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Maverick Welsh

Defending HERO

It’s a big job, but we can get it done.

RedEquality

“We’re going to do everything we can to win HERO at the ballot box,” [Houston GLBT Political Caucus] president Maverick Welsh said.

It would be Houstonians’ third time voting on protections or benefits for gays, which they rejected in 1985 and again in 2001.

Then, too, the caucus threw its political weight behind the efforts – first to a resounding 4-1 defeat and then to a slimmer margin of three percentage points, or some 7,500 votes.

In recent years, the group formed in 1975 to support gay-friendly candidates has continued to regain the traction it lost in the 1985 election, when no one seeking city office sought its endorsement. This year, more than two thirds of the mayoral contenders are striving for the caucus’ backing, now seen as a stamp of approval for progressive voters.

Only 2013 runner-up Ben Hall and former Kemah mayor Bill King declined to participate in the pre-endorsement screening process, though King responded to the group’s questionnaire.

“Everybody wants to dance with us right now,” Welsh said. “The fight that we’ve been fighting for 40 years is now very mainstream, I think, for most voters.”

According to the Kinder Institute’s recent Houston Area Survey, support for gay rights in Harris County, which includes Houston’s more conservative suburbs, has increased consistently since the early ’90s.

Between 2000 and 2014, support for homosexuals being legally permitted to adopt children grew to 51 percent from 28 percent among Harris County survey participants, while support for giving the same legal status to homosexual and heterosexual marriages increased to 51 percent in 2015 from 37 percent in 2001.

[…]

Welsh, caucus president, said he expects the group to be involved in any campaign for HERO, adding that caucus mailings undoubtedly will include pro-HERO information.

However, political observers said the ordinance may present a turnout problem for the caucus, which has established its sphere of influence primarily in low-turnout elections.

“They have shown the ability to motivate a fairly decent share of the vote when you get less than 200,000 people voting,” University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. “But if the turnout goes up, then you expect the caucus-influenced vote probably declines as a fraction of the total electorate.”

The city’s last open-seat mayor’s race in 2009 drew just 19 percent of about 935,000 registered voters. On the other hand, more than 28 percent of registered voters showed up at the polls in 2001, when the ballot contained a proposed charter amendment barring the city from providing unmarried partners of the same or opposite sex with employment benefits.

Given that the caucus’ progressive base already consistently shows up at the polls, political observers questioned whether the group would be able leverage its organizational strength and volunteer capacity to appeal to new portions of the electorate.

“It’s a risky vote for them,” Murray said.

Couple things here. First of all, if I have learned anything from studying recent electoral history in Houston, it’s that interesting ballot referenda drive turnout in a way that elections without such referenda do not. Go read that post I just linked to about Houston elections in the 90s and you’ll see what I mean. The 2003 election, which everyone points to as the pinnacle for 21st century turnout in Houston, was greatly aided by the Metro referendum. (This is why the Republicans in the Legislature put the tort “reform” constitutional amendment on the ballot in September – they didn’t want Houston turnout affecting the outcome.) Given all this, I do expect turnout to be higher than usual. Our past history, the stakes of the election, and the amount of attention that will be focused on it all point to that.

Is that an advantage for the anti-HERO crowd? Not necessarily. We know there’s a strong correlation between age and opposition to equality – the younger you are, the more likely you are to favor it, with older folks often being the only group opposed. I’ll have more details on this in a future post, but take my word for this: Houston’s electorate in most municipal election years is already pretty darned old. A strong plurality of voters are over the age of 60. These are the reliable regular voters. There will be more of them in a year like this, but there are a lot more people younger than that who have at least some voting history who are available to turn out. This is – or at least it damn well better be – the first priority for the HERO defense effort. Get out every voter you can under the age of 40. Hell, under 50 is likely to be good enough.

But younger people don’t vote in local elections, I hear you cry. That’s true, but it’s not the whole story. As you can see at that link, one reason why younger people don’t vote in local elections is because they are often fairly new to the city where they are registered to vote. They don’t know the local landscape, they don’t know who represents them in local government, and they don’t feel the same connection to local issues as they do to national ones. (They also tend to not get contacted by the campaigns, since they aren’t reliable voters. It’s a bit of a vicious circle.) But a referendum like the HERO repeal vote is tailor made for them. They don’t need to know anything about the candidates. The issue in question is one they already have established opinions about. It strikes at why they might have chosen to live in this city in the first place – its diversity, its tolerance, its general friendliness to a young/urban lifestyle. If there was ever an opportunity to get a bunch of Presidential-year-only voters to the polls, this is it. If the HERO defenders aren’t putting a huge effort into IDing and targeting the under-40/under-50 crowd, they’re committing malpractice.

That’s the first thing. The other thing is that I don’t believe this election will be about gay rights, per se. I think even hammerheaded jerks like Dave Wilson and Steven Hotze and the rest have begun to figure out that direct homophobia is a losing tactic these days. Strong majorities approve of the Obergfell decision. Gay culture is all around us, and nobody but them objects. Their mostly-fraudulent petition effort was based on the idea of “no unequal rights”, but nobody outside their small group of signatories buys into that. No, what this election will be about is bathrooms and fevered lie-driven fears of sexual predators. You can already see and hear this in the rhetoric of some campaigns and candidates – see Ben Hall for Exhibit A – and I’ve heard it in a couple of interviews so far. Given the character and morals of the people that will be pushing the repeal campaign, you can expect to be soaking in this kind of hateful and dishonest rhetoric once things begin in earnest.

The good news about that is that I don’t think a lot of people have yet given much thought to this issue. Oh, they’re vaguely aware of it, in the way that most people are vaguely aware of most local issues, but it’s not locked in their consciousness yet. For these folks, a different kind of outreach is needed. They will need to hear, from voices they like and trust, why voting the right way on the HERO referendum is something they should do. For that, HERO defenders – and here I’m looking at Mayor Parker, who needs to be the one to make most if not all of the requests I’m about to suggest – should reach out to high-profile Houstonians in sports, music, business, and religion to deliver a message about Houston being the kind of place where everyone is treated equally and respectfully. Given the support of the major sports leagues and the individual teams for equality and non-discrimination ordinances, I’d move heaven and earth to get JJ Watt, James Harden, Jose Altuve, and Carli Lloyd to do a PSA-style ad in which they say something like “My league supports equality. So does my team, and so do I. The Houston we love is open and accepting to all. That’s why I’m [voting the right way] on [whatever the ballot proposition is called], and I ask you to do so, too.” I can’t think of anything the haters could do to counter a message like that, coming from people like that.

There are plenty of other people that could be plugged in to a spot like that, with the script modified to fit them. Bill Lawson. George and Barbara Bush. Beyonce. The members of ZZ Top. Former newscasters Ron Stone and Dave Ward. UH President Renu Khator and Rice President David Leebron. You get the idea. Sure, some may say No for whatever the reason, but I bet many would say Yes, especially if Mayor Parker asked them personally. The key here is to get those spots out quickly, before the haters get their mail and whatever else going. You don’t have to spend much on TV for this – buy a few slots during the evening news and stuff like that, but the real value will be in having them on YouTube. This is about good will, coming from good people. It’s worth a lot, and we should take full advantage of it, because the other side can’t touch it.

