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Sue Lovell

The Chron on Boykins and Lovell

Time for more profiles of Mayoral candidates. Here’s the Chron piece on Dwight Boykins.

Dwight Boykins

“My goal is to use this position as mayor to let people know that there is hope,” [CM Dwight Boykins] said. “I’m trying to help the least and the last.”

His run was rumored long before he announced it in June after he had broken with Mayor Sylvester Turner, repeatedly criticizing and questioning his one-time ally’s ongoing feud with firefighters over pay parity issues. That outspokenness has won Boykins the union’s backing, and thousands of dollars in donations.

With Election Day less than a month away, Boykins does not pose a serious threat to Turner, who according to a recent poll leads his closest challenger, Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee, by 17 points. Boykins came in at fourth in the 12-person field, with 3.5 percent of the share of likely voters.

His “speak my mind” personality also has brought backlash: In July, he was criticized for telling teenage girls in a group of students at a youth advocacy summit to “keep their legs closed.” Boykins said he had been asked to “speak frankly” about the pitfalls for youth, including teen pregnancy.

In recent debates, though, Boykins’ voice largely has been drowned out as Buzbee, businessman Bill King and Turner increasingly trade barbs.

[…]

As mayor, Boykins wants to divert more money to parks and neighborhood programs, partner with outside groups for after-school tutoring programs, and increase police presence in the neighborhoods.

He also has promised to negotiate a contract between the city and its fire union within the first 60 days of his election, which he said would be financed in part by scrutinizing spending in other departments.

Yeah, I’m sure he’d like to do those things. Good luck figuring out how to pay for them, and as someone who’s been a part of multiple budget votes, I’m sure he knows that one can “scrutinize spending” all one wants, there won’t be any easy or significant savings to be found. Budget math aside, I said a long time ago that I would never support a candidate who opposed HERO, and Dwight Boykins voted against HERO on City Council. There’s not much else for me to say.

Next up is Sue Lovell.

Sue Lovell

Sue Lovell says Mayor Sylvester Turner got her fired by her largest consulting client, but that is not why she is running against him.

“I always wanted to run for mayor,” the former three-term at-large councilwoman said.

Lovell said she nearly ran in 2015, after then-mayor Annise Parker left office, but ultimately decided to pass.

This time around, she made the jump, saying she brings more credible experience at City Hall than any other candidate in the race.

During her six years on council, Lovell, 69, burnished a reputation as a candid and well-versed presence at City Hall, with a knack for gritty details and the bare knuckles to hold her own in a political fight. She forged those skills as an early and formative organizer with the Houston GLBT Political Caucus.

Those City Hall and progressive bona fides, perhaps, could have made Lovell a formidable challenge to Turner’s reelection chances. After a late entry into the race, however, Lovell is fighting for relevance in a contest that also features the 2015 runner-up, a self-funded lawyer spending millions on the campaign and an incumbent council member.

The only independent poll of likely voters last month found Lovell languishing with less than 1 percent of the vote. Her fundraising numbers similarly were dwarfed by the top four hopefuls, which has convinced debate hosts recently to leave her off the stage. She also has failed to garner the support of influential organizations with whom she has ties, including the Houston GLBT Political Caucus she once headed.

I have nothing but respect for Sue Lovell as a Council member, and unlike Boykins she’s on the right side of HERO. I can’t help but feel – and this is true of Boykins as well – that if it weren’t for the ridiculous firefighter pay parity fight, neither of them would be running for Mayor now. I can understand supporting Prop B, even if someone has carefully explained to you that there was no mechanism to pay for it, but that doesn’t mean I want such a person to be Mayor. Again, I’m not sure what else there is to say.

UH poll: Turner 43, Buzbee 23, King 8

Another encouraging poll for Mayor Turner as early voting starts.

Mayor Sylvester Turner retains a wide lead over his opponents, most of whom have failed to gain traction with weeks left until Election Day, according to a University of Houston poll released Sunday.

The poll, published on the eve of early voting, shows Turner with 43.5 percent support among likely voters, followed by lawyer and businessman Tony Buzbee at 23.4 percent. Bill King, Turner’s 2015 runoff opponent, trails with 7.8 percent, while 6.8 percent of voters said they support Councilman Dwight Boykins.

Former councilwoman Sue Lovell was backed by 1.2 percent of respondents, while 0.2 percent of voters said they support one of the other seven candidates. Another 17.2 percent of likely voters said they remain undecided.

For the poll, 501 likely voters were surveyed between Oct. 1 and Oct. 9. The margin of error is 4.4 percent.

Released weeks after a prior survey found Turner leading with 37 percent support, the new survey shows the mayor inching closer to the 50 percent-plus-one vote he would need to win the Nov. 5 election. If no candidate receives a majority of votes, the election will head to a December runoff between the top two finishers.

A significant share of undecided voters said they are considering Turner or view him favorably, results that indicate he has a narrow but unlikely path to outright victory on Nov. 5.

“Anything’s possible,” said Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School of Public Affairs and co-director of the poll. “Prior to this poll, I would have put my money on a runoff. But if you look at the undecided voters, there’s a possibility he could squeak it out in the general.”

