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Benjamin Hall

Mayoral finance reports for July

Let’s go to the press releases for the initial hype. Here’s Mayor Parker’s announcement of her fundraising haul for the July report.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Houston Mayor Annise Parker has raised more than $2.2 million for her re-election campaign since February, with the support of nearly 2,000 individual donors and organizations and without loaning her campaign any personal funds.

Since February, Mayor Parker has received the endorsement of more than 2,500 individuals and 27 organizations so far, ranging from the Houston Police Officers Union to Harris County Council of Organizations, from labor unions to business groups, and from Houstonians of every walk in life. For a complete list of endorsements, visit

Mayor Parker’s Facebook community numbers 56,824 and she has 18,821 followers on Twitter.

“I am inspired by the thousands of Houstonians who are coming together to keep Houston the best place in America to live, work and raise a family,” said Parker.

“Mayor Parker has changed the way our city does business for the better,” said Campaign Chair Gilbert Garcia. “Under her leadership, we’re better at fighting crime, we’re working more efficiently and we’re creating more jobs than anywhere else in America.”

From February 1 through June 30, 2013, Mayor Parker received $2,212,626.01 in contributions from 1,872 donors, 1,783 of them individuals. The Mayor has spent $639,843.21, leaving her with cash on hand of $2,481,815.00 when added to funds she already had in the bank when the city fundraising season began February 1.

Here’s Mayor Parker’s finance report. I have not gone through it yet because it is 701 pages long, but you get the idea. It’s a strong sum, nearly identical in sum to her July 2011 report, and it leaves her well positioned for the campaign ahead.

As for Ben Hall, I did not get a press release myself, but the Chron did. Here it is:

Ben Hall

Houston, TX – Houston Mayoral candidate Ben Hall will report tomorrow the largest campaign war chest for a challenger to an incumbent mayor in the history of the city. Hall’s campaign had available more than $2.01 million for the period ending June 30th, his campaign report will show.

The unprecedented filing comes on the heels of tremendous grassroots support mounting for Hall, with the recent endorsements of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, the Communications Workers of America, AFSCME and the African American Police Officers League.

“I am so grateful to the hundreds of donors, the professional organizations and the scores of pastors, ministers and community activists who have rallied to our call for real leadership for Houston,” Hall said. “We can’t afford yet another term for a professional politician who has run out of ideas and run out of vision for the future.

“Houston sits on the precipice of greatness,” Hall continued. “The people of this city deserve a mayor with the vision and plan to take us to that level.”

Incumbent Mayor Annise Parker narrowly defeated two underfunded opponents in her last campaign.

“Incumbents have obvious advantages when it comes to fundraising – especially those who have held power in city hall for almost two decades,” said the Treasurer of Hall’s Specific Purpose Committee former Judge Alvin Zimmerman. “We fully expect the mayor to report a high number. But what she won’t report is any enthusiasm among voters for yet another term.”

The reports will show the Hall campaign had available more than $2.01 million through direct contributions, in-kind contributions and loans from Hall. The campaign’s cash on hand as of June 30 was $1,155,509.60.

The campaign will file two reports tomorrow: A C/OH report will show personal expenditures (loans) by Hall of $152,921.31 and an S-PAC (All for Hall Committee) with the bulk of the campaign activity.

“Tomorrow” means Tuesday, that is to say today. As of yesterday, the All For Hall Committee report had been filed, and it showed $152k in spending. Not sure why the press release says the S-PAC report will show the bulk of the activity, but whatever. At first glance, this looks quite impressive. However, first glances can be deceiving:

Hall’s filing shows his campaign raised just $311,213 as of June 30. The vast majority of the campaign’s funding came from $1.55 million in loans from Hall. Here is the campaign’s Sunday fundraising press release.

Here’s the filing referenced in that post, which appears to be an updated version of the S-PAC filing that I pulled from the City of Houston site. Needless to say, there’s a big difference between raising $2 million, which is how that Houston Politics post initially characterized Hall’s report, and raising $311K. As for the claim about enthusiasm, I can say that Hall had 73 pages of contributors listed. At four contributor per page, that’s 292 donors, though several were repeated, and a few were from outside Houston, compared to the 1,783 givers that the Parker campaign claimed. Make of that what you will. The Chron story goes into a bit more detail.