So that’s my plan to defend HERO. Maybe it’s unrealistic, but I don’t think it’s unsound. Gear up a ground game to turn out younger voters, and spread a positive message about what makes Houston the city we love to everyone else. I’ll take my chances with that.

Revising the historic preservation ordinance

Gird your loins.

Sue Lovell

Sue Lovell

Houston officials are preparing to revise the city’s historic preservation ordinance, a signature issue for Mayor Annise Parker that spurred a prolonged and divisive fight over property rights in her first term.

That contentiousness has never fully subsided in some neighborhoods, most notably the Heights, where redevelopment had seen numerous original structures razed before Parker’s sweeping revisions to the ordinance meant, for the first time, that the city’s Historical and Archaeological Commission could block owners from carrying out alterations to historic structures that it deemed inappropriate. Previously, a denial meant a 90-day wait, after which applicants could do as they wished.

The coming revisions will be modest, city officials say, but related efforts in the works may make the law’s application more predictable.

In the Heights’ seven historic districts, redevelopment has continued through the lens of the historic commission’s interpretation of the ordinance, which some residents and developers complain is arbitrary.

[…]

[Planning and Development Director Pat] Walsh said tweaks under consideration include:

  • Increasing the director’s ability to approve or deny minor alterations, preventing applicants from having to wait for approval at the historic commission’s monthly meetings; an example would be an addition to the back of the home not be visible from the street;
  • Clearing up vague or contradictory language. For instance, the ordinance says new construction projects should match “typical” structures of their type, but does not clarify what “typical” means. The law also says changes to roofs are exempt but, in another section, says roof changes are handled by staff.
  • Barring owners who make changes without city approval or violate their historic permit from receiving tax breaks for renovating historic structures, and lengthening the waiting period for applicants to get new building permits if they commit “demolition by neglect,” allowing an existing home to crumble to make construction of a new one easier.

Perhaps most important, Walsh said, are two related efforts that will not affect the wording of the law itself.

One is a pending study of the dimensions of homes in the Heights districts, providing staff and commissioners more information about how a proposed renovation compares to other homes. The other is Walsh’s commitment to pursue design guidelines for the three largest Heights districts, which generate the most activity.

It’s not terribly surprising that the preservation ordinance will need some maintenance. It’s a big change, and we have no history to go by for something like it. The story references former CM Sue Lovell, one of the main forces behind the ordinance who is now – and has been for awhile – working with developers and homeowners to get clarity on what is and isn’t allowed. All I can say is that whatever revisions are made this time, there will come a time to make more, and a time after that. This is a process, not a destination. The Leader News has more.

Enforcing non-discrimination

In her annual State of the City address, Mayor Parker put a long-awaited item on the table.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker on Thursday said she would create a human rights commission to review violations of anti-discrimination laws, saying just talking about equality in the nation’s most diverse city is not enough.

“We don’t care where you started your life, the color of your skin, your age, gender, what physical limitations you may have or who you choose to love,” Parker told the audience at the Greater Houston Partnership’s annual State of the City luncheon at the Hilton Americas. “Yet Houston is the only major city in the nation without civil rights protections for its residents.”

[…]

Parker said she has made an effort in recent months to speak with groups concerned about the proposal, including the Greater Houston Partnership, which sponsored the State of the City address.

“Their concerns were generally, ‘Why would you even want to bring something like this up? Things are going so well in Houston, and our international reputation is so good. You will bring the crazies out. It will make Houston look bad,’ ” the mayor recalled from a meeting with President and CEO Bob Harvey and Chairman Paul Hobby last month. “But that’s never a reason not to do things and, until they actually have an actual ordinance in front of them to attack, it is what it is.”

Parker said it was the second time she met with Partnership leaders to avoid “surprising anybody” as she works to transform the idea into a written ordinance. She said she hopes to have an ordinance ready for a City Council vote in May.

The Mayor did talk about other stuff, but this is what dominated the stories. While the usual suspects did the usual whining about this, Mayor Parker also got pushback from some reliable allies.

Maverick Welsh, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, said he thinks Parker’s fear is that if the ordinance includes private-sector employers, it won’t have enough votes to pass the council. However, Welsh said the Caucus supports an ordinance that includes citywide employment protections.

“If you favor an ordinance that does not include private sector employment, you’re siding with the right of employers to discriminate,” Welsh told Lone Star Q on Friday. “My opinion is, put the right ordinance on the table, let the council vote on it in the open. Let them vote on it in the open, so the community can know, and hold people accountable. I don’t see any reason for us to compromise on this issue. Discrimination is discrimination.”

Welsh added that the Caucus will still support the proposed ordinance if it doesn’t include citywide employment protections. “I don’t think the perfect has to be the enemy of the good,” he said.

[…]

Welsh said the argument against citywide employment protections is that they would amount to over-regulation that hurts business. But Welsh said citywide employment protections would actually make Houston more competitive.

“If we have these protections in place, we’re going to attract the best and brightest talent,” he said.

Welsh said some also believe that if the ordinance includes citywide employment protections, opponents will gather enough signatures to place a recall on the ballot — a relatively simple process in Houston. But Welsh said he expects that to happen no matter what.

“She’s going to take all the political heat for this anyway,” Welsh said of Parker. “We compromise against ourselves, and they still go crazy.”

The Mayor had previously come under fire for not being quicker about bringing this forward. The Houston GLBT Caucus did issue a statement in support of the proposal, but the anecdotal evidence I’ve seen so far suggests the grumbling will continue for awhile. If Mayor Parker does bring this to Council on May 7, it will be on the heels of the Uber/Lyft ordinance, so I think it’s fair to say things are about to get interesting at City Hall. Personally, I agree with Maverick Welsh – I see no reason not to go full monty on this. You may wind up where the proposal is now as a reasonable fallback, but aiming for that position from the beginning was never going to calm the haters or keep the hand-wringers from wringing their hands. It’s what they do, so you may as well budget for it. We’ll see how it goes with Council. You can see a full copy of the State of the City address here, and Campos has more.

The preservation ordinance is a work in progress

That’s the tl;dr version of this.

Sue Lovell

Sue Lovell

In October 2010, an emotional Sue Lovell, then a city council­woman, lauded the passage of a strengthened historic preservation ordinance for Houston after a long, complex and divisive battle she and Mayor Annise Parker had led.

In recent months, however, Lovell has appeared before the commissions tasked with implementing the ordinance to lobby on behalf of builders and homeowners seeking to remodel historic homes.

What changed?

Not her support for preservation or for the ordinance, Lovell said. What has shifted, she and others said, is the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission’s interpretation of the rules.

