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January campaign finance reports – Mayoral wannabes

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

I wrote yesterday about the start of the 2015 campaign season in Houston, and how it’s started a bit early thanks to the ruling in the lawsuit filed by Trebor Gordon that invalidated the blackout period. This week also marked the January 15 finance report filing deadline, so now is as good a time as any to see who has what. The Gordon ruling really had no effect on the January filings – it came way too late for that – so as I’ve said before, the real story of its effect will be told in the July reports, when we can see who raised what during January. Because the blackout was in effect last year, several Mayoral candidates have no reports to file as yet – Chris Bell, Marty McVey, and Joe Ferreira fall into that category. Bill King did file a report, but only had some expenditures to list. Folks like Stephen Costello, Oliver Pennington, and Jack Christie have existing city finance accounts and thus had reports to file for their activity; Ben Hall still has his account from the 2013 race; and of course current holders of other offices like Rep. Sylvester Turner, Sheriff Adrian Garcia, and Treasurer Orlando Sanchez filed reports with their respective authorities. (In Sanchez’s case, since he would not be on the ballot until 2018 if he stays put, he was not required to file a January report he does not have a January report on the County Clerk website that I can find; I have his eight-day report from last year linked.) So without further ado:

Sylvester Turner
Stephen Costello
Oliver Pennington
Ben Hall
Jack Christie
Bill King
Adrian Garcia
Orlando Sanchez

Name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ==================================================== Turner 657,227 121,719 0 1,014,424 Costello 0 35,324 15,000 273,001 Pennington 0 126,039 0 116,632 Hall 0 26,300 2,000,000 59,300 Christie 0 11,404 0 4,080 King 0 7,300 0 0 Garcia 175,681 350,030 0 57,213 Sanchez 18,041 14,115 200,000 1,258 Locke 0 0 0 4,065 Parker 0 57,109 0 350,695

I included reports for 2009 candidate Gene Locke and Mayor Parker for the heck of it as well as for purposes of comparison. It will be interesting to see if Mayor Parker, who has her eye on a future statewide run, does any fundraising this year.

Turner’s report, with its sizable cash on hand total, and Garcia’s report, with its much less sizable COH number, are the ones that have attracted the most attention. You can see why Chris Bell really wants to enforce a $10,000 limit on the amount Turner could transfer to a city account. A million dollar head start is a big obstacle for him or anyone else to overcome. Turner, for his part, ramped up his fundraising last year in the expectation of being able to transfer it all because now that the Lege is in session, he’s on the sidelines until at least May unless he decides to resign, which I would not expect. As for Garcia, who has held some recent fundraisers for his county account, he could likely bring in some money quickly once he announced, if he does. But as Campos notes, the clock is ticking. The longer he waits, the harder it will get and the more likely that some of the deeper pockets will commit themselves to someone else. You have to figure that if he intends to get into the race, it will happen in the next month or so.

Beyond that, not too much to see. Jack Christie and Bill King can both do a certain amount of self-funding, though probably not to the extent that Ben Hall has done. I can only marvel at his outstanding loans figure, which I’ll bet goes up even more. Costello and Pennington have both shown to be strong fundraisers in past elections. I have no idea about McVey and Ferreira or whoever else might be thinking about it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s only so much space for viable candidacies in the Mayoral race. With a cap on how much and individual and a PAC can give in a cycle, there are only so many deep pockets to tap. Mayor Parker has done very well with a big network of small-dollar donors, but that sort of thing doesn’t happen overnight, and one usually has to have an extensive personal network to begin with. Like I said, the July reports will tell us a much more detailed story. I’ll check out the other finance reports in future posts. Stace has more.

UPDATE: A couple of people have asked me about the statement that Orlando Sanchez didn’t need to file a January report. I could swear that I saw something to that effect in the Chronicle, but now I can’t find where I saw it. So, since I can see that Stan Stanart, who also would not be on the ballot till 2018, has a January report filed, I’ve changed my wording above. My apologies for the confusion and for not being more skeptical of that.

And they’re off

Gentlemen, start your fundraising engines.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The Twitter handles have been rechristened, the first attacks have been fired and the “DONATE!” buttons have gone live.

The yearlong slugfest for mayor of Houston has begun.

In what is expected to be Houston’s most wide-open mayoral race in recent history, most of the dozen potential candidates are shedding their coyness after the traditional Feb. 1 starting gun was quieted by a federal court ruling last Friday that cleared the way for them to begin asking for their first dollars immediately.

Seven candidates have not been bashful about their intent to run: Rep. Sylvester Turner, former Congressman Chris Bell, former Kemah mayor Bill King, current council members Stephen Costello and Oliver Pennington, former airline executive Joe Ferreira; and 2013 candidate Ben Hall, who lost to Mayor Annise Parker, who is in her third and final term.

“Let the games begin,” Parker said Wednesday.

And they have.

Nearly every campaign has hired its top strategist and is sifting through the resumes of the potential campaign managers, fundraisers and spokesmen who they can now pay to implement that strategy.

[…]

For the candidates still dithering over a bid, they no longer have the luxury of effortlessly keeping pace with their competitors. Businessman Marty McVey, who previously said he was considering a run, now plans to designate a campaign treasurer next week. Sean Roberts, a personal injury lawyer, is a probable entrant, but has not committed to the race. And council member Jack Christie, who also is weighing a bid, continued to indicate this week that he would hold off on a race unless he knew if the business community would finance his bid.

Two other candidates, who must at least pretend to be undecided for legal reasons, still loom over the race: Harris County Sherriff Adrian Garcia, considered a top-tier candidate if he launches a bid as expected, and Orlando Sanchez, the county treasurer. Both would have to resign their offices under state law to run in a race they very well could lose.

Yes, that ruling has had an effect. I expect my inbox to fill up with invitations and solicitations shortly and quickly. With still more new names surfacing (Joe Ferreira?), no one’s email address is going to be safe.

Finance reports are slowly appearing on the city of Houston reporting site. I’m going to try to slog through the interesting ones this weekend and post a few tidbits. Later, I’m going to post a series of mini-manifestos to highlight the sorts of things I want to see discussed in this campaign. I’ve also got an opening look at the other races that will be on the ballot on my to do list. It’s going to be a long campaign, and it’s already well underway. Houston Politics has more.

First HERO repeal petition hearing today

Have I mentioned that this is a really busy month for big ticket courtroom action?

PetitionsInvalid

Conservative opponents suing the city over its equal rights ordinance are pushing, along with several City Council members, for the upcoming case to go before a jury, a move the administration said is unprecedented and would defy election law.

After a City Council meeting Wednesday, members Michael Kubosh, Oliver Pennington and C.O. Bradford, who voted in favor of the ordinance last spring, all argued the case should go to a jury trial rather than before a judge as originally scheduled. A state district judge will hold a hearing Friday on the request for a jury trial and the city’s response asking for a such a trial to be barred.

“The city may be deploying a demonstrative legal strategy,” Bradford said. “But I believe it will be a loser in the public opinion arena. We simply should not be trying to remove the people from the process.”

Just as a reminder, this is all about whether or not The People get to vote on the civil rights of some other people. We simply should not be conceding that point.

“There never has been a jury trial in an election contest in the state of Texas,” [former City Attorney David] Feldman said.

Plaintiff Jared Woodfill disputed that claim, saying the case is not an “election contest” because it does not pertain to the results of an election.

“What they’re really saying is they don’t think the people are smart enough to make that decision,” Woodfill said. “Whether it’s been having the voters vote or now allowing a jury to decide, (Parker) has been consistent on that.”

Election law attorney Doug Ray, who had not seen the court filings, said the case sounded like a “ballot access” issue – whether or not a candidate or a measure qualifies for a ballot. In those cases, granting a jury trial is rare, he said.

“It’s not clear-cut,” Ray said as to whether or not the plaintiffs are entitled to a jury trail. “As they say, the devil is always in the details.”

Feldman agreed that the case is a “ballot acccess” issue, saying that both “ballot access” and “election contest” cases fall under the state’s election code. Under the election code, only a district judge, not a jury, has the power to rule in those cases, he said.

Woodfill, Kubosh and Bradford all said the city would be wise to allow a jury trial in light of the recent controversy over the city’s subpoenaing of sermons and other materials belonging to certain pastors who helped organize the petition.

Funny how the “wise” thing to do at every stage of this process has been to give the haters exactly what they want. I’m not an attorney and I don’t know anything about the fine legal points at issue here. If Woodfill et al have a persuasive case, they’ll get what they’re asking for on the merits. What say we stick with that for now? The case is set to begin on January 19. I can’t wait.

UPDATE: I was not aware of this:

Attorneys for the city last month filed a motion requesting a bench trial, but the plaintiffs say they have a “constitutional right to a trial by jury.” That motion and others are scheduled to be heard today, but we’ll have to wait until the trial, scheduled for January 19, for the truly good stuff, which includes allegations of forged signatures.

So far, most of the City’s challenges to the petitions’ validity has centered around technical — and pretty boring — matters like whether a page included a blank space for a circulators’ signature. What’s really intriguing, though, is the City’s more recent contention that many names were forged, and that Woodfill “is no stranger” to fraudulent petitions.

In motions filed last November, attorneys for the City cited a suit where Woodfill — then the chairman of the Harris County Republican Party — accepted “facially valid” election petitions that “turned out to involve ‘forgery, fraud, or other non-accidental defects discoverable only by independent investigation.”

No one has argued that Woodfill knew the signatures in that election were invalid at the time he accepted them, but attorneys for the City point out that the court didn’t buy Woodfill’s argument that “the truthfulness of a circulator’s affidavit is strictly a criminal matter.”

[…]

These allegations were enough for for plaintiff Steve “Birth Control Pills Make Women Less Attractive to Men” Hotze, to drop out of the suit — something the City’s attorneys say is evidence that “misconduct and non-accidental defects are so pervasive” throughout the petitions. Listen, it’s a bad sign when your co-plaintiff is Steve Hotze. But it’s a really bad sign when Hotze drops out from fear that he may not have a legally sound argument.

My, my, my. Now I really can’t wait to see what happens at trial.

Don’t forget about Pasadena

There’s still a lawsuit in the works regarding their 2013 redistricting referendum that switched their Council from an eight-member all-district makeup to six districts and two At large seats, all at the behest of Mayor Johnny Isbell.

Pasadena City Council

Pasadena is preparing to change the makeup of its city council in a way that city fathers hope fosters new development, but that some Hispanics allege dilutes their influence. The case could become a test of the Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down most of the federal Voting Rights Act, giving cities in many Southern states new latitude to change election laws affecting minorities without first getting federal approval.

“Clearly it was racism,” said Pasadena Councilman Ornaldo Ybarra, one of two Hispanics on Pasadena’s eight-member council, about the town’s planned council changes. The campaign for a new voting system “was meant to scare Anglos, and it was effective,” he said.

In Pasadena, which is roughly 60 percent Hispanic, voters approved a referendum that replaces two city council seats representing districts with at-large seats, which Hispanic leaders say will negate their growing population numbers. The new format was proposed by the mayor, who is white, in July 2013, one month after the high court decision.

The mayor and supporters insist the new format will bring more participation by all Pasadena residents because they’ll have more to vote for. They note that other cities, including Houston, have at-large council members.

[…]

Some Hispanics fear that wealthier white candidates will have the upper hand in at-large races that demand costlier citywide campaigns.

Suing the city on behalf of five Hispanic residents is the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which also took Texas to court over the state’s new voter ID law.

Since the Supreme Court ruling last year, most attention has focused on statewide-voting changes made in some of the 15 states covered by the Voting Rights Act, which was passed during the Civil Rights era. The Pasadena case is one of the first involving a city.

The plaintiffs face the burden of proving intentional discrimination. Civil rights attorneys say they worry that the money and effort of mounting a challenge will discourage action in many cities.