See here for more on that previous poll, which was done by KHOU and Houston Public Media, and here for the details of this poll with the usual caveats about how tricky it is to poll municipal elections applying. I would not read this as evidence of Turner increasing his lead – it’s just two polls, two individual data points, there’s not nearly enough data to make claims about a trend – but it is corroborating evidence that Turner has a solid lead, that Buzbee hasn’t gotten much traction despite his millions in ads, and that Bill King is basically an afterthought. As with the other poll, Turner has a healthy, majority-support lead in runoffs with both Buzbee and King. This poll also found that a lot of undecideds lean Turner, and he’s pick up most of Boykins’ voters in overtime. Finally, Donald Trump has a 63-32 unfavorable rating in Houston, so the runoff campaign ads write themselves. All told, a whole lot of good and not much bad for Turner. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say he could win in November – I think the path for that is too narrow – but he’s clearly in good shape.

30 Day finance reports: Mayor and Controller

All right, I’ve made some progress in the endless number of city candidate finance reports. We’re in crunch time, and the 30 day reports can tell us not just what kind of momentum candidates have had, but also whether the later entrants into the races have gained any traction. Let’s get down to it.

To set the table, the Erik Manning spreadsheet is here, the June reports from Mayoral candidates are here, and the reports from Controller candidates (which in this case was just Chris Brown) are here. All of the reports that I have downloaded and inspected can be found in my Google folder, and any reports that were filed non-electronically can be found here.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner       733,324  2,235,523        0   1,618,015
Buzbee     2,500,000  3,475,058        0   4,167,503
King         281,829    550,022  410,000     263,448
Boykins      130,105    141,779        0      58,103
Lovell        28,493     10,929        0      17,564
Baker         20,000     16,340        0       3,919
Broze          3,620      3,782        0       1,027
Houjami        1,324      1,490        0         111

Brown        100,990     61,079   75,000     274,291
Sanchez       45,057     33,207        0      23,651

Some of this we’ve already covered. As a reminder, Buzbee hasn’t actually “raised” any money, he’s just written himself a check for whatever amount it is he’s reporting. Which we know will be even bigger for the 8 day report. Nobody else is in the same league as Buzbee or Mayor Turner. I have to wonder if Bill King will write himself a big check this month just so he can get some ads on the air. As for Dwight Boykins and Sue Lovell, I don’t know what they expected when they entered this race, but I’m guessing this wasn’t it. I don’t see any changes in their fortunes ahead.

Chris Brown was a strong fundraiser in 2015, and he’s a strong fundraiser this year. I’ve seen more of his ads on TV than I’ve seen for Bill King. Orlando Sanchez is Orlando Sanchez, which mostly means his campaign signs are littering the empty lots and freeway overpasses again. I don’t have anything more to say than that. More finance reports will be coming soon.

Big Bucks Buzbee

It is, by far, his best asset.

Mayoral candidate Tony Buzbee put another $2.5 million into his campaign last month, widening his financial edge over Mayor Sylvester Turner heading into the stretch run of the race for Houston’s top elected office.

Buzbee’s total, made public in a campaign finance report filed Monday, means he now has contributed $10 million to his mayoral campaign.

Seeking a second term, Turner raised about $733,000 from July 1 through Sept. 26, the period covered by the latest report, and spent more than $2.2 million. He has about $1.6 million cash on hand, compared to Buzbee’s $4.2 million war chest.

The campaign finance reports due Monday were the first in Houston’s city elections since July, when candidates for mayor, controller and city council reported their fundraising and spending totals for the first six months of the year. The latest reports paint a clearer picture of each candidate’s financial strength with two weeks to go until early voting begins. Election Day is Nov. 5.

Turner and Buzbee each reported larger fundraising hauls than the rest of the 12-candidate field, including Bill King, a businessman and attorney who raised $282,000 during the latest period.

King, who narrowly lost to Turner in a 2015 runoff, also lent his campaign $200,000 and spent $550,000 on a mix of ads, campaign consulting fees and other costs, according to his campaign report.

Turner spent nearly $2.24 million during the period and heads into the stretch until Election Day with $1.62 million cash on hand, compared to King’s $263,000.

The mayor now has raised about $3.7 million since July last year and spent $4.2 million, compared to Buzbee’s $5.8 million spending total. King has raised about $967,000 since January, when he began fundraising in earnest, and has spent about $1.1 million.

A spokesperson for King’s campaign said he had passed $1 million in fundraising since Sept. 26, the last date covered by campaign finance reports, from more than 1,500 donors.

Councilman and mayoral candidate Dwight Boykins reported raising $130,000 and spending about $142,000, leaving him with about $58,000 cash on hand.

Former councilwoman Sue Lovell’s campaign finance report was not yet posted by the city secretary’s office as of 6 p.m. Monday.

I’m working my way through the finance reports now – the technical term for this is that there are “a metric crap-ton” of them. I’ll probably have summaries for you next week; I’ll aim to have the HD148 and HD28 reports later this week, once I start seeing them on the TEC website. In the meantime, I advise watching live sporting events on pause, or at least with your remote handy, to mute the onslaught of commercials that are coming our way. Practice some self-care, y’all.

The Chron’s overview of the Mayor

It’s a fair picture.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner hugged his way through three dozen staff and supporters, reached the podium, and smiled.

It was May 2017, and Turner’s landmark pension reform bill had just passed the Legislature, validating his decision to devote the first 17 months of his term almost exclusively to the city’s top fiscal challenge.

The longtime legislator finally had won the job on his third try, fulfilling a dream more than two decades in the making. His tenure had not been perfect — there was the Tax Day Flood, the tanking recycling market, two huge budget deficits.

This day, though, things were good.

“Let me just tell you,” Turner said, “this is one of those moments where you want to just kind of take it in and not let it pass too quickly.”