“I fought for this ordinance,” the former councilwoman said, “and I’m going to continue to fight to improve this ordinance.”

[…]

Parker said the ordinance is working well but acknowledged she has concerns with the law’s implementation, saying she sank a lot of political capital into the fight and wants it to work.

“The disconnect is not with the staff, it’s with the architectural and historical commission, which wants to substitute its judgment, on occasion, for that of the staff,” she said. “There are a couple activist commissioners over there who are hijacking the process.”

Historical Commission Chairman Maverick Welsh said the commission’s interpretations shift naturally as members leave and as city staff turn over, but he pointed to the overall approval rate as evidence of the body’s sound decisions.

“There’s this misconception that we’re this unreasonable bunch of preservationist people, but I think the data supports that we’re reasonable,” Welsh said. “I’ve gotten a lot of pushback from neighborhoods saying we’re too lenient and I’m getting pushback from developers saying we should approve everything. Somewhere in there is a balance, and I think that’s what we’re trying to achieve.”

The path forward, Parker said, is to better educate the historical commission’s members and to tweak language in the ordinance to clarify its intent.

Creating objective standards for something that is inherently subjective is hard. You’re not going to get it right the first time. Hopefully, you create a good foundation that you can work with later. See what works, see what doesn’t, learn from experience, and keep refining. It’s an ongoing process, and it will never be truly finished.

The Dome’s status is complicated

Is it a landmark or not? If so, what kind?

We still have the memories

Mayor Annise Parker this week called an effort by the city historical commission to designate the Harris County-owned Astrodome a city landmark “ill-advised,” and said she had no plans to put the item before City Council for approval.

The Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission on Thursday is expected to vote to seek landmark designation for the 48-year-old stadium, where the county currently is carrying out $8 million worth of work, including asbestos abatement and demolition of exterior pedestrian towers added in the late 1980s.

[…]

City Attorney David Feldman said that if the commission votes to start the designation process, “the Astrodome would be subject to the requirement to get a ‘certificate of appropriateness’ for almost any activity affecting the exterior of the structure, including demolition, unless the county establishes that the ordinance does not apply to them.”

The historic preservation ordinance specifically applies to property owned by “a political subdivision of the state of Texas; provided such entities are not otherwise exempted from this article by law.”

In a memo sent to City Council members on Monday, however, Parker suggested it would be inappropriate for the city to impose landmark status on a building owned by another governmental entity.

“While a resolution supporting preservation of the Astrodome might have my support, the Astrodome is a Harris County facility, and imposing a city historic designation on it without approval of the property owner would be unprecedented,” Parker wrote.

The historic landmark idea came up shortly after the election. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett has said it likely won’t make any difference since the main thing that designation does is put a halt on demolition for 90 days, and as we know they’re in no hurry to do anything permanent. There are other possibilities as well.

Meanwhile, a separate effort is afoot to get the Dome designated a national historic landmark, which would make it eligible for federal funding and also for designation as a state historic landmark – like the Alamo – which would bar demolition.

“That’s the ultimate goal,” said Cynthia Neely, who helped prepare an application to nominate the 1965 stadium for placement on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Texas Historical Commission approved the application in October. Neely said she expects the National Park Service to add it to the register in January.

Ms. Neely has a long history with Astrodome advocacy. I think I remember seeing something about the Texas Historical Commission taking action, but this is the first I can recall hearing about the National Register of Historic Places possibly being involved. If that happens, I wonder what the implications would be for any private investors that may be lurking out there. Like I said, it’s complicated.

Not in a rush about the Dome after all

We’ll get to deciding what to do with the Dome when we get to it.

We still have the memories

Harris County leaders are in no rush to decide what to do with the Astrodome, leaving the empty and decaying stadium to languish further following last week’s voter rejection of a $217 million plan to convert the iconic stadium to an events center.

Although a majority of court members said prior to Election Day that demolition would be the obvious choice in the event voters turned down the event center plan, not one of them is championing a tear-down.

“I’m kind of over it. I mean, I’m going to go do other things for awhile and see what happens,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said Monday. “This really isn’t the top priority in my life.”

The delay could give historic preservationists time to gain some type of landmark status for the 1965 Dome, which could block its demolition or place limitations on what could be done with it.

Even Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack, who has suggested turning the sunken floor of the Dome into a detention pond in an effort to mitigate flooding and slash the cost of filling the 35-foot-deep hole, said he has no plans to push for a vote to demolish the dilapidated stadium.

“I do not intend to put that on the agenda anytime soon,” Radack said. “We’ll see what other ideas emerge.”

[…]

Commissioners Court will have some built-in lag time: Dome asbestos abatement, slated for approval Tuesday, is expected to begin in December and will take an estimated six months to complete.

“I have no deadlines in my mind,” Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said last week after the election.

Look, I voted for the Dome resolution. I myself suggested that the referendum didn’t specify demolition if it failed. I’m as happy as anyone that we’re not fitting it up for the wrecking ball right now. But something needs to happen, and Commissioners Court needs to make up its mind. We can’t go back to the status quo, if only because the 2017 Super Bowl is looming, and there will for sure be plenty of pressure from the Texans and the NFL to Do Something. If demolition is in the future, then let’s be clear about it and not raise any false hopes. If Commissioners Court really doesn’t want to demolish the Dome, then they need to get another plan out there pronto. There is a deadline, and we can’t just sit around and wait any more.

In the meantime, other groups that do know what they want to do are taking their own action.

The city of Houston’s historical commission has voted unanimously to consider an effort that could give landmark status to the endangered Astrodome.

Maverick Welsh, chairman of the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission, put forward the motion at the agency’s monthly meeting last week.

“I think it was the right thing to do,” Welsh said. “We have to focus on saving this building.”

The move, however, was principally symbolic. Such a designation would only put a 90-day hold on any demolition.

“It’s the only thing we can do as a commission to try and raise attention of saving the dome,” Welsh said.

If the commission decides to move forward, City Council would have final say on the historic designation.

I don’t know that this is anything more than a symbolic gesture, but at least it’s a direction. If the stakes in this election were “vote for the New Dome Experience or we’ll be forced to try and figure something else out” and not “vote for the New Dome Experience or the Dome goes bye-bye”, then Commissioners Court needs to get cracking on figuring out that something else. If it was the latter, then I’d rather get it over with quickly than string it out. But please, we’ve had the vote. Please tell us what it meant and then do something about it. Campos and Texpatriate have more.

Michael Williams followup

Vote who for what?

Now I know which one you are

Between some comments I got on my previous post and some emails I received as well, I can say with confidence that the Michael Williams in question is the HCCS Trustee. In addition, it is my understanding that he intends to run for the City Council At Large #2 seat that will be open after Sue Lovell is term-limited out. Jenifer Pool, the former chair of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, and former District H candidate Maverick Welsh are also reportedly interested in that race. I still think it’s a little crazy to be campaigning for a 2011 election when the 2010 races are still not on most people’s radar yet, but at least now my other questions have been answered. My thanks to everyone who provided feedback.