As for the bit players, Don Cook reported $10K raised, though about $4500 of that was in kind ($3300 from Gary Yokie for consulting, and $1246 from himself for collecting petition signatures), and Eric Dick raised no money but spent $11K from personal funds, including $4500 for yard signs. You know what that means. No other Mayoral candidate had a report up as of yesterday.

I’m still working on downloading reports from other candidates, and putting together my Election 2013 page. I’ve been spending time with the family this past week, so I’m a bit behind on these matters. In the meantime, Stace and Greg have totals and commentaries on what has been filed so far, so check them out. I’ll have more detailed looks at the reports in the next week or so. Let me know if there’s anything specific you want me to look for.

UPDATE: Missed the report for Victoria Lane, who raised $4K and spent $2K.

Mayoral multitude

Campos has an update on who’s running for what.

Keryl Douglas

Keryl Douglas

Commentary dropped by the City Secretary Office a couple of days ago to check out the latest campaign treasurer designations.

Here is who I will add to my political page later on today:

For Mayor: Keryl Douglas, Eric Dick, Michael Fitzsimmons, and Victoria Lane.

For At-Large 2: David Robinson, Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, and Brent Gordon.

For At-Large 3: As reported yesterday, Al Edwards.

For District B: Joe Joseph.

For District C: Pete Sosa.

For District D: Lana Edwards, Larry McKenzie, and Anthony Robinson.

For District G: Ben Taef.

Of course, these folks still have to plunk down the filing fee when the time comes.

Yes, former HCDP Chair candidate Keryl Douglas is running for Mayor. I’d heard about this from two different people before Campos did his digging at the City Secretary’s office. I have no idea why Keryl Douglas thinks she can be elected Mayor, but then the same can be said for everyone not named Annise Parker and Ben Hall. Speaking of whom, you have to figure Hall is not happy about this. Douglas will be competing with him directly for African-American voters. I’m sure he’d prefer to not have that competition.

You can see Campos’ list of candidates who have filed designation of treasurer papers here. This week is when campaign finance reports for the period ending June 30 will be appearing on the city’s reporting website. That will give a good indication about who’s running for what as well. I’ll be keeping an eye on those and will write about what I find. First order of business will be to see what Parker and Hall’s reports look like. Stay tuned.

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.


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.


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.

Ben Hall’s tax problem


Ben Hall

A campaign video shows Ben Hall, the former city attorney who is now running for mayor, sitting in a classroom amid a group of schoolchildren as his voiceover talks about the importance of education.

“Our children are our future,” Hall says, with music swelling in the background. “They deserve the very best education that any school district can offer.”

Funny thing about education, though. Somebody has to pay for it.

That’s the irony in Hall’s video. In Texas, public schools are funded mainly by property taxes. And Hall has a bad habit of paying his property taxes late.

Tax records obtained by KHOU 11 News show the candidate has paid more than $130,000 in late fees, penalties and interest on property taxes he’s owed during the past decade. Indeed, he owed more than $50,000 to the Spring Branch ISD that was due in January, a bill he hastily paid after KHOU contacted him with questions about his tax troubles.

“It’s not deliberate, but I’ll be honest with you, I don’t rush to pay my tax bills,” Hall said. “And I’m sure that there are a lot of us that struggle with this obligation, but at the end of the day you have to pay them. And we pay them.”

Hall, a wealthy plaintiff attorney, recently sold a mansion in Piney Point that cost him enough in late fees to buy some Houstonians’ homes. During a ten-year period, he and his wife paid more than $84,000 in penalties, interest and collection fees. They moved into a house inside the city limits, where he didn’t pay his Spring Branch ISD until a reporter started asking questions.

He’s also paid more than $46,000 in late fees on a historic home in Montrose that houses his law office.

The Houston mayoral candidate readily owned up to his tax troubles and agreed to a television interview, conceding that he fully expected the embarrassing problem to come up during his campaign. Indeed, he tried to spin the questions into an argument that his tax woes make him more sensitive to the problems faced by average taxpayers.

“I think we need to seriously look at whether it is good policy to assess an additional 20 percent load on taxpayers who are already struggling to pay their taxes,” Hall said.

