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Michael Berry

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.

July finance reports for non-candidates

Not everyone who files a finance report with the city is running for something this November. Term-limited incumbents, and former candidates who still have money in their campaign treasuries are required to file reports as well. Here’s a look a those who did this July:

Dist Candidate Raised Spent On Hand Loan ------------------------------------------------------- AL3 Noriega 25,245 5,224 23,602 11,000 D Adams I Rodriguez 0 3,274 10,293 0 2011 Jones 0 0 3,203 0 2005 Lee 0 0 1,287 0 2009 Locke 0 427 4,065 0 2003 Berry 0 5,000 0 71,622

Here are all the reports. I did not find one for CM Wanda Adams. Doesn’t mean she didn’t file one – as noted CM Cohen filed one but it’s not visible on the city’s finance reports page – but one was not to be found.

Noriega report
Rodriguez report

Jones report
Lee report
Locke report
Berry report

CM Melissa Noriega has some debt, which is why she raised funds this year. I have no idea if she plans to run for something else in the future, but if she does I’ll be in the front row, cheering her on. I’m pretty sure she lives in Commissioners Court Precinct 2, not that I’m hinting or anything. CM James Rodriguez has been reportedly interested in taking on Commissioner Morman in 2014, but if so he hasn’t started fundraising for it.

As for the former candidates, I listed the year of their last election instead of an office, since only two of them held one. I presume at this point that Jolanda Jones is not going to push boundaries and run for District D. It wouldn’t surprise me if she does run for something else someday, but it doesn’t look like this will be the year for that. Mark Lee ran for Controller in 2003 and District C in 2005, narrowly missing the runoff in the latter race. Neither he nor Gene Locke nor Michael Berry seem likely to run for anything again, but one never knows. Unlike Congress and the Legislature, there’s just not that much leftover city campaign money lying around.


This Michael Berry thing. WTF?

A police source familiar with the investigation into a hit-and-run accident linked to former city councilman and radio talk show host Michael Berry said Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland is upset with the handling of the high-profile probe and is expected to order an internal affairs inquiry.

Berry has not been charged over the Jan. 31 accident, but HPD’s crash report identified a car registered to him as the vehicle suspected in the crash. The owner of the car that was struck said Berry backed into his vehicle outside a gay bar in Montrose.

After the accident division reviewed an initial report from a patrol officer, it was assigned to an investigating officer, said the source, who did not want to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak about the matter.

That officer took his case findings to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, but presented only minimal evidence to support the hit-and-run charges, the source said.

But due to media reports quoting witnesses and citing other evidence, prosecutors have asked police to take another look, the source said.

McClelland has said he would not comment on an investigation where a suspect has not been named or charged. However, the police source said the chief is expected to order an internal affairs review of the investigation.

HPD patrol officers sent a “significant event notification” the night of the incident alerting the department that Berry’s vehicle allegedly hit a car parked outside the bar, according to a police document obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

“Patrol wanted hit and run to be aware of the case should the incident create media interest,” the notification reads.

Well, they were correct about that part of it. The rest, I have no idea, though I will note that as far as I have seen, Berry has not specifically denied or disputed anything that has been reported. I can’t wait to hear what his story is. Hair Balls has been all over this – it is right in their wheelhouse, after all. I recommend you read their 2003 cover story on Berry, which they brought up and summarized here for some background. I have no idea what happens from here, but I expect it will be entertaining.

Apparently we do have an opponent for the Mayor

Deputy Fire Chief Fernando Herrera, who had previously said he was 95% sure he wasn’t running for Mayor, has now decided that he will in fact run for Mayor.

Houston Fire Department Deputy Chief Fernando Herrera plans to formally announce his candidacy for mayor on Thursday, according to a press release.

In his press release he says he can steer the city out of its budget mess without layoffs, furloughs or cuts in city services that would compromise public safety. At the same time, he says in the release, ”Nor should we put the burden on taxpayers, homeowners and businesses with tax increases, fees, or costly regulations.”

Herrera was not available Tuesday to explain how he would close a $130 million budget gap without raising fees or laying off employees, whose salaries and benefits account for the vast majority of the budget. Herrera could not spend time on political activity while on duty for the fire department Tuesday, a campaign aide explained.

Sadly, I’m not on his press release distribution list, so I can’t tell you what else he said. I did discuss his budget ideas before, and let’s just say that if you rule out raising revenue and cutting costs it can be difficult to bridge a budget gap. Maybe he’ll talk about some other ideas when he formally announces, like voucherizing Medicare or something.