See here, here, here, here, and here. I don’t see any information about when the lawsuit that was filed will be heard, but I’m sure it’s on a docket somewhere. The bit I quoted above is what interests me here, as it contains a testable proposition. The city of Pasadena, which is to say Mayor Isbell and his enablers, claim that by switching to a hybrid at large/single member district system, turnout will increase in Pasadena. I’d love to review what turnout has been in Pasadena over the past few cycles, but for the life of me I can’t find past election results from Pasadena anywhere – they are not in the Harris County Clerk election results, much to my surprise. If anyone can point me to them, I’d be grateful. In any event, there’s another avenue for investigation, and that’s turnout in the Houston district Council races versus turnout in the At Large races, since the Houston model is cited as what Pasadena aspires to. What I’m going to look at is the undervote rate in district versus At Large races, on the theory that if no one casts a vote in a particular race, it’s hard to claim that that race affected overall turnout in a positive way. Here’s the data for Houston, for the last six elections:

2013 Undervote 2011 Undervote 2009 Undervote ============================================================= Mayor 2.76% Mayor 4.18% Mayor 2.05% Dist A 10.36% Dist A 8.85% Dist A 18.24% Dist B 11.12% Dist B 9.78% Dist B 14.94% Dist D 12.53% Dist C 5.61% Dist C 13.30% Dist F 21.40% Dist D 8.91% Dist D 15.05% Dist G 22.47% Dist F 12.96% Dist E 14.98% Dist I 10.44% Dist G 14.32% Dist F 8.64% Dist I 11.73% Dist G 22.51% AL 1 27.49% Dist J 10.74% AL 2 29.76% Dist K 11.44% AL 1 28.48% AL 3 26.37% AL 2 30.65% AL 4 24.87% AL 1 22.50% AL 4 28.36% AL 5 28.03% AL 2 17.97% AL 5 25.89% AL 3 20.81% Controller 22.32% AL 4 20.05% Controller 15.39% AL 5 12.03% 2007 Undervote 2005 Undervote 2003 Undervote ============================================================= Mayor 6.73% Mayor 5.51% Mayor 1.38% Dist B 10.55% Dist A 19.01% Dist A 13.49% Dist C 11.40% Dist B 8.65% Dist B 11.97% Dist D 10.66% Dist C 12.82% Dist C 12.86% Dist E 10.29% Dist F 10.13% Dist E 12.90% Dist I 9.80% Dist H 12.10% Dist F 13.97% Dist I 9.33% Dist G 14.20% AL 1 31.53% Dist H 10.29% AL 2 24.94% AL 1 20.88% Dist I 13.13% AL 3 18.61% AL 2 26.37% AL 5 19.86% AL 3 24.62% AL 1 20.46% AL 5 22.92% AL 2 22.84% AL 3 18.05% AL 4 19.24% AL 5 17.29% Controller 14.04%

So over six cycles, covering the full tenures of two different Mayors and including high-turnout and low-turnout elections, the undervote rate in every single contested At Large race was higher, often significantly higher, than the undervote in every single district race, with the sole exception of At Large 5 and Districts F and G in 2011. That was the year Jolanda Jones was defeated in a runoff by Jack Christie, and it was the highest profile race that year, certainly the highest profile At Large race in any of these six years.

This to me is very strong evidence that At Large races don’t do anything to drive turnout. This should make intuitive sense – At Large races are as expensive to run as Mayoral races, but no one has anywhere near the funds to do that, while District races can be reasonably run with shoe leather and some mail. Candidates in At Large races are not as well known as candidates in district races, who have a far greater incentive to attend smaller neighborhood and civic club meetings. I’d bet we’ll see a similar pattern in Pasadena, with the district races having greater participation than the At Large races. I just hope I’ll be able to find their election results so I can check that.

This will be the first election in Pasadena under this new arrangement, assuming it isn’t thrown out before the election, which I would not expect to happen. I wish I could say that Mayor Isbell was on the ballot and that this was a chance to throw him out, but alas, he has a four year term and was re-elected in 2013. This is a chance to unseat a couple of his minions, however, and if there’s a good local opportunity for anyone upset with the 2014 elections to focus on, it’s here. The Texas Organizing Project did a lot of good work in trying to defeat the 2013 redistricting referendum, and with a little more help they might have succeeded. Whatever happens with the lawsuit, it would be nice to turn the tables in this election. You want to make a difference, get involved with TOP and help support some good candidates in Pasadena this year.

Laurie Robinson to run in At Large #4

From Texpatriate:

Laurie Robinson

Laurie Robinson

Laurie Robinson, a local businesswoman, will run for the Houston City Council next year. Specifically, as Houston Chronicle reported Theodore Schleifer reported on Twitter, she will seek out At-Large Position #4. The seat is currently held by Councilmember C.O. Bradford (D-At Large 4), who is term limited. The seat, which was previously held by now-Controller Ronald Green, has historically been held by an African-American officeholder, and this recent history has been noted repeatedly in recent weeks as a plethora of Caucasian candidates have stampeded into At-Large Position #1 and only that position, the other open seat.

A number of other names have popped up for this seat in conversations taking place behind closed doors, but none with enough certainty to be written in ink. Thus far, as noted above, most activity has taken place around Position #1, currently held by the term limited Councilmember Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1), a likely mayoral candidate. As I noted in the article I linked above, Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis will run for the post, as will Jenifer Pool, Philippe Nassif, Trebor Gordon and Griff Griffin. All except Nassif have run for office a few times (Griffin in particular about a dozen times).

Just a nitpicky note here, but it was At Large #5 that was held by African Americans for a long time; in particular, by Judson Robinson from 1971 to 1990, then by his son Judson Robinson III through 1997, then Carroll Robinson through 2001. It was in 2003, when Michael Berry, who had previously served one term in At Large #4 before making an aborted run for Mayor in 2003, won to break the streak, after which we had Jolanda Jones and then Jack Christie. AL4 was held by Anthony Hall and Sheila Jackson Lee before John Peavy won a special election in 1995 to succeed SJL after she ousted Craig Washington in the primary for CD18; Peavy was re-elected in November of 1995, then Chris Bell (’97 and ’99) and Berry (’01) represented AL4. Had Berry not chosen to make a run for Mayor in 2003, thus paving the way for Ronald Green with an assist from Bert Keller’s bumbling campaign, he might have won two more terms there, and then who knows what might have happened. (All data on city elections courtesy of the City Secretary webpage.) Berry himself was the beneficiary of some infighting over whom to support to continue the tradition of African American representation in AL5. Point being, the history is more interesting than what we have been saying, and for a few terms back in the day there were consistently two African American Council members serving at large; there were three following the 1991 election, when little-known Beverly Clark ousted Jim Westmoreland after he was caught making racist remarks relating to the late Mickey Leland and an effort to rename IAH in his honor. Clark served one term and was succeeded by Gracie Saenz. Thus endeth the history lecture.

Aaaaaaaaanyway. Robinson made a decent showing in AL5 in 2011 (my interview with her for that race is here, and though she was rumored to be a candidate for AL3 in 2013, she declined to run, saying she might try again another time. Which appears to be now. As for Griff Griffin, all I can say is that we can’t miss you if you won’t go away.

Lane Lewis announces for At Large #1

Interesting.

Lane Lewis

Lane Lewis

Harris County Democratic Party chair Lane Lewis will run for an at-large city council position, he told Democratic activists Wednesday evening.

Lewis, who has led the county’s party operation since 2011, is running to succeed Stephen Costello in At-Large Position 1, one of two open-seat at-large races next year. Lewis will remain party chair during his campaign.

Several other candidates already have appointed campaign treasurers in advance of runs for at-large positions, though only Philippe Nassif, a local Democratic activist, has specified that he will run for Position 1.

As does Texpatriate, I like Chairman Lewis. Also like Texpatriate, I’m not sure why there’s so much more focus on At Large #1 right now than on any other position. Jenifer Pool may not have officially specified what position she’s running for, but she has been telling people it’s AL1, and her business cards identify her as a candidate for that office. At Large 4, currently held by CM Bradford, will also be open, though no one has yet indicated they will run for it. At Large 5 may be open as well if CM Christie runs for Mayor, and even if he doesn’t I believe he has a glass jaw. I will be more than a little surprised if no one files to run against CM Kubosh in At Large 3. It’s early days and we should expect a lot of activity to begin in a few weeks, but as things stand right now I don’t look forward to the choice I’ll have to make in At Large #1. Stace has more.

Three thoughts on the state of the Mayor’s race

Inspired by this story, which doesn’t name any potential additions to the ever-large field of Mayoral wannabes for 2015 but which does put some things in context.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Most observers consider Rep. Sylvester Turner, with his support base from the African-American population that could cast a third of next year’s vote, to be the man to beat in November. Yet his fortunes to win in a December runoff – all but guaranteed to be needed in a large field – depend heavily on whom he faces in a one-on-one comparison.

Councilmen Oliver Pennington and Stephen Costello have committed to the race, with Pennington going as far as to send mailers to potential supporters in July, 18 months before the first votes are to be cast. Ben Hall, who lost to Parker in 2013, launched radio advertisements last month, and former Kemah mayor and Chronicle columnist Bill King designated a campaign treasurer. Former Democratic congressman Chris Bell also is an all-but-filed entrant.

Six weeks before the campaign fundraising floodgates open, the field is settling save for a potential entrant who looms over much of the discussion in Houston power circles: Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who has not yet declared his intentions. Legally, Garcia cannot make an affirmative move toward running without being forced to resign his county post, though he has acknowledged the pressure he faces from others.

That pressure, though, is pushing him in both directions. Commissioners Court likely would replace Garcia with a Republican sheriff ahead of the next election cycle.

“You’re going to be giving them an early 2016 gift,” said Democratic Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who had the sheriff at her home this month and expressed concern about a run. “Nobody wants a Latino mayor more than I do, but it’s got to be the right time.”

[…]

If Garcia does not enter the race, Councilman Ed Gonzalez, a close friend of Garcia, could look to capture Latinos’ support. Other prominent Hispanic leaders look to pass on the race, including Metro chairman and Parker ally Gilbert Garcia and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce head Laura Murillo. Both expressed some signs of interest earlier, but do not appear to be joining the field.

Garcia’s exit also could create political lanes for other Democratic alternatives to Turner, like Bell. Though Bell has not formally committed to the race, he has filed a lawsuit challenging Turner’s fundraising strategy and plans to make an official announcement in January.

The other four candidates most seriously weighing bids are: Councilman Jack Christie, an at-large councilman uncertain whether he can raise the money needed to compete; County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez, who like Garcia would have to resign to run for mayor; Sean Roberts, a local attorney; and businessman and political neophyte Marty McVey.

Councilmen Michael Kubosh and C.O. Bradford considered the race earlier this year, but both now say they are unlikely to launch campaigns. And despite floating the idea that he was open to a run, outgoing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said this month he had no plans to do so.

Conservatives have not yet coalesced around any of the six non-liberal candidates: Pennington, Costello, Hall, King, Christie or Sanchez.

“Right now, there’s no clear conservative choice yet, but people are obviously angling for being it,” said Paul Bettencourt, the new Republican senator from northwest Harris County.

1. It may be useful to think of these candidates as falling into one of three groups: Candidates with an obvious base of support, coalition candidates, and gadflies. Turner and Pennington fall into the first group, and as such you can sort of guess about what they might expect to get in November if that’s the limit of their appeal. It’s a decent position from which to start, especially in a multi-candidate race, but it’s no guarantee, as Turner himself could attest from his 2003 experience. Coalition candidates don’t have an obvious base of support, but can reasonably hope to draw from a broad range of constituencies. Bill White is the poster boy for such candidates, and folks like Bell, Costello, King, and Christie will all be competing for the kind of voters that propelled White to victory in 2003. Coalition candidates have a higher ceiling, but with so many people fishing in the same pond, it will be harder to stand out. White also had the advantage of lots of money to spend and no activity from anyone else at the time he launched his campaign. No one has that this year. Another consideration is that Turner and Pennington could have their bases eroded by Hall and Sanchez. I’d consider Sanchez a much bigger threat to Pennington if he runs than Hall would be to Turner – and Sanchez would have some appeal to Latino voters as well, not that he did so well with them in 2003 – but in a race where the difference between first and fourth or fifth could be a few thousand votes, I’d still be worried about it if I were Turner.

As for gadflies, he’s not mentioned in this story but Eric Dick, who I feel confident will run again since the publicity is good for his law firm’s business, is the canonical example. From what I have heard, Sean Roberts may be following in those footsteps. One could argue that Hall is a gadfly at this point based on the ridiculousness of his ads so far, but anyone with that kind of money to spend is still a threat to do better than the three to five points a typical gadfly might get.

Yes, there’s one candidate I haven’t mentioned here, and no I don’t mean Marty McVey, about whom I know nothing. I’ll get to him in a bit.

2. Conservatives may be better off not falling in line behind a single candidate just yet. Getting someone into the runoff is nice and all, but any Republican candidate will likely be an underdog in that runoff. The dream scenario for conservatives is what happened in the 2013 At Large #3 race, where three well-qualified Democratic candidates split the vote so evenly that none of them were able to catch up to the two Republicans. Michael Kubosh and Roy Morales were splitting a smaller piece of the electorate, but their two shares of that smaller group were greater than each of the three shares of the larger group. I still think Sylvester Turner is the frontrunner right now, but it’s not insane to imagine a Pennington-Sanchez runoff, especially if Ben Hall can be serious enough to put a dent in his numbers.

3. And then there’s Adrian Garcia. Will he or won’t he? You already know how I feel, so I won’t belabor that here. Garcia is both a candidate with a base and a coalition candidate, which is why he was as strong as he was in 2008 and 2012. Running against flawed opponents those years didn’t hurt him, either, so a little tempering of expectations may be in order here. I’m sure Garcia is carefully measuring the support he might have if he ran. I wonder if he’s trying to gauge how many Democrats he’d piss off by resigning and handing his office to a Republican, and how long said Dems would nurse that grudge when they will have at least two viable options in Turner and Bell to go with instead. It would be one thing if this were December of 2008, and Democrats had just had a great election and were feeling good about themselves. After last month’s debacle, I don’t know how forgiving anyone will be about any Dem that yields a freebie like that to the Republicans. I may be overestimating the effect, especially given how much time Garcia would have to make up for it, and I personally think the Presidential race will have a much larger effect on Democratic fortunes in Harris County in 2016 than Garcia would. But I think it’s real and I think Garcia needs to be concerned about it. Whether it’s enough to affect his decision or not, I have no idea.