The story was abetted by a tip from the Parker campaign, though one presumes it would have come out one way or another sooner or later. It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize the attack ad potential here. Part of the problem for Hall is that this isn’t a one-time thing, which can be reasonably understood as a mistake. By his own admission, he’s not that diligent about paying on time, which is a pretty remarkable thing to say for someone whose “struggles” are not related to his bank account but his apparent inability to set a reminder on his calendar. Hall makes a decent point about the punitive nature of late-payment assessments, but perhaps not the one he intended to. I mean, if each time he fails to pay his taxes on time he just shrugs and writes a check for the fine, then the penalty in question is clearly insufficient as a deterrent, at least for some folks. I’m not sure how much sympathy he’s going to get with that line of argument, but you play the hand you’re dealt.

One more thing to think about here. While the Parker campaign is clearly interested in defining Ben Hall in a particular way before he can get his campaign off the ground, it’s worth wondering why they’d let loose this piece of intel so early on, when hardly anyone is paying attention and the story may do as much to make people aware that there is someone named Ben Hall running for Mayor as anything else. My guess as to why they’d do this now and not in, say, September, is that there’s more where this came from. We’ll know for sure soon enough. Texpatriate has more.

Hall makes his announcement

Game on.

Ben Hall

Former Houston City Attorney Ben Hall formally launched his mayoral campaign against incumbent Annise Parker Wednesday night, decrying the burden of taxes and fees he said are driving city residents to the suburbs, and saying Houston’s mayor must have a grander vision.

Parker, also on Wednesday, accepted the endorsement of the Houston Police Officers Union and a $10,000 check from its political action committee, as Hall welcomed the endorsement of the African American Police Officers League.

Hall, who served as city attorney from 1992 to 1994, emphasized the need to incentivize business growth, particularly from international markets. He derided Parker’s focus on issues such as red light cameras and a proposal to allow food trucks downtown, saying, “This city is grander and bigger than those kind of trivial items.”

“A mayor must do more than simply balance a budget,” he said. “A mayor must do more than simply dream of ways to tax and penalize residents. We need more than just a manager, we need a leader. And we need more than just a leader, we need a leader with vision, someone who sees a way out of this morass. You can continue the strangulation hold on the taxpayers and residents, or we can choose a different way forward … by opening up the city to the international marketplace.”

My reaction to this is pretty much what it’s been all along, which is to say that so far there’s no real suggestion of what a Mayor Ben Hall would be like, and in what way he would be different than Mayor Annise Parker other than simply not being her. There’s precious little in this story to say what Hall’s vision is or how he would lead. That may of course be a function of limited story space in the Chronicle, but neither Hall’s campaign webpage nor his campaign Facebook page sheds any light on this; in particular, neither contains a copy of his prepared remarks or a video of what he said. The campaign agenda page is almost pitifully skimpy. It’s early days and I don’t expect detailed position papers just yet, but some basic statement of what Hall would do would be nice. Here’s what he says about transportation, for example:

Houston’s transportation issues can only be fully addressed through a combination of transit options. Automotive travel is here to stay, but we must promote shared transit ridership in as many ways as possible. High-occupancy vehicle lanes, bus travel and rail are but a few of the options. Shared transit ridership will not only cut down on traffic congestion, but also assist with improving air quality.

Did he favor or oppose the Metro referendum? Does he think Metro has been doing a good job? Will he pursue more funding sources to help boost shared transit ridership? You get the idea. What is his vision for transit? I don’t think I’m asking for too much here.

As for what Hall did say, I’m curious why he singled out “a proposal to allow food trucks downtown” as a trivial item. Does that mean he would oppose allowing food trucks downtown? There is a grassroots effort to make this happen, being led by small business owners who want the city to loosen or undo regulations that prevent them from expanding their businesses into downtown. It’s not something Mayor Parker picked out of the blue. There is a somewhat disingenuous case against allowing food trucks downtown, though of course we don’t know yet if Hall buys into that or if he has some other rationale. One hopes at least that terrorists and drugs don’t figure into his reasoning. Of all the things Hall could have chosen to criticize Parker about, this one just puzzles me. Among other things, it’s far from clear that being anti-downtown-food-truck is a winner. I mean, the MFU Houston Facebook page currently has more likes than Hall’s campaign webpage.

As for red light cameras, obviously this is fair game for criticism of the Mayor. It’s just that it feels dated. The red light camera referendum was in 2010. The cameras are all gone. The only question at this point is whether the city will be able to pay off the settlement with money collected from fines or if it will have to dip into general revenue. Again, there’s certainly fodder for criticism here, but isn’t having a vision about looking forward?