Whatever. As a Republican, he’s guaranteed to get a certain amount of support, and maybe he’ll pull some Latino votes from Mayor Parker. I’ll be very interested to see what his June campaign finance report looks like. In the meantime, remember that just because someone says they’re running doesn’t mean they’ll run – see, for instance, Michael Berry’s Mayoral campaign of 2003. Until the filing deadline passes, anything can happen.

A very early look at 2011 fundraising

A couple of weeks ago I took an early look at the 2011 city elections, but there was a key ingredient missing in that analysis: Money. The fundraising season for city candidates, which has been closed since last January, will open again on February 1. Let’s take a look at where various cast members stand now, before all the fun gets underway again.

Name Office Cash on hand ========================================= Annise Parker Mayor 1,050,253 Ronald Green Controller 15,677

One of the nice things about being elected Mayor is that you can hold a late-train fundraiser or two before the year-long moratorium sets in, and people with checks will attend them. Keep that number above in mind when discussing other potential Mayoral candidates. Sure, some of them would be able to raise big bucks as well, but 1) that takes time; 2) a lot of people who might otherwise like them will already be on the Mayor’s team; and 3) you can be sure she’ll have a couple of events lined up for as soon as the curtain is lifted, making the hole they start out in that much deeper. It’s a big factor, and when you hear someone say they’re “exploring” a race, what they mean is they’re calling around to see if there are enough people out there willing to write them enough big checks to make it worth their time. Waiting for term limits to do their thing is almost always the wiser course.

As for Controller Green, he defeated two better-funded opponents in 2009, so his lack of scratch is no big deal. Better yet, as you will see there’s no one out there with the kind of moolah MJ Khan and Pam Holm had to begin with. I’ll say again, it’s my opinion that Green is a lock for re-election.

The returning City Council members:

Name Office Cash on hand ========================================= Stephen Costello CCAL#1 28,938 Melissa Noriega CCAL#3 1,681 C.O. Bradford CCAL#4 4,238 Jolanda Jones CCAL#5 22,304 Brenda Stardig Dist A 21,892 Wanda Adams Dist D 342 Mike Sullivan Dist E 162 Al Hoang Dist F Oliver Pennington Dist G 64,223 Ed Gonzalez Dist H 19,975 James Rodriguez Dist I 45,923

CM Hoang’s report was not available as of this posting. There were numerous issues with his finance reports in 2009. So far, 2011 isn’t starting off so well for him on that front.

You can see why I’ve been skeptical of the rumors about CM Bradford’s potential candidacy for Mayor. He has not demonstrated big fundraising abilities in two different campaigns, and he starts out with very little. Again, I’m not saying he (or anyone else) couldn’t do it, but the track record isn’t there, and the piggy bank isn’t overflowing.

After winning a squeaker of a runoff in 2009, it’s good to see CM Jones with a few bucks on hand. While I believe she won’t be any easier to beat this time around, she will undoubtedly continue to be in the news, so she may as well be forearmed.

CM Pennington raised a boatload of money in 2009 and won without a runoff, so I’m not surprised he starts out with a decent pile. CMs Rodriguez and Gonzalez were unopposed in 2009, and given that they may have very different diatricts this year, I’m sure they’re happy to have the head start. I’d guess CMs Adams and Sullivan will be hitting the fundraising circuit sooner rather than later.

The departing incumbents:

Name Office Cash on hand ========================================= Sue Lovell CCAL #2 98,935 Jarvis Johnson Dist B 0 Anne Clutterbuck Dist C 89,534

Hard to know what the future holds for CM Johnson, but another candidacy doesn’t appear to be in the cards right now. The same can probably be said about CM Lovell, who had once wanted to run for County Clerk. That ship has sailed, and I don’t see there being much of a Lovell bandwagon these days. I won’t be surprised to see her disburse some of her funds to other candidates in the future, however.

I do feel that we’ll see CM Clutterbuck run for something again. No, not Mayor – at least, not this year. There was a time when I thought she’d be a big threat to win HD134, but unless Sarah Davis (whom Clutterbuck supported last year) stumbles badly, that seems unlikely now. She could possibly be groomed to take over for her former boss Rep. John Culberson. I’d hate to see that if it meant she’d morph into a Washington Republican – she’s far too sensible for that, I hope. Actually, what I wouldn’t mind seeing is for the redistricting fairy to move her into Jerry Eversole’s precinct (this map doesn’t quite do that, but it’s close), because she’d be an excellent choice for Ed Emmett to make in the event Eversole does get forced out before 2012. Just a thought.

