuation of a national trend of anger and frustration toward government during the worst economic stretch since the Great Depression, political observers said.

In short: Voters want change.

“A lot of people are angry at virtually all institutions and the government is high on their list,” said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “And these are the people in a low-turnout election that are most likely to show up because they are angry. They’re agitated.”

[…]

The results show clear opposition to the status quo, particularly following a general election in which Mayor Annise Parker and several council members narrowly avoided runoff elections, said Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University.

“It’s a strong repudiation of this administration – not just the mayor, but the council,” Stein said.

First of all, I believe that voters who are angry and agitated vote. I don’t see how that’s consistent with an election with six percent turnout. I refer you to the 2010 election, and the historically high Republican turnout, for a canonical example. Maybe it’s just me, but the words I use to describe an electorate that fails to show up like this are “disengaged” and “apathetic”. Your mileage may vary.

But maybe turnout was disproportionately high in District A, which is the one election out of the four where I will agree there were angry voters sending a message to someone. To see if that was the case, I checked the ratio of turnout in districts to the Harris County portion of the citywide turnout for runoffs in the past five elections. This is what I found:

Year Dist Turnout Overall Ratio =================================== 2011 A 8.28 6.08 1.36 2011 B 6.76 6.08 1.11 2009 A 18.82 16.48 1.14 2009 F 13.41 16.48 0.81 2007 D 6.29 2.70 2.33 2007 E 5.05 2.70 1.87 2005 B 4.92 4.02 1.22 2005 C 9.38 4.02 2.33 2003 F 18.98 22.71 0.84 2003 G 29.53 22.71 1.30 2003 H 20.57 22.71 0.91

I only went back as far as 2003 because that’s as far back as the County Clerk has runoff data. The ratio of District A turnout to overall is higher than average, but by no means historic. To be fair, the higher level of turnout overall compared to the 2007 and 2005 runoffs may be masking the effect. There’s just not enough data points for me to say, and we’re still talking about eight percent turnout in A. I have a hard time assigning any special meaning to that.

Further, I strongly disagree with taking the result in District A and extrapolating it to the rest of the city. With all due respect to Professor Stein, if the voters intended to repudiate the Mayor a month after re-electing her, Jolanda Jones is the last Council member they should be kicking to the curb. CM Jones was arguably the Mayor’s most vocal and visible critic on Council. I feel pretty confident that they’re not losing any sleep in the Mayor’s office over this result. We may not know exactly what we’ll get with CM-Elect Jack Christie, but we do know that he’s a supporter of Rebuild Houston and that he voted to keep the red light cameras.

Perhaps there was an anti-incumbent message in these results. For sure, CMs Jones and Stardig are the first sitting Council members to be unelected since Jean Kelly in 1999, and only the third and fourth incumbents of any kind to lose since term limits were established. I would argue that there are unique circumstances to each of their losses. To put it mildly, CM Jones had some baggage, and was very nearly ousted in 2009. I’ve been saying all along that a runoff would be a crapshoot for her, and indeed she rolled snake eyes. With the help of Gene Locke’s mayoral campaign she was able to win the turnout fight two years ago, but not this time. I suspect as well that her performance deteriorated in Anglo and Hispanic Democratic areas – I’m sure the Bill White endorsement of Christie had some effect on that – though that’s a question that will have to wait for the precinct data.

As for District A itself, those voters did mostly vote against incumbents last time around, so it’s probably not much of a surprise that they did it to their incumbent District member in the runoff. That said, CM Stardig clearly had her own set of baggage. If anyone can think of another situation offhand in which the three prior incumbents of a given Council district were supporting the opponent of the current incumbent, let me know about it, because I doubt it’s happened any time recently. Far as I can tell, she didn’t have much of a campaign going into the November election – her eight day report showed expenditures on signs, some ads in neighborhood newspapers, and a $6K ad in the Texas Conservative Review that I’m guessing wasn’t well-received; her 30 day report had practically nothing. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered, but let this be Exhibit A for future incumbents: Unless you’re unopposed, run hard. You never know. Hell, run hard even if you are unopposed. Never hurts to get people into the habit of voting for you – your name ID probably isn’t as good as you think it is.

Putting this another way, Stardig was primaried, and she was not prepared for it. Redistricting did her no favors on that score, either. It will be interesting to see how CM-Elect Helena Brown reconciles her professed political beliefs with the sort of things that constituents tend to expect to get done. Maybe there is such a thing as a Republican pothole.

There’s still two other races to consider. The result in District B could be considered an anti-incumbent vote, but when you consider that the outgoing incumbent is CM Jarvis Johnson, is it really that surprising? As for Prof. Stein’s thesis, here’s what CM-Elect Jerry Davis had to say for himself:

Davis, 38, said he hoped to begin working with the administration as quickly as possible to cut down his learning curve as he gets set to start his first job as a public representative. He said his main goal as a council member would be to represent the priorities of District B constituents.

“My job is to represent the people and do what the people want me to do and that’s going to be the number one step,” Davis said.

I mentioned before that of the five candidates I interviewed, only Davis said he supported Renew Houston prior to the referendum passing. If you listen to the interview I did with him, you will also note that Davis supported the red light cameras, again being the only candidate in the district to do so. Way to repudiate the Parker Administration, District B voters!

As for Burks v Thibaut, good luck making sense out of that one. Again, I’ll wait till I see precinct data, but it seems to me that the vaunted “pincer strategy” of African-Americans plus Republicans finally worked. Why Republican voters fell into line behind an Obama delegate at the 2008 DNC convention who once ran for HCDP Chair is a bit puzzling to me, but I suppose stranger things have happened. It’s not like Burks is well-known for policy positions, so he’s a pretty blank slate onto which one can project whatever one wants, and then there is that Hotze embrace to whet the appetite. I don’t think this result would have happened in an election where the votes were distributed more proportionally. Perhaps someone will test that hypothesis in two years’ time. Like I said, we’ll see what the precinct data tells us. Oh, and for what it’s worth, the one elected official who endorsed CM-Elect Andrew Burks was CM Brad Bradford. If you want a guide for how Burks is likely to vote, I’d say to start there. Greg and Stace have more.

Christie, Burks, Davis, Brown

Those are your runoff winners.

Jack Christie’s victory was the most dramatic, coming in his fifth attempt to defeat Jolanda Jones, an opponent he had forced into multiple runoff elections.

Helena Brown was the other candidate who beat an incumbent, defeating Brenda Stardig by a 10 percent margin for the District A seat, according to unofficial county totals.

Both Christie, a 63-year-old chiropractor, and Brown, a 34-year-old political activist, are conservatives.

Brown, whose political history is colored by Tea Party activism, campaigned as an anti-tax, anti-fee candidate. She attacked Stardig for her support of policies backed by Mayor Annise Parker, including an increasingly unpopular drainage fee for $8 billion flood prevention projects.

In the race for At-Large Position 2, Andrew Burks Jr. beat Kristi Thibaut by less than 1 percent.

Jerry Davis, a 38-year-old restaurateur, defeated Alvin Byrd, a 58-year-old constituent services director for current Councilman Jarvis Johnson, by 98 votes to claim the District B seat.

First, congratulations to all the winners. I wish them good luck in office. The city needs everyone’s best, and I hope they all exceed everyone’s expectations.

I’ve made my feelings clear about Andrew Burks, and I’m not going to pretend I’m not disappointed in that result. He led in early voting, but a strong showing on Election Day put Thibaut ahead of him in Harris County. He had enough of a lead in Fort Bend to hang on for the win. For what it’s worth, the result in Fort Bend illustrates what I had said before about Burks’ strength as a candidate compared to Jolanda Jones’:

Candidate Votes Pct ========================= Thibaut 325 32.5 Burks 676 67.5 Christie 75 7.1 Jones 981 92.9

I’ll be very interested to see what the precinct data looks like in each of the At Large races. I hope, though I don’t expect, that I have underestimated Andrew Burks and that he will be a good Council member. But if I haven’t, I hope that candidates who are looking at the 2013 elections will consider that with Christie’s victory there will be only one open At Large seat in two years, that being At Large 3, just as there was only one open At Large seat this year. What do you think will offer better odds of victory, a cattle call open seat race or a challenge to a freshman incumbent like Burks?