Red light cameras: The final insult

Awesome.

Gone

Gone

In settling the lawsuit with camera vendor American Traffic Solutions, whose contract was supposed to run through 2014, the city agreed to pay the Arizona-based company $4.8 million.

The city had $2.3 million in red-light ticket revenue on hand at the time of the settlement, and officials said they expected to be able to pay the balance from fines collected from some of the tens of thousands of delinquent light-runners who had not yet paid up.

No such luck.

Depending on how much new red light ticket revenue is collected between now and Dec. 31, when the final settlement payment is due, city finance officials say more than $1.1 million of the settlement could wind up being pulled from the general fund, meaning taxpayers and not red light violators will be on the hook.

“My thoughts are the same now as they were then,” said Councilman Jack Christie, one of two current council members who opposed the settlement, concerned it would impact the general fund. “As a fiscal conservative, you never want to commit money that you don’t have. It’s not complicated.”

Councilman C.O. Bradford, who also opposed the settlement, agreed.

“(City Attorney) David Feldman and Mayor Parker assured council that general fund money would not be used,” he said. “Some of us said, ‘Let’s not put in that backup proviso then, let’s make sure the (processes) are there to collect those dollars.’ That didn’t happen.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I get what the city had in mind, but I have no desire to defend it at this point. Instead, here’s the trailer to “The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult”, since that was what came to my mind as I wrote the title to this post:

May we never hear of these accursed things again.

And we’re still talking about the 2015 Mayor’s race

Here we go again.

Mayor Annise Parker

Still the Mayor

The mayor’s race may be more than a year away, but nearly all candidates have launched shadow campaigns – and not all shadow campaigns are created equal.

[State Rep. Sylvester] Turner and Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, considered early frontrunners if both launch bids for City Hall, already have the name recognition from years of holding public office. That advantage may be multiplied by their ability to raise money through their existing campaign committees – an opportunity they have capitalized on over the last month.

City ordinances prevent candidates from raising money for a mayoral bid before Feb. 1, but because Turner and Garcia currently hold non-city offices, they can raise cash through their committees.

Come February, they are expected to transfer the lion’s share of that money to their mayoral bids, turning the well-liked frontrunners into well-funded frontrunners.

“It’s a little bit of a head start for sure, but the people who are talking about it are lining up their donors the same way they are,” said Lillie Schechter, a Democratic fundraiser. “One person will have to pick up checks, the other person will have to transfer checks.”

[…]

In what is expected to be the most crowded mayoral field since the last open race in 2009, a dozen potential candidates have effectively launched their bids, hiring consultants, meeting with labor and business groups, and telling the political class that a campaign is imminent. They must sit on their hands, however, when it comes to raising the money that determines their political viability, unable to collect a single check until the nine-month brawl for the mayor’s office begins in February.

As many as seven Republicans are looking into entering the race: Ben Hall, who squared off against Mayor Annise Parker in 2013, and councilmen Steven Costello and Oliver Pennington said they will announce bids, while councilmen Jack Christie and Michael Kubosh and former Kemah mayor Bill King are waiting to assess the field.

Republican Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez, METRO chairman Gilbert Garcia, [Chris] Bell, City Councilman C.O. “Brad” Bradford and private equity executive Marty McVey are said to be considering bids.

See here for the previous roundup of wannabes, could-bes, and never-will-bes. I have four things to say.

1. Most of what I think about this story I’ve already said in that previous post. I do consider Rep. Turner to be the frontrunner, for whatever that’s worth, but we’re a long, long way from being able to assess the field. Hell, there really isn’t a field to assess right now. As I said, there are only so many max-dollar donors, only so many endorsements that are worth chasing, and only so much grassroots/volunteer energy to go around. The market, if you will, just can’t support more than about four serious candidates. Most of the names you see and hear now will disappear long before we get to put-up-or-shut-up time.

2. Like Texpatriate, I remain skeptical that Sheriff Garcia will throw his hat into the ring. He must know that a fair number of Democrats will be unhappy with him if he leaves his post to a Republican appointee, which is what we’ll get from Commissioners Court. I do not speak for Sheriff Garcia, I do not advise Sheriff Garcia, and I have zero inside knowledge of what Sheriff Garcia has in mind for his future. If I were advising him, I would tell him to line up a strong successor for 2016, then set his sights on running for County Judge in 2018, when we know Ed Emmett will step down. We all know that Sheriff Garcia has ambitions for bigger things. I’ll be delighted to see him on a statewide ballot some day. Mayor of Houston would certainly be an excellent springboard to something statewide. So would County Judge. I think he’d have a clearer shot at that, and he’d risk angering fewer current allies with that choice. This is 100% my opinion, so take it for what it’s worth.

3. Listing Ben Hall as a Republican made me guffaw, followed by some giggles. Any article that can do that to me is all right in my book.

4. I still don’t think we should be talking about the Mayor’s race now, and we shouldn’t be talking about it until after the election this November. That’s far more important right now. That said, I am thinking about what I do and don’t want in my next Mayor. I’ll publish it when it’s done, which I guarantee you will be some time after November 4.

Parker proposes new firefighter pension plan

We’ll see about this.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

With the city of Houston facing huge and rising pension costs, Mayor Annise Parker on Thursday unveiled a proposal to put new firefighters in a separate, less generous plan that would do away with expensive automatic cost-of-living adjustments.

The move would not affect current firefighters covered by the Houston Firefighters Relief and Retirement Fund, long insulated from reform by the Texas Legislature. It would be an unprecedented change to new firefighters’ pensions and would mark the latest chapter in the contentious relationship between Parker and the city’s firefighters. There are two lawsuits pending between the city and the pension fund; the fund is expected to sue the city over the latest proposal.

Creating a separate plan, Parker said Thursday, is her only recourse for reining in pension costs. Though the city long has had the ability to create the separate pension plan for new firefighters, Parker said, she has waited to do so until now because she wanted to attempt broader pension reforms first.

“But if I can’t solve that one – Legislature won’t help, I don’t have the ability to negotiate – let’s set up a separate pension and create one that is fair and sustainable for both sides,” she said.

[…]

Todd Clark, who chairs the fire pension board, told a City Council committee on Thursday that the proposal would “put a firefighter on welfare,” hurt morale and weaken the department’s ability to retain and recruit staff.

Council members Larry Green, Jerry Davis and Jack Christie pushed back, asking Clark whether there was room for compromise.

“I understand that you think the fire pension doesn’t have a problem, but as someone who has just gone through the budget process for the city of Houston, we have a problem,” Green said. “Our objective is not to become Detroit. What’s the solution?”

Clark responded, “The best thing you can do is just come up with the money. It’s not my job to balance the city’s budget. What the city should be doing is finding ways to meet the promises made, not trying to cut the benefits. No changes need to be made to our system. We’re a very strong and healthy pension system.”

The Mayor’s press release, with more details about her proposal, is here. I think Todd Clark is correct that the current pension is well-funded and in better shape than many others, but I think he’s got a tough sell politically to say that the city just needs to suck it up and pay whatever they’re told to pay, over which the city has no control. I’m not commenting on what’s right or wrong here, just saying that’s a tough sell. On the other hand, CM Costello, the biggest pension hawk on Council, wants this applied to current firefighters as well. That would have been the Mayor’s preference too, but she never got anywhere with the pension fund or the legislature, so it’s also a tough sell. There’s a dispute over whether this proposal can be implemented by Council or if it requires legislative action like any change to the plan for current firefighters would, so if it does get adopted expect there to be a lawsuit.

Vape ’em if you’ve got ’em

E-cigarettes are not affected by the city of Houston’s smoking ban. For now, anyway.

When city officials announced a sweeping ban on smoking in public parks last month, many in Houston’s growing ranks of electronic cigarette users worried the new rules applied to them.

They do not, but the concern was well founded. Of the country’s five most populous cities, Houston is the only one without a ban on where the devices can be used. There is not enough research on the relatively new, battery-powered plastic or metal tubes that heat liquid nicotine to know their medical effects, leading many cities to preemptively ban them and others to watch how the national debate plays out. For now, Houston is in the latter group.

E-cigarettes emit a water vapor rather than smoke. While most health officials agree using e-cigarettes, known as “vaping,” is less harmful than traditional smoking, many have raised concerns about whether the devices reduce or lead to conventional smoking. Other unknowns include precisely what chemicals the water vapor contains and whether bystanders absorb any nicotine.

Even as Houston has expanded its general smoking restrictions, officials have been hands-off with the controversial devices. The city smoking ordinance does not include e-cigarettes.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Annise Parker said it is not something the administration is looking to change, largely because e-cigarettes are not considered a tobacco product.

The American Lung Association’s Houston chapter, however, is advocating for the city take the approach of other large urban areas and ban them in the same places as regular cigarettes while the health risks remain unknown.

Some city officials, too, are keen on broaching the issue. Council member Jack Christie, a chiropractor with strong opinions on health policy, said he would like to see restrictions on e-cigarettes in public places, voicing concern about the potential effects of second-hand vapor. Council member Ellen Cohen, chair of the Council’s Quality of Life Committee, also has concerns about second-hand vapor and said she would like to see more federal guidance before considering whether to include them in the city’s smoking ordinance.

“There’s are a lot of things that Houston doesn’t just throw out regulations on,” Christie said. “We let other cities experiment and see what works. And I’m not for over-regulation, but if it helps innocent people, and I think this would, we should do it.”

As you know, I’ve been wondering about this. I’m okay with things as they are now – as the story notes, there’s no litter issue with e-cigarettes, and I don’t think they’re nearly as prevalent as the traditional kind; I know I’ve not encountered any vapers in public spaces as yet. Should there be further regulation at the federal level – which multiple states and local health officials are asking for – or more research showing that they’re harmful, especially to people in their vicinity, then that would be a different story. Until then, I can live with the status quo.

Do we really have to talk about the 2015 Mayoral race right now?

sigh All right, all right, if you insist. But let’s make it quick.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The list of possible candidates thus far includes mainly those who have held or sought public office before, though analysts said the guessing game at this point is difficult.

“There are always people who get in the race who no one expected and people everyone expects to run who don’t,” said Houston political consultant Mustafa Tameez. “At this early stage, rumors are often floated about people as an insider game.”

The list of rumored or confirmed candidates includes:

  • Chris Bell, a lawyer who was elected to City Council in 1997, to one term in the U.S. Congress in 2002, was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2006, and ran unsuccessfully for Houston mayor in 2001;
  • City Councilman Jack Christie, a chiropractor in his second term;
  • City Councilman Stephen Costello, an engineer in his third term who chairs the council’s budget committee;
  • Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who is in his second term, having served on City Council and, for 23 years, in the Houston Police Department;
  • City Councilman Ed Gonzalez, who spent 18 years with HPD before being elected to City Council in 2009;
  • Ben Hall, an attorney and ordained minister who was city attorney from 1992 to 1994 and who lost to Parker in last year’s mayoral race;
  • City Councilman Michael Kubosh, a bail bondsman in his first term who has helped lead several petition drives to overturn city policies;
  • Laura Murillo, the president and CEO of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce since 2007;
  • City Councilman Oliver Pennington, a retired attorney in his third term who chairs the council’s ethics committee.
  • State Rep. Sylvester Turner, a Democrat and a Harvard-educated lawyer who was first elected to the House in 1988 and who is vice chair of its appropriations committee; he ran unsuccessfully for Houston mayor in 1991 and 2003.

[…]

The bottom line, [UH poli sci professor Brandon] Rottinghaus said, is that speculation about next year’s politics are, perhaps, better left to next year.

“It’s like trying to predict what the Texans’ record is going to be,” he said. “It’s shaping up – there’s no doubt there are some blocks that have been put in place here. But we still don’t know about so much of this.”

There are a few things we do know. One is that if Sheriff Garcia makes any official move towards running for Mayor, he’ll have to resign as Sheriff. Other people can talk about him all they want, but once he joins them he runs into the state electoral code. If he does resign to run, Commissioners Court gets to appoint a new Sheriff, who would almost certainly be a Republican. I know of a few Democrats that aren’t very happy with that scenario.

What else do we know? Well, after my post about Laura Murillo, I have been informed that she is registered to vote in Pearland. You know how I feel about that. I presume if there is anything to her inclusion on lists like this, the first indicator that there’s something to it will be an update to her voter registration information.

CMs Kubosh and Christie may have made themselves some friends with their anti-HERO votes, but they definitely made themselves some enemies with that vote. I figured that would translate to them getting strong challenges for re-election. I suppose running for something else instead is one way to deal with that.

Beyond that and more generally, this much I know: There’s only so much room available for Mayoral candidates. There are only so many donors, there are only so many endorsing organizations, there are only so many constituencies to court for votes and volunteer energy. Look at that list above and ask yourself who will be competing against whom for which slices of the electorate and a shot at a runoff. Sure, there are people on that list that have demonstrated various levels of ability to draw support from other parts of the political spectrum, but how well will they do when they’re up against someone for whom those parts of the spectrum are their base? This isn’t a buffet line – you can only choose one. Most of the people on this list, if they really are interested in perhaps running for Mayor and aren’t just a name some insider is floating around, will run into that reality. File this list away and take it out again next July when the first finance reports are in for 2015. That will tell you the story.