Finally, a few others of note:

Name Office Cash on hand ========================================= Gene Locke Mayor 20,645 Roy Morales Mayor 5 MJ Khan Controller 1,657 Michael Berry CCAL #5 88,122 Jack Christie CCAL #5 0 Eric Dick CCAL #2 4,036 Mark Lee Dist C 1,287 Robert Glaser Dist C 301

If it’s an election year, you can be sure ol’ Roy will be running for something. Doesn’t really matter what – this is Roy we’re talking about. I’m sure he’ll let us know what soon.

Who knew Most Influential Houstonian of 2010 Michael Berry had so much cash left in his account? I seriously doubt he’d run for anything – he’s got a much cushier, not to mention higher-paying, gig now – but I suppose he could decide to throw a few bucks at someone. Hey, Roy, you got Berry’s phone number?

I have no idea if Jack Christie will take another crack at At Large #5. As I said above, I don’t think CM Jones will be any more vulnerable this time around, but who knows? It does seem likely she’ll draw a fringe opponent or two – Griff Griffin needs a race now that Lovell is termed out – so hoping for a runoff and better luck in same isn’t unreasonable. My advice, for what it’s worth, would be to start fundraising early, and not shoot your wad all in the last few days.

Mark Lee ran for District C in 2005, and for Controller in 2003. He’s reportedly looking at C again, but like Ellen Cohen will have to wait to see what the mapmakers produce. Robert Glaser ran against Clutterbuck in 2007 and 2009. Eric Dick, who as far as I know has not been a candidate before, will be running for the open At Large #2 seat; the cash on hand listed for him is the result of a loan.

There were a handful of other names listed among the reports, but none that are likely to be candidates this cycle. We’ll have a much better idea where things stand after the June 15 reporting date.

Still smoking in San Antonio

But maybe not for much longer.

San Antonio City Councilman Justin Rodriguez announced [last] Friday that he is sponsoring an ordinance to outlaw smoking in most public places, including all bars, restaurants and workplaces.

Rodriguez said San Antonio is one of the largest cities in the country without legislation to protect the public from the dangers of second-hand smoke.

“We recently missed out on federal funding because we’re not a smoke-free city,” Rodriguez said. “It’s so important to the future of our community.”

Rodriguez said the new ordinance would close any loopholes in existing anti-smoking laws.

The City Council passed an ordinance in 2003, which a group called the Smoke-Free San Antonio Coalition does not believe went far enough.

“There have been certain criteria that you could have smoking allowed in (some businesses),” said coalition chair Suzanne Lozano, who’s also a registered nurse.

San Antonio is approximately where Houston was before it passed a more extensive smoking ban back in 2006. That was done after Austin voted to adopt a tougher anti-smoking ordinance in 2005; numerous other cities including Dallas and Galveston have since followed suit. Given how common this is now, I don’t suppose it had even occurred to me that San Antonio had lagged behind on this. I expect this to pass fairly easily when it comes to a vote, but there is some opposition on Council.

[City Council member John] Clamp argues that “the market is working,” and banning smoking in San Antonio could push businesses to other municipalities in Bexar County. Customers can choose to go to other places, he said.

But Rodriguez agues that employees can’t.

“I don’t think folks have a choice to work in a smoking or nonsmoking establishment,” he said. “They go where the jobs are.”

Clamp disagrees.

“I think everybody has a choice on where to work,” he said. “If you really think second-hand smoke is bad for you, don’t work in a bar.”

More regulations will hurt business, Clamp said.

“They’ll have to lay off some of their wait staff, for sure,” he said. “If you’re not bringing in enough money, then you’ll have to lay people off.”

Sounds an awful lot like Houston’s debate, with Rodriguez playing the part of then-Council member and smoking ban advocate Carol Alvarado, and Clamp filling in for Michael Berry or Addie Wiseman. Seems to me you could check on Houston’s experience to measure Clamp’s claims if you wanted to. The Houston Press did an informal survey of bars and live music venues in 2007, which suggested it was mostly no big deal, but that’s the last I recall hearing about it. Which is kind of suggestive in itself – if there were a trend of places closing or relocating to less-restrictive unincorporated Harris County, you’d think there’d have been more news about it. My suspicion is that San Antonio’s experience will be like Houston’s, including how the passage of the ordinance plays out. Queblog has more.