Rerun for Welsh?

Maverick Welsh is a young first-time candidate who exceeded expectations in his initial campaign. I most certainly do expect we’ll see him run for office again.

“I absolutely will run for council again,” Welsh said. “I had way too good a time, met too many wonderful people. I saw too many issues around the city to just go away. I will absolutely run again, I just don’t know when or where it will be.”

The two races he’s looking at closely include giving District H another go in November — due to some changes in polling places he believes could work to his advantage — and running for one of the five At-Large City Council seats.

The At Large races are starting to get a little crowded. There’s a GLBT candidate in each of the two open seat At Large races, so the support Welsh had in this go-round in H may or may not be there for him in one of those. I tend to think a November rematch is unlikely to go any better for the runnerup, but there’s not much history to base that feeling on – pretty much just the 2007 special in which Melissa Noriega beat Roy Morales in June and then again by a wider margin in November – and I’m certainly not going to underestimate Welsh. That said, I wonder if waiting till 2011 and the possibility of a new map that creates a district that joins Montrose and the Heights isn’t the better idea. There are no guarantees that will happen, of course, so it’s as much a gamble as anything else. Worth a mention, though.

Looking back on the race, Welsh said the deck was stacked against him with a large base of institutional support going to Gonzalez. He ran a grassroots campaign, which is one of the reasons he said he did not regret the mail pieces that brought about some controversy in the final week of campaigning.

“I have no regrets at all,” he said. “I don’t believe my mail pieces got personal. Look, I was running against the establishment for District H. Ed had worked in Adrian (Garcia)’s office…I didn’t get personal in the mail, and I think that’s important. You’ve got to look at the race and go with your strategy, and my strategy was that I was the grassroots guy.”

I agree that Welsh was running as the non-establishment candidate, and that the mailers simply reflected that. In fact, I said exactly that when the mailings first came out and caused a stir. I also said I wasn’t sure that was the best strategy in this case. Of course, it’s easy to be an armchair quarterback. I have no idea what, if any, strategy might have worked better. I thought Welsh ran a strong race. I based my vote for him in the first place in part on the fact that I was impressed by the campaign he ran. If and when he does run again, here or elsewhere, it’ll be up to him to figure out how to build on that. I see no reason why he can’t do that, and I look forward to his next effort.

Gonzalez wins in District H

In the end, it wasn’t that close.

Houston police officer Ed Gonzalez won the runoff special election to fill Houston City Council District H Saturday, defeating former high school teacher and City Council staffer Maverick Welsh.

Although the campaign was hard fought, with both candidates personally knocking on thousands of doors and calling registered voters repeatedly, Gonzalez ultimately prevailed by a wide margin.

With all 13 precincts reporting, Gonzalez earned 61 percent of the vote to Welsh’s 39 percent with 4,680 ballots cast. That actually exceeded the total number of ballots cast in the initial nine candidate special election May 9, a rarity in Houston runoffs.

“I feel just tremendous,” Gonzalez said Saturday night. “I feel very humbled at the fact that the voters of District H have spoken.”

Gonzalez will immediately fill the seat vacated by Sheriff Adrian Garcia, a close friend and former police colleague with whom he has worked on several previous political campaigns.

He said he plans to establish relationships with members of City Council and ensure that all constituent services and relationships with the community remain strong.

The final vote total was 2854 for Gonzalez and 1826 for Welsh. Kudos again to Stace for calling the higher turnout. For what it’s worth, if we’re doing a little tooting of one’s own horn, I had a pretty good guess on the final turnout number. Here, the early vote total was 47.9% of the cumulative amount, or a smidge higher than it was for the May election.

As far as the negative stuff, one way to look at this is that if you simply compare Welsh to Gonzalez in May, Welsh got 46.2% of the vote share. Gonzalez, who won all three aspects of the vote this time, therefore won a bigger percentage of the vote in the runoff. I wouldn’t necessarily conclude that the barrage of negative mail from the Welsh campaign hurt him, but it sure didn’t help.

Be that as it may, my congratulations to Council Member Ed Gonzalez on his victory today. I have full confidence in his ability to do the job. Best wishes, and good luck to you.

Runoff Day in District H

Today is Runoff Day for the District H special election. Polls are open from 7 AM till 7 PM. Voting locations are here; if you’re not sure what precinct you’re in, go here. Early voting was heavier than I expected it would be, so I’m very curious to see if that carries over to today’s activity. I think I speak for everyone involved in this when I say that I’ll be glad when it’s over and we finally have a Council member for District H. Best of luck to both candidates today.

Early voting ends for District H runoff

Tuesday was the last day of early voting for the District H runoff, and as is often the case it was the busiest, with 278 in-person ballots being cast. That brings the final total up to 2188 early votes, or a bit more than 300 more than for the May election. If the early vote is the same proportion of the final tally as it was in May, when 45% voted early, then final turnout will be 4862. Who knows, maybe it’ll top 5000. I admit it, I didn’t see that coming, but Stace did, and kudos to him for calling it.

Meanwhile, Miya and Rick Casey weigh in on the race and its recent turn to the negative, with Miya saying she thinks Maverick Welsh’s mail pieces have been fairly tame, and Casey smacking him around for being critical of the kind of experience he himself has. As you know, I voted for Welsh, and I too think the mail pieces have been non-outrageous and well within the bounds of normal campaigning. That said, having received more than a dozen mail pieces from Welsh in the past week, including all of the negative ones, I’m a bit unclear on what the strategy was. The point of negative mail, at least as I understand it for a runoff, is to persuade the other person’s voters to switch or stay home. I gather all this mail has gone out to the full universe of voters, which I’d think carries a nontrivial risk of alienating some folks who’d otherwise be supporters, especially at this volume. Maybe I’m wrong about this – hell, I’ve never run a campaign, what do I know? But that’s the feeling I get.

I guess I’m a little surprised that some fairly run of the mill attack mailers in a low-turnout election have generated as much attention as they have. I mean, it’s not like negative mail in a runoff is something novel. There was a bit of a lull in the news cycle with the Lege adjourning, and maybe people were surprised that a candidate as positive and optimistic as Welsh would go negative, especially on someone like Ed Gonzalez who by all accounts is a good person and well-qualified for the job. Even Welsh’s own mail doesn’t really attack Ed directly but rather associates him with “the system” that needs change, which Welsh represents. I’ve already said that I’m not sure how viable that line of attack is when the most recent incumbent and most prominent supporter of one’s opponent is super popular among the voters, but again, it’s not like this is something that’s never been tried before. We’ll know on Saturday how effective it was.