The bit in the story about Helena Brown and Renew Houston needs some context. It’s true that Brown rode her opposition to that to victory in District A. However, she was not typical. Jack Christie, who supported Renew Houston, defeated Jolanda Jones, who opposed it. In District B, of the five candidates whom I interviewed, only Jerry Davis supported Renew Houston prior to its passage. Even Andrew Burks says he now supports Renew/Rebuild Houston. In addition to that, all three new Council members who were elected in November supported Renew Houston – Ellen Cohen in C, Mike Laster in J, and Larry Green in K. Point being, District A isn’t the whole city.

Oh, and just for the record, turnout has been unofficially pegged at 56,998 – 55,934 in Harris, 1,063 in Fort Bend, and 1 – yes, one – in Montgomery. That person voted early for Thibaut and Jones. Turnout for the city was a hair over six percent.

That’s all I have for now. On to the March primaries, once SCOTUS cleans up the mess they’ve made of that.

Runoff overview: At Large #2

For a guy who’s run multiple campaigns for Council – more than he can remember – Andrew Burks is somewhat of a cipher. Let’s see what the Chron overview of the At Large #2 runoff says about perennial candidate Andrew Burks.

Andrew Burks Jr. is harder to pin down. He’s a lifelong black Democrat who ran once for chairman of the county party, yet he scored an A on the Texas Conservative Review’s questionnaire and had the publication’s endorsement for the general election when there were 10 candidates in the running.

Burks is endorsed by the county Republican Party. Despite a claim on his Web site that he is endorsed by a former At-Large 5 candidate Laurie Robinson, she said she has not endorsed him.

Asked about the city’s controversial drainage fee approved by voters a year ago, Burks said, “I was against it at first. The people spoke. Now, I’m with it.”

He said he would not support its repeal unless it was replaced with another flood protection plan. He learned firsthand the ravages of inundation during Tropical Storm Allison a decade ago when he entered his church in its aftermath and found it full of water and a copperhead on the piano.

[…]

Burks said he cannot remember how many times he has run for office. Chronicle research indicates this is his 12th run for public office and his seventh for a council seat. He also has run for state representative, Congress, county school board and party chairman. Two years ago, he took incumbent Sue Lovell to a runoff. Lovell, who is term-limited, endorses Thibaut.

For Burks, jobs are the campaign’s big issue. He proposes to lower business fees to make it more attractive for businesses to locate within the city. He also calls for a makeover of Houston Business Development, Inc., a city-established nonprofit that provides small business loans and support services for start-ups. He would like to start with a marquee outside the headquarters in Palm Center, and proposes bringing in experts from Rice University and the University of Houston to improve operations.

[…]

Burks was under house arrest for 40 days last year following his second DWI conviction. Burks said he had not been drinking nor driving, but that he had been prescribed improper medication at a Veterans Affairs facility, where he was in a parked car at the time of his arrest.

As a point of comparison, here’s the 2009 runoff overview story. The reason Burks has been endorsed by the GOP despite his “lifelong Democrat” status is likely because he welcomed the endorsement of Steven Hotze in the 2009 runoff. There are plenty of reasons not to vote for Andrew Burks, but that one would be sufficient for me. Beyond that, I just don’t know what to make of the guy. Like Griff, the impression I get is of a guy who’s running to run, not because he has some idea of what he wants to do if he wins. His finance reports are a mess, and he says ridiculous things – in that 2009 story, he talks about a “conspiracy of silence” that he can’t articulate. None of this is to say that he can’t win – he can, and he might. I just don’t know what we’ll get if he does.

There’s also some stuff in there about Kristi Thibaut. As someone who’s actually won an election before, she’s much more of a known quantity. I guess we’ll see what the voters prefer.

Eight day runoff finance reports

Seven of the eight campaign finance reports for the runoff have been posted; all but Jack Christie’s were available online as of last night. Let’s have a look at them. First up, District A:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans Cash on Hand ==================================================== Stardig 74,103 42,308 0 81,023 Brown 13,840 13,340 0 4,409

Helena Brown may have finished ahead of CM Brenda Stardig in November, but the establishment is still backing the incumbent. Brown got $1000 each from Paul Bettencourt’s campaign fund (what’s the deadline on using leftover campaign funds like his?) and the Texas Latino GOP PAC, $750 from Don Sumners, $500 from Norman Adams, and $100 from Bruce Tatro. Stardig got $2500 in kind from Mayor Parker’s campaign, $500 from CM Stephen Costello, and a boatload of PAC money, including $10K from the Council of Engineering Companies and $9500 from the Texas Association of Realtors PAC; they contributed in at least two of the other races as well. I still don’t know why Stardig had spent so little before now; if she manages to survive she’ll at least have a nice nest egg for 2013.

District B:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans Cash on Hand ==================================================== Byrd 23,700 17,672 0 6,027 Davis 37,350 16,480 0 29,435

As noted before, Alvin Byrd received a fair amount of support from elected officials for the runoff. Jerry Davis didn’t get any donations from electeds that I saw, but he did collect $200 from former Congressional candidate Michael Skelley. Roland Garcia, who was Mayor Parker’s finance chair in 2009, and Kent Friedman of the Sports Authority were both in for $500, Rusty Hardin gave $2000, and Jeff Caynon of the Firefighter’s union went for $5000. Both received PAC money, but just eyeballing it I’d say Davis had more.

At Large #2:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans Cash on Hand ==================================================== Burks 13,750 15,698 0 10,455 Thibaut 68,818 53,115 10,000 29,083

Andrew Burks‘ report is just a mess. Each contribution is listed twice. The $9500 he got from the Realtors was credited to Constable May Walker, which would be illegal if it were true; in reality, either Walker was listed erroneously or the total he cited does match the individual dollar amounts listed. I don’t recall seeing that the $10K loan he made himself in the regular cycle was paid off; no balance for that loan is given here. As with Griff, you’d think a guy who runs for Council as a matter of habit every two years would have some idea what he’s doing by now, but you’d be wrong. As for Kristi Thibaut, there’s no question she’s the establishment candidate. She got a ton of PAC money. Her former colleagues State Reps. Borris Miles and Garnet Coleman gave her $1000 and $2500, respectively. Port Commissioner Janiece Longoria gave $1000, Kent Friedman another $500. Former Council Member Peter Brown chipped in $1000 (his Smart PAC kicked in another $1500) and Council Member-Elect Larry Green gave $200. Usually the big money bets correctly, but between this race and the Stardig-Brown runoff, there’s a better than usual chance that it will be wrong.

As for At Large #5, the only action to report is on CM Jolanda Jones, who had another stellar report. She took in $70,217, spent $68,576, and had $24,400 left on hand. She got $2500 from Rep. Garnet Coleman, $1000 each from Rep. Borris Miles, Sen. John Whitmire, Ben Hall, $500 from Roland Garcia and District Court Judge Kyle Carter, $250 from Sylvia Garcia and Chris Bell, $200 from the Rev. William Lawson, $150 from CM-Elect Larry Green, and $100 each from Constable Ruben Davis and JP Zinetta Burney. She had less PAC money than you might expect. No report yet from Jack Christie – I know he’s sent out at least three mail pieces, so I’d guess he’s spent upward of $50K. Whether he’s financing that himself as he did last time or he’s got it covered I couldn’t say. When I see the report, I’ll update this post and let you know.

UPDATE: There was indeed a Jack Christie finance report uploaded. It was from a day earlier than the others, and was amid some amended reports from candidates not in the runoff, so I just missed seeing it. The Christie campaign pointed this out to me, and I apologize to them for the error. Here’s the Jones/Christie comparison:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans Cash on Hand ==================================================== Jones 70,217 68,576 0 24,400 Christie 71,580 43,147 500 33,094

Nearly identical amount raised – inded, roughly $70K is more or less the standard for the At Large runoffs, with three of the four candidates in that vicinity. Christie received $10K from Anne Clutterbuck’s campaign, and $1000 each from Beverley Woolley’s campaign and Peter Brown, whose SmartPAC also chipped in $1500. As with CM Jones, not a whole lot of PAC money on his report.