HERO passes

Finally.

After nearly nine hours of chanting and tears from seas of opponents and supporters in color-coded T-shirts, Houston City Council passed an ordinance on Wednesday extending equal rights protections to gay and transgender residents.

Despite weeks of discussion and dissent over the measure, the final vote was 11-6, a count that matched guesses made months ago, when Mayor Annise Parker — the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city — said she planned to bring forward such a measure.

The approval was greeted with thunderous applause from the audience, largely full of supporters, and chants of “HERO,” for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.

“While much of the debate has centered around the gay and transgender section of the ordinance, it is a comprehensive ordinance,” Parker said after the vote. “It is a good step forward for the city of Houston.”

That’s the early version of the story. I’ll update later from the full story when I can. While the vote was 11-6, it was a little different than I thought it might be – CM Richard Nguyen, who movingly said that his 6-year-old son told him to “just be brave”, was a Yes, while CMs Jack Christie and – very disappointingly – Dwight Boykins were Nos. The other four Nos, from CMs Stardig, Martin, Pennington, and Kubosh, were as expected. I don’t have much to add right now – despite the final passage, this story is far from over, so there will be much more to say later. I have no idea if those half-baked recall and repeal efforts will go anywhere – we’ll deal with them if we must – but I do know that a lot of folks will have some very long memories in 2015. I’m proud of my city, proud of the Council members who voted with Mayor Parker, proud of Mayor Parker for getting this done, and really really proud of all the supporters who packed City Hall to tell their stories and witness history being made. Well done, y’all. Think Progress, PDiddie, and Rep. Garnet Coleman have more.

UPDATE: Here’s the full Chron story, which includes a heaping dose of Dave Wilson and his many petition drive threats. I’ll deal with all that in a subsequent post.

NDO vote will be next week

The proposed non-discrimination ordinance was on Council’s agenda yesterday, but it did not come to a vote as it was tagged, which means it’ll be voted on next week. The Chron’s preview story gave some insight into what we should expect from the ordinance based on the experience of other cities that already have protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in their local codes.

RedEquality

Houston handles discrimination complaints from city employees and sends a hundred housing complaints to federal authorities each year, [city attorney David] Feldman said. The work added by protecting sexual orientation and gender identity and covering places of public accommodation may be modest.

Less than half of 1 percent of the housing complaints Fort Worth received last year were based on sexual orientation, and the city received no employment claims based on sexual orientation, according to an annual report

Fort Worth has received five complaints against places of public accommodation in the last two years; Austin typically sees three or fewer per year.

“The fact that it creates a scheme that is almost entirely voluntary compliance doesn’t reduce the value or the effect of it,” said Jonathan Babiak of Austin’s Equal Employment/Fair Housing Office. “Many, many people are going to comply just because it’s the law.”

Since passing its nondiscrimination ordinance last fall, San Antonio has learned of three incidents of alleged discrimination in areas other than housing, all against transgender or gay residents. The events, one involving a city contractor and two involving businesses that serve the public, have not yet resulted in formal complaints, said deputy city attorney Veronica Zertuche. One city employee also has filed a complaint based on sexual orientation, she said.

In El Paso, deputy city attorney Laura Gordon said she is aware of two incidents of alleged discrimination in places of public accommodation, both from gay couples, and neither of which resulted in a complaint. El Paso does not cover private employment.

Feldman said a Dallas official reported that city has received 12 complaints not related to housing in the decade that its ordinance has been in effect.

Feldman said he foresees Houston fielding more employment and public accommodation complaints than other cities, due, in part, to its size.

“We’ve never had it before, and now people will say, ‘Ah, there’s a remedy here,’ ” Feldman said. “But I also think it will dissipate in time.”

Houston’s added workload also would be limited by its exemption for businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Fort Worth and Austin exempt businesses of 15 or fewer employees, matching federal and state laws. Texas Workforce Commission data show 29 percent of the state’s private workforce is employed by firms with fewer than 50 workers.

Houston GLBT Political Caucus president Maverick Welsh and others want the 50-worker exemption dropped to 15. “I’m very optimistic,” Welsh told the council Tuesday. “I believe you’ll do the right thing.”

See here and here for the background. An amendment proposed by CM Robert Gallegos would lower the threshold to 15 employees; we’ll see how that one goes. As there will be another public session of Council on Tuesday the 13th, with the vote scheduled for the 14th, there will be another opportunity to address Council and show your support for the ordinance and CM Gallegos’ amendment. Email [email protected] to get on the list of speakers for that.

The late Wednesday story has more on the amendments.

Councilman Oliver Pennington proposed the most substantial changes to the measure, seeking to exempt all private employers and to permit discrimination in the sale or rental of a single-family home if the seller or landlord owns eight or fewer homes; the current drafts exempts the owners of three or fewer houses.

Pennington also seeks to allow a first-offense conviction to be dismissed if the person is not convicted of discrimination again within a year, and wants to let someone accused of denying a transgender person access to the public restroom of his or her choice to have the complaint dismissed by submitting an affidavit explaining the decision to deny access.

“The thrust of my amendments today was to promote voluntary compliance, and I know reconciliation is provided for now, but for first offenses there’s still a possibility for criminal prosecution,” Pennington said. “Whatever we can do, in the long run, to promote interaction with the affected parties on a voluntary basis will be a worthwhile thing to do and I hope we can reach that.”

[…]

Other council members sought to strengthen the ordinance.

Councilman Robert Gallegos wants the measure to cover more private employees by dropping the proposed exemption for businesses that employ fewer than 50 workers to those with 25, and then to 15 over two years.

That change had been advocated by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, which said the stated exemption left too many workers unprotected.

“The transition from 50 to 15, which is the more common standard across the United States, was thoughtful,” Parker said. “That may be doable … .”

CM Pennington’s amendment is a non-starter. CM Gallegos’ amendment is the one to watch. Most of the rest were technical in nature.

Back to the Tuesday story:

[Mayor Annise] Parker and 11 of the 16 City Council members agreed last fall to support a nondiscrimination ordinance. Some members have expressed concerns about the item, however.

The 11 Council members that stated their support for an NDO in their screening questionnaire for the Houston GLBT Political Caucus are listed here. Of those 11, CM Christie has waffled a bit, but I think in the end he’ll be a Yes. In addition, based on his willingness to engage on the issue and the feedback I’ve heard, I have hope that CM Kubosh will vote in favor as well, though he expressed some doubts in Wednesday’s story. CM Nguyen is hard to read, CM Martin is a firm No, CM Pennington is a likely No, and as of Tuesday CM Stardig is a No. I recommend you read Brad Pritchett’s response to CM Stardig, as he says what needs to be said. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out in 2015. Be that as it may, I expect this to pass with a healthy majority next week, and about damn time for it. Texpatriate has more.

Mayor Parker releases draft of non-discrimination ordinance

From the inbox:

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker today released a draft of her proposed Equal Rights Ordinance. The document is the result of more than two months of collaborative discussions with various stakeholders.

“As I stated in my State of the City Address earlier this month, the Houston I know does not discriminate, treats everyone equally and allows full participation by everyone in civic and business life,” said Mayor Parker. “We don’t care where you come from, the color of your skin, your age, gender, what physical limitations you may have or who you choose to love. It’s time the laws on our books reflect this.”

Houston is currently the only major city in the country without civil rights protections for its residents. The draft ordinance will prohibit discrimination in city employment, city contracting, housing, public accommodations and private employment at businesses with at least 50 employees. To avoid First Amendment issues, religious organizations are exempt from the definition of an employer.

Complaints about violations of the ordinance and decisions regarding prosecution are to be handled by the City’s Office of Inspector General and the City Attorney. If the subject of a complaint refuses to cooperate with an investigation, the City Attorney may ask City Council to approve the issuance of a subpoena to compel cooperation.

In addition, the mayor has the discretion to create an advisory task force to study and report on matters related to the ordinance.

“Equal protection under law is a cornerstone of our democracy and the Equal Rights Ordinance will help to ensure that all Houstonians are protected from discrimination,” said District C City Council Member Ellen Cohen, who has been involved in the drafting of the ordinance. “As the most diverse city in the nation, I’m pleased that we will offer these protections in public accommodations and employment to all our citizens.”

“This ordinance gives us another tool to demonstrate that Houston is a world class city that is open for business,” said District J City Council Member Mike Laster, who has also played an integral role in the drafting of the ordinance. “If you are willing to work hard, and treat your neighbors with respect and fairness, you will be welcome in Houston, and you will succeed in Houston!”

Mayor Parker intends to present the draft ordinance to City Council’s Quality of Life Committee on April 30. Consideration by the full City Council is scheduled for May 7. The ordinance may be viewed by clicking the Ordinance Feedback icon under the mayor’s photo on the homepage of the city’s website at www.houstontx.gov.

See here and here for the background. A direct link to the ordinance is here, and if you’re wondering why we need such a thing in Houston, I recommend you read this Equal Rights Ordinance Guide helpfully put together by the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats. As we know there had been some concern about private employers not being included in the ordinance, but as you can see that has been addressed. Nothing like a little public engagement on an important issue.

The Chron story gives us a feel for the lay of the land.

Parker initially had talked of creating a human rights commission to hear complaints, but that idea was left out of the proposal announced Monday.

[…]

Greater Houston Partnership President and CEO Bob Harvey said his group’s key concern with the idea had been the commission.

“At this juncture, admittedly upon a very quick review, I would say there is plenty in this proposal that we can support,” Harvey said, noting that a majority of GHP members already have anti-discrimination policies. “We now must take the time to review the proposal in detail, and we plan to take it before our board for discussion in the next several days.”

The Houston GLBT Caucus, during last fall’s elections, asked the mayor whether she would introduce, and council members whether they would support, a nondiscrimination ordinance; Parker and 11 council members said yes. Caucus President Maverick Welsh said he is pleased private employers were included.

“She kept her commitment to the GLBT community and I’m hoping the council members that made a commitment will keep theirs, too,” Welsh said. “Houston is competing with other cities for the best and brightest talent out there and if Houston has these protections in place we’re more competitive and welcoming.”

Councilman Michael Kubosh said he is concerned Parker is stressing the ordinance’s sweep when her goal is adding protections for gay and transgender residents. If accurate, he said, that is where discussions should focus.

“The mayor needs to come out and just say what it’s really about. Let’s start from there and go on,” Kubosh said. “The most important thing is transparency.”

Councilman Jack Christie said the draft’s dropping of a commission makes it an improvement over earlier discussions.

“Just have direct access to the city attorney, if the state and federal hasn’t helped you,” Christie said. “I just don’t hear that much discrimination, but if there is, if there’s less than 1 percent, we need to stop that.”

There was a quote in there from one of the usual suspects that can be summed up as “haters gonna hate”, but beyond that I find these reactions to be encouraging, and boding well for passage. Still, I am sure there will be more opposition now that this is out, and I’m sure some members of Council will need a bit of pushing, so don’t quit engaging just yet. Just remember, when the predictions of doom and employers fleeing and whatever else begin to crop up, plenty of other cities in Texas and elsewhere have passed ordinances like this one, and last I checked the earth was still rotating on its axis. Nothing bad will happen, but a lot of good will. Texas Leftist, Lone Star Q, Texpatriate, TransGriot, and PDiddie have more.

Counting votes on the non-discrimination ordinance

From the Houston GLBT Political Caucus Facebook page:

Members have asked for the responses on our questionnaires to the questions below. The President of the Caucus, Maverick Welsh, has asked me to post the information. As the chair of the Screening Committee, I have reviewed the questionnaires from 2013 and below is the result:

Mayor–We asked:

Question: If elected, would you be willing to introduce a non-discrimination ordinance, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing, and public accommodation, that provides reasonable exemptions for small businesses, religious organizations, and federally exempt residential property owners?

She answered:

Annise Parker: Yes

City Council–We asked:

If elected, would you publicly advocate for and vote in favor of a non-discrimination ordinance, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing, and public accommodation, that provides reasonable exemptions for small businesses, religious organizations, and federally exempt residential property owners?

They answered:

Jerry Davis: Yes
Ellen Cohen: Yes
Dwight Boykins: Yes
Ed Gonzalez: Yes
Robert Gallegos: Yes
Mike Laster: Yes
Larry Green: Yes
Steve Costello: Yes
David Robinson: Yes
C.O. Bradford: Yes
Jack Christie: Yes

There’s been a lot of speculation about who may or may not support the ordinance that Mayor Parker has promised to bring before council. As yet, there is not a draft version of the ordinance, and that seems to be the key to understanding this. As CMs Bradford and Boykins mention to Lone Star Q, without at least a draft you don’t know what the specifics are. Maybe it’ll be weaker than you want it to be. Maybe it’ll be poorly worded and you will be concerned about potential litigation as a result. It’s not inconsistent for a Council member to say they support the principle and the idea of the ordinance, but they want to see what it actually says before they can confirm they’ll vote for it.

Nonetheless, everyone listed above is on record saying they would “vote in favor of a non-discrimination ordinance, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing, and public accommodation”, and they will be expected to do exactly that. If they want to make arguments about making it stronger, that’s fine. That list above is more than enough to pass the ordinance, so there should be no waffling, no fretting about vote counts, and especially no fear of a backlash. When the time comes, everyone needs to keep their promises. Now would be an excellent time to call your Council members and let them know you look forward to seeing their vote for this NDO.