Last day of early voting in District H runoff

Today is the last day to vote early in the District H runoff. The early voting locations will be open from 7 AM to 7 PM, so take advantage of the chance while you still can. Runoff Day itself will be Saturday the 13th. A total of 1636 ballots had been cast through the weekend; Monday’s totals are not posted yet. Barring something weird, that means there will have been over 2000 votes during early voting, which would exceed the total for the first round and suggests we may wind up with a higher turnout in the runoff than in the initial election. I know I didn’t see that coming, but I’m glad to have underestimated it. Today’s Chron has little sidebar bios of Ed Gonzalez and Maverick Welsh if for some odd reason you don’t feel you know enough about either of them to make your decision. Vote today or vote Saturday and we’ll finally have a new Council member for District H.

One week of early voting in the District H runoff

I did my civic duty on Friday at Moody Park, early in the morning – according to the sign-in sheet, I was the fifth person to vote that day. That makes me one of 1302 people to cast their ballot, in person or by mail, so far in this runoff. Unless the weekend totals are a complete bust, I imagine we’ll have on the order of 2000 votes by close of business Tuesday, which means my original projection is almost certain to be low, quite possibly very low. It’s not out of the question to me at this point that the runoff could get almost as many voters as the May election. Probably not, but if we’re at 2000 votes on Wednesday, an equivalent amount on the 13th is conceivable.

This week we saw the first example of negative campaigning, as Maverick Welsh sent out a couple of mailers that said Ed Gonzalez was part of the “same tired system” and represents “politics as usual”. This has made some folks, like Stace, unhappy with Welsh. I have three things to say about this. One, I thought these mailers were pretty generic as far as attacks go – I definitely thought the stuff sent out in 2003 about Adrian Garcia was worse. As such, they didn’t particularly bother me. Two, the language used in these pieces strikes me as the kind of thing one candidate says when the other candidate has the support of much of the political establishment, including the previous occupant of the office. At its core, the message is “Vote for change”, which when you consider that seven months ago the people in District H voted like crazy for Adrian Garcia for Sheriff, may perhaps not be an optimal strategy. And finally, along those lines, some other late in the game attacks against Garcia made by his 2003 runoff opponent Diana Davila Martinez seem to have benefited him more than they harmed him, at least in my neck of the woods. We’ll know soon enough if history repeats itself.

Endorsement watch: Ed again

The Chron reiterates its earlier endorsement of Ed Gonzalez for the District H special election runoff.

In a matchup of two well qualified candidates to replace former District H council member and now Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, the Chronicle believes Houston police homicide investigator Ed Gonzalez is the best choice.

Gonzalez led former school teacher and Heights civic leader Maverick Welsh by a narrow margin in a field of nine candidates last month. They are vying to serve out the final six months of Garcia’s term, and the winner will have to run again for a full two-year term in November.

[…]

In the first round only 4.4 percent of nearly 94,000 registered voters in the district cast ballots and even fewer are expected to do so this time. That will greatly multiply the impact of each individual who does vote.

We’re up to 903 early votes after three days. It’s possible we could exceed my projection for turnout before Runoff Day. That would still make this a very low turnout affair, of course, but better than most would expect for a runoff.

Gonzalez, who lives in Lindale Park with his family, is endorsed for the council seat by the former incumbent, Sheriff Garcia, whom he served as a council community liaison. He’s also backed by an impressive roster of area elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Gene Green, Harris County Constable Victor Trevino, Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia and State Reps. Ana Hernandez and Armando Walle.

In addition to his 18 years of service as a Houston policeman, Gonzalez would provide needed diversity on a 15-member City Council with only one current Hispanic member, District I’s James Rodriguez. In a city that is more than 40 percent Hispanic, an added Latino council member would be a positive development.

Well, that’s certainly been a big theme of this election. I’ll note here that the rumor mill has informed me that Rick Rodriguez, who was one of the nine original candidates for this race and who finished in fourth place with 9.54% in the first go-round, is considering a run for At Large #1 this fall. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I do know that the only way we’re going to truly increase Hispanic representation on Council is to get more Hispanic candidates to run for Council seats that aren’t H and I. For that reason, I hope that he, or someone like him, is at least considering the possibility.

Early voting underway in District H runoff

I know it’s been a lot of Lege stuff around here lately, but the end of the session means the start of early voting for the District H runoff. I figure I’ll probably do my civic duty this weekend, maybe Friday. As you know, I’m guessing 2000 to 2500 votes for the runoff, so I don’t expect there will be any lines. Having said that, 731 votes, of which 453 have come by mail, have been cast so far, which suggests that estimate is too low, perhaps by a lot. I certainly won’t mind being wrong about that. Regardless, be sure you get out there and vote for the best candidate to represent the district. The Chron’s Houston Politics blog has more.

Who should represent District H?

That’s the question, isn’t it?

It took only a few minutes at the District H candidate forum Thursday morning for discussion to turn to the elephant in the room.

“District H is supposed to be a Hispanic district,” said Edgar Colon, chairman of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Political Action Committee, reading a question on behalf of an audience member. “Should it be represented by a Hispanic?”

In what is shaping up as a hard-fought runoff campaign between Houston police officer Ed Gonzalez and former public high school teacher Maverick Welsh to fill the City Council seat vacated by Adrian Garcia, that question looms as large as any other in a district originally drawn to elect a Latino.

Stace gives a nice answer to that.

I’ll be the first one to say it. No! It doesn’t have to be represented by an Hispanic. But when you have a highly qualified, progressive-minded product of the district, why not?

As a highly-educated Chicano myself, I’ve been proud to click on a Anglo candidate running against a brown person, especially when the brown person is not a progressive (cough-cough, Roy and/or Danny More-or-Less Mexicano). So, no, it’s not about race, or in this case, ethnicity. As a voter, I’m interested in having a highly qualified candidate with whom I can identify, whether it by that candidate’s story, or something else.

Stace supports Ed Gonzalez. As you know, I broke the tie in favor of Maverick Welsh. You can’t really go wrong either way. I was at that forum, and I thought both candidates answered the question deftly, without getting trapped by it. The right answer to me is that this district, like all of the others, should be represented by someone who can serve the needs of everyone in it. One could just as easily ask the question should District G be represented by an Anglo? Who should represent the city, in which no racial or ethnic group comprises a majority? I say the answer is the same across the board. In this particular case, we have two candidates who I think would fit the bill nicely. It’s up to all of us to ensure that whoever wins lives up to that.

Currently, District I Councilman James Rodriguez is the only Latino among 14 council members, in a city where Hispanics make up nearly 42 percent of the population.

The Department of Justice helped create District H when it forced the city to undertake redistricting in 1979, part of an effort to correct historic voting inequities in Houston and ensure more minority representation on the council. But the district, which includes the Heights, much of the old Second Ward just east of downtown and a wide swath that extends midway between the inner and outer loops around Interstate 45, has undergone dramatic changes since then.