Runoff early voting totals, Day One

Early voting for the city of Houston runoffs began yesterday, and you can see the Day One totals here. I don’t have a daily EV record from the 2007 runoffs, but I note that the total early vote from the 2007 runoff was 11,374, and the total absentee and in person votes yesterday was 4,519, so I’d say we’re well ahead of the pace from that year. The busiest single location was in District A, not too surprisingly. We’ll see if any patterns emerge for this year. In the meantime, I’ll be looking for 8 Day finance reports to post, and we’re all still waiting for a runoff endorsement in District B from the Chron. When do you plan to vote?

Early voting for city runoffs begins today

You remember that we have runoff elections for four Houston City Council positions, right? Well, early voting starts today and runs through next Tuesday, December 6. Here are the early voting locations that will be open for the runoff. Early voting will run from 7 AM to 7 PM each day except Sunday the 4th, when it will be 1 to 6 PM. You can go any time you want, as I expect you will be the only person voting whenever it is you show up. The over/under for turnout in this runoff is 25,000, which is to say about what it was for the 2007 runoff. Districts A and B, and At Large #2 and #5 are up.

Eight day finance reports are due Friday, so I’ll be checking for those and posting them along with anything interesting I find in them. The one remaining question is who the Chron will endorse in the District B runoff. They had endorsed Kathy Daniels for the November election, but she finished third. In the other races, they went with CM Brenda Stardig in A, CM Jolanda Jones in At Large #5, and Kristi Thibaut in At Large #2. You can debate how much endorsements mean, but whatever it is it’s surely more so in a low-profile, low-turnout race.

And low turnout it will be. Look at it this way: your vote never counts more than it does when there aren’t that many votes cast. This is your last chance to vote in 2011, so go make it count.

Looking ahead to the runoffs

The runoff election for the city of Houston will be Saturday, December 10. It’s going to be an extremely low turnout affair – as was the case with the general election, I expect the runoff to have about the same level of turnout as the 2007 runoff, in which 25,382 ballots were cast. Look at it this way: If you bother to vote in the runoff, your vote really counts for a lot.

Some thoughts and questions about the runoff now that we’re two weeks out from the November election and all of the precinct analyses have been done:

– On paper, CM Brenda Stardig has all of the advantages in District A. She had $67K on hand as of the 8 Day reports, while Helena Brown had less than $1500. She swept all of the endorsements of which I’m aware except one, from the odious Steven Hotze. She’s the incumbent, and incumbents generally don’t lose. But the fact remains that she trailed Brown by six points and nearly 500 votes. How does she make that up? Does she try to woo Democratic voters by reminding them that she’s not nearly as bad as Brown, or does she try to out-wingnut her? How much help does she get from groups like the realtors, the police, the firefighters, and so on? Conversely, is Brown able to raise funds now that she’s demonstrated that she can win? Does she get any endorsements from elected officials? This one should be Stardig’s to lose, but then it should have been Stardig’s to win in regulation time. As I said before, I have a bad feeling about this one for her.

– As I said before, a lot of people waited on the sidelines to see who would make the runoff in B before committing to it. Now is the time to get off the fence. Jerry Davis previously announced the support of several former opponents, and Monday it was Alvin Byrd’s turn to make his new supporters known. He now lists former District B candidates Kathy Ballard Blueford-Daniels, Kenneth Perkins, and James Joseph; former Council members Jarvis Johnson, Carol Galloway, Michael Yarborough, and Jewell McGowen (on behalf of Ernest McGowen); and elected officials State Reps. Senfronia Thompson, Sylvester Turner, and Ron Reynolds, plus HISD Trustee-elect Rhonda Skillern-Jones. There are still numerous groups that have not made a choice in this race, including the realtors, the police, the firefighters, HOPE-SEIU, and Planned Parenthood (both Davis and Byrd scored 100% on the PP questionnaire). HBAD and the Chron went with Daniels in the first round, so they’re up for grabs as well. Neither candidate raised much money up till now – Davis has $9,274 on hand, while Byrd has $3,882. There will be another finance report due on December 2, and I’ll be looking to see if some big checks have been coming in. As of this writing, this one looks like a tossup.

– Not much to add to the At Large #2 runoff that I didn’t say before. Kristi Thibaut has the early momentum, and I expect she will collect most of the remaining endorsements in addition to the ones she has already received. I’ll be very curious to see if Andrew Burks reports any major endorsements – off the top of my head, I can’t remember any coming his way in 2009. That was when he was going against an incumbent, however, so this time may be different. Thibaut has $19K on hand, Burks has $12K, most of which is left over from his $20K loan, originally reported as a loan from his wife but later corrected to indicate it was a self-loan. Does anyone write Burks a check? Burks has the advantage of CM Jolanda Jones running, who will turn out voters that will be more inclined to support him than Thibaut, if they bother to vote in his race. What will Burks do to actually try to win? I see this one as being lean Thibaut, with the only thing holding me back from making a stronger statement the low turnout.

– As for At Large #5, what else is there to say? I’ll be curious to see if there’s another big show of support for Jack Christie from some of CM Jones’ colleagues. In retrospect, it’s not clear to me how much that actually helped Christie or hurt Jones, but it sure felt like a big deal at the time. Laurie Robinson picked up a few endorsements, including the police and the firefighters, who I think it’s safe to say will back Christie. If there’s going to be any real money thrown around in the runoff, it’s likely to be in this race. Jones starts out with $40K on hand, while Christie has $23K, but as we saw last time he’s willing and able to write his own check as needed. I feel like there’s another shoe or two to drop in this one, but I have no idea where they may come from or when they may fall. This one is a tossup. Nothing and everything will surprise me.

Saggy pants

I’m not much of a candidate forum attender, but I wish I had gone to this one.

Half-a-dozen candidates in runoff City Council elections each made his or her case as champion of the downtrodden before a mostly black and Latino audience at a Fifth Ward church on Saturday afternoon.

Council aide Alvin Byrd faces nonprofit director Jerry Davis in District B; pastor Andrew Burks faces former state Rep. Kristi Thibaut for the At-Large Position 2 seat; and chiropractor Jack Christie is challenging incumbent Councilwoman Jolanda Jones for the At-Large 5 seat in the Dec. 10 elections.

At the forum sponsored by a coalition of labor and civil rights groups, the lead-off question prompted candidates’ positions on whether they would oppose changing public employee pensions from the guaranteed benefits they now offer to a 401(k) system in which the payouts are determined by how well retirement investments perform.

[…]

Burks generally did not answer questions directly but used the floor to complain that not enough police officers and firefighters live inside the city limits and that Mayor Annise Parker does not want him to defeat Thibaut in the race. He even responded to a question about providing birth control in city health clinics by calling for issuing tickets to young men who wear sagging pants that reveal their underwear.

That may be the most awesome thing I’ve heard from a candidate forum. I only wish the story had indicated how the audience reacted. Please, someone tell me you were there and can answer that.

Early voting for city runoffs begins today

You remember that we have runoff elections for four Houston City Council positions, right? Well, early voting starts today and runs through next Tuesday, December 6. Here are the early voting locations that will be open for the runoff. Early voting will run from 7 AM to 7 PM each day except Sunday the 4th, when it will be 1 to 6 PM. You can go any time you want, as I expect you will be the only person voting whenever it is you show up. The over/under for turnout in this runoff is 25,000, which is to say about what it was for the 2007 runoff. Districts A and B, and At Large #2 and #5 are up.

Eight day finance reports are due Friday, so I’ll be checking for those and posting them along with anything interesting I find in them. One question that remains unanswered is who the Chron will endorse for the District B runoff. For the November election, the Chron endorsed CM Brenda Stardig in A, CM Jolanda Jones in At Large #5, and Kristi Thibaut in At Large #2, but their choice in B was Kathy Daniels, who finished third. As of this morning, they have not updated that recommendation.