Finally, and maybe this is just my own personal axe to grind, Ben Hall himself is not a resident and taxpayer in the city of Houston. Yes, he is now registered to vote here, but everyone knows the “residence” one lists for voter registration purposes is just a polite fiction. The house Ben Hall has lived in for the past 20 or so years is in Piney Point. He doesn’t pay city of Houston property taxes. Maybe no one else cares about this, but it bugs me. You want to have a say in the governance of our city, you need to be an actual resident of our city. Sorry, but I’m not going to let this go any time soon.

Anyway. Other than the food truck thing, Hall hasn’t added much to his own Mayoral vision since his first announcement in January, which I discussed here. When he has more to say, I’ll have more to say about what he says. Campos, Greg, and Texpatriate have more.

UPDATE: PDiddie adds on.

Hall inches closer to running

He’s still qualifying it, but Ben Hall sounds like a candidate for Mayor.

Ben Hall

Former city attorney Ben Hall says this time, he’s really ready to run for mayor.

“I intend to be on the ballot, if the Lord gives me good health in 2013,” Hall said.

The longtime trial lawyer has flirted with politics before, almost jumping into the mayor’s race four years ago, when Parker was running for her first term. This time, he says he’s in it to win, and he’s sounding confident.

“We have a strong coalition between moderate conservatives, liberal Democrats, African Americans and Hispanic voters,” Hall said.

Less equivocal than before, but still with an out clause, just in case. Nothing is truly official until the filing deadline, of course, but we’ll know soon enough if Hall really does mean it this time.

But Hall may have company. James Noteware, the city’s former housing director, has confirmed to Eyewitness News that he is seriously considering running for mayor. Mayor Parker hired Noteware in 2010, but he quit earlier this year.

I know even less about Noteware than I do about Hall. To be honest, I don’t know anything about him. Here’s a story about Noteware’s resignation, and a story about HUD rejecting the city’s fair housing effort, which the writer of that piece says is highly unusual. A blog called Harris County Conservative Politics mentioned Noteware as a possible candidate a couple of weeks ago, while also uncritically passing along the rumors of Mayor Parker being appointed to some unnamed position within the Obama administration, which was mentioned in this story and emphatically denied by the Mayor. I first heard that rumor last week, and all I can say is that it makes no sense. Anyway, that’s what I now know about James Noteware after a cursory Google search. As with Hall and the possible Latino candidate Campos alludes to, anyone can say they’re running. Actually running is a whole ‘nother thing.

Ben Hall is a definite maybe for Mayor in 2013

I know, I’m as excited as you are.

Ben Hall

Former City Attorney Ben Hall, long rumored to be considering a run for mayor, said Tuesday that “It’s more likely than not” that he will run for mayor next year.

Hall has been most prominent recently as the attorney for Chad Holley. The black teenager was fleeing the scene of a burglary before falling over the hood of a police car, rolling onto his stomach and placing his hands behind his head in an incident captured on surveillance video. Then the video appears to show several Houston police officers stomping, kicking and punching the prostrate teenager. He is also the attorney for ousted county Housing Authority chief Guy Rankin.

Hall bought a home in the Memorial area in February. Hall insisted that his previous home had a Houston address that qualified him to run for mayor, but that address had apparently been a source of some controversy. Hall said part of his thinking for the home purchase was he “did not want anybody complaining about that (residency) issue even though we formerly complied with the law.”

Whatever. I’m so not ready to start thinking about 2013. Why Hall thought Election Day was a good time to float this bit of news is a mystery to me. At least the SD06 hopefuls know their election is coming up quickly. I really know nothing about Hall and have no idea how compelling a candidate he might be. I do think that 2011 may have been the better time for someone to challenge Mayor Parker, since this time around at least she has a balanced budget and no red light camera/Renew Houston distractions, but we’ll see how it goes. What do you think?