Here’s something you may not know. I didn’t know it until I went looking through the historical election returns on the City Secretary’s webpage. The first election for District H in 1979 was won by Dale Gorczynski, who is now a Justice of the Peace in JP Precinct 1. Here are the returns from that election:


James M. Goins 1,181 Willie D. Hatchett 1,719 Herman Lauhoff 3,977 Russel Stanley 305 Anne Wheeler 2,824 Dale M. Gorczynski 3,274

Gorczynski won the runoff, then held the seat through the 1991 election, after which he did not run again. The first time that a Hispanic candidate won the District H seat was as far as I could tell the first time that a candidate with a recognizably Hispanic surname ran for it, in the open seat contest of 1993 in which Felix Fraga emerged victorious. I knew Gorczynski had been the District H member before Fraga, but I hadn’t realized he was the original Council member.

You can make of all that what you will. I found it interesting that this district that was drawn to be represented by a Hispanic has only recently been actually represented by a Hispanic for a majority of its existence. David Ortez has some tangential thoughts.

A look at the District H runoff

Professor Murray takes a look at the upcoming runoff in District H, taking into consideration the 1992 Congressional election in which Rep. Gene Green won a runoff against Ben Reyes and the early and absentee voting patterns from this election. You can see my take here. All I know is that early voting begins in a week, and things have been pretty quiet so far. At least, I’ve not yet observed any negative campaigning like what we saw in the November 2003 runoff, which is fine by me. Of course, everyone may just be waiting till after the holiday weekend to get down to business. If so, we’ll know soon enough.

Endorsement watch: Yolanda backs Maverick

Yolanda Navarro Flores, who finished third in the District H special election on May 9, has endorsed Maverick Welsh for the runoff. From the email the Welsh campaign sent out:

“Maverick Welsh will be a great city council member. He is sensitive to our Latino needs and issues…his door will be open to black, brown, and white. Maverick will not put the personal political agenda of others before the interests of the people.”

Yolanda is a distinguished resident of District H, serving on the HCC Board and having served in the Texas House of Representatives. She and her family have a proud history of standing for the people of our community.

“Today, I offer my endorsement to Maverick Welsh,” Yolanda said Tuesday. “My endorsement is for change and responsiveness for our District, not the same politics of the “patron/patrona” hand-picking the candidate for the people. No more status quo politics. My endorsement is for Maverick Welsh–he represents hope for a new and better future for all people in District H and our great city.”

That seems like a big deal to me. The question for the runoff, as noted by folks like Miya and Greg, is whether the Hispanic majority in the district will turn out in enough numbers for Ed Gonzalez to overcome Welsh’s advantage in the Heights. If Flores’ endorsement gets some of her supporters to vote for Welsh, that could be the difference-maker. I’m going to guess that Gonzalez will counter with a push from the elected officials that support him. We’ll see how it goes.

Having said this, it’s not that big a surprise that Flores would back Welsh. We know that there’s no love lost between Flores and Gonzalez. For her to endorse him would have been the bigger surprise.

The runoff is scheduled for Saturday, June 13. Early voting begins on Monday, June 1, and runs through Tuesday, June 9, at the same locations as for the May election. You can see the times and places here (PDF). If you voted in the May 9 election, expect to have your door knocked sometime between now and then.

Even fewer voters are expected at the polls for the runoff than the initial contest, when about 4,200 out of 93,000 cast ballots among nine candidates. That, political analysts say, and the already slim 183-vote difference between Welsh and Gonzalez, is expected to transform the next three weeks into a campaign blitz between two highly-motivated candidates with vocal and ardent supporters.

“It’s all about turnout and who has the organization and can deliver their voters to the polls,” said Robert Stein, a political science professor at Rice University.

Anyone want to take a guess at the turnout figure for this race? In 2007, Melissa Noriega and Roy Morales combined for 22,306 votes in the first go-round, out of 34,274 ballots cast (65.1% of the total), and 24,954 votes in the runoff. Here, Gonzalez and Welsh accounted for 2,413 votes out of 4,141 cast (58.3% of the total). I’ll place my chips on 2,000 to 2,500 total ballots on June 13. What do you think?

Ed and Maverick in District H

All the votes are in, and it’s Ed Gonzalez and Maverick Welsh in the runoff for District H.

With all 13 precincts reporting and nearly 4,200 ballots cast in a district of more than 93,000 registered voters, Gonzalez had 31.4 percent of the vote and Welsh had 26.9 percent.

They were followed by attorney Yolanda Navarro Flores, HPD officer Rick Rodriguez and pastor Larry Williams. Lupe Garcia, Gonzalo Camacho, Hugo Mojica and James Partsch-Galvan took in less than 3 percent each.

The strikingly low turnout did not surprise political handicappers or any of the campaigns, many of which knocked doors and placed volunteers at the district’s polling places to do last-minute electioneering. Their efforts had a slightly blunted impact, as nearly half of the votes counted came from absentee and early voting.

Gonzalez had a huge lead in the early totals, coming in at least 10 points ahead of the nearest candidate, but Welch won election day voting by about an eight-point margin. Both campaigns said they planned to continue frenzied efforts to reach voters for another month, when the runoff election most likely will be scheduled. A City Council vote will be required to set the exact date.

Here are the cumulative totals. The final turnout was 4,141 votes, which was a bit short of my projection. About 45% of the vote was cast early.

I’ll have some more thoughts on this later. For now, my congratulations to both campaigns. As you know, I think Maverick Welsh ran a strong race, and worked hard to get into this position. I expect to see more of the same in the runoff.

Elsewhere, Julian Castro won going away to become San Antonio’s next Mayor without a runoff, while Lee Leffingwell led the field in Austin. He’ll face Brewster McCracken in overtime, as the Carole Keeton Strayhorn show comes once again to an end.

Projecting District H

The final early vote tallies are in, and thanks to relatively busy days on Monday and Tuesday, a total of 1870 ballots have been cast by mail or in person as of the end of early voting on Tuesday. That’s slightly higher than I thought, though I now realize I had an error in my previous computations – there had been 1321 votes cast through the weekend, not 1221. I’d have probably bumped my guess for a final total to 1800 had I realized that, so I wasn’t off by that much.

Be that as it may, I’m wondering if my initial projection of 2656 votes is even farther off. I based that on District H’s share of the vote in 2008, and the turnout for the May 2007 special election for At Large #3. Looking at the cumulative report from the November 2007 general election, I note that the early vote share in the Mayoral race was about 30%, and for District H it was 24%. In fact, the early vote total in District H in 2007 was only 2399 when undervotes are factored in, and the final number of ballots cast was 10,018. If the early vote share in this race is the same as the early vote share was in November of 2007, we’ll wind up with 7809 ballots in all. That’s a very different picture.

Personally, I think the early voting pattern that was established in 2008, when a much larger share of the votes were cast before Election Day – about 44% in March, over 60% in November – will continue to some extent in this race. I don’t think it’s be that high, but I think it will be higher than the 25-30% we saw in 2007. Richard Murray, who suggests that Maverick Welsh has an exellent shot at making the runoff, estimates turnout to be “five or six percent”, which would be between 4523 and 5428 out of 90,473 registered voters. That would make the early vote share in the 35-40% range. I think that’s pretty reasonable given all this, so I’m going to make my new guess for what the final turnout will be 4500 to 5000. What do you think?