Regardless, today begins your last chance to vote in 2011. Your vote never counts more than it does in an extreme low-turnout election, so go take advantage of that.

Precinct analysis: 2011 At Large #2

What can you say about a ten-candidate pileup? Let’s start by seeing what the district numbers look like:

Dist Thibaut Perez Burks Goss Fraga Dick Pool Griff Robinson Shorter ==================================================================================== A 15.69% 17.99% 13.94% 3.03% 6.93% 11.67% 6.41% 11.35% 9.75% 3.25% B 8.93% 6.65% 31.58% 1.83% 4.70% 4.43% 5.48% 3.93% 18.52% 13.94% C 18.49% 10.79% 7.76% 1.41% 10.92% 9.49% 14.37% 11.63% 12.93% 2.20% D 7.24% 6.22% 35.65% 1.38% 4.64% 3.36% 4.45% 4.22% 13.85% 18.98% E 15.70% 23.72% 15.98% 2.69% 7.03% 9.61% 5.19% 9.44% 8.27% 2.38% F 28.18% 16.73% 11.24% 2.67% 5.41% 7.79% 5.23% 7.60% 9.72% 5.41% G 25.08% 15.87% 14.93% 1.64% 7.85% 9.80% 4.16% 9.95% 9.07% 1.65% H 9.93% 20.35% 9.70% 1.50% 24.90% 6.49% 7.73% 6.96% 8.31% 4.13% I 8.56% 24.54% 9.54% 1.82% 27.29% 4.11% 4.95% 4.74% 8.12% 6.34% J 20.07% 16.78% 11.47% 2.52% 8.47% 7.12% 7.14% 9.64% 11.79% 4.99% K 15.34% 11.16% 19.45% 1.92% 5.68% 4.69% 6.89% 7.52% 15.72% 11.62%

Starting from the top:

– Andrew Burks obviously and expectedly did well in the African-American areas. I had thought that Rozzy Shorter might shave a few points off his totals, and I daresay she did, but it wasn’t enough to knock him out. He also did pretty well everywhere else, no doubt in part to the decent name ID gained by being a seven time candidate for a Council seat, even if he himself can only remember five of them. I guess at some point it’s hard to keep track of them all.

– Kristi Thibaut did well in District C, but it was her advantage in the west/southwest part of town that carried her into the runoff. She led the field in Districts F and G, and had a strong showing in K as well, all of which was enough to overcome third-place finisher Elizabeth Perez’s advantages elsewhere (more on that in a second). Also good news for Thibaut is that three of the four candidates that finished behind her in C – Jenifer Pool, David Robinson, and Bo Fraga, who combined with her for almost 57% of the vote in C – have endorsed her for the runoff. She will need big margins in places like C to counter Burks’ numbers in B, D, and K.

– Perez won the Election Day vote and didn’t miss the runoff by much. She did well in the Republican districts as you’d expect, but both Thibaut and Burks were able to keep close enough to her to prevent her from passing them. Where she really did well was – say it with me now – in Districts H and I, where she outdistanced Thibaut by enough to wipe out her margin in District C. Unfortunately for her, she shared the ballot with Fraga, who did better than she did, thus again keeping her from making a real run at the top. While this looks on the surface a bit like a missed opportunity for the Republicans – Perez wasn’t exactly raking in the contributions – it’s a bit hard to see where she could have drummed up more support.

– The retiring Griff finished fourth in his old stomping grounds of District C, just ahead of Bo Fraga, and fourth in District E, just ahead of Eric Dick. I guess that means something, but compared to his performance in 2009 it’s hard to say what other than another step in the random walk. His single best shot at a win post-1993 was in 2007, if only he’d cared enough to do more than just show up.

– Speaking of Dick, well, there’s really not much to say, is there? He finished fourth in his home District A. He barely got half as many votes as Perez did for considerably more money. But a lot of people know his name now, so mission accomplished, I guess.

– David Robinson finished second in B, third in D, and second in K. I’m going to take a wild guess here and posit that his name was advantageous to him.

That’s about all I’ve got for now. Last but not least will be At Large #5, coming up next.

We won’t have Griff to kick around any more

He’s going to “retire” from his hobby of pointless Council campaigns.

Michael “Griff” Griffin, Houston’s perennial candidate for City Council, admitted the unspeakable over a plate of spaghetti and meatballs.

The Don Quixote of local politics recognized that he probably would lose his 10th campaign. If that really did happen, he said after pressing the flesh during a pasta lunch a few weeks ago, he would return to his day job as a private investigator and abandon any hope of ever winning political office.

Tuesday night, Griffin’s gloomy prediction came true. In a field of 10 candidates, he came in sixth. Election Day 2011 was Griff’s last run.

“It’s my fault,” Griffin said. “They say you’re a joke if you don’t spend at least $100,000. I only spent $12,000 – $10,000 of my own and another $2,000 from supporters. I just don’t like to ask for money.”

It’s not the lack of money that made Griff a joke. It’s the lack of effort, combined with the lack of a comprehensible rationale for doing what he’s done so many times. Just this cycle, Griff failed to file a July finance report, and failed to include totals on his 30 day and 8 day reports. That would be unacceptable from a novice, and to me is a clear indicator that Griff never took the task of being a candidate seriously. Even more damning is the fact that whether he realizes it or not, he had a golden opportunity to actually win an election, in 2007 when he was the sole opponent to then-first term Council Member Sue Lovell, who in an apparent nod to the quality of her opposition spent the entire year campaigning for other people, and wound up with just under 53% of the vote. If Griff had gotten past his dislike of fundraising, which is something that very few candidates like to do but all of the serious ones recognize is something they need to do if they want to have a chance to win, he probably would have found a sizable number of people willing to help him that year, and in doing so he might have been able to articulate the policy positions he apparently holds to a wider audience. He still might have lost, but at least then he could look back on it and say he gave it his best shot. It’s the fact that he can’t say he did his best, not then or in any election except possibly his first one way back in 1993, that made him a joke.

More thoughts on the Council elections

One district at a time…

– I confess that I did not see the District A result coming. Helena Brown did raise a decent amount of money since entering the race at the filing deadline, about $22K through the end of October, which makes me wonder how she might have fared if she had gotten in the race sooner. For what it’s worth, she’s at a big financial disadvantage in the runoff, as CM Brenda Stardig reported over $67K on hand in her 8 Day report, while Brown listed only $1378 on hers. Maybe Stardig needed to spend more during regulation time. Brown has received donations from the two previous District A members, Bruce Tatro and Toni Lawrence, the latter of whom apparently had a falling out with Stardig a few months back. If Brown wins she will be a big success story for the anti-Renew Houston forces. She would probably like for the runoff to be a low turnout affair in which she can campaign like it’s a Republican primary. Stardig will likely need to persuade some Democrats that she’s worth voting for; I would also expect the Houston Association of Realtors to try to come to her rescue. I have a bad feeling about this one for the incumbent.

– A lot of endorsing organizations avoided choosing a candidate in District B for November. I presume that part of the reason for that was that it was a crowded race with no obvious frontrunner and multiple contenders who might have a shot at making it to the runoff. Now that it’s narrowed down to Alvin Byrd and Jerry Davis, who received the bulk of the endorsements that were made, it’ll be interesting to see who lines up behind whom. Davis had an email out yesterday touting the fact that former competitors Kenneth Perkins, Phillip Paul Bryant, Bryan Smart, and Charles Ingram were all now supporting him. Also up for grabs now are the HBAD and Chronicle endorsements, both of which had gone to third place finisher (and currently unaligned, as far as I know) Kathy Daniels.

– Moving to the non-runoff districts, I’m still not sure if I’m surprised or not that Ellen Cohen won in C without a runoff. I had no doubt that it was possible, but I had no good feel for what the likelihood of it was. I do have a feeling that Cohen’s next two elections will be much easier to prognosticate.