The moment would prove to be one of the last Turner — the first Houston mayor elected to a four-year term — could relish, unburdened by crisis.

Within four months, the mayor found his agenda dominated by catastrophic flooding wrought by the worst rainstorm in continental United States history, as well as a man-made crisis — a bitter fight over firefighters’ pay that led to a lopsided loss at the polls and, later, a win at the courthouse.

Those challenges, and Turner’s tendency to keep a tight grip on the reins of government and immerse himself in the details of decision-making, constrained what the mayor — and the allies who helped elect him to office — had hoped he would accomplish.

Most political observers expect Turner — who held a 17 percent lead over his nearest rival in a recent poll — to retain enough support to earn a second term. The mayor, however, has drawn plenty of detractors and underwhelmed some supporters, putting him in a less secure position than one might expect of an incumbent Democrat in a blue city.

You know I’m supporting Mayor Turner for re-election. I believe he’s generally done a good job, and I find his leading opponents to be somewhere between disingenuous, dishonest, and delusional in their alternate proposals. I wish he’d made more progress on some of the issues discussed in this story, but flooding and the firefighter saga have taken priority, and that’s just how it goes. The only one of his opponents that I’d trust to value those same priorities is Sue Lovell, and I have more faith in Turner to move them forward. Statements in the story about Turner’s control over the ordinance process have been made about every previous Mayor, and will continue to be made about future Mayors. We’re fine with Mayor Turner. I don’t feel fine about the alternatives. Sometimes it’s just as simple as that.

(There was a Chron profile of Bill King a couple of says earlier. I fell asleep each time I tried to read it.)

KHOU/HPM poll: Turner 37, Buzbee 20, King 10

We must be getting into the serious part of Houston Election Season, because we have our first public poll of the Mayor’s race.

Mayor Sylvester Turner leads trial lawyer and businessman Tony Buzbee by 17 points, according to a KHOU/Houston Public Media poll released Wednesday.

The survey of 516 registered likely voters found Turner well ahead of the 12-candidate field with 37 percent, followed by Buzbee at 19.6 percent and Bill King at 9.5 percent. The poll’s margin of error is 4.3 percent.

[…]

The poll shows Turner running far ahead of everyone else but with nowhere near enough support to win outright, said Bob Stein, a Rice University political science professor who conducted the poll from Sept. 3 to Sept. 15. Stein surveyed about two-thirds of respondents by cell phone and the rest by landline.

Councilman Dwight Boykins received 3.5 percent support in the poll, while 0.4 percent of voters said they likely would vote for former city councilwoman Sue Lovell.

Otherwise, 3.3 percent of respondents said they likely would support a candidate other than Turner, Buzbee, King, Boykins or Lovell. Another 21.5 percent were undecided, and 5.2 percent refused to respond.

Early voting starts Oct. 21, with election day on Nov. 5. If no candidate finishes with 50 percent plus one vote, the race will be decided in a December runoff between the top two finishers.

In a potential runoff matchup, the poll found Turner beating Buzbee 54.6 percent to 40.2 percent, and King by 56.8 to 34.1 percent.

The KHOU story is here and the Houston Public Media story is here, along with an interview with Bob Stein. Stein says he’s a little surprised that King is polling third; he attributes this to Buzbee spending a crap-ton of money so far. I’d say that’s mostly true, with the additional note that King has the charisma of a soggy corn flake, and basically has no issue to run on this year. Buzbee has no issues either, and even less of a clue, but he does have a lot of money, and that does help.

If you look back at the Mayoral polling from 2015, it was reasonably accurate to a first approximation. Adrian Garcia polled better than Bill King, but King finished ahead of him in the race. Steve Costello, Chris Bell, and Ben Hall were in the next tier, though in the end Hall finished above the other two. The polling on HERO was exactly wrong, and that may have been the result of skewed turnout assumptions, which in the end may have also helped King. Every election is different, and Turner is an incumbent this time, so be very careful in drawing conclusions. The point I’m making here is that the most recent polling examples we had were fairly decent snapshots of the race.

Another way to look at this: Thirty-seven percent of respondents named Sylvester Turner as their choice. Adding up the other numbers, a smidge more than thirty-six percent of respondents named someone else as their first choice. Make of that what you will.

One more thing:

The poll also found 58.5 percent of respondents support Metro’s $3.5 billion bond proposal, which would authorize the transit authority to move forward on a menu of projects that includes light rail extensions and the expanded use of bus rapid transit. Only 10.5 percent are opposed to the proposal, the survey found, while 31 percent were undecided.

This is where I point out that people who do not live in Houston will also be voting on the Metro referendum, so this poll is not fully representative. The city of Houston is generally between 65 and 70 percent of total turnout in Harris County in these odd-year elections, and here is where I note that the Metro service area excludes some parts of Harris County, mostly the city of Pasadena. If the Metro referendum is polling this well in the city, it’s likely headed towards passage, but there are non-city votes out there as well, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

Checking in on the Mayor’s race

Remember the Mayor’s race? Yeah, that.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

“The candidates have been running for months but were focused on fundraising and defining their message,” said Nancy Sims, a Houston political analyst. “Labor Day is when people tune into the election.”

The stretch-run of the race follows months of campaigning from Buzbee, a businessman and trial lawyer who announced his candidacy last October. King, also a businessman and lawyer, joined the race in February, then the field expanded in June with the candidacy of District D Councilman Dwight Boykins and, weeks later, former At-Large Councilwoman Sue Lovell.

Seven other lesser-known candidates also are running.