Precinct analysis: The 2011 Mayor’s race

I finally have a draft canvass of the 2011 Harris County vote. You know what that means. Here’s the breakdown in the Council districts for the Mayor’s race:

Dist Simms Ullman Wilson Herrera Parker O'Connor ===================================================== A 4.41% 1.28% 16.31% 18.03% 41.89% 18.09% B 22.41% 3.02% 11.92% 12.71% 43.80% 6.14% C 1.65% 0.83% 9.11% 11.21% 65.38% 11.83% D 15.33% 2.63% 11.07% 11.67% 50.84% 8.45% E 2.48% 0.81% 18.23% 15.03% 38.25% 25.20% F 5.20% 2.15% 10.81% 13.48% 48.78% 19.59% G 1.49% 0.51% 12.16% 9.43% 50.50% 25.91% H 6.04% 2.09% 7.70% 29.48% 47.33% 7.36% I 5.95% 2.47% 8.82% 29.98% 44.68% 8.10% J 5.82% 2.15% 13.27% 13.97% 50.05% 14.74% K 9.62% 1.99% 10.29% 11.00% 56.63% 10.47%

For comparison purposes, here’s my analysis of the 2009 Mayoral runoff. A couple of thoughts:

– As expected, Mayor Parker had her best showing in her District C stronghold, but let’s be honest: 65% against a bunch of no-names is nothing to write home about. Even on her friendliest turf, she failed to top the Lee Brown line. This is what I mean when I say that her problems begin with a lack of enthusiasm in her base. That needs to be Job One for her political team.

– All things considered, Parker did pretty well in the African-American districts, certainly compared to her 2009 head-to-head with Gene Locke. Obviously, not having a top tier African American candidate opposing her helped, but at least she can say she got a lot more support in these areas than before.

– On the flipside, the Mayor lost a lot of support in Republican areas, though she maintained a (slim) majority of the vote in District G. While there were no A listers among them, the fact that there were three conservative Republicans running against her was certainly a contributor. Seeing this makes me wonder why Republicans didn’t back Roy Morales more strongly in 2009. He’s no worse a candidate than any of the three Rs this time around were, and he’d run citywide before.

– The results in district H and I should concern Team Parker. How much of that was genuine dissatisfaction with the Mayor, and how much was Latinos voting Herrera’s name plus a lack of engagement from the Parker campaign? In my neighborhood, I saw a lot more Herrera signs than I did Parker signs. No question that a lot of the former was driven by the issues we’ve discussed before, but the latter I suspect was mostly about lack of outreach. I spend a lot of time in District C, and I barely saw any Parker signs there. What, other than run some TV ads, was her campaign team doing to reach out to voters?

– Looking at this, I wonder if the strategy of squeezing Parker out by running an African-American and a Republican against her – say, Ben Hall and Paul Bettencourt – would really have worked. I’ve no doubt that Hall could have taken a chunk of African-American votes away from Parker, but it’s not clear to me that Bettencourt had much room to improve on the performance of the three Republicans. For one thing, if you replace Wilson, O’Connor, and Herrera with Bettencourt, I’d bet he’d lose some of the Latino votes Herrera got in Districts I and J. He might do better in District G than the non-Parkers did, but maybe not. It’s also possible that the presence of a polarizing figure like Bettencourt, combined with the possibility that she might actually lose to this partisan, conservative Republican, could galvanize the Democratic vote in the Mayor’s favor. It’s anybody’s guess who would benefit from higher turnout, but I don’t think it would strongly favor any one candidate. I think the odds are very good that a Parker-Bettencourt-Hall race winds up in a runoff – Parker had very little margin for error, after all – but I think the most likely ordering would be Parker, then Bettencourt, then Hall – remember, it was Sylvester Turner that got squeezed out in 2003, not Bill White. In that scenario, I’d make Parker a solid favorite in the runoff. Ironically, if she went on to post a decent win in that hypothetical runoff, say 55-45, she might then have been perceived as stronger than she is right now. You can drive yourself crazy thinking about these things.

I’m sure I’ll have more things to say about this as I keep thinking about it. For now, this is what we have. I’ll run the numbers for the At Large races next. Greg has more.

Look at me! Look at meeeeee!

I have one thing to say about this.

With three months until election day, attorney Benjamin Hall still hasn’t declared whether he’s running against Mayor Annise Parker.

“I have not taken myself out of the contest,” Hall told me late last week. He also told me, “I’ve decided, but I’ve just not announced.”

Hall is the attorney for Chad Holley, the teenager who appears on a surveillance video being beaten by Houston police while he was handcuffed and lying on the ground.

When I asked Hall why he had still not declared, he said with a laugh, “Looks like she’s defeating herself. She doesn’t need an opponent.”