– Given how a few other first-termers did, CM Al Hoang’s 56% win in District F has to be seen as a pretty strong performance, but much like Helena Brown in A, I wonder how Peter Lyn René might have fared if he had entered the race earlier. He missed out on the opportunity to screen for an awful lot of Democrat-friendly endorsements. I’m not saying he would have won, but a swing of less than 300 votes away from Hoang would have put him into a runoff. Surely that was achievable with a few months’ extra time to organize and fundraise.

– I’m just going to point you to what Greg says about District J, because there really isn’t anything I can add to it. I hope CM-elect Mike Laster makes an offer to Criselda Romero to be on his staff so that she can be in a good position to succeed him in 2017.

– Regarding the At Large runoffs, it’s easy to see the AL2 and AL5 races in racial terms, with the fates of the candidates entwined. Here’s Greg again:

As an aside in looking at the At Large runoffs together, I have a hard time seeing the needle threading such that both JoJo and Kristi win, though that’s obviously the outcome I’d most love to see. The more JoJo voters there are, then theoretically, the better the odds are for Andrew Burks. And the better things look for Kristi, the harder they look for JoJo. I really hope I’m wrong on this.

I think it’s a little more complex than that, for the simple reason that Burks isn’t a particularly good candidate. To put it another way, while I would agree that there will be a correlation between the vote totals of Burks and CM Jones, there will also be a lag between their totals. I believe a fair number of people who show up to vote for Jones will not bother to vote for Burks. As evidence, I cite the district returns from the 2009 runoffs, which featured both Burks and Jones as well as Ronald Green and Gene Locke. Take a look at these numbers, which I compiled from these earlier posts:

Candidate B votes D votes ============================ Locke 11,395 15,223 Green 10,017 16,935 Burks 7,773 11,974 Jones 10,673 17,653

Burks received less that 75% of Jones’ vote total in the African-American districts in the 2009 runoff, and he was running against someone who is not nearly as well-liked as Kristi Thibaut. He isn’t anywhere near Jones’ league. Maybe this time it will be different, but I see a lot of room for Jones to win and Burks to lose. And like District B, there are now a bunch of endorsements up for grabs. Thibaut, who had more endorsements by my count than other candidates going into the November election, counted HBAD among her supporters. She has since picked up the support of former candidates Bo Fraga, Jenifer Pool, and David Robinson; a whole host of Democratic elected officials, including numerous African-Americans (Rodney Ellis, Alma Allen, Garnet Coleman, Harold Dutton, Ron Reynolds, and Senfronia Thompson); and the Oak Forest Dems and Democracy for Houston endorsements; both of those groups reaffirmed their support of CM Jones as well. I think that says something, and about Burks’ ability to keep up with Jones.

As far as CM Jones goes, the playbook is the same for her as was two years ago: Run up the score in the friendly precincts, and hope it’s enough. Without a Gene Locke at the top of the ticket to drive turnout, that could be harder to achieve. She does have the benefit of the runoff in B to help her, but that may be canceled out by the action in A. It’s a crapshoot. I wouldn’t bet against her, but boy this is a tough way to go about it.

2011 Houston results

Let’s go through the races…

– Mayor Parker won with a shade under 51%, with none of her opponents cracking 15% on their own. Obviously, this is not a position a Mayor with no serious opposition wants to be in, and it won’t surprise anyone if one or more potential opponents for 2013 are on the phone already calling potential financial backers. It’s certainly possible, perhaps likely, that she will face a much tougher challenge in two years. It’s also possible, given a better economy, a less dire budget, and fewer externally-driven issues like a red light camera referendum, that she could be in a stronger position for re-election in two years and that the time to have beaten her was now. Many people thought Rick Perry looked vulnerable after winning with 39% of the vote in 2006, but things don’t always go as you think they will. Often uncertain the future is, that’s all I’m saying.

– Brenda Stardig trailed Helena Brown in District A by 479 votes. She and Jolanda Jones, who led Jack Christie by about 6700 votes, will be headed to a runoff. All other incumbents won majorities, with CM Stephen Costello having the closest race but winning with 51.2%. So much for the anti-Renew Houston slate.

– Only two of the five open seats will feature runoffs. Ellen Cohen in C (53.62%), Mike Laster in J (67.27%), and Larry Green in District K (67.23%) all won. Alvin Byrd (25.11%) and Jerry Davis (24.38%) head to overtime in District B, while the perennially perennial Andrew Burks led the field in At Large #2, garnering 17.33%. Kristi Thibaut came in second, with 15.65%, followed by Elizabeth Perez and David Robinson. This is at least the third time Burks has made it to a city election runoff – he lost to Sue Lovell in overtime in 2009 – and I wonder if he will get any official support. Being in a runoff with Jolanda Jones and a District B race also on the ballot will help him, but beyond that it’s hard to see him doing much of anything. You have to wonder what Michael P. Williams is thinking this morning. Oh, and Eric Dick finished seventh out of ten. Apparently, it takes more than spreading campaign signs like grass seed and putting out puerile press releases to win public office. Good to know.

– Paula Harris and Juliet Stipeche easily won re-election in HISD, as did Chris Oliver in HCC. Carroll Robinson defeated Jew Don Boney by a 55-45 margin to succeed Williams as the District IV Trustee. The closest race of the election, one that will have people gnashing their teeth all winter, was in HISD III, where Manuel Rodriguez barely held on. I’m a staunch advocate of early voting, but you have to wonder how many early-goers to the ballot box may have regretted pushing the button for Rodriguez before his shameful gay-baiting mailer came out.

– There were 123,047 city of Houston votes cast in Harris and Fort Bend Counties, making this election a near exact duplicate of 2007 turnout-wise. There were 164,283 votes cast in Harris County, of which 120,931 were Houston votes, for a Houston share of 73.6%. The final early vote total for Harris County was 60,122, almost exactly what I hypothesized it would be, and the early vote total was 36.6% of the overall tally in Harris. There were 920,172 registered voters in Houston, about 15,000 fewer than in 2009 but 7000 more than in 2007. City turnout was 13.14% in Harris County.

I have my second tour of jury duty today, this time in the municipal courts, so that’s all from me for now. I may have some deeper thoughts later. What do you think of how the election went? PDiddie has more.

UPDATE: Robert Miller offers his perspective.

UPDATE: Nancy Sims weighs in.

Eight day finance reports, part II

Finishing what I started…

Fernando Herrera‘s report appeared on Tuesday. He raised $15,835, spent $27,185, and has $242.87 on hand. There were several expenditures on signs and a couple for “Advertising” that didn’t give me much of a clue about what kind of advertising they may be – there were two items totaling $4060 to Concepts In Advertising, $500 to St. Julien Communications, and $2500 to Van TV 55.2, whatever the heck that is. He also spent $500 on the Baptist Ministers Association of Houston and Vicinity for printing and poll workers.

– In addition to the airplane ad, Jack O’Connor spent $4K on yard signs. I’ve seen numerous Herrera yard signs around my neighborhood, but offhand I’m not sure I’ve seen any O’Connor signs, at least not in any actual yards. Maybe one, I’m not sure. But it’s a big city, and I only see a little piece of it in a normal day. Is there some hotbed of O’Connor support out there somewhere?

– Hatemeister/vanity candidate Dave Wilson spent $33K after loaning himself $35K in the 30 Day report. He dropped $4200 on signs, $14,400 on printing expenses, which I presume means direct mail, and $10,605 on advertising – $5965 at Clear Channel, $4640 at KSEV. This would be a good time to plug your iPod in while driving.

Kevin Simms spent $2000 on online ads, and $350 on phone banking. Good luck with that.

– As for the Mayor herself, her buys are a bit bigger. $686K on TV ads, $26K on radio ads, and $132K on direct mail. And she remains with $1.5 million in the bank, which any story that gets written after the election about potential challengers will have to mention as a barrier.

– District K candidate Larry Green used quite a bit of the green he’d been accumulating, spending $52K. That included three direct mail pieces, for a total of $15K, and three listings for radio ads, totaling $5850. His opponent Pat Frazier didn’t raise much, but between her 30 Day and her 8 Day she listed $25K in loans, borrowing $5K each from four individuals as well as giving herself another $5K. She bought $2K worth of radio ads, and most of the rest of her expenditures were for signs, door hangers, and card pushers.