The case for conformity

Max Watson and Ed Wulfe of the Houston Quality of Life Coalition make the case in the Chron for Houston to be more like some other cities.

Last week’s new sign ordinance addressed roof, wall and window signs throughout the city as well as some reductions in height and size for on-premise signage installed after the effective date of the new ordinance and some limits on electronic changeable message signs. As newly constructed signs are built, business must comply with the new sign ordinance. With the exception of changeable message signs, all existing structures may add new sign faces without complying with current code standards because of the city’s grandfathering allowance.

There are reportedly more than 60,000 grandfathered on-premise signs in the city of Houston, including 22,000 pole signs that were constructed years ago. These signs will continue to be in their current locations for years to come without a law that requires grandfathered signs to conform to the current sign laws at some time in the future. The result of this lack of strong sign regulations citywide has left a majority of the city — particularly freeways and thoroughfares — cluttered with on-premise signs and visual congestion of signage that is difficult to read and unhelpful as a way-finding tool for the businesses they are meant to serve.

The Quality of Life Coalition comprises more than 85 endorsing organizations dedicated to a significant reduction in signage blight through reviewing current ordinances, researching signage comparisons with competitive cities and exploring incentives to reduce existing grandfathered signs. Most of Houston’s major competitor cities have some type of conformity provision that requires grandfathered signs to ultimately be brought into compliance with current sign regulations: Austin, Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Denver, El Paso, Fort Worth, Irving, Sugar Land, Los Angeles, Raleigh/Durham, San Antonio and San Jose are some examples. Smart cities across the country are adopting comprehensive but simple sign regulations that are relatively easy to enforce and provide businesses with an even playing field, stronger economic development opportunities, increased property values and safety/aesthetic improvements — all at the same time.

The main takeaway from this is that these folks, along with the Chron editorial board, believe that Houston’s difference from these other cities is a competitive disadvantage. The Michael Berry position is just the reverse, that Houston’s difference in this matter is something that draws people – or at least businesses – to it. I’m still not seeing any objective data to support or refute either of those arguments, but at least now I feel like they’ve been defined.

More signage regulation coming

First, they came for the billboards. Then they came for the attention-getting devices. Now in the crosshairs: Roof signs and other potential menaces to Houston’s natural beauty.

The city of Houston is poised to pass a major revision to its decades-old ordinance governing more than 60,000 signs on display at area businesses, proposing numerous changes that supporters hope will improve the city’s appearance.

Critics agree that the changes will be vast — eliminating roof signs, regulating electronic displays and diminishing the maximum allowable height and square footage of on-premises signs by nearly half in certain cases — but strongly oppose the changes because they could hurt small businesses and initiate a citywide makeover they say Houston does not need.

The debate has sparked age-old tensions about the character of Houston, and whether the laissez-faire approach that has governed its appearance, leading to a little-controlled bonanza of signs and development — is ideal for the city’s future.

“People come here and they are consistently shocked by the city’s appearance and they often ask us how we let this happen to our city,” said Anne Culver, executive director of Scenic Houston, an organization that advocates for more regulation of signs and billboards. “Site consultants say all the time that they’re told not to put Houston on their lists because of pollution, the heat and how it looks. This is a step in the right direction.”

Michael Berry, a former city council member who has spoken against the measure on his radio show, said the timing of the changes — coming in one of the worst economic downturns in a generation — could not be worse.

“Houston didn’t grow so big so fast because of an activist City Hall,” he said. “Less government, no zoning, low taxes and a strong business climate may be ‘ugly’ to some, but that’s why we’ve prospered. This will hurt small business at a time when they are struggling.”

I cheered the billboard ordinance. I’m more ambivalent about the AGD ordinance, but am okay with it. This one, I’m not so sure about. I guess I just don’t perceive the problem. Maybe I just don’t notice the types of signs and displays in question, or maybe I do notice them and am just not all that bothered by them, I don’t know. I’m sure there’s a case to be made that Houston would be more aesthetically pleasing with a stronger ordinance in place, and I’m sure the existing one needs some kind of updating, but the case for this particular revision is not self-evident to me. Given the recent loss in court over enforcement of the to-be-updated AGD ordinance, I’m leery of something as broad as this. I’m not saying I can’t be convinced that this is a worthwhile pursuit, but someone is going to have to make an effort to do so.