Despite vigorous campaigning from Turner’s opponents, the race has yet to reach its loudest pitch, in part because Turner only has appeared at campaign events without other mayoral candidates. Earlier this week, Buzbee and King criticized the mayor for not yet attending any candidate forums.

A Turner campaign spokesperson said he was not invited to the Wednesday forum or to a prior forum held in June by the Lake Houston Pachyderm Club, which Buzbee and King attended.

Even as the race heats up, mayoral candidates are battling with a bloated field of Democratic presidential candidates for the attention of Houston voters, who typically do not tune into city elections en masse until September.

“I think the challenge for the city candidates this year is that they are greatly overshadowed by the 2020 race,” Sims said. “They are struggling to get the attention they need for people to focus in on the city elections.”

Even without distractions, such as the Sept. 12 Democratic presidential debate in Houston, municipal candidates often struggle to drag voters to the polls: Just 27 percent of registered Houston voters turned out in the 2015 race, the first time since 2003 that turnout was more than 20 percent.

Still, the candidates are entering the critical part of the race with ample resources to draw out voters. Buzbee is self-funding his campaign and as of June 30 had contributed $7.5 million of his personal wealth. He had spent more than $2.3 million at the same point, and recently made a six-figure TV ad buy through the end of September.

“Tony Buzbee is a very unique candidate because of his ability to self-fund, so the normal rules and strategies regarding TV don’t really apply to him, because he effectively has a bottomless wallet,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “For other candidates who have to keep their powder dry, we’re unlikely to see major media buys until the first or second week of October.”

We’ve discussed this before, but as a reminder what drives turnout in city elections is a high profile referendum on the ballot. Contested Mayoral races are a factor too, but the addition of a referendum is the difference between 2003 (381K votes, Metro light rail referendum) or 2015 (286K votes, HERO repeal) and 2009 (181K, no referendum). Even without a contested Mayor’s race, a sufficiently hot ballot item can bring a lot of voters out – see, for example, 2005 (332K, anti-gay marriage Constitutional amendment). The Metro referendum this year isn’t nearly as controversial as the 2003 one was, and there may not be any astroturf opposition effort to it, but Metro will be pushing voters to the polls as well as the candidates are, and that should boost turnout a bit.

I would also push back against the notion that no one pays much attention to the Mayoral races before Labor Day, and I’d point to the last three open Mayoral elections as evidence. Bill White was running those white-background ads in 2003 early on in the year. Annise Parker, Gene Locke, and Peter Brown were releasing position papers and talking about ideas for traffic, crime, neighborhoods, economic development, and a whole lot of other things well before September. The pension issue, HERO, and the Adrian Garcia will-he-or-won’t-he tease dominated 2015. Maybe it was just the more engaged voters tuning in, but speaking as one of those engaged voters, there was a lot more happening in those past elections than there has been in this one.

Why might that be? Well, let me summarize the campaigns of the main Turner opponents so far.

Bill King: I’m a rich old guy who was once the Mayor of a town with fewer people than most HISD high schools, and I’m not Sylvester Turner.

Tony Buzbee: I’m a rich guy who’s buddies with Rick Perry, and I’m not Sylvester Turner.

Dwight Boykins: I’m not Sylvester Turner, and I supported Prop B.

Sue Lovell: I’m not Sylvester Turner, I supported Prop B, and unlike these other guys I also supported HERO.

I mean, you tell me why the excitement level has been set to “Meh”. I don’t see a whole lot changing from here, and it will be turned up to 11 in the runoff. Welcome to election season, y’all.

The 2019 lineups are set

Barring any late disqualifications or other unexpected events, we have the candidates we’re getting on our 2019 ballot.

More than 125 candidates turned in paperwork to run for city office by Monday’s filing deadline, setting up a packed November ballot likely to leave every incumbent with at least one opponent.

The unusually crowded field is driven largely by the city’s move in 2015 to extend term limits, allowing officials to serve two four-year terms instead of three two-year terms, said Rice University political science Professor Bob Stein.

“It used to be that you just wouldn’t run against an incumbent. You would wait until they term-limited out,” Stein said. “Candidates are no longer getting the two-year pass.”

Thirteen candidates have filed to run for mayor, including incumbent Sylvester Turner, who is running for a second four-year term. Turner’s challengers include his 2015 runoff opponent, Bill King, lawyer and business owner Tony Buzbee, Councilman Dwight Boykins and former councilwoman Sue Lovell.

By Friday evening, the city’s legal department had approved applications from at least 97 candidates. Another 28 candidates had filed for office and were awaiting approval from the city attorney’s office, and an unknown additional number of candidates filed just before the 5 p.m. deadline.

Ten candidates were officially on the ballot for mayor, with three others awaiting legal department approval by the close of business Monday.

Early voting begins Oct. 21 and Election Day is Nov. 5.

Late additions include retreads like Orlando Sanchez, who I guess hasn’t found steady work since being booted as Treasurer, and Eric Dick, seeking to become the next Griff Griffin, who by the way also filed. Sanchez is running for Controller, while Dick is in At Large #5, and Griff is once again running in At Large #2.

And there’s also HISD.

Two Houston ISD trustees filed paperwork Monday to seek re-election and will each face a single challenger, while several candidates will jostle to fill two other open seats on a school board that could soon be stripped of power.

HISD Board President Diana Dávila and Trustee Sergio Lira made their re-election runs official hours before Monday’s afternoon deadline, while trustees Jolanda Jones and Rhonda Skillern-Jones will not seek another term.