– I don’t know if it’ll help me get a handle on who if anyone may have an edge in the At Large #2 scramble, but here’s a look at how those candidates are spending money on voter contact, according to their 8 day reports:

Bo Fraga – $9,039 on field, $5,350 on door hangers, $1,277 on signs.

Jenifer Pool – $6,775 on field, $1,455 on signs, and $150 on a print ad.

Kristi Thibaut – $34,599 on direct mail.

David Robinson – $6500 on print ads, $6000 of which went to the Texas Conservative Review, and $31K on “media”, which I know includes TV advertising. Far as I know, it’s him, CM Costello, and Mayor Parker on the tube. He also spent about five grand on postage, but I did not see any expenditures for direct mail, including in his 30 day report. I have no idea what all those stamps are being used for.

Griff Griffin – $1200 for signs, and a bunch of ad buys in neighborhood newspapers, including $633 for the Northwest Leader, $150 for Guidry’s, and $669 for the Bay Area Citizen. Oh, and $720 to the Sacred Heart Society for wine, which is my nominee for best expense report item so far. He’s still too dumb or lazy to list totals, however.

Andrew Burks – Five paid poll workers at $480 apiece plus another $850 for canvassers, and $800 for radio ads on KCOH. Burks had reported a $20K loan from his wife in July, which turns out to be a no-no, but an easily fixed one. He also has over $12K left unspent, which appears to be par for the course for him.

Eric Dick – Another $1700 to Ron the Sign Man, plus $187 on Facebook ads. Spend enough early on making the city your bulletin board, and you don’t have to spend much late. He also paid back a $15K loan to himself, and failed to give any totals on his form.

As of this publication, I do not see 8 day reports for Rozzy Shorter, Elizabeth Perez, or Gordon Goss.

– In At Large #1, Scott Boates spent $8500 on direct mail, $750 on phone banking, and $12K on radio ads, running on KSEV, all from personal funds.

– Finally, in At Large #5, Jolanda Jones spent $61K in all, including $23K on two direct mail pieces, $8K on radio ads, and $7K on polling. I’d kill to see that polling memo. Jack Christie spent almost $63K, $24,500 of which (for a direct mail piece) came from personal funds. He spent another $27,700 on mailers, and $6K on a Texas Conservative Review ad. I have not seen a finance report for Laurie Robinson or Bob Ryan as yet.

I think that does it for me with finance reports. I will post the list of non-filers tomorrow, to give everyone one last day.

Two finance report updates

Since I’ve made a big deal out of who hasn’t filed their 30 Day campaign finance reports, I am compelled to note that as of October 27, Scott Boates in At Large #1 has now filed his. Eight day reports are due tomorrow, and the last 30 Day reports before this one were filed on the 11th, but nonetheless it has been filed.

And since I was one of several people to note Bo Fraga’s apparently illegal $35,000 loan from Lupe Fraga of Tejas Office Products, I am also compelled to note that on the same date, he filed an amended report which reports that the loan has been paid back in full. He now reports a cash on hand balance of $17,733 as of that report, which no longer puts him among the leaders in that race.

Anyway. The 8 Day reports are due tomorrow, and I expect the early filings will start to show up later in the day. I’ve been called for jury duty, so don’t expect me to get to them right away, but I will upload them as I can.

Endorsement watch: Costello and Thibaut

Another day, another twofer as the Chron makes recommendations in the first two At Large races. In At Large #1, they go with the incumbent:

Houston City Council member Stephen Costello, an engineer, is best known as the force behind Rebuild Houston, the initiative to upgrade our city’s ailing streets and drainage system. Given the nation’s anti-tax mood in November 2010, asking voters to approve spending money on infrastructure took nerve. But Costello had faith that Houston was willing to invest in its future.

[…]

Besides Rebuild Houston, Costello has logged other achievements in his first term in office. As chair of the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee, he helped preserve core city services while making the painful cuts that lagging revenues required.

And as at-large Position 1 council member, he made an admirable effort to help people too often underrepresented at the council table. He’s worked to bring grocery stores to “food deserts,” low-income areas where it’s easier to buy French fries than a fresh potato. And he’s now investigating programs to serve the homeless in ways that are both more humane and more cost-effective than addressing their problems in jails and emergency rooms.

For his engineer’s approach to solving problems, for his willingness to pursue long-term solutions and for his willingness to tackle hard problems, we urge the citizens of Houston to send Stephen Costello back to City Hall for a second term.

I’m a fan of people who make a sincere effort to fix problems. I may or may not agree with a given solution, but I figure that as long as we can agree on what the problems are, we can find an agreeable path to resolving it. CM Costello fits this mold very well, and I fully concur with the Chron’s endorsement of him. You can listen to my interview with CM Costello here; I also did interview with two of his opponents, Scott Boates and Don Cook.

The open At Large 2 race is a much tougher call, as there are several strong candidates running. The Chron picked Kristi Thibaut from that group for their choice.

The Chronicle believes former state Rep. Kristi Thibaut has the experience, temperament and idealism to best represent the city’s politically and ethnically diverse population.

As a Democrat in the minority in the highly partisan Texas House for one term, Thibaut proved she can bridge ideological divides and find common ground on tough issues. She was voted freshman of the year by her colleagues. We believe she will be the same positive force on the expanded City Council.

[…]

The Chronicle twice endorsed Thibaut in her state campaigns based on her enthusiasm for public service tempered by practicality and political savvy. We think those qualities will make her an effective addition to City Council.

Like I said, there are several strong candidates in this race. There are also a few jokers. In a low turnout race and a multi-candidate field, it won’t take many votes for anyone to make it to the runoff. Choose wisely, that’s what I’m saying. It helps to know something about the candidates, and to that end here are the interviews I’ve done in AL2:

Kristi Thibaut
David Robinson
Jenifer Pool
Bolivar Fraga
Eric Dick

Stace has more.

More 30 day finance reports for City of Houston races

Following up on yesterday’s report, here are the interesting, odd, and questionable things I’ve seen in the rest of the 30 day campaign finance reports.

  • Mayor Parker raised $469K, spent $526K, and maintained $2.3 million on hand. She appears to be gearing up to start airing ads – I saw two expenditures totaling nearly $49K to Storefront Political Media, plus a few more totaling about $52K to Rindy Miller, all for “advertising”. She also spent $41K on two separate transactions to Lake Research for polling.
  • Fernando Herrera initially had a report that did not list totals. That report has since disappeared from the city of Houston site and has been replaced by this report, which shows he raised $31K and spent $23K. By my count in that first report, he raised $6107 for the period and spent an amount that I didn’t take the time to add up but which definitely exceeded that – he paid $3000 to Phil Owens for consulting, and a shade over $4000 to Print-O-Rama for signs, just for starters. I presume that first report was uploaded prematurely, and that I just happened to check the city’s site during the time it was there.
  • Hatemonger/vanity Mayoral candidate Dave Wilson loaned himself $35,000, contributed another $5,000 to his campaign, and credited himself with a $400 in kind donation for an advertising expense. What he hopes to accomplish with any of that, I have no idea.
  • CM Jolanda Jones raised less than either of her opponents, taking in $21K. However, thanks to her strong July report, she still has $83K on hand.
  • CM Mike Sullivan, who is apparently going to run for Tax Assessor in the 2012 GOP primary, has $71K on hand and no opponent in this race. He’s free to bank up what he can for next March.
  • Also with a healthy balance is CM Wanda Adams, with $80K in the bank. I have no idea what if any future political plans she may have, but for what it’s worth, this would be her last term.
  • Jenifer Pool listed her total contributions ($31,350) and expenditures ($29,246), but did not list her contribution balance.
  • Pat Frazier was a late filer in District K, but did not indicate what office she sought on her report. She also did not list contribution or expenditure totals, though the amount she indicated for her contribution balance ($5,416.66) matched the sum of her contributions by my calculation. She had $15K in loans and by my calculation she spent $10,082.73, so adding her loan to $4,350 (her contribution total minus in kind donations) and subtracting the expenditures, she should have listed $9,267.27 on hand.
  • The following candidates do not have 30 Day finance reports posted on the city’s website as of this publication:

    Amanda Ullman, Mayor

    Ronald Green, City Controller

    Scott Boates, At Large #1

    James Partsch-Galvan, At Large #1

    Gordon Goss, At Large #2

    Robert Ryan, At Large #5

    Bob Schoellkopf, District A

    Phillip Bryant, District B

    Kenneth Perkins, District B

    Bryan Smart, District B

    James Joseph, District B

    Randy Locke, District C

    Larry McKinzie, District D

    Nguyen Thai Hoc, District F

    Alexander Gonik, District K

Greg has more on the city races, and School Zone has HISD finance reports. Before you ask, the answer is no, I am not going to put in another open records request for HCC finance reports. Hell, by the time I got them the 8 day reports would be out. You can also visit Erik Vidor’s spreadsheet for running totals on city races. I will continue to watch for late filings and will report on them when I see them.