January campaign finance reports for Houston officeholders

One more set of finance reports to document, from city of Houston officeholders and candidates. I’m not going to link to the individual reports this time, since the city’s system automatically downloads the PDFs and I don’t feel like uploading these all to my Google drive. Here are the basic summaries, with my comments afterwards

Officeholder Office Raised Spent Loan Cash ========================================================== Parker Mayor 121,165 574,185 0 461,089 Green Controller 6,575 39,253 0 14,585 Costello AL1 81,200 62,410 15,000 144,753 Robinson AL2 26,246 33,265 0 32,918 Kubosh AL3 83,691 84,157 15,000 11,452 Bradford AL4 8,050 30,257 0 33,485 Christie AL5 15,275 11,606 0 10,548 Stardig A 5,250 30,393 0 24,238 Davis B 19,300 28,798 0 84,551 Cohen C 47,982 76,405 0 93,364 Boykins D 16,375 49,004 0 6,727 Martin E 45,650 27,968 0 43,423 Nguyen F 21,269 5,795 0 8,750 Pennington G 13,550 30,046 0 192,142 Gonzales H 40,375 33,623 0 90,782 Gallegos I 38,882 18,279 0 22,940 Laster J 3,500 8,081 0 77,408 Green K 10,150 15,455 0 77,366 Hale SD15 0 472 0 0 Noriega HCDE 0 8,690 1,000 9,335 Chavez AL3 3,150 6,652 160 15,716 Calvert AL3 1,600 65,031 10,000 2,654 Brown A 21,969 22,121 0 25,729 Peck A 0 2,811 0 0 Knox A 1,220 17,271 0 931 Richards D 2,000 16,043 0 2,727 Jones, J D 0 0 0 3,203 Provost D 7,960 9,033 0 15 Edwards D 3,745 4,415 0 0 Rodriguez I 0 3,581 0 6,731 Garces I 32,950 49,802 0 0 Ablaza I 380 10,288 0 673 Mendez I 2,050 19,120 0 0

Mayor Parker has a decent amount on hand, not as much as she had after some other elections, but then she won’t be on any ballot until 2018, so there’s no rush. I know she has at least one fundraiser happening, and I’m sure she’ll have a solid start on fundraising for whatever office she might have her eye on in four years’ time.

And speaking of being prepared for the next election, CM Costello is in pretty good shape, too. It’ll take a lot more money than that to mount a successful campaign for Mayor in 2015, and there are likely to be several strong candidates competing for the usual pots of cash, but every little bit helps.

The other At Large incumbents are in reasonable shape. Both Kubosh and Christie have done some degree of self-funding, so their totals aren’t worrisome. While I believe there will be some competitive At Large races in 2015, and not just in the two open seats, I don’t think anyone will be caught short in this department the way Andrew Burks was.

I continue to marvel at the totals in the district seats. Many of those incumbents have been helped by not having well-financed opponents. CMs Gonzales and Pennington are well placed if they have their eyes on another race. Personally, I think CM Gonzales ought to consider running for City Controller. If nothing else, that will likely be less crowded than the Mayor’s race in 2015.

CM Richard Nguyen, who was nicely profiled by Mustafa Tameez recently, received nearly half of his total – $9,500, to be exact – from various PACs after the election; this is called “late train” money. As far as the money he received from individuals, every one of them had a Vietnamese name. That’s some good networking there.

Of the others listed, two of them – Ron Hale and Melissa Noriega – are running for something in 2014. The rest, with one exception, was either an unsuccessful candidate in 2013 or a term-limited Council member. The exception is former CM Jolanda Jones, whose eligibility to run for something else remains disputed. The one notable thing in this bunch is the $25K that now-former CM Helena Brown had on hand. Given that CM Brenda Stardig left a lot of money unspent in 2011 when Brown knocked her off, there’s a certain irony to that. Beyond that, no one left themselves very much for a subsequent campaign if they have one in mind. I won’t be surprised if one or more people on this list runs for something again, perhaps in 2015, but if so they’ll be starting out as they did in 2013.

Precinct analysis: At Large 1, 4, and 5

Last week, we looked at the competitive At Large Council races. Now let’s look at the three At Large races that weren’t competitive. First up is At Large #1, where CM Stephen Costello won a third term.

Dist Costello Griffin Costello% Griffin% ========================================= A 5,465 4,784 53.32% 46.68% B 5,535 4,291 56.33% 43.67% C 15,767 7,919 66.57% 33.43% D 7,852 6,098 56.29% 43.71% E 7,844 5,554 58.55% 41.45% F 3,241 2,247 59.06% 40.94% G 12,328 7,177 63.20% 36.80% H 5,024 2,492 66.84% 33.16% I 4,702 2,416 66.06% 33.94% J 2,549 1,749 59.31% 40.69% K 6,620 4,643 58.78% 41.22%

This is a solid, across-the-board victory, with no obvious weak spots though perhaps some softness here and there. Greg, who has one of his customary color-coded maps, summarizes as follows:

Costello’s win certainly qualifies as a win and I won’t take anything away from it. There are more than one ways to look at the map below and one of them goes something like “Gee, that certainly is a broad base of support throughout the city.” But it still looks a bit weak when you look at how broad the 35-40% of what I’ll chalk up to as “anti-incumbent” vote.

I don’t think that a bar owner most familiar for his displays of team loyalty in the Luv Ya Blue era of Oiler football qualifies as a candidate with massive amounts of name ID. I could be wrong, but I don’t think there’s always a given that Griff earns a solid 30-40% of the vote just by putting his name on the ballot.

Keeping the dream alive

It’s an interesting question: How much of the Griff Griffin vote is an actual vote for Griff Griffin, and how much is basically a vote for “not the incumbent”? To try to answer that, because I’m just that kind of sucker, I went back and looked at every previous election that featured Griff somewhere on the ballot:

2011 AL2 (open), 10 candidates, 8.22%

2009 AL2 (Lovell), 4 candidates, 19.97%

2007 AL2 (Lovell), 2 candidates, 47.12%

2005 AL1 (open), 3 candidates, 17.06%

2001 AL4 (open), 5 candidates, 13.73%

1999 District C (open), 7 candidates, 15.32%

January 1997 AL4 (open), 16 candidates, 6.40%

1997 AL5 (open), 9 candidates, 13.45%

1995 AL3 (open), 11 candidates, 11.31%

1993 AL3 (open), 14 candidates, 7.08%

What do we take away from this, other than Griff has a preference for open seat races? Given that he has run in many multi-candidate races where there was likely to be at least one acceptable choice to even the most curmudgeonly, there’s a core of maybe 10 to 15% of the electorate that will choose to vote for Griff. Note that in several of these races, Griff finished third or fourth in the large field of candidates, so by any reasonable accounting he’s at least one step up from a placeholder. Viewed in that light, Costello’s performance looks a little better. And for what it’s worth, the one other time Griff ran in a two-candidate race, he got 47% of the vote against then-CM Sue Lovell. CM Costello easily cleared that mark. Make of all that what you will.

Here’s At Large #4:

Dist Bradford Dadoush Bradford% Dadoush% ========================================= A 7,990 2,228 78.20% 21.80% B 10,861 835 92.86% 7.14% C 17,525 5,185 77.17% 22.83% D 14,861 1,551 90.55% 9.45% E 10,315 3,280 75.87% 24.13% F 4,133 1,388 74.86% 25.14% G 15,450 3,865 79.99% 20.01% H 5,909 1,685 77.81% 22.19% I 5,472 1,780 75.46% 24.54% J 3,422 964 78.02% 21.98% K 10,350 1,824 85.02% 14.98%

Now that’s a dominant victory. CM Bradford made a point of telling me, after I’d interviewed him, that he was not a candidate for Mayor in 2015. It wouldn’t make sense for him to support Ben Hall, he told me, if he wanted to be Mayor in 2015. All that may be true, but it’s hard to look at these numbers and not see a potentially formidable Mayoral candidate. He’d have some tough competition – besides Costello, Sheriff Adrian Garcia is said to be interested in running, and there’s still Ronald Green and a whole lot of others that are at least thinking about it – but after three easy electoral victories citywide, he has to be considered one of the top dogs.

Finally, At Large #5:

Dist Christie Shabazz Horwitz Christie% Shabazz% Horwitz% ========================================================== A 6,709 2,199 1,258 65.99% 21.63% 12.37% B 3,353 6,183 762 32.56% 60.04% 7.40% C 13,603 4,092 4,189 62.16% 18.70% 19.14% D 4,677 9,133 1,209 31.14% 60.81% 8.05% E 9,207 2,315 1,676 69.76% 17.54% 12.70% F 2,852 1,756 817 52.57% 32.37% 15.06% G 15,167 2,441 2,249 76.38% 12.29% 11.33% H 3,345 2,700 1,064 47.05% 37.98% 14.97% I 3,236 2,615 979 47.38% 38.29% 14.33% J 2,337 1,273 635 55.05% 29.99% 14.96% K 4,841 5,009 1,477 42.74% 44.22% 13.04%

Consider this: Ben Hall, who ran a year-long multi-million dollar campaign for Mayor, received 23,055 votes in Council districts B, D, and K, where he needed to run up the score in order to have a chance to make a runoff against Mayor Parker. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, a late filing, low-dollar candidate in At Large #5, received 20,325 votes in those districts, with a higher percentage of the vote in all three. Had the undervote rate been remotely comparable between the two races – 28.03% of all Harris County voters in AL5 simply skipped the race, ten times as many as the 2.76% undervote for Mayor – she would almost certainly have collected more total votes in these districts than he did. Have I made it clear yet how poor a performance Hall had?

As for Christie, he’s sort of the alternate universe in which Bill Frazer gets elected Controller. You can see what Frazer’s path forward might be based on Christie’s better numbers in Democratic districts, and you can also see where Christie could be in trouble against a stronger opponent or pair of opponents, in particular against opposition that gets an earlier start. There are going to be two open At Large seats in 2015, and I won’t be surprised if the winner of the Kubosh/Morales runoff faces a strong challenger. For that matter, the field for Controller is pretty open beyond Frazer if he’s into it. Christie might wind up getting a pass just because there are enough other opportunities available for the ambitious. Regardless, my point is that it’s better to start early than jump in at the last minute. Greg has more.

Endorsement watch: For Christie

The Chron endorses freshman CM Jack Christie in At Large #5.

Jack Christie

Jack Christie

At-Large council members act as a sort of minister without portfolio. While district council members focus on constituent issues, at-large members can set their own agendas. The previous incumbent for At-Large Position 5, Jolanda Jones, said her goal was to serve as “the voice of the voiceless.” Not everyone liked what they heard. Her calls for scrutiny slowed down business as usual at City Hall – for better or worse. Several of Jones’ fellow council members, not to mention former Mayor Bill White, united behind Jack Christie to defeat Jones in 2011. He won in the runoff.

Despite his low-profile status at City Hall, one would be pressed to find an incumbent on Council who faces such animosity from challengers. Their criticisms have little to do with his overall performance and instead focus on a single point: Christie doesn’t support vaccinations.

Christie has served for three terms as a member of the State Board of Education and three terms on the Spring Branch Independent School District Board of Trustees, but he’s also a chiropractor, and as one he has as deep skepticism of modern medicine. This came to light during a vote to accept a federal grant that would fund flu shots for poor kids and the elderly. “You don’t die from the flu,” Christie remarked at council, casting the only no vote.

People do die from the flu – thousands in U.S. every year. Christie’s conspiracy theories have no place in public policy. These unfounded fears of vaccinations have led to the return of once-scarce illnesses. For example, a measles outbreak struck 25 people in Newark, Texas, this past August, centered around a church whose senior pastor had criticized vaccinations.

To his credit, Christie expressed his dangerous position, cast his protest vote and moved on.

I’ve interviewed CM Christie three times now – here is this year’s interview. I find him to be engaging and likable, and generally speaking I think he’s been a decent Council member. But the vaccination issue just gobsmacks me. I know people who share his views; I’m related to at least one of them. This belief that vaccines are harmful defies all logic and reason, is based on a fraud, and yet is unshakeable in its adherents. It’s also demonstrably dangerous, as the measles outbreak cited by the Chron made clear recently. It would be one thing if this belief were strictly a personal matter, but we’ve already seen that it directly intersects with Council matters. Christie’s opponents are right to hammer on it, and the Chron is wrong to dismiss them for it. It’s true that CM Christie’s irrational opposition to that grant amounted to little more than a meaningless “No” vote, and that unlike some other Texas politicians I could name, he didn’t do any further damage to the system or the process for the sake of defending his indefensible belief. But he doesn’t deserve a pass for it. If the Chron didn’t think that either James Horwitz or Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz were suitable for Council, then perhaps they should have taken a pass on this race. At the very least, they should have taken their own stated concerns more seriously.