Thirteen newcomers will aim to unseat the two incumbents or win vacant spots on the board. The prospective trustees will square off in a November general election and, if necessary, runoff elections in December.

So much for them all resigning. You can read each of the stories in toto to see who gets name-checked, or you can peruse the Erik Manning spreadsheet, which is fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. Note also that in the HCC races, Monica Flores Richart has the task of taking out the reprehensible Dave Wilson, while Rhonda Skillern-Jones faces Brendon Singh and Kathy Lynch Gunter for the trustee slot that Wilson is abandoning in his desperate attempt to stay on the Board, and Cynthia Gary appears to have no opposition in her quest to succeed Neeta Sane. Leave a comment and let us know what you think of your 2019 Houston/HISD/HCC candidates.

Previous interviews with current candidates

I’ve said a few times that I’m going to be doing just a few interviews this fall. I will start publishing them tomorrow. I may pick up some more for the runoffs, but for now my schedule just does not accommodate anything more than that. But! That doesn’t mean you can’t listen to past interviews with some of the people on your November ballot. Many of the people running now have run for something before, and in many of those cases I interviewed them. Here then is a list of those past interviews. The office listed next to some of them is the office they now seek, and the year in parentheses is when I spoke to them. Note that a few of these people have been interviewed more than once; in those cases, I went with the most recent conversation. Enjoy!

Mayor:

Sylvester Turner (2015)
Bill King (2015)
Dwight Boykins (2013)
Sue Lovell (2009)

Council:

Amy Peck – District A (2013)
Alvin Byrd – District B (2011)
Kendra Yarbrough Camarena – District C (2010)
Carolyn Evans-Shabazz – District D (2017)
Richard Nguyen – District F (2015)
Greg Travis – District G (2015)
Karla Cisneros – District H (2015)
Robert Gallegos – District I (2015)
Jim Bigham – District J (2015)
Edward Pollard – District J (2016)

Mike Knox – At Large #1 (2013)
Georgia Provost – At Large #1 (2013)
David Robinson – At Large #2 (2015)
Michael Kubosh – At Large #3 (2013)
Letitia Plummer – At Large #4 (2018)

Controller:

Chris Brown – City Controller (2015)

HISD:

Sergio Lira – District III (2015)
Jolanda Jones – District IV (2015)
Judith Cruz – District VIII

HCC:

Monica Flores Richart – District 1 (2017)
Rhonda Skillern-Jones – District 2 (2015)

July 2019 campaign finance reports: Mayoral candidates

All right, now that we are past the 15th, most of the campaign finance reports are in, so let’s start reviewing them. Because there are several thousand candidates running for office in Houston, I’m going to split them into several groups. We’ll begin with the Mayoral candidates and go from there. As a reminder, my look at the January 2019 finance reports for Houston candidates is here, and all of the finance reports that I have downloaded and reviewed are in this Google folder. I’ll be going by Erik Manning’s invaluable spreadsheet, which lists the following Mayoral hopefuls:

Sylvester Turner
Kendall Baker
Derek Broze
Dwight Boykins
Tony Buzbee
Anton Dowls
Naoufal Houjami
Bill King
Sue Lovell
Demetria Smith

And here are the totals from the reports they have filed:


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner     1,698,596  1,362,879        0   3,218,268
Baker         15,810     15,650        0         260
Broze          1,379        188        0       1,190
Boykins      140,174     93,219        0      69,783
Buzbee             0  1,814,754        0   5,140,725
King         684,842    580,062  210,000     318,320

Sue Lovell didn’t enter the race until this month, so she does not have a report yet. The others are I presume typical fringe candidates who have no idea what they’re doing. Place your bets as to how many of them actually file by the deadline.

Sylvester Turner is doing what you’d expect. Given that he’s running against someone who’s willing to set large bags of his own money on fire for this race, it’s possible he’ll step it up even further for the next report, but it’s hard to complain about what he’s done so far. As for Buzbee, who made two contributions worth $5.5 million to his campaign this cycle after dropping $2 million before January, I guess this is what you do when you have more money than brains and all your toys bore you. He’s the only contributor to his campaign, by design. I almost feel sorry for Bill King, who doesn’t have Buzbee’s moolah or Turner’s base. He’s going to have a hard time keeping up.

And then there’s Dwight Boykins. I don’t know what I expected from Boykins’ July report, but here’s a fun fact for you: Boykins reported raising $150K in his July 2013 finance report, when he was running for his first term in District D. You may note that the “Office Sought” field on Boykins’ current finance report is blank. I’m not saying that Boykins may change his mind before the filing deadline and run for another term in his current office, but I’m not not saying it, either.

Finally, out of sheer curiosity, I also looked at the report of the End Pay to Play PAC, the vehicle by which Bill King failed to put a campaign finance referendum on the ballot. End Pay to Play raised $95K, of which $20K came from King, $20K came from Nijad Fares, $10K came from Hartman Advisors LLC, $5K came from JBK Family Interests Ltd, and there were five other $5K donors. Not exactly a grassroots uprising. It spent $130K, thus leaving about $41K in “unpaid incurred obligations”, with most of the spending going to an outfit called Election Day Strategies in Corpus Christi. And now it sinks from sight, a minor footnote in this busy year.

Here’s some Chron coverage on the reports so far. I’ll start looking at the Council candidates, along with other races. There’s no shortage of these posts to do. As always, let me know what you think.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, Naoufal Houjami filed his report on paper, which you can see here. Some other candidates have done this as well, and their reports are here. Houjami raised $1,080, spent $356, and has $154 on hand.