Those are almost the exact words former tax assessor-collector Paul Bettencourt used in March when I asked him if he would run against Parker.  He told me last month, “I’m watching it very carefully at this point, waiting to see if Mr. Hall makes a decision.”

Dude. Put up or shut up already. That goes for Bettencourt, too. All this begging for attention is just pathetic. If you think you can win – and remember, Hall was thinking about running in 2009 but got stared down by Gene Locke – then run. If you think you can do a better job – and remember, Bettencourt is the guy that walked away from the Tax Assessor job he’d been re-elected to less than a month after being re-elected because he had other things to do – then run. Until then, who really cares?

Mayor Parker officially kicks off her re-election campaign

We were out of town over the weekend, so I missed this.

An Easter weekend campaign event replete with rousing speeches, dogs of both the hot and four-legged variety and a kids’ Easter egg “scramble” kicked off Mayor Annise Parker’s re-election bid Saturday at Discovery Green.

With no announced opposition so far, Parker’s bid to retain what she called “the best job in the world” would seem to be a cakewalk — if not an Easter egg roll — compared with 2009.

In her first run for the office that year, the former neighborhood activist, city councilwoman and city controller nosed out the candidate anointed for the open seat by the downtown establishment, attorney Gene Locke, as well as two other candidates, to become the first lesbian mayor of a major American city.

This year, the establishment seems to be satisfied with the mayor’s job performance, as evidenced by her endorsement by erstwhile opponent Locke and by former mayor (and still political paterfamilias) Bob Lanier. Parker also has raised more than $1 million in campaign funds with two more major fundraisers still this week.

As I’ve noted before, by this point in 2009 we were over two months into a full-fledged four-way race. I still hear the occasional rumor about Paul Bettencourt and Benjamin Hall, and we were recently informed about some dude that no one knew was thinking about running for Mayor but apparently isn’t, but it’s hard to see how anyone makes anything more than a token attempt at it at this point. Hell, the only person quoted in the piece with negative things to say was Jared Woodfill, the silly Chair of the local GOP. How can there be an opponent if there’s no one saying oppositional things in a story like this? I agree with Keir Murray – barring someone who can massively self-fund, there just isn’t the room or the time for someone to mount a serious challenge.

I also agree with Murray about this:

Despite the campaign cakewalk to the November election, the mayor would face major challenges during her second two-year term, Murray said.

“The first term was the easiest,” he said. “The budget crisis is a continuing problem for anyone in office. Layoffs are coming, including HPD layoffs. There will be unhappiness. There’s no getting around it.”

The good news for the Mayor is that she most likely will have nothing but fringe opponents for re-election. The danger is that anything short of a Soviet-style margin of victory could be seen as electoral weakness, and may open the door for one or more serious opponents in 2013. Call this the Terence-Wales Effect, if you will. Now compare Lee Brown’s vote totals over five contested elections to Parker’s 2009 numbers and note that there’s an awful lot of people in this town who are not yet in the habit of voting to elect a Mayor Parker. Add that to the issues Murray identifies, and you can see what could happen. Given all that, expect the Mayor to run as vigorous a campaign this year as she did in 2009. She’s not just running for her second term, she’s already running for her third.

Locke and Lanier endorse Parker

More support for Mayor Parker’s re-election bid.

Mayor Annise Parker on Wednesday scored the endorsements of her 2009 opponent Gene Locke and former Mayor Bob Lanier, two of Houston’s most prominent power brokers, as she prepares to ask voters for a second two-year term in November.


“She’s bringing the city together,” Locke said Wednesday. “There’s a tremendous fiscal crisis facing the city, and I think she’s addressing that head-on.”

Lanier was mayor from 1992 through 1997. As mayor he appointed Locke city attorney, and he supported Locke two years ago. Since leaving office Lanier has continued to play an influential role in local politics. Candidates regularly call him and make pilgrimages to his home in search of his support.

“Times are tough, but so is she,” Lanier said. He said his support was based more on what he considers her straightforwardness and character than on her public policy stances. He said he also thinks that having a lesbian mayor is good for the city because it projects an image of tolerance and diversity.

Parker has not yet drawn an opponent for the November election.