Anyway. As noted, my interview with CM Christie is here, and my interview with James Horwitz is here. I did not interview Dr. Evans-Shabazz, but she did a Texpatriate Q&A; Horwitz also did Q&As from Texpatriate and Texas Leftist. The Chron ran two endorsements yesterday, but I decided to treat them as separate posts this time. I’ll blog about the other one tomorrow. Finally, Noah Horwitz, one of the Texpatriate bloggers and the son of James Horwitz, sent a letter to the editor of the Chron in response to their endorsement of CM Christie, which I have reproduced below. These are his words and not mine – I’ve said my piece above – but I agreed to print his letter in case the Chron didn’t.

(more…)

The 2013 lineup

So many candidates.

He’s baaaaaaack…

More than 60 candidates have filed to run for city of Houston elective office this fall, many of them rushing in before the 5 p.m. Monday deadline.

[…]

Atop the ballot, [Mayor Annise] Parker is challenged by wealthy attorney Ben Hall, conservative Eric Dick, repeat Green Party candidate Don Cook, and six others. City Controller Ron Green is opposed by accountant Bill Frazer.

The ballot’s most crowded council race, with 11 contenders, will be for District D, the south Houston seat held by term-limited Wanda Adams, who has filed to run for a seat on the Houston ISD board.

Looking to succeed Adams are several candidates who have sought the seat or other council posts before, including Dwight Boykins, Larry McKinzie, Lana Edwards and Keith Caldwell. First-time contenders include Anthony Robinson, a businessman and lawyer who was exonerated after serving 10 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, and Houston Housing Authority vice-chair Assata-Nicole Richards, who briefly was homeless and went on to earn a doctorate in sociology.

[…]

Other notable filings include Issa Dadoush, who formerly ran the facilities department for the city, then HISD. He will challenge incumbent Councilman C.O. Bradford. Perennial candidate Michael “Griff” Griffin – who said his 10th failed bid for City Council in 2011 would be his last – also filed, against At-Large 1 incumbent Councilman Stephen Costello.

So we will have Griff to kick around again. Whoop-de-doo. No, I will not be interviewing him. My to-do list is a little longer now, but it doesn’t include Griff. Life is too short.

I’m still working on my 2013 Election page, since there are some names that remain unknown to me. I’ll wait and see what the final list of candidates on the City Secretary page looks like before I declare the page finalized. Some races are no different – At Large #2, Districts A, C, and I. Apparently, neither Chris Carmona nor Al Edwards filed in At Large #3, leaving that field a bit smaller than I’d have expected. The Bradford/Dadoush race in At Large #4 is potentially interesting. I know of at least one more candidate in At Large #5, James “father of Noah” Horwitz. And my God, could we possibly have more Mayoral candidates?

The big non-city-race news is the retirement of HISD Trustee Larry Marshall.

Marshall, who turned 81 in June, first was elected to the board of the Houston Independent School District in 1997. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

The other four incumbents up for re-election are running, and two face opponents.

A civil lawsuit filed by a construction contractor in late 2010 put Marshall under intense scrutiny, accusing him of a bribery and kickback scheme with his political campaign treasurer to help certain construction firms land HISD contracts.

The Houston Chronicle also has reported that the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office had launched a criminal investigation tied to the lawsuit.

[…]

The candidates running for Marshall’s seat are: W. Clyde Lemon, who served on the board in the mid-1990s; City Councilwoman Wanda Adams; Anthony Madry, a former HISD assistant principal; and Coretta Mallet-Fontenot.

I need to update the District IX race on the 2013 Election page, but I have the other races right – Anna Eastman versus Hugo Mojica in I, Harvin Moore versus Anne Sung in VII, and nobody versus Mike Lunceford in V and Greg Meyers in VIII. At least these races are straightforward.

Not mentioned as far as I can tell are the HCC Trustee races. Five trustees are up for election, thanks to the two appointments. Two incumbents, Neeta Sane and Bruce Austin, have no opponents that I am aware of. Yolanda Navarro Flores, who in 2011 lost a defamation lawsuit against her colleagues, is opposed by educator Zeph Capo and civic activist Kevin Hoffman, who narrowly lost to Navarro Flores in 2007. Herlinda Garcia, a former trustee who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by State Rep. Mary Ann Perez in HCC 3, is opposed by Adriana Tamez and Dane Cook. Leila Feldman, appointed to replace Richard Schechter after he resigned, is opposed by Phil Kunetka. Among other things, this means that the tail end of my interviewing schedule will be fuller than I originally thought it would be. As I said, these are the races I’m aware of. If I’ve missed anything, let me know. Stace and Campos have more.

Interview with CM Jack Christie

CM Jack Christie

CM Jack Christie

CM Jack Christie is serving his first term on Council in At Large #5, becoming one of only four people in the term limits era to defeat a sitting incumbent when he nipped former CM Jolanda Jones in a runoff. Previously, he had narrowly lost to Jones in a runoff in 2009, and removed himself from the running for what was then the open seat in AL5 in 2007 after residency issues came up. He served two terms on the State Board of Education in the 1990s – it turns out he was my SBOE representative, something I came to realize last year as I looked into the history of that SBOE district. He also served on the Spring Branch ISD Board of Trustees. He serves on several Council committees, including Budget & Fiscal Affairs and Public Safety. Here’s what we talked about:

Jack Christie 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.

Some things you can vaccinate against

Saying dumb things isn’t one of them.

CM Jack Christie

As the council considered a proposal Wednesday to accept $3.1 million in federal funding for childhood immunizations, Councilman Jack Christie voiced his opposition to the measure, apparently conflating it with flu vaccinations.

“I’m going to vote against this,” Christie said before the 15-1 vote. “You don’t die from the flu.”

Christie backed down somewhat from his comment on Friday. What he meant to say, he said, was that “People should not die from the flu.”

“First of all, that’s $3 million that the federal government doesn’t really have,” Christie said of the funding proposal. “It’s borrowed money we eventually have to pay back. But more important is the media’s embellishment of the extreme fear of encouraging flu vaccinations.

“Every year there’s going to be a flu,” he said, “and vaccines create synthetic immunity, which does not trump natural immunity to disease.”

Christie, who said he has never taken a flu shot, suggested the medical community should focus more attention on prescription drug abuse that claims thousands of lives annually in the U.S.

Dr. Joshua Septimus, associate professor of internal medicine at Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center, called Christie’s comments irresponsible.

“That is totally wrong,” he said. “The flu kills anywhere from a few thousand to tens of thousands in the U.S. alone. There is very good evidence that the flu shot reduces deaths from the flu. That flu vaccine is a very low risk and with very high potential benefits.”

So much here to deal with. First, the idea that not accepting this funding is fiscally responsible is ludicrous. This money has already been appropriated. Not accepting it doesn’t mean it magically gets transmuted from a liability to an asset on the federal budget balance sheet. It means it gets to be granted to some other city. There are sometimes good reasons to turn down federal funding, but this is money for childhood immunizations. Spending money to keep kids healthy is about the best spending we can do. It’s an investment with a big payoff, both in terms of spending less later on sick kids, and the greater lifetime earnings potential of kids who grew up healthy and in some cases who got to grow up at all.

Second, the bit about the medical community needing to focus more on prescription drug abuse is a complete non sequitur. Last I checked, the medical community was big enough to handle more than one thing at a time. It’s also unlikely to change its priorities based on one screwball City Council voting down a grant for childhood immunizations. If you want to send a message to the American Medical Association, writing a letter to them is probably the better approach.

Finally, and not to put too fine a point on it, but even Helena Brown voted to accept these funds. Let me say that again: Even Helena Brown voted to accept these funds. When you’re off on an island that even Helena Brown isn’t inhabiting, you need to check your coordinates, know what I mean?

A first look at the 2013 elections

It is 2013, right? So while we have the SD06 special election and the new legislative session to worry about, it’s not too early to start talking about the 2013 elections. Let’s start with a peek at the campaign finance reports from last July of the Houston officeholders who will be on the ballot this November:

Dist Name Cash on hand ================================= Myr Parker 1,281,657 Ctrl R Green 9,983 AL 1 Costello 57,345 AL 2 Burks 3,160 AL 4 Bradford 20,590 AL 5 Christie 14,535 A Brown 22,641 B Davis 64,211 C Cohen 45,597 F Hoang 6,429 G Pennington 119,951 H Gonzalez 57,899 J Laster 31,816 K L Green 9,107

I omitted the three Council members who are term-limited out (Melissa Noriega, Wanda Adams, and James Rodriguez), as well as newly-elected Dave Martin, since his July report would not be relevant. Normally there would have been five open seats this year, but with Mike Sullivan stepping down due to his successful candidacy for Tax Assessor and Jolanda Jones losing in 2011, there are only three vacancies, and as such there will likely be a stampede for those seats. But we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s take a closer look at where the non-term limited incumbents are.

Mayor

As we know, Mayor Parker will probably by challenged by former City Attorney Ben Hall, will possibly be challenged by her former Housing Director James Noteware, may possibly be challenged by some yet unknown candidate or candidates, and will certainly have a few fringe challengers as well. It could be quite the crowded race at the top of the ticket. While Hall would certainly be a more serious opponent in terms of money, resume, and presumed base of support than the 2011 hopefuls were, with Noteware and the others also possibly having more juice, I have believed for some time now that Parker starts out in a stronger position this year than she was in two years ago. The much-improved economy and real estate market mean that the city’s budget is far healthier than it was, which means the Mayor can do positive things rather than negative things like layoffs and service reductions. Distractions like red light cameras and Renew Houston are in the past, while the overwhelming passage of the city’s bond referenda gives the Mayor some wind at her back and a nice accomplishment with which to begin the year. Anything can happen, and we’ll see who if anyone else emerges to run against her, but I believe we will look back and say that 2011 was the better chance to beat her.

How would one go about defeating Mayor Parker if one were inclined to do so? The conventional wisdom is to aim to replicate the 1991 campaign, in which State Rep. Sylvester Turner and eventual winner Bob Lanier squeezed then-Mayor Kathy Whitmire into a third place finish. This is the vaunted “pincer strategy”, combining African-Americans and Republicans to shrink the remaining voter pool for the white Democratic lady Mayor. I’m skeptical of this. For one thing, Whitmire – who garnered an incredibly low 20% of the vote in that election – was running for her sixth term in those pre-term limits days, at a time when the term limits movement was gaining steam. There was a strong case for change, or at least there was a more restless electorate that was going through an economic downturn that year. Whitmire was also coming off a bruising defeat, as her $1.2 billion monorail proposal was killed by Metro’s board chairman, who was none other than Bob Lanier. Lanier promised to spend that money on roads, which was much more popular. There isn’t an issue right now that could be used as a cudgel against Parker, which makes the argument to fire her that much more challenging.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t issues to be used against Parker, but they’re not issues that I think are likely to be used effectively by an establishment insider like Hall, or any Republican who may file. Given that Hall is who he is, I think a more potent strategy would be to pair him with an outspoken liberal, who can compete with Parker’s base voters in District C by attacking her for things like the homeless feeding ordinance, the lack of any effort to advance equality in Houston, and the Metro referendum if one believes the University Line is mortally wounded. Quantifying the irony of Whitmire losing for promoting a rail plan, and Parker losing for being perceived as insufficiently supportive of rail, is left as an exercise for the reader.

And as long as I’m giving out advice, my suggestion to Team Annise is to work on building its ground game and seeking to increase turnout. There were 160K ballots cast in the 2009 runoff, but only 123K in 2011. Neither of these are particularly high totals for a city election – indeed, the 2011 total failed to reach the puny 125K ballots cast in the sleepy 2007 election. There are plenty of people who have voted in city elections, certainly as recently as 2003, but haven’t done so in the past few cycles. I rather doubt that Parker versus Hall et al is likely on its own to draw any more voters than Parker/Locke/Brown/Morales did in 2009 (181K, in case you’re curious), but there’s no reason Parker shouldn’t be working to identify and bring out voters who have a less consistent history of voting in city elections. I think that offers a better path to 50% plus one than another dreary exercise in talking to only the same old hardcore voters. You know, like me. She has plenty of money, she’ll have plenty more after the curtain comes up on fundraising season. Target a bigger universe, I say.

Controller

I’m wondering if Ronald Green has a typo in his finance report. He reported $46K on hand last January, then his July report showed that he raised $26K and spent $13K, so I have no idea he could have had only $9,983 on hand. I guess we’ll see what this January’s report says. Beyond that, not much to see here. He’s still not a big fundraiser, and he still has no credible announced opposition despite his recent negative press.

Council At Large

Is it just me, or are those some anemic cash on hand totals? Six out of eight district Council members have larger campaign treasuries than three of the four At Large members. Bradford often reports a lot of in kind contributions – he has listed some things we might normally think of as expenditures as in kind contributions – which tends to reduce his COH figure. Burks, who raised $35K but had $34K in expenses, paid off a number of debts, including the $10K loan from his wife and two items dating from the 2009 campaign that totaled $4650. Christie also spent nearly as much as he raised – $66K raised, $63K in expenditures. This included $45K for “printing”, which I presume was a deferred expense from his runoff campaign.