Sue Lovell announces for Mayor

Sure, why not?

Sue Lovell

Former Houston city councilwoman Sue Lovell announced Monday she is running for mayor, becoming the fourth major candidate aiming to deny Mayor Sylvester Turner a second term in November.

Lovell made the announcement in a news release posted on her campaign website. She joins a field that includes District D Councilman Dwight Boykins, trial lawyer Tony Buzbee, businessman Bill King and at least five lesser-known candidates.

In her announcement, Lovell emphasized her tenure as chair of the city council transportation committee and advocacy for LGBTQ rights. She served three terms on council from 2006 to 2012, including a stint as vice mayor pro-tem.

“Now, more than ever, our citizens trust that public safety will be a priority, that the services they pay for will be delivered efficiently and on time, and that there will be an investment in the city’s infrastructure and their quality of life,” Lovell said in a statement. “I will honor that trust and deliver on those commitments.”

Speculation had abounded for months that Lovell would join the race, representing a challenge to Turner from his left. Lovell also has established herself as an ally to the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, working for a political action committee that supported Proposition B during last year’s midterm election.

That’s what this is about. It makes me wonder if the firefighters, who had previously endorsed Dwight Boykins before he stepped in it over the weekend, might reconsider their options. Or maybe the two of them will split the pool of pro-firefighter/anti-Turner Democrat voters. I don’t know.

Though Lovell’s name last appeared on the city ballot in 2009, she has remained visible in the community for the last decade and likely maintains some recognition among voters, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

“She’s been out office for awhile, but there are still a lot of people that know and respect her,” Rottinghaus said.

Lovell is likely to cut into the mayor’s progressive base, said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. Before Lovell joined the race, Jones said, “Turner was going to be the preferred choice of most liberal Anglos.” Those voters are more likely to support Lovell than King, Buzbee or Boykins, Jones said.

Yeah, but she was always an underperformer at the ballot box. In 2007, running for her first re-election, she failed to crack 53% against perennial candidate Griff Griffin. In 2009, she was forced into a runoff against perennial candidate Andrew Burks. I happen to think Lovell was a fine Council member and a master of policy details, but she tends to burn bridges and accumulate enemies. I’ll be very interested to see what kind of endorsements she gets, and what her fundraising is; we won’t know that till the 30 day reports, as that is the advantage of announcing one’s candidacy on July 1.

Ogg begins assembling her team

She has a lot of positions to fill, and a lot of work to do.

Kim Ogg

Several well-known defense lawyers will take top posts in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office under incoming DA Kim Ogg, her transition team announced Friday.

Vivian King, a prominent attorney who was an accountant for 10 years before becoming a lawyer, will be chief of staff in a reorganized office. She will oversee budgets, operations and other day-to-day running of the office.

David Mitcham will be Interim First Assistant and trial bureau chief, overseeing the majority of the 300 prosecutors in the office, supervising the trial bureaus and special prosecution divisions.

Dividing those responsibilities between two positions is a new way to organize the office. Historically, the elected district attorney’s second-in-command – the first assistant – has handled all of those duties.

Other notable hires include Jim Leitner, who was First Assistant under former DA Pat Lykos and will supervise the intake and grand jury divisions.

Other well-known attorneys who will take top posts include JoAnne Musick, who will supervise the sex crimes unit, and Carvana Cloud, who will be over the family criminal law unit, the division that prosecutes domestic violence.

Former Houston City Councilmember Sue Lovell will work as a special contractor as a government affair liaison.

See here for some background. This earlier version of the story includes a few other names. I can’t say I’m crazy about the Leitner appointment, since he just tried to oust Vince Ryan as County Attorney, but the rest look pretty solid. Tapping the defense bar for talent may look unusual, but it’s not. Former prosecutors become defense attorneys all the time – it’s just two sides of the same coin – and both Ogg and Vivian King had spent time as assistant DAs in the past. And if your mandate is to clean up and reform a DA’s office that really needs it, then you are by necessity going to look outside that office for the people who will help you carry it out. Maybe having a few people in the DA’s office who understand there’s more to justice than getting convictions is what that place needs.

Precinct analysis: At Large #3

Only one candidate running for citywide office won outright in November. That candidate was first term CM Michael Kubosh in At Large #3. Here’s how he won:


Dist  Kubosh   LaRue  McElligott  Peterson
==========================================
A      8,782   1,042         835     3,152
B      8,988   1,526       1,251     3,541
C     16,414   2,314       1,409    10,138
D     12,074   1,599       1,367     4,385
E     15,033   1,249       1,217     5,314
F      4,192     973         819     2,274
G     19,632   1,463       1,069     5,433
H      6,149   1,284         925     3,055
I      5,121   1,057         953     2,567
J      3,230     600         492     1,566
K      8,524   1,271         989     4,283
				
A     63.59%   7.54%       6.05%    22.82%
B     58.72%   9.97%       8.17%    23.13%
C     54.22%   7.64%       4.65%    33.49%
D     62.16%   8.23%       7.04%    22.57%
E     65.90%   5.47%       5.33%    23.29%
F     50.76%  11.78%       9.92%    27.54%
G     71.14%   5.30%       3.87%    19.69%
H     53.88%  11.25%       8.10%    26.77%
I     52.80%  10.90%       9.83%    26.47%
J     54.86%  10.19%       8.36%    26.60%
K     56.57%   8.44%       6.56%    28.43%
CM Michael Kubosh

CM Michael Kubosh

There’s not a whole lot to say here. Kubosh won a majority in every Council district, only coming close to not having a majority in District F. Some of this is a perk of high name ID, but said name ID was earned through work on the red light camera referendum and by being visible on Council. There have been a lot more people running for At Large seats in recent elections, challenging incumbents as well as piling up in open seat races. Since 2009, when CM Melissa Noriega ran unopposed, two At Large members have been dislodged, and every At Large incumbent save Steve Costello and Brad Bradford in 2013 have had at least two opponents. Sue Lovell and Jolanda Jones survived runoffs in 2009, while David Robinson and Jack Christie face them this year. In that context, Kubosh’s achievement as one of only two At Large incumbents to clear 60% against multiple opponents in this time frame (Bradford in 2011 is the other) is even more impressive. Give the man his due.