Having said that, Berry’s lame, archaic, knee-jerk sloganeering is about the least credible argument you could use to dissuade me. Let’s put aside the fact that this is about the worst time in my memory to make the “regulation is bad” claim as an axiom. Even if it is the case that in whatever history of Houston Berry has in mind a “non-activist” City Hall contributed to the city’s growth in the past, why is that necessarily the case now? We all know how much, and how rapidly, Houston has changed in recent years. Who’s to say the way we’ve always done things is the way we should always keep doing? That’s granting Berry’s premise about Houston’s governance, which may or may not be on point anyway.

The proposed changes were produced over the course of a year by a 14-member task force that included city officials, commercial real estate agents and representatives from the sign-making, restaurant and apartment industries. Task force members said the proposals represented a compromise between business interests and consumers, and many stressed that the new requirements will not be imposed on businesses with existing signs. Only new developments and businesses greatly remaking their signs will have to comply with the new regulations, which would go into effect Sept. 1, if passed.

The measure appears to have the support of council members, who last week noted the array of stakeholders who participated on the task force. The proposed rules sailed through council’s Quality of Life Committee in May.


Despite efforts by city officials, some industry officials have spoken out against the changes, in some cases even though it was not immediately clear how their companies would be affected. Several officials representing national pharmacy chains such as Walgreen’s asked City Council not to pass the ordinance last week, citing concerns over the new electronic sign rules.

Some commercial real estate agents have speculated that Houston will lose a perceived advantage from developers eager to do business in a place with few regulations.

Mike Harp, development director for Cedarwood Development, a commercial real estate company, said businesses with existing signs would have an advantage over competitors that come into the market after September. In particular, he said, there are not adequate provisions for exceptions to the rules.

“I can agree that we need our rules to be stiffer, but when you turn it over to a bureaucracy and administrative people, you very much lose your edge, in my mind,” he said. “It’s a problem if you set down a black and white ordinance that may not apply common sense to a specific site.”

I can accept the argument that Houston’s current regulations may be attractive to some developers. It does not necessarily follow that this is a net positive for Houston. Maybe a more stringent set of rules would have a greater benefit, in terms of people and businesses wanting to relocate here. That’s Anne Culver’s argument, and it’s one I’m receptive to, but I’m also receptive to Mike Harp’s point about the new ordinance possibly favoring existing businesses over new ones. I can see the pros and cons, I’m just not sure which set is bigger. I’d like to hear more about this. What do you think?

Candidate interview: Hugo Mojica

We are getting close to the end of my interview series with District H candidates. Today I have a conversation with Hugo Mojica, who is a native of the Northside and who has worked for former Council members Gabe Vasquez and Michael Berry. He currently works for the Brilliant Lecture Series, a local nonprofit organization. My interview with Hugo Mojica is here.


Rick Rodriguez
Yolanda Navarro Flores
Lupe Garcia
Gonzalo Camacho
Maverick Welsh

A tale of two Orlandos

Orlando Sanchez, speaking last week in a Statesman article about the statewide ambitions of Houston Mayor Bill White, who beat him soundly in the 2003 runoff:

He doesn’t discount him but suggests White has gotten a free ride in his hometown.

Lately, Sanchez has questioned a lack of promised light-rail construction under White, a failure to add council seats in response to Latino population growth and White’s decision not to fill a vacant council seat until a May election.

Emphasis mine. Here was Orlando back when he was running against White:

Former City Councilman Orlando Sanchez on Wednesday became the only major mayoral candidate to oppose a Nov. 4 transit referendum, claiming the rail portion of Metro’s plan won’t reduce traffic congestion.

Sanchez announced his position two days after City Councilman Michael Berry, who had been the only announced rail opponent among major candidates for Houston mayor, dropped his mayoral aspirations amid sagging polls to run for another council seat.

“We need a 100 percent plan, not a 1 percent solution plan,” Sanchez said in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon.

The reference was to a road-oriented plan being developed by the Houston-Galveston Area Council, which it calls a 100 percent solution and which Sanchez supports.

Well, hey, at least he eventually wound up on the right side of the issue. In that article, Sanchez said he’d support rail if the referendum passed. I don’t know about you, but I cannot recall a single instance since then in which he’s publicly addressed the topic. Even in the two years of Sanchez’s tenure as an elected official, during which time his opinion presumably would have meant something, he’s had nothing to say about light rail. Admittedly, he’s had nothing to say about much of anything else, either, but still. As such, I trust you’ll forgive me if I don’t put any stock in his criticism of Mayor White for being insufficiently pro-rail expansion.