You never really know what the value of an endorsement is, but having these two on Parker’s side certainly won’t hurt. As noted in the story, they represent another fundraising avenue that’s now cut off for anyone who might try to take on the Mayor. Having Locke on her side would help blunt the impact of a candidate like Benjamin Hall, if he were to decide to jump in. Keeping anyone who might be a threat from jumping in is probably the main point, though. We’re almost two months into the official fundraising season for the 2011 election, and so far nobody has, though rumors of Hall and Paul Bettencourt persist. Far as I’m concerned, they’re welcome to take all the time they want to make up their minds.

Locke is in, Hall is out

This comes as no surprise.

It went as expected at this morning’s press conference. Former City Attorney Gene Locke is running for mayor of Houston in the November election. Former City Attorney Benjamin Hall III, who never officially declared his candidacy, will not run.

As expected, by me and by others. On the assumption that Roy Morales isn’t really seriously running for Mayor, we’re down to the three candidates we were expecting before – Annise Parker, Peter Brown, and Gene Locke. Unless a more credible Latino candidate gets in the race, this is likely to be our lineup, modulo a couple of fringey perpetual candidates.

UPDATE: Here’s the full Chron story, which says that this deal, if you’ll call it that, was facilitated by Rep. Al Green.

The two former city attorneys had talked weeks ago as potential opponents. But, they said, Green more recently helped them focus on the fact that they agree on major issues such as how to create jobs and housing for city residents.

Hall said he was promised no favors in return for deciding not to run. He also said his decision had nothing to do with questions about whether he would meet the 12-month residency requirement for running for the top Houston job. Hall lives in the separate municipality of Piney Point Village but considered himself a resident of Houston because, he said, he owns residential property inside the city.

Hall is registered to vote in Piney Point Village. He said he will switch his registration so he can vote for Locke.

Okey dokey then. Hair Balls has more, while Miya has a related post from Friday.

Monday morning Mayoral intrigue

The following just hit my Inbox:

Benjamin Hall and Gene Locke Announce Joint Press Availability

When: 9:30 a.m. Monday, February 10, 2009

Where: 530 Lovett Boulevard, Houston, 77006

Ben Hall and Gene Locke invite you for a press availability Monday morning to discuss issues concerning Houston’s 2009 Mayoral race. The meeting will last approximately 20 minutes and will be conducted at the law offices of Ben Hall at 530 Lovett Boulevard.

As we know, Hall had been set to announce his entry into the race when he got a phone call from Locke, and deferred making any announcements at the time. One might assume that if they’re getting together to formally talk to the newsies it’s because one of them has decided not to run, and since Gene Locke has filed his treasurer’s report, that would point towards an exit by hall. Which would not exactly grieve me, as we have discussed before. Of course, this could all be something else entirely. We’ll know in 11 hours what the deal is.

First impressions

I’ve said that I intend to keep an open mind about the Mayoral race, because I just don’t know enough about all of the potential contenders at this point. But as the old saying goes, it won’t be so open that my brain falls out. Case in point, from Rick Casey’s column about Benjamin Hall.

“I think we need to redefine government,” he said. “I think a minimalist government is more important than a government that intrudes on all facets of life.”

A Harvard-trained lawyer with a divinity masters from Duke, Hall has a way with words: “The only government we need is the government we need,” he said. “We don’t need any more.”

You know what? After 30 years of Republican rhetoric about government being the problem and the need for “smaller” government, and after the Bush administration’s eight-year demonstration that those who have contempt for government don’t belong in it, I have no patience for this kind of talk. Now maybe Hall wasn’t being very clear about what he really meant – maybe Casey got lost along Hall’s way with words and didn’t capture his true intent. As Greg notes, Hall’s stated priorities aren’t exactly indicative of someone who’s bent on “minimalist government”. Maybe I’ll like what he has to say better the more I hear him talk. But man was this ever not a good first impression on me.

Parker to announce for Mayor today

City Controller Annise Parker will formally announce has candidacy for Mayor today.

“Houstonians want a mayor who can lead the city through tough economic times, and a mayor who can continue our forward progress with jobs and neighborhoods,” she said in an interview last week.

“I have the skill set to do these things,” she added as she prepared her announcement — an e-mail blast referring voters to an online video of her speaking to voters.

Parker, 52, started thinking about running for mayor long before the nation’s economic picture grew dark. But now that, in her words, “the No. 1 issue is going to be the economy and jobs,” Parker is touting the ways she can cut city expenses. She’s also worked as an engineering technologist for an oil company and as co-owner several years ago of a feminist bookstore.