As was the case in 2011, there’s only one open At Large seat, At Large #3, so once again I expect a cattle call in that race. I know Jenifer Pool, who ran in At Large #2 in 2011, is in for AL3 this year, and other names will surely emerge in the next few weeks. I have to think that it would be worthwhile for a Council wannabe who might be concerned about getting lost in that shuffle to consider taking on one of the incumbents instead, specifically Burks or Christie. Burks’ winning campaign in 2011 after however many previous tries was, to put it gently, atypical. The only policy item I can recall that he originated last year was a proposal to revamp Houston’s term limits ordinance, which never made it out of committee. He also drew scorn for suggesting that the propane tanks used by food trucks might potentially be used as weapons by terrorists. He doesn’t have much money, doesn’t have a history of fundraising, has generally run do-it-yourself campaigns, and his main asset is the name recognition that a dozen or more previous campaigns has earned him. You can make a similar case for Christie, who made an interesting proposal relating to shelters for homeless people that as far as I know went nowhere and who also said silly things during the food truck debate. Unlike Burks, Christie has been and should continue to be a good fundraiser, but also unlike Burks he has no natural constituency – he’s a moderate Republican who isn’t beloved by county GOP insiders. His win in 2011 could also reasonably be described as out of the ordinary. I’m not saying either would be easy to beat this year, I’m not even saying someone should run against them. I’m just suggesting that a multi-candidate open seat race where getting to the runoff is more crapshoot than anything else doesn’t necessarily offer the best odds of being sworn in next January.

District Council

Just so you know, former Council Member Brenda Stardig reported $26,574 on hand in July. If she aims for a rematch with Helena Brown, she starts out at parity in the money department. I’m not sure what’s up with CMs Hoang and Green, but I don’t expect either of them to have much difficulty this year. Everyone will be watching District A, probably even more than the two open seats, but I’d keep an eye on Jerry Davis in District B as well. Davis has worked hard, but doesn’t appear to have won over the insiders in the district, being a new resident of B himself. It would not shock me if he gets a serious opponent. Beyond that, Dwight Boykins appears to be in for the open seat in District D, and while other names will soon emerge we may have to get a judge’s opinion about whether Jolanda Jones can be among them. There are already two candidates for District I; if history holds, there likely won’t be too many more.

HISD and HCC

It’s a bit confusing because the County Clerk webpage doesn’t track uncontested Trustee races, but I’m pretty sure that the following people are up for election:

For HISD Trustee: Mike Lunceford, Anna Eastman, Greg Meyers, Lawrence Marshall, and Harvin Moore. Lunceford and Eastman are finishing their first terms; Moore and Meyers were unopposed in 2009; Marshall won in a runoff. I have not heard anything so far to indicate that any of them are not running for re-election. If Anna Eastman runs for and wins re-election she will be the first Trustee in District I to do so since at least 1997 – I can’t check any farther back than that. Gabe Vasquez was elected that year, followed by Karla Cisneros in 2001, Natasha Kamrani in 2005, and Eastman in 2009.

For HCC Trustee: Mary Ann Perez’s election to the Lege in HD144 means there will be a vacancy in HCC Trustee District III. The Board has appointed former Trustee Herlinda Garcia to replace her. Garcia, about whom you can learn more here, will need to run in a special election to be able to serve the remainder of Perez’s term, which expires in 2015. The three Trustees whose terms are up this year are Bruce Austin, Neeta Sane, whose district includes a piece of Fort Bend County, and Yolanda Navarro Flores. It’s fair to say that Trustee Navarro Flores’ current term in office has been rather eventful. She won a close race last time, and if she runs again I would expect her to get a strong challenger. Sane is completing her first term, while Austin, the longest-serving Trustee, was first elected in 1989. I am pleased to note that this year the Trustee candidates’ campaign finance statements are now available online. Sometimes, a little bitching and moaning goes a long way.

That’s all I’ve got for now. January finance reports are due next week, and a few will probably trickle in early. I’ll keep an eye out and will post a report when they’re all up, or at least at some point after they’re all supposed to be when I’ve run out of patience waiting for them. I’ll throw in the reports for County officeholders who are up in 2014 as well, just because. Please add your own speculation and rumormongering about who is or isn’t running for what in the comments.

The discussion is closed

I don’t know about this.

The mayor and city attorney are floating the idea of shutting the public out of some City Council discussions.

Houston is unusual, perhaps even unique, among Texas cities in requiring that its council always meet in public.

On Thursday, City Attorney David Feldman unveiled a proposal to authorize closed-session discussions of hirings and firings, lawsuits, real estate transactions and other matters allowed by the Texas Open Meetings Act.

Because the idea would require a change to a 70-year-old provision in the city charter, it would need voter approval. Mayor Annise Parker is considering asking the council next week to place it on the November ballot.

[…]

Councilman Jack Christie said that, based on his 14 years as a state or local school board member, he considered it “common sense” not to discuss in public details about security, for example. He also suggested that public discussion of an employee could expose the city to a defamation lawsuit.

Councilman James Rodriguez spoke most forcefully against closed meetings.

“I think our system works fine, and I’ve seen it work fine. I believe that we’ll lose a lot of good will in the community if we move to try to put this on the ballot,” Rodriguez said. “I believe in transparency. I believe that we need to hash out our issues in the public and work with the public and to have their confidence and trust that we’re going to be open and upfront with issues.”

[…]

Councilman Stephen Costello said he supports the closed-session option, but now is not the time to put it before voters.

“You incite an emotion that you really don’t want the voters to have as they walk into the ballot box,” Costello said. “What we want is voters going in and approving our bond issue, and I’d rather just have the bond issue there up for a vote, or, if we’re going to make some charter amendments, make them noncontroversial.”

On the one hand, I do think it’s appropriate for certain matters to be discussed in private, at least in theory. It’s not like this is unheard of – Commissioners Court, Metro, school boards, nearly every other city council in Texas, they all do this, for good and not so good reasons. I think the list of topics that are allowed to be held behind closed doors should be small and the reasons for doing it should be compelling, but I can see the case for it. On the other hand, I think CM Costello is exactly right – this isn’t the time to put a question about whether to allow non-open meetings on the ballot. Beyond the possibility of a referendum like this doing damage to other ballot propositions, if we’re going to examine this issue we should take our time about it and have a lot more engagement than a Council meeting or two. What’s the case that the city really needs this? Are there some examples that Feldman or Mayor Parker can cite where discussion of a sensitive topic in a normal Council meeting led to harm that might have been prevented if a closed door session had been an option? I get the theoretical case, but is there a practical one to be made as well? If there isn’t, then maybe there won’t ever be a good time to put this on the ballot. PDiddie and Campos have more.

Budget amendment time

Now that Mayor Parker has formally submitted her proposed budget for fiscal year 2013, it’s time for Council members to submit their amendments for consideration. I’m going to start at the bottom of the story with the two proposals that intrigues me the most.

Two members called for a November election to amend the city’s term limits law, which forces council members, the mayor and controller from office after three two-year terms. [CM Wanda] Adams proposes two four-year terms; Councilman Andrew Burks proposes three four-year terms.

Councilman Ed Gonzalez has proposed a ban on plastic bags in Houston. Specifically, his amendment calls for the city to draw up an ordinance within a year that would phase out the use of the bags. Brownsville has banned the bags, and a ban goes into effect in Austin next year.

“We have a number of bayous, and they’re littered with plastic bottles and plastic bags,” which conservation groups spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year removing, Gonzalez said. He referred to trees on the banks of bayous with bags snagged in their boughs as “urban Christmas trees.” He said he does not envision the city offering businesses a financial incentive to abandon plastic bags.

As you know, I don’t like term limits at all, but if we have to have them I’d rather put the limit at 12 years rather than 6, for the simple reason that I don’t think six years is enough time to really accomplish much as a Council member. As such, I’d take Burks’ proposal over Adams’, though hers is still better than the status quo. However, I would prefer even more to have six two-year terms instead of three four-year terms. My argument for having two year terms instead of four year terms can be summed up in four words: Council Member Helena Brown. Four years is an awful long time to have to wait to correct an error like that.

As for the bag ban proposal, you know I’ve been following developments around the state and wondering when Houston might get in on the act. About time for it, I say. I don’t have a strong preference for any specific approach to this, whether a ban by fiat or by imposition of a tax on bags, perhaps to be replaced later by a full on ban. As long as the city engages all the stakeholders and gives plenty of opportunity for feedback, I’m sure the end result will be fine. All of these proposals assume Mayor Parker supports them, as they are unlikely to get very far if she doesn’t. We know she’s no fan of the current term limits system, and I’ll be very surprised if she doesn’t back up her Mayor Pro Tem on this one.

Council members Stephen Costello and Wanda Adams both call for giving $160,000 to the Houston Food Bank to help it enroll more people in SNAP, the federal program formerly known as food stamps.

One of Councilman Mike Sullivan’s amendments would eliminate funding for affirmative action monitoring on city contracts. Councilman Larry Green proposes increasing it.

From Councilman Jack Christie came a fill-it-or-kill-it plan that would have Council consider eliminating any position that remains vacant for three months.

First-term Councilwoman Ellen Cohen proposed a Houston version of the so-called “pole tax” she shepherded into law as a state legislator. The state law imposed a $5 per customer fee on strip clubs to raise money for sexual assault victims.

In order:

– I approve of the Costello/Adams proposal. Ensuring children have adequate nutrition is one of the best investments you can make. It is, to coin a phrase, a big effin’ deal.

– Sullivan may have won his Republican primary last month, but between this and some of his other amendments, which include a five percent pay cut for the Mayor and Council members, I guess he isn’t finished wooing those voters. I don’t expect them to go far, and as Campos notes, his colleagues who hope to be on Council longer than Sullivan intends to be probably aren’t too thrilled by this.

– I see some merit in Christie’s proposal, but on the whole I’d prefer to err on the side of more flexibility for department heads.

– I’m a tiny bit ambivalent about Cohen’s SOB proposal. No question, clearing the rape kit backlog is a huge priority, and with the favorable resolution of the lawsuit over the state “pole tax” law (that Cohen authored), this is the obvious vehicle for that. I just feel, as I did about the state law, that sexual assault is everyone’s problem and everyone’s responsibility, and as such it feels a little pat to put the entire burden for funding these needed items on strip clubs and the like. It’s a minor quibble, not enough to make me oppose Cohen’s amendment, I just felt like someone had to say that.

There’s more proposals than just these, of varying levels of seriousness and likelihood of adoption. In addition to her pension default tomfoolery, CM Helena Brown has a variety of no-hope amendments, including one to switch the city from a strong mayor system to a city manager system. There are pros and cons to each approach, and without commenting on the merits of one system over the other, I’ll just note that this would be a ginormous, fundamental change to how we do things, and as such would need a ton of discussion and engagement culminating in a charter referendum. All things considered, it’s hard to see this as anything but another attack on the Mayor by her political enemies. Stace has more.

Council approves Mayor’s crime lab plan

It’s a done deal.

City Council has appointed a nine-member board to oversee the city’s crime lab, the first step in yanking it from police department control and setting up a publicly funded non-profit corporation to do evidence testing.

The vote was 15-2.

[…]

Though Council members supported the mayor’s proposal to try to insulate the crime lab from pressure from police, prosecutors and politicians, some raised questions about the city’s plan to go it alone when the county is about to build its own forensics tower.

“There’s so many areas the city and county can save taxpayers money, and this is one of them,” said Councilman Jack Christie, who voted no. Councilwoman Helena Brown, the other no vote, called the plan “a political stunt” that wastes taxpayer money by failing to cooperate with the county.

See here and here for some background. The concern about going solo instead of joining forces with Harris County is a legitimate one, even when expressed in typically Brownian fashion. As Mayor Parker noted in her press release, nothing about this precludes future expansion of the LGC to accommodate Harris County’s participation, and talks with the county are still going on. There is a difference of vision here, however, so that eventual cooperation could take a long time. I don’t think it would have made sense to continue on with the HPD lab as is and defer dealing with those 6,600 untested rape kits until everyone got onto the same page. I say it’s better to move forward now and work through the disagreements along the way. This is a big step and a long overdue one. Hair Balls has more.

Feeding the homeless

I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this.

Mayor Annise Parker is asking the council to adopt rules that would require organizations and people who feed the homeless to register with the city, take a food safety class, prepare the food in certified kitchens, serve only at three public parks, and leave those parks as clean as when they entered them.

Parker described her vision as one in which charities can coordinate their efforts through the city registry to reduce redundancy and waste.

“We’re trying to do this in a way that we don’t waste food so that churches, for example, don’t show up on top of each other trying to feed the same group of 20 guys,” Parker said during two hours of public testimony Tuesday.

Civil rights lawyer Randall Kallinen called the proposed rules an “assault on freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of speech.” The ordinance’s penalties of $50 to $2,000 could make it a crime to feed the homeless, Kallinen said.

[…]

Councilman James Rod­riguez, who represents downtown, said the rule changes would make charity more efficient and coordinated. He said downtown residents complain of persistent litter, defecation and fights that require police intervention and detract from the quality of life and make homes harder to sell.

The proposal was tagged on Wednesday, and with Council out next week it won’t come up again till the 22nd, which will hopefully allow more time for discussion of all the concerns.

The proposed ordinance does not provide a public site for serving meals to the homeless outside of downtown Houston. Although the city’s parks director would be authorized to designate more sites in the future, the proposed rules would limit feeding on public property to Tranquillity Park, Peggy’s Point Plaza Park and undeveloped park land on Chartres, north of Minute Maid Park.