UPDATE: I should have mentioned that polling locations for tomorrow’s election can be found here. If you’re not sure what precinct you’re in, go here to find out. Polls will be open 7 AM to 7 PM, so you will have plenty of time to vote and go to the Art Car Parade.

Last day of early voting for the May elections

Today is the last day to vote early in the May elections in Texas, including the special election for Houston City Council District H. Here (PDF) are the early vote totals through Sunday. As of then, 1221 people had voted in person or by mail. Saturday, the first of three days for which EV hours were 7 AM to 7 PM, was the busiest day with 240 in person voters. If Monday and Tuesday are like that, we’ll wind up with around 1700 early votes cast, which suggests that my initial projection of 2656 is too low. Probably not by much, though – perhaps the range is more like 2700 to 3500. I’ll have a better feel for it when I see Monday’s numbers. In the meantime, the basic idea that this is a low-turnout affair and that every vote really counts is still very much in operation.

Speaking of which, I finally did my civic duty on the way home from work yesterday at Moody Park. This might have been the hardest decision I’ve had to make in an election ever – it was way harder than settling on a Presidential candidate last March. I want to stress again that I considered this to be a dead heat between Ed Gonzalez and Maverick Welsh, both of whom I think would do an excellent job in office. In the end, I finally decided to cast my ballot for Welsh, on the grounds that from what I could see, his team worked harder at it. That’s a small thing, one that’s only a factor in a race that’s as close as this one, but it’s what did it for me. If Gonzalez makes the runoff and Welsh doesn’t, I’ll happily vote for him. If somehow neither of them makes it, I’ll figure it out from there.

If you live in H, have you voted yet? Leave a comment and let me know.

Early voting in District H

Not a whole lot of people have voted in the District H special election so far. You can see the daily totals here (PDF). Through Wednesday, a grand total of 832 in-person and mail ballots have been cast. I think it’s safe to say that there are no lines at any of the early voting locations.

There’s an interesting discussion on my Facebook page about turnout projections for this race. My back-of-the-envelope math is as follows: When I did my precinct analysis of City Council districts for the 2008 election, I calculated that approximately 7.75% of the total City of Houston vote came from District H. In the 2007 special election for At Large #3, there were 34,274 votes cast (PDF) citywide. Assuming a similar proportion, you get a final turnout of 2,656. Bert Levine suggested a range of 2,400 to 3,000 in that Facebook discussion, using the 2007 election as a guide, and I think that’s dead on.

Needless to say, that means every vote counts. You have to figure that in a nine-candidate race, a 25% showing gets you to the runoff. Twenty percent is probably enough, but for sure twenty-five will do it. That means something like 600 or 700 votes is all you need. A candidate could conceivably do that just with people they and their volunteers know personally It doesn’t get any more basic than that.

I have been asked numerous times who I am supporting in this race. The answer is that even after all this time, I still haven’t made up my mind. While there are a number of good candidates in this race, it comes down to a choice between Maverick Welsh and Ed Gonzalez for me. They’re the closest to my views on the issues, and I think either of them would do an outstanding job. I’ll say who I’m voting for when I figure it out for myself. In the meantime, if you live in H, I hope you’ll make up your own mind and cast a vote. You may never have such a great effect on a race again. Well, at least not till the runoff.

Chron District H overview

Early voting for the District H special election begins tomorrow. Here’s the Chron’s usual overview story on the race, in which each candidate gets a paragraph of biography and a paragraph of quotation. Dunno if that’ll help you make up your mind if you’re still undecided, but there it is anyway.

As a reminder, the Harris County Clerk has posted the early voting schedule and locations (PDF) for this election. Briefly summarized, it is as follows:

For the week of Monday, April 27 to Friday, May 1: 8 AM to 5 PM
For Saturday, May 2: 7 AM to 7 PM
For Sunday, May 3: 1 PM to 6 PM
For Monday, May 4 and Tuesday, May 5: 7 AM to 7 PM

There are three locations:

The Harris County Administrative Building, 1001 Preston St downtown, first floor.

Moody Park Recreation Center, 3725 Fulton Street, which I believe is in Lindale.

Ripley House Neighborhood Center, 4410 Navigation Blvd, in the East End.

And if you’d like some more in-depth information about the candidates, you can review the interviews I did with them:

Rick Rodriguez
Yolanda Navarro Flores
Lupe Garcia
Gonzalo Camacho
Maverick Welsh
Hugo Mojica
Ed Gonzalez

I assume tomorrow we’ll get the Chron’s endorsement for the race. At least, I hope so.

Candidate interview: Maverick Welsh

We’re past the halfway point in my interview series for the District H special election. Today’s subject is Maverick Welsh, who resigned as chief of staff to Council Member and Mayoral candidate Peter Brown to run in this race. Welsh is a former teacher and relative of the late historian Maury Maverick, and he resides in Proctor Plaza. My interview with Maverick Welsh is here, as always in MP3 format.

PREVIOUSLY:

Rick Rodriguez
Yolanda Navarro Flores
Lupe Garcia
Gonzalo Camacho

Derr misses filing deadline

Yesterday was the filing deadline for the District H special election. Usually, that brings a last-minute surprise in the form of an unexpected candidate. This time, it brought a different kind of surprise.

As one of the first people to declare her candidacy to replace Adrian Garcia in the District H City Council seat, Karen Derr seemed to have lined up all her ducks in a row.

Until today.

The Realtor and potential candidate apparently forgot to file her papers with the City Secretary by yesterday’s deadline.

Oops.

Officially filing the paperwork in candidacy 101. Derr had done everything else by the book. She started a website (which was just taken down), appointed her husband treasurer, and had a high name ID thanks to her real estate business. The City Secretary’s list does not show Derr, and that is a major break for Maverick Welsh, the former Chief of Staff for Council Member Peter Brown.

That’s a shame, and I feel bad for Karen. She’d certainly been an active campaigner – there’s a ton of her yard signs in my neighborhood, and we’ve been contacted twice by her team, once on the phone and once at the door. Nobody else has done that yet. I hadn’t made up my mind who was going to get my vote in this election, but she was certainly on the list of possibilities. Her departure makes my decision a little easier, but it’s still a shame.

KHOU has more.

Derr tells 11 News that she thought the city’s deadline matched a state deadline for special elections, which is not until later this month.

“To tell you the truth, we’ve been out with a very grassroots campaign on the trail and going to three and four meetings a day,” she said. “We dropped the ball, evidently.”

“You dust yourself off, and you try again,” she said.

She added that supporters are urging her to either mount a write-in campaign or run for an At-Large seat in November. Derr says she has not yet made a decision, nor is she ready to endorse another candidate.