She has about $230,000 in leftover funds from prior campaigns and is announcing her mayoral candidacy on the first day candidates are allowed under city ordinance to raise money for the contest.

Councilman Peter Brown also is running for mayor, and others edging close to joining the race include former City Attorneys Gene Locke and Benjamin Hall III, former Gov. Mark White and Harris County Department of Education Trustee Roy Morales.

As with District H, I intend to keep an open mind for as long as possible about who my preferred choice for Mayor is. I like Parker and Brown, and I don’t really know enough about Locke or Hall or White to fairly assess their candidacies. (I’m pretty sure I won’t be voting for Roy Morales. Sorry, Roy.) Having said that, if the election were today, Annise Parker would get my vote. I think she’s got the best combination of skills and experiences. Still, I want to see how the campaign goes and how the candidates engage the issues. I want to hear what everyone has to say.

Parker got her start in local politics as a civic association president and leader of what is now the Houston Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual & Transgender Political Caucus.

Gay rights and the candidates’ personal lives have been broached as issues in most major Houston mayoral races of the last 30 years. About the voters’ mindset on those topics, Parker said, “Houstonians are interested in who can manage the city.”

She said that because of her previous campaigns, “Houstonians know me.”

I will say this: Any candidate who makes an issue of Parker’s sexuality, or who doesn’t distance himself from an ally who does, will be rejected from consideration for my vote. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but if it does, that’s how it will be.

UPDATE: The email announcing Parker’s entry into the race is out. Her website is here, complete with a blog and an announcement video that’s also available on YouTube. Email is reproduced beneath the fold.


Locke files his treasurer’s report

Former City Attorney Gene Locke has filed his treasurer’s report for the Mayor’s race. I’ve got his press release beneath the fold. He was joined in doing so by City Controller Annise Parker and (be still my heart!) Roy Morales, who says he plans to “merely raise money with which to explore the idea of running”. And if that isn’t a vision that will have them swooning in the aisles, I don’t know what is.

There are two other hopefuls who have not yet filed their reports. One is Council Member Peter Brown, whom everyone knows is running. The other is another former City Attorney, Benjamin Hall, who apparently was about to announce his entry into the race until he got a phone call from Locke. What happened isn’t clear, but Locke has made his announcement, and Hall as yet has not. And a lot of people I know are talking about it.

Today’s Chron talks about how the Mayor’s race keeps starting earlier and earlier – in 1991, Bob Lanier and Sylvester Turner made their announcements in the summer, and that was to challenge an incumbent, Kathy Whitmire. The story also notes that former Gov. Mark White is apparently “still strongly considering entering the race”, which is the first I can recall hearing of him in awhile. I really don’t see what his path to victory is, but stranger things have happened.

And finally, a note on campaign tactics:

When the Internet was not yet in general use, Lanier and Turner used debates, news coverage and heavy advertising on TV and radio to promote their candidacies.

This year’s contenders will use those tools and go far beyond, [Rice University political scientist Bob] Stein said, following the Obama campaign’s use of on-line networking and fundraising, as well as using computerized data about voting habits and other demographics to identify and contact likely supporters.

Building word of mouth through Facebook, Twitter and other online avenues, along with the “micro-targeting” of voters, takes time that most previous mayoral campaigns never allowed, according to Stein.

I’ve got invitations to join Facebook groups for Annise Parker and Peter Brown, though I haven’t taken either of them up yet. If any other candidates have such things going for them at this time, I’ve not gotten notice of them. Both Annise Parker and Roy Morales are on Twitter, though neither has done much with it – Parker has tweeted three times total, Morales has been silent since January 15. The campaigns may be starting earlier, but that doesn’t mean all aspects of them are geared up.

At the City Council level, District H candidate Ed Gonzalez takes the early lead in the social networking race, as he’s the first of that group (that I know of) to get on Twitter. Which he used to announce his new blog. Karen Derr has had one of those for awhile, but as far as I know Ed’s the only one on Twitter. Both of them, plus Maverick Welsh and Hugo Mojica, are on Facebook. I’m sure things will get going more quickly in this race, given the much shorter time frame for it.

UPDATE: Over in Austin, mayoral hopeful Carole Keeton Strayhorn is thrilled about the grassroots twitter. I don’t think I can add anything to that.

UPDATE: And you can add Maverick Welsh to Twitter.