30 day finance reports for City of Houston races

The 30 day campaign finance reports for City of Houston elections were due last week, and they are now mostly up on the city’s campaign finance report website, with a large number showing up today. Already I’m seeing questionable, curious, and interesting things in the reports. Some highlights so far:

  • Helena Brown, the late-filing candidate in District A, reported a quite respectable $15,848 raised, but she did not file a Schedule A report, so you can’t see who gave her how much.
  • Griff Griffin, who failed to file a report in July, did not include any totals on his report. I did the math and counted $2522 in contributions along with $6443 in expenditures. As he did not report any loans or expenditures from personal funds, there’s no way to reconcile these numbers in the absence of a cash on hand balance from an earlier report. Which Griff, who’s run for Council approximately three thousand times and very well may be carrying a balance from those prior efforts, really ought to know. Perhaps one of the consultants whom he lists as a payee could advise him on this.
  • Jack O’Connor, who switched from At Large #5 to the Mayor’s race just before the filing deadline, also failed to list totals on his report, even though he did so correctly in July. By my count, he raised $7866 and spent $11,195, of which $5295 came from raised funds and the remaining $5900 were personal expenditures.
  • Bo Fraga took in a very respectable $55K in the period. He also reported a $35K loan from Lupe Fraga of Tejas Office Products, which I am told may be a problem because loans are apparently subject to the same $5,000 limit as contributions. I’m not a lawyer and I haven’t read the ordinances myself so don’t take my word for this, but I will say that’s the biggest non-personal loan I can recall seeing offhand.
  • Both of CM Jolanda Jones’ challengers had decent reports. Laurie Robinson raised almost $81K, though a bit over $30K of that was in kind. Jack Christie took in $40K, and unlike last time he’s not loaning himself big bucks. Of interest is that former Council member and Mayoral candidate Peter Brown showed up as a contributor to each. CM Jones’ report is not up yet, so I can’t say yet if Brown went for the hat trick or not.
  • The only thing interesting on Brad Batteau‘s report, which showed no money raise or spent, is that he declared himself a candidate in At Large #3, not District B. There may come a day when I will quit harping on this, but that day is not here yet.
  • Ellen Cohen continues to be a fundraising machine, raking in over $92K for the period. I didn’t scroll through the whole thing, but at first glance she appeared to have quite a few small dollar donors as well. She also continues to be a one woman economic stimulus package, spending $104K since July 1. She still has nearly $93K on hand for the home stretch.
  • CM Al Hoang raised a surprisingly small $10,950, and has less than $14K on hand. Both of his opponents were deadline day filers, so I don’t expect either of them to have that much, but it wouldn’t be that hard to have outraised him. I’ll let you know when I see their reports.
  • CM Oliver Pennington raised a fairly modest $33K, but thanks to previous fundraising prowess and not spending a huge amount, he has $185K on hand. Other than Mayor Parker, no one is going to come close to that.
  • Finally, we have one report from a non-candidate, Jim Bigham, who was going to run in District J but had to drop out because his voter registration had been purged by the Tax Assessor and could not be restored in time. Let this be a lesson to all of us, kids: As long as it is the philosophy of the Tax Assessor that it is better to purge nine eligible voters in order to ensure one ineligible one is removed, no one should take their registration status for granted. Today at 5 PM was the deadline to be registered for this election. I hope none of my readers will find out that they have suffered a similar fate.

That’s enough for now, as this post is getting long. I will follow up with another review post tomorrow, to cover the later report ones and to report on additional oddities and other things that merit comment. I will also be adding all reports to the 2011 Election pageand you can visit this spreadsheet put together by my pal Erik Vidor to see everyone’s running totals so far.

“Litter on a stick”

I think the saddest thing about this story is that it’s basically the only mainstream media coverage the At Large #2 race has received.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker announced a crackdown on so-called bandit signs Wednesday, pledging to issue fines to political candidates and others who illegally post their signs on city land.

The announcement comes less than a month before early voting in her re-election campaign. Parker said election season is when signs proliferate and that the city spent $450,000 in 2009 to take them down. The $200-per-offense fines aim to recover the city’s costs.

“This is about quality of life in our city. This is about visual pollution, and this is about someone trampling on the public right of way and intruding in the public space. And it is about tax dollars – $450,000 a year to deal with illegally placed signs,” Parker said during a news conference following Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

[…]

Candidates confronted by allegations that they are breaking the law typically distance themselves from direct responsibility by claiming overzealous volunteers have illegally placed the signs without the campaign’s authorization. Parker said she did not know of a single instance in which a candidate had been fined. City ordinance calls for a fine of $100 to $500 per sign per day to those responsible for illegally posted signs.

City Council candidate Eric Dick has received the most notoriety this year for his seemingly ubiquitous red signs.

“I think she’s trying to use her position as mayor to fine other candidates that disagree with her. It’s kind of tyranny,” Dick said.

KTRK has additional coverage. Let’s take Eric Dick at his oft-stated word that his ubiquitous illegal signs are solely the responsibility of unnamed and unpaid campaign volunteers. Putting aside the question of where one finds such dedicated yet untrainable volunteers, once the signs are up, who’s responsible for the cost to take them down? It is, after all, the taxpayers, whose interests every candidate that has ever run for office vows to watch out for, that ultimately foot the bill for their removal. If the city, on behalf of those taxpayers, decides to present that bill to those who incurred the cost, who would Eric Dick say they should be? I presume he has some idea who his volunteers are, even if he has no control over what they do. Wouldn’t the right thing for Eric Dick to do, after promising that his campaign volunteers would no longer be given signs to distribute since clearly they cannot be trusted to do so in a legal manner, be to provide the names of those volunteers whom he believes must have hung those illegal signs, so they can be made to give restitution to the people of Houston?

That’s what I’d do, if I wanted to convince people that I was an honorable person and a fiscally responsible steward of their tax dollars. Alternately, I could send out a sniggering press release that makes the Harvey Richards argument that “hey, everybody does it” and hope that nobody is too paying enough attention to notice that the taxpayers are left holding the bag. That wouldn’t be my first choice, but then I would not have found myself in that position to begin with, so there you go. Greg, Perry, and John have more.

Interview with Kristi Thibaut

Kristi Thibaut

We conclude our tour of the At Large #2 field with Kristi Thibaut, who was the State Representative for HD133 from 2009 to 2011. Thibaut has worked for Continental Airlines and as a fundraiser for non-profits such as the American Heart Association. She was also the first Executive Director of the Texas Youth Hunting Association. Here’s our conversation:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2011 Elections page.

Interview with Bolivar Fraga

Bolivar Fraga

Next up for At Large #2 is Bolivar “Bo” Fraga, who is the son of former City Council member Felix Fraga. Fraga is a graduate of the Air Force Academy who spent more than six years on active duty, including service in Afghanistan and as an Intelligence Officer. He currently works as the Community Developer of the Ripley House Neighborhood Center, and serves on the Greater East End Management District. Here’s what we talked about:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2011 Elections page.