I doubt she’ll do the write-in thing. There’s just no percentage in it. I do have a feeling she’ll be getting a bunch of calls from other candidates, as an endorsement from her ought to carry some weight. I’ve got a statement from Derr beneath the fold.

So with Derr out, who’s left? It’s still a long list.

The order on the ballot, which was determined by a drawing according to a longstanding tradition set up by the city secretary, is as follows: Edward “Ed” Gonzalez, Lupe Garcia, Gonzalo Camacho, Hugo Mojica, Larry Williams, Maverick Welsh, James Partsch-Galvan, Yolanda Navarro Flores and Rick Rodriguez.

Williams ran against Adrian Garcia in 2005 and got 22% of the vote. Partsch-Galvan has run in multiple elections before, including in 2005 against Shelley Sekula Gibbs, getting 27%. The other candidates had all been actively running for awhile and had participated in the first candidate forum.

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Council campaign miscellania

Just some notes and news about various Council campaign activities, collected and collated into one convenient location for you…

Karen Derr will have an “old fashioned patriotic grand opening” of her campaign headquarters, which happens to be her house in the Heights. The event is this Saturday, February 28, from 2 to 4, at 448 Columbia (map). For more information, call Lance Marshall at 281-702-6367. Derr also has a podcast up on her site, for those of you who want to hear from her and can’t wait for my interview.

Also this Saturday, from 2 to 5, is a house party for Maverick Welsh, at the home of Shannon Bishop and Kevin Jeffries, at 829 Allston (map).

If you’re looking for something before then, there will be a fundraiser for Yolanda Navarro Flores this Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:00 at Rico’s Triangle Cafe, 4002 North Main (map). There’s a Facebook event for it, or contact Marisol with Campos Communications, 713 861 2244, [email protected]

Finally for District H, while I missed posting the info about a fundraiser for Ed Gonzalez that took place this past Friday, you can help him with blockwalking any weekend from 9:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. or 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Show up at the headquarters on 415 Fairbanks St (map) or call Jason Cisneroz at 832 368 2042 for more info. We got our door knocked by the Derr campaign yesterday; I’m curious to see which others come by between now and May.

And in news from other districts, Carl Whitmarsh sent out word that there is another Democratic contender for District A, a fellow named Lane Lewis, who is an educator and resident of Oak Forest. That’s all I know about him at this point.

That’s what I know at this time. What are you hearing?

Shady Acres candidate forum report

I attended the District H candidate forum that was presented by the Shady Acres Civic Club last night. Eight candidates were in attendance: Gonzalo Camacho, Karen Derr, Yolanda Navarro Flores, Lupe Garcia, Ed Gonzalez, Hugo Mojica, Rick Rodriguez, and Maverick Welsh. That makes the logistics a bit unwieldy, but the Shady Acres folks and moderator Nancy Wilcox did a good job of keeping things on track and moving. You can see photos of all the participants here along with a list of questions they were all asked; the questions were sent to them in advance, and some of them have submitted written answers as well – there are links on the sidebar to those answers.

I’m just going to give general impressions here. I thought the candidates generally came off pretty well. Nobody made me cringe or wonder what they were doing up there, as was the case with a couple of non-entity candidates (neither of whom was ultimately on the ballot) at a Mayoral forum our neighborhood association hosted back in 2003. There was a lot of agreement among them as they answered the questions that were posed to them. This was partly an artifact of the limited time they had to answer the questions (90 seconds each), and partly because the candidates are not too far apart in outlook and ideology. There is a broad range of backgrounds and experiences among them – the candidates include cops, lawyers, teachers, realtors, civil engineers, and business owners – and it’s clear they have different priorities and approaches. But at this stage of the game, there wasn’t that much dissonance among them. I assume that will change for the runoff, at least to some extent, but for now things were very civil and pleasant.

We’re about ten weeks out from the start of early voting. This is going to be a low-turnout affair, so it’s really important to try and get to know these folks, because with such a big field and with many of them having some base of support to begin with, it’s impossible to say who might make the runoff. There are at least two more candidate forums coming up that I know of, one of which will be held by the Greater Heights Democratic Club in March. I really urge everyone in H to make an effort to attend some event or meeting or whatever where these candidates will be and ask them whatever questions you may have. The odds are good they have been or will be at your neighborhood association’s meetings. The difference between making the runoff and not will likely be measured in something like a few dozen votes, so make sure your voice gets heard.

I will be conducting interviews with all these candidates starting next month. I still have to figure out who I’ll be voting for. In the meantime, take a look at the Shady Acres page and the candidates’ answers that they have so far and get acquainted with them. It’ll be time to vote before you know it.

District H candidate forum in Shady Acres

The following came to me via Facebook:

The Shady Acres Civic Club is hosting a Candidate Forum for District H. We would like to have an opportunity for community members to meet and hear candidates\’ vision for our neighborhood. We will also have specific questions that we will ask candidates to address as well an opportunity for them to give us an overview of their position. The Shady Acres Civic Club is inviting the Greater Heights and the press.

February 17 from 7 to 8 pm
at the SPJST Lodge Annex 1435 Beall Street
(At W. 15th Street )

Sam Jow
SACC Web/Secretary

Details and a map can be found here. Five candidates have confirmed their attendance as of this writing: Gonzalo Camacho, Karen Derr, Ed Gonzalez, Hugo Mojica, and Maverick Welsh. I’m going to try to be there as well.

Locke files his treasurer’s report

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

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

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

And finally, a note on campaign tactics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: And you can add Maverick Welsh to Twitter.

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Derr files, Bradford contemplates

Karen Derr made her treasurer’s report filing on Thursday last week, becoming at least the second candidate for District H to do so. I know that Maverick Welsh has filed his report, and I know that as of Friday, Ed Gonzalez had not yet done so but would likely do it this week. Beyond that, I don’t know anyone else’s status. I think I may place a call to the City Secretary’s office this week to inquire about who has filed, and to ask why I can’t find that information online. It sure would be handy to have. I’ve reproduced a press release from Derr’s campaign beneath the fold. I figure with the opening of fundraising season a week from now, we’ll start to get a lot more action on this front.

In the meantime, I heard a report on Saturday that former HPD Chief and candidate for District Attorney CO Bradford is contemplating a run for an At Large City Council seat. Isaih Carey has now blogged about this – he’s looking at At Large #4, currently held by Ron Green, for which Noel Freeman has already filed his papers. As with all such contemplations, this may turn out to be nothing, but Bradford has been talked about as a citywide candidate before, and he would clearly be a strong contender for that seat. So we’ll see what happens.

One more report I heard on Saturday, which Carl Whitmarsh reminded me of in an email he sent out about his birthday party, which is where I heard both of these things, is that there’s another contender looking at District A: attorney Jeffrey Downing. He joins Bob Schoelkopf in expressing interest in that seat, and if Carl’s reaction is any indication, he’ll get the bulk of the Democratic support for that race. Which, as I’ve said, is enough to make a race of it in that district. This is going to be a fun year.

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