“For the city to designate it to just those three parks makes it hard,” Edward Sweet Sr., bishop of Strait & Narrow Way Temple Full Gospel Church in southwest Houston, said earlier this week. “How will these homeless people get to these three parks without transportation?”

The city is willing to add more parks, said Janice Evans, a spokeswoman for Mayor Annise Parker, but first wants to see how the new rules work in the three designated parks and to gauge whether there is a desire from groups to serve meals at other locations.

The Coalition for the Homeless, which supports the proposed regulations that would institute food handling standards, require trash pickup and have organizations register with the city, expects to produce a map in coming weeks that will show that many of Houston’s estimated 13,000 homeless residents live outside of downtown.

No doubt there are plenty of homeless folks outside of downtown, and that’s a big issue. I’m fine with the cleanup requirements, and the food safety requirements are reasonable as long as they’re not too onerous, but it’s not really clear to me what problem is being solved here. This sounds like the right way to go about it:

Council members Oliver Pennington and Jack Christie said they would like to hold off on mandatory rules until after a campaign that promotes voluntary compliance with some of the proposed rules, such as clean-up of the sites where food is served.

I agree. Let’s try to deal with that in a non-intrusive way, then we can see if there’s anything left that actually requires an ordinance. Campos and Stace have more.

Council agrees to red light camera settlement

At long last.

Gone

City Council approved a payout of at least $4.8 million Wednesday to settle a lawsuit and take down Houston’s controversial red-light cameras, finally ending a legal battle that began after voters banned the devices in a referendum 15 months ago.

The cameras were turned off and outlawed by council in August but have remained mounted at 50 intersections while the city’s camera vendor pursued breach of contract claims in federal court.

The settlement calls for the cameras to be taken down within 60 days.

[…]

Council members C.O. Bradford, Helena Brown, Jack Christie and Mike Sullivan voted against the settlement.

The city has about $3 million in hand from fines paid by red-light violators. It is counting on future collections to raise the rest of the money within three years.

“The people who are going to pay the money are not the innocent taxpayers. It’s going to be the red-light runners,” said Andy Taylor, an attorney for ATS.

If the city cannot collect enough money from violators, it must cover the shortfall with general fund money that pays police officers and firefighters. Christie said he could not support a deal backed with general fund money.

“I would not give my house as collateral, and that’s what we’re doing,” Christie said.

“I do not believe that we will touch general funds, but it is part of the settlement package,” Mayor Annise Parker said.

See here for previous discussion. Basically, it’s up to the efforts of the fine collectors to ensure that the city doesn’t end up using general fund revenue. Note that the Accounts Receivable report that I blogged about the other day doesn’t discuss red light camera fines, which makes sense since those are aimed for that escrow account.

The other issue in all this was the dismissal of the lawsuit, originally brought by the city to determine its liability, in which the referendum election on the cameras was declared by federal judge Lynn Hughes to have been illegal. Camera opponents did not want the suit to be dismissed.

Hughes last June declared the election invalid because the petition signatures to repeal the camera ordinance were not submitted as required within a month of the ordinance’s passage in 2005. The Kuboshes’ attorney, David Furlow, asked Hughes to keep the case open to litigate the question of the election’s legality or to simply admit he was wrong last June and reverse his ruling as part of the case’s dismissal.

Dismissing the case throws out the ruling that the election was invalid. So Hughes questioned why the Kuboshes want to debate what would be a moot point. Their time and resources are better spent fighting against a live transgression, he hinted.

“Why don’t you wait until the city does something crazy?” Hughes asked. “It won’t be long.”

The problem, Furlow said after the hearing, is that the ruling that the election is invalid, even if thrown out in a dismissal, is there for other cities in the future to build a case if they want to throw out the will of the voters. Getting Hughes to say he was wrong is the closest thing the Kuboshes can get to putting the genie back in the bottle, or as American Traffic Solutions attorney Andy Taylor put it, to “unpop the popcorn.”

Taylor said that if the case is dismissed and the settlement is approved, everybody wins: the cameras get taken down, the lawsuit ends, the settlement is paid by red-light runners and the ruling that the election was invalid is declared moot.

But in that case, ATS really wins, Furlow said, because it gets the money and the unrefuted ruling that the election to oust ATS was illegal.

“They want to set a scalp on a lodgepole so they can scare anyone else who might challenge their red-light camera contracts,” Furlow said after the hearing.

According to the story, the Kuboshes are deciding whether to appeal the dismissal, so in that sense this still isn’t over. As I said before, if we want to fight about the issue of how long you have to repeal an ordinance by referendum, we should do that by amending the charter. I don’t think they’ll get anywhere in court on this, but as always with judges, you never know.

Huts for the homeless?

I like the sound of this.

A Mad Housers hut

At-Large Position 5 Councilman Jack Christie used Wednesday’s pop-off to pitch an idea to his colleagues: huts for the homeless.

Christie distributed a printout describing small huts built by a group called Mad Housers in the Atlanta area. Christie said he learned about Mad Housers through a friend whose son is in the group.

The structures are 6 feet by 8 feet in the case of huts and 4 feet by 8 feet in the case of “low riders,” which stand only 4 feet high for people who prefer to remain hidden. The huts have sleeping lofts, locking doors and a wood-burning stove.

Christie said after the meeting he intends to explore whether Houston can replicate the Atlanta model.

“You don’t see the sleeping bags out there, the newspapers,” if folks have a small shelter to sleep in instead, Christie said in an interview after the Council meeting. “These have a lock on the door so you have a sense of security.”

He doesn’t contemplate spending big money, or even any money at all on the project. Christie said he hopes he could find donors for the building materials and then recruit Habitat for Humanity or corporate volunteer teams to assemble the units.

I was thinking Habitat for Humanity as I was reading this before I even got to that last sentence. This probably is something that is best suited for a charitable organization, but Council can certainly play a role by working to ensure there aren’t any needless regulatory barriers to such a project. These huts would have to go somewhere, and we’d need to think about where would be best for them. You may recall that the subject of homelessness and making progress against it were in Mayor Parker’s inaugural address, so even if this isn’t what she had in mind, it’s in line with her stated priorities for the next two years. Kudos to CM Christie for taking the initiative here.

Inauguration Day 2012

Mayor Annise Parker

Tuesday was Inauguration Day for Mayor Annise Parker, City Controller Ronald Green, and all 16 members of Houston City Council.

Annise D. Parker began her second term as mayor of Houston on Monday with a commitment to bring more jobs to the city and to tackle an ambitious to-do list that includes progress on public employee pensions, an independent crime lab, getting out of the jail business and alleviating homelessness.

Immediately before her inaugural speech, she swore in the 16-member City Council, whose support she needs to implement her agenda. Seven of them are new. Afterward, several of the new members pledged to work with the Democratic mayor to solve problems.

“My philosophy is: potholes, not partisans, ” said Republican At-Large 5 Councilman Jack Christie.

Remember when the runoffs were a “strong repudiation” of the Parker administration? Yes, I know, new CM Helena Brown has sworn to be her arch-nemesis, but I daresay that from the Mayor’s perspective, getting Christie in return on the trade isn’t the worst deal ever.

The new council members, however, have yet to flesh out their positions on how to solve those problems, and Parker’s speech was a broad sketch of what needs to be done, not a policy address.

Parker relied instead on the optimism of Inauguration Day to put forward the idea that history is on the city’s side and that Houston residents will build what a recent magazine article called “one of the world’s next great cities” with audacity, a can-docharacter and a willingness to invest in their community even during tough economic times. She paid tribute to Houston as a city that got its unlikely start on a mosquito-ridden prairie, pioneered the artificial heart and played a central role in space exploration.

“Everything we have done as a city has been a matter of vision and will, of taking what we have and deciding what we want, setting an impossible goal, and then creating it,” Parker said.

The full text of the Mayor’s inaugural address is here. The policy-related stuff is as follows:

My number one job for the next two years is to continue to bring more jobs to Houston. We will expand the programs we have already started to stimulate small business with access to loans and training. We will continue the Hire Houston First policy. We will work tirelessly to increase our role as the energy capital of the world and a world leader in the next high tech industrial revolution.

Hard times prompt us to chart the latitude and longitude of who we are. Hard times test our character. The economy still dominates every conversation, and colors everything we do. Too many Houstonians are struggling to find jobs, to make ends meet. Our city workforce has also felt that pain. City employees have been furloughed, and more than 750 were laid off. We are doing more with less.

But …

We did not raise taxes. We did not mortgage our future with debt. We did not compromise public safety. We did not lay off a single firefighter or police officer. Many of our civilian employees stepped up and volunteered additional furlough days to help save the jobs of their colleagues.

We took bold steps to address our aging infrastructure – finally recovering the full cost of this precious asset, emphasizing conservation, and setting aside funds to complete long neglected maintenance. In doing the responsible thing, we unknowingly prepared ourselves to be able to respond to the worst drought in our history.

And I cannot envision voters in any other city in America, in the midst of a recession, doing the right thing, the prudent thing, and creating the funding to invest in critically needed flooding and drainage infrastructure. This is a visionary step akin to that in the 1950’s and 60s which created lakes Conroe and Houston and secured the water rights which sustain us today, or the commitment to set aside land and other incentives to encourage medical institutions to locate together and so lead to the largest medical complex in the world.

As we navigated this city through the toughest economy in generations, I built my administration on 5 pillars, and focused the work of the city around them:

Jobs and sustainable development,
Fiscal responsibility,
Infrastructure,
Public safety,
Quality of life.

Those will remain our strengths – there is progress yet to be made on pension security for both the city and our retirees, an independent regional crime lab, phasing out the city jail and progress against homelessness – these are challenges we are committed to address and have already begun.

Seems like a good idea to remind people that the city is actually going to do something with the money collected from the drainage fee. I’d recommend doing a lot more of that over the next two years. Still no more details about the crime lab. Calling it “an independent regional crime lab” sure sounds like the original city-county jointly funded proposal to me, which makes me wonder what the deal was in that KHOU story. The one item here that’s less familiar is “progress against homelessness”, which I presume refers to the announcement from late November about a partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). I presume we’ll hear more about this in the coming months.

I was not able to attend the inauguration, so I don’t have any personal impressions to share. If you were there, what did you think? Houston Politics has more.

Runoff precinct analysis, At Large #5

Here are the numbers for the At Large #5 runoff between CM-elect Jack Christie and CM Jolanda Jones. As this was a rematch from 2009, I’m putting the 2011 numbers alongside the 2009 numbers, again with the caveat that they’re not really directly comparable. We work with what we’ve got, though, so here it is:

Dist Chris11 Jones11 Chris% Jones% Chris09 Jones09 Chris% Jones% ================================================================== A 4,080 1,309 75.7 24.3 10,541 5,300 66.5 33.5 B 523 5,733 8.4 91.6 1,658 10,673 13.4 86.6 C 6,501 2,820 69.7 30.3 10,675 9,215 53.7 46.3 D 1,190 6,384 15.7 84.3 3,681 17,653 17.2 82.8 E 3,998 1,269 75.9 24.1 10,894 4,771 69.5 30.5 F 1,101 487 69.3 30.7 4,404 2,964 59.8 40.2 G 7,554 1,347 84.9 15.1 18,001 6,039 74.9 25.1 H 1,117 1,644 40.5 59.5 5,011 6,531 43.4 56.6 I 1,006 880 53.3 46.7 3,025 4,119 42.3 57.7 J 1,166 491 70.4 29.6 K 1,989 2,741 42.1 57.9

At first glance, it’s more of the same from 2009, only more so. With the exception of District I, Jones did better in all the places she had done well before, and Christie did better in all the places he had done well before. The problem with this, at least from Jones’ perspective, is that she had a lot less room to grow than Christie did. In addition, and this is something we’ve discussed before, in this lower turnout environment, the bigger percentages in B and D meant a smaller total number of votes, meaning that Christie had less to make up everywhere else. With him building on his margins as well, and with the difference between the two so small, that was enough.

What really stands out to me is the change in District C. If you didn’t know better, you’d think it was another Republican stronghold. I can think of two possible explanations for Christie’s strong performance in this district. The Bill White endorsement of Christie probably moved a few Anglo Dem voters to support the challenger. District C was also Mayor Parker’s cradle of support, and it’s not unreasonable to think that Parker supporters there expressed that support by voting against her most vocal and visible critic on Council. I’m sure there’s plenty of overlap among those groups, but if so then that’s double the motivation. Jones’ deficit overall was bigger than the gap in District C, so it’s not the case that this was the whole election for her, but presumably the same forces that affected this district were at work elsewhere as well.

As noted before, the undervote in this race was tiny, as it was the marquee matchup. In fact, the 1.02% undervote in At Large #5 was less than that of the 2009 Mayoral runoff undervote of 1.45%. This was the race that drew people out to vote, and that ultimately did not work in Jones’ favor. While it’s possible to imagine different outcomes under higher turnout scenarios in At Large #2, I don’t think that would have made any difference here. As CM Jones said the day after the election, the voters have spoken.

I hope you found this useful. I will have one more thing to say about the 2011 elections tomorrow. Greg has 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.