Another overview of the candidates

The Chron has another overview of the lineup for City Council and Mayor. This time, as far as I can tell, the slate they provide matches exactly the candidates listed on the City Secretary’s page. It also has a bit more information about some of the candidates, noting who has held or run for office before, which in turn leads to one of the weirdest quotes I’ve seen in a story like this:

Michael “Griff” Griffin boasts the longest record of futility in what is now his 10th run at City Council. He also seeks the At-Large 2 seat, telling people, “This is the last chance you get to vote for Griff.”

So does that mean he won’t make an 11th attempt to run for office in 2013? Why stop now after all this time?

In related news, the ballot has been determined by the random drawings of a couple of local media folks. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Given that ballot order can be a determining factor in low profile races, it is utterly ludicrous that we still allow a random drawing to have that kind of effect in our elections. Nowadays we vote on computer terminals that are (or at least should be) perfectly capable of randomizing the order for each individual voter. We should insist on that being the norm in our elections and get rid of this cheesy, outdated ritual once and for all.

Anyway. I will be running the last of the interviews with Council candidates over the next three weeks – At Large #2 this week, challengers in At Large #1 and #4 next week, and At Large #5 the week after that. In October I’ll have the Mayor, the City Controller, and candidates from the HISD and HCC Trustee races. Then I get to catch my breath before the 2012 primary season begins. Enjoy the ride and get ready to vote.

Interview with David Robinson

David Robinson

We continue our tour of At Large #2 with David Robinson, who is an architect and neighborhood activist. Robinson has served on the Houston Planning Commission and is currently an Advisory Board Member on the Hermann Park Conservancy. He is a former President of Super Neighborhood 24, and is the current President of the Super Neighborhood Alliance. Neighborhood issues were among the things we discussed:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2011 Elections page.

Interview with Eric Dick

Eric Dick

Next up in At Large #2 is Eric Dick, who is an attorney that runs his own firm after having spent time in the Attorney General and District Attorney’s offices. You’ve probably seen his campaign signs around the city; they’ve been in the news recently. We discussed that and other issues in the interview:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2011 Elections page.

Interview with Jenifer Rene Pool

Jenifer Pool

We now turn our attention to the last open seat for this year, At Large #2, where a diverse group of candidates are vying to succeed CM Sue Lovell. First up is Jenifer Rene Pool, a community activist and business owner who serves on the Building & Standards Commission and the Police Advisory Committee. She is a former president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. Here’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2011 Elections page.

How many votes will it take?

Nancy Sims has a lament about the upcoming city elections.

What disturbs me most is the complete lack of interest I’m seeing and hearing from my friends, co-workers, students and people I encounter daily. Everyone wants to complain about the water main breaks and the streets buckling as well as the lack of recycling in their neighborhood or crime, etc. Yet, when I point out that this is an election year and they should get involved with a candidate, they look at me like I’m from another planet.

In the 2009 city elections, with an open Mayoral race and combined candidates spending more than $10 million, voter turnout reached almost 13%. Seriously. Mayor Parker was elected with little more than 100,000 votes cast.

Are you going to let 5 new people take to the Council table to make decisions on the future of this city without casting your vote?

There were actually 160,046 votes cast in the 2009 runoff election, according to the City Secretary. I’ve been thinking about the At Large #2 race, for which I’ll be running candidate interviews starting tomorrow, and some recent discussions have led me to try to put some numbers on it. Barring any surprises at the filing deadline, there will be eight candidates in this race. In such a crowded field, where the average candidate could expect to get 12.5% of the vote, reaching 20% is very likely to get you into a runoff. Recent history suggests that’s a good number to aim for as well. Here’s how the top two finishers in each race that led to a runoff fared over the past three elections:

2005 District B Galloway-Hall 37.54 Johnson 26.33 2005 District C Clutterbuck 20.03 Hittner 19.86 2005 At Large #2 Lovell 32.26 Aiyer 26.19 2007 District D Adams 33.38 Allen 25.84 2007 District E Sullivan 40.07 Dwyer 34.14 2007 At Large #5 Jones 27.77 Trevino 18.91 2009 Mayor Parker 30.49 Locke 25.85 2009 Controller Green 36.30 Khan 32.51 2009 District A Stardig 31.87 Lewis 21.79 2009 District F Laster 25.45 Hoang 24.59 2009 At Large #1 Costello 24.06 Derr 19.62 2009 At Large #2 Lovell 48.82 Burks 21.44 2009 At Large #5 Jones 42.15 Christie 36.39

With the exceptions of the 2009 Mayor’s race, in which all of the top four contenders exceeded 20%, and the 2009 Controller’s race, in which there were only three candidates, none of these races had as many as three candidates do as well as 20%, and as you can see in several of them only one reached that mark. In many of these races, there were at least six candidates as well.

What does that mean for the At Large #2 field? Well, we first have to ask how many votes are likely to be cast. With an essentially uncontested Mayor’s race and no controversial Constitutional amendments on the ballot (the 2005 electorate was swelled by the presence of the Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage amendment), 2011 seems likely to look a lot like 2007. In 2007, there were 117,431 ballots cast in the Mayor’s race. Not everyone who voted for Mayor voted in other races, however. Only 101,030 ballots were cast in At Large #5. That represents a 14% undervote, which is actually pretty good when compared to the higher turnout years of 2005 (22% undervote in At Large #2) and 2009 (27% undervote in At Large #1), which makes sense when you realize that the smaller the electorate, the more hardcore the voter. The bottom line is that Jones and Trevino advanced to overtime with vote tallies of 28,056 and 19,100, respectively. As such, a vote target of 25,000 for the At Large #2 hopefuls is probably very realistic. If turnout is a bit lower, or if the undervote is a bit higher, a target of 15,000 votes might suffice.

Think about that. Fifteen thousand votes, in a city of 2.1 million people, might be enough to give one of these eight people a chance to win election to a citywide office. And that’s before we consider the runoff – Jones won hers in 2007 with 16,212 votes, by the way; Lovell won hers in 2005 with 18,428. All I can say is that if you didn’t vote, you had an awful lot of company.

At long last, HCC campaign finance statements

As you know, I had sent an Open Records request to the HCC General Counsel to get copies of July campaign finance reports for all HCC Trustees and candidates. I sent that in on August 10, and the reply I got said I would have a reply within 10 business days. Sure enough, exactly two weeks later on the 24th, I got another email saying they were ready. They were collectively too big to email, so I had three choices to get them. From the email I was sent:

1) I can place them all on a CD at a cost of $1, and they will be available for pick up this afternoon. If you would like the information mailed to you, please see the instructions below.

2) You may bring a jump drive to 3100 Main St., 12th floor, Houston, TX 77002, and I will be happy to place them on your drive free of charge.

3) I can print all the documents out at .10 cents a page. There is approximately 100 to 200 pages regarding this request, and they would be available for pick up this afternoon.

The instructions noted that I would have to pay by check, credit card, or debit card, as they didn’t take cash any more. I was not about to pay money for something that should be freely available, and as it happened I had some business to take care of in the vicinity of 3100 Main, so I brought my thumb drive and got my files. Here they are, for your perusal:

Bruce Austin

Carroll Robinson

Christopher Oliver

Eva Loredo

Mary Ann Perez

Michael Williams

Neeta Sane

Richard Schechter

Sandie Mullins

Yolanda Navarro Flores

Some of these files are as big as 200 MB, so Google Docs may not give you a preview of them – you’ll have to download them and view in Acrobat. Sorry, but there’s nothing I can do about that.

By the way, according to the grapevine Michael Williams is officially no longer a candidate for City Council. I’ve heard that from multiple sources now. One possible reason for this is in his finance report, which says he raised $58K but spent $54K and has only $4K on hand. By my count, $37,545 went to Bethel Nathan Communications for “Consulting”, $5,500 went to Portia Matthews for “Campaign services”, and $5,050 went to radio ads on KCOH. That’s a lot of money to have spent on a campaign that ultimately went nowhere. The grapevine also says that Andrew Burks will switch from District D to At Large #2. I’ll have to check, but having Burks and Griff Griffin in the same race may violate one of the laws of thermodynamics. Be prepared to brace yourselves just in case.