With all this recent interest in At Large races, and with the next election being four long years away (barring any further intervention from the Supreme Court), one wonders what the landscape will look like the next time these seats are up. As noted once before, CM Christie is the only At Large member whose term would be up in 2019, meaning that if he loses then every citywide officeholder as of January 2, 2016, can be on the ballot in 2019. (Like CM Kubosh, CM Robinson is in his first term, so regardless of the outcome in At Large #2, the incumbent in that seat can run for re-election.) With four years between races, one would think that there will be a lot of pent-up demand for Council offices, which may attract another truckload of citywide hopefuls. On the other hand, districts A, B, C, J (if CM Laster wins), and K will all be open then, so perhaps that will siphon off some of that demand. I really have no idea what it will be like, but barring anything strange, it seems reasonable to say that CM Kubosh will be a favorite to win a third term. Check back with me in January of 2019 and we’ll see how good that statement looks at that time.

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.

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.

Interview with Sue Lovell

Sue Lovell

Former Council member Sue Lovell was not directly involved in the current Metro referendum, but as the past Chair of the Transportation Committee on Council under Mayor Bill White, she was instrumental in the creation and adoption of the city’s operating agreement with Metro, which is what authorized Metro to begin construction on the 2012 Solutions plan. She also lives three blocks away from where a University Line station would be built if it ever does get built, and along with other supporters of rail and the 2003 referendum recently expressed her displeasure with the current proposal. Here’s what we talked about:

Sue Lovell MP3

You can still find a list of all interviews I did for this primary cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page and my 2012 Texas Primary Elections page, which I now need to update to include fall candidate information. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

Still waiting on the new density rules

With all that went on last year in Houston, one item that had been on the table was a revision of Chapter 42, to redefine the rules about density and other codes for developers. The planned revisions never made it to Council for a vote, and the city is starting over with a new cast on Council to get this going again.

Developers and city officials say the first major revisions since 1999 to the city’s density rules, known as Chapter 42, are necessary to accommodate the next wave of Houston’s growth. U-Haul recently announced that Houston is the No. 1 destination in the country for movers for the third straight year.

Projections are for Houston’s population to grow by more than 27,000 people a year in coming decades.

Without rule changes, they will not find affordable places to live in Houston, Mayor Annise Parker warned.

“We have to continue to find ways to preserve a range of housing opportunities for our residents. We don’t want to become a city where if you have lots of money to spend you can find a place to live and if you have very little money to spend you (don’t) have good housing stock available,” Parker said.

The heart of the Chapter 42 amendments is taking the cap of 27 houses per acre that exists inside the Loop and extending it out to the Beltway. That would allow many more houses to be built than currently allowed on typical 5,000-square-foot lots.

“We’re not getting new single-family residential being built from 610 to the Beltway,” said Joshua Sanders, a lobbyist for developers. “We’re losing a lot of our population to the county and to the surrounding cities.” That means longer commutes and fewer city property tax revenues.

Increased density means cheaper houses because developers can fit more of them on the same piece of land. Depending on the location and the type of dwelling, the new rules could knock $100,000 off the sales price, Sanders said.

This story is more a recap than a report of something new, so I don’t have anything new to add as well. I will simply note again that there’s more empty, or at least greatly underdeveloped, space in Houston than you probably think. I’ve gone on at length about the Fifth Ward, but recent travels around the city doing interviews have reminded me of other areas that are as wide open, in places like Sunnyside and Hiram Clarke. My point is that the city of Houston already has a lot of room to accommodate that projected growth and more. Some of it absolutely needs to be in the form of more dense development, but some of it also needs to be taking advantage of this existing space. What both of these have in common is a need for improved infrastructure to make them viable and desirable. If we don’t solve these problems, we’re going to lose out to the places that have solved them.

Chapter 42

Other than the updated highrise ordinance, Council has not yet taken up the proposed revisions to the city’s planning code, also known as Chapter 42. That will be on the agenda soon, and the Chron has an overview of where things now stand.

Now, officials want to extend that urban area and its accompanying density cap – allowing a maximum of 27 housing units per acre – from Loop 610 to Beltway 8. The change would come with a series of updates to the existing development code, including community safeguards to make it easier for residents to protect the character of their neighborhoods even as the ordinance would allow developers to subdivide lots for more construction, officials said.

Officials say developers are waiting to build properties that would meet demand for more housing at varying price levels but have hesitated without any density rules in place outside the Loop.

“This city is growing and we are the envy of the nation,” said Sue Lovell, who worked to develop the proposed ordinance changes before she finished her final City Council term last month. “But with that comes (the question of) how do we continue development, but at the same time protect the quality of life in our neighborhoods? Chapter 42 provides that.”

Population in the Houston area has grown 7.5 percent during the last decade, to nearly 6 million. Homes near the urban core, however, have not provided the flexibility in size and price that many new residents want, said Suzy Hartgrove, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Planning and Development. Instead, transplants lured to the area by jobs are moving to more affordable areas in Houston suburbs, she said.

“The thought was that you’re recognizing that as the city grows and densifies you’re just trying to provide an opportunity for more of a variety of housing stock,” Planning Director Marlene Gafrick said.

Still the best comment anyone has made on the highrise situation

I’m glad someone is thinking about the issue of where people are moving and how housing prices affects that. I’m sure these Chapter 42 revisions will have some positive effect on that, but it’s not clear how much. Matthew Yglesias has often written that this is basically a supply and demand problem, and the solution to creating more affordable housing in the urban core of any large urban area is to alter or remove regulations that prevent more housing from being built. As he lives in Washington, DC, his main target is a local ordinance that forbids most construction of anything higher than six stories. Here in Houston, we’ve just added some restrictions on where highrises can be built, but its effect will likely be felt only on the margins. We actually have quite a few highrises and midrises being built or being proposed right now, though ironically they all tend to be of the high-end, luxury variety. They’re mostly being built in expensive neighborhoods, so that is to be expected. What we don’t have is a strategy for enticing development in places where the land is cheap and the population has been declining, like the Fifth Ward. I don’t have any advice for how to do that – it’s hardly an easy problem – but I would like to see more thinking about it.

November was like 2007, December is more like 2005

Here’s the daily report for the first six days of Early Voting in the runoff. There have been 17,568 votes cast so far, with today still to go. That means there have been more early votes cast in Harris County than there were in the entire 2007 runoff, when 11,374 ballots were cast before Runoff Day. Indeed, we had already exceeded that total by the end of Friday’s early voting. So, even though turnout for the November, 2011 election in the City of Houston was nearly identical to turnout from 2007, the December election is looking more like the runoff from 2005. In 2007, there was a grand total of 25,382 votes cast. At the rate we’re going, Early Voting in this runoff may approach that number. A better model may be 2005, with 38,620 votes cast, though I daresay that may be a bit low. There were only 14,233 early votes cast in the 2005 runoff, but early voting was less popular back then.

Given what we’ve seen so far, I’d put the over/under now at about 50,000 votes. The main difference is that in 2007 the one At Large runoff, between now-CM Jolanda Jones and Joe Trevino, was a much more low-profile and low-dollar affair than what we’ve got this time. Jolanda wasn’t Jolanda yet in 2007, if you get what I mean, so that race was almost beneath the radar – the two district runoffs generated more attention. This year we have two At Large runoffs with three of the four candidates raising money and the fourth having a hundred elections’ worth of name recognition, with the two district runoffs generating some heat as well. The 2005 runoff had only one At Large race, between now-CM Sue Lovell and Jay Aiyer, but it had a fair amount of money as well as some controversy. This year we have some familiar names and enough money to raise the bar a bit. It’s still an extreme low turnout race – we’re talking five percent turnout instead of three or four – but clearly there are some gradations in there.

Runoff overview: At Large #2

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

We won’t have Griff to kick around any more

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jones saga comes to a close

At long last.

A three-member panel led by Mayor Annise Parker has found insufficient cause to believe Councilwoman Jolanda Jones breached council ethics violations documented in a city investigation.

In a four-page report, the panel also criticized the Office of Inspector General investigation for its “lack of thoroughness” and for finding in some cases that Jones broke rules that do not even apply to her as an elected official.

Though the report notes some concerns about Jones’ behavior, it largely clears her of any violations of city rules and ends all inquiries into whether Jones used her city resources to support her private law practice.

[…]

The panel, on which Councilwoman Sue Lovell and Councilman C.O. Bradford also sit, came to an agreement with Jones that requires her to remove her council phone number from the card. The agreement also calls for her to conduct ethics training for her staff, to take steps to separate her council business from her law practice and to create records that show any employee who drives her to court is not doing so on city time.

The panel could have sent the matter to the entire council for possible sanction that could have included removing Jones from office. But the panel declined to forward the matter, and its action today concludes an eight-month saga that produced little physical evidence of violations of law beyond a single business-related fax sent from her council office fax machine.

You can see the panel report at the link above. Last week, the DA declined to bring charges against CM Jones in the matter, so this was the last item on the to do list. At the time, Mayor Parker said she wanted to defer till after the election, but CM Jones wanted to get it done, so I presume the Mayor acceded to her wishes. May we not see any reason for another ethics panel for a long time.

No red light camera action on Friday

Tagged again.

City Council passed on an opportunity to outlaw red-light cameras during a special meeting Friday, delaying consideration of the repeal of Houston’s camera ordinance until Wednesday.

Councilwoman Sue Lovell tagged the item, a parliamentary maneuver that delays a vote. Lovell previously explained that she did not have the information she needed to make an informed decision – namely, how much it will cost the city.

At which point Andy Taylor, the attorney for camera vendor ATS, cackled maniacally, twirled his mustache, and shouted “One Twenty-five million dollars!” Well, okay, maybe he didn’t actually twirl his mustache, but that’s what ATS is claiming we’d owe. Council now has till Wednesday when it will address the Mayor’s turn-them-off resolution and an ordinance that bans red light cameras to decide if he’s bluffing. Hair Balls has more.

UPDATE: The Sunday Chron had this Q&A with Mayor Parker about the cameras and her reasons for doing what she has done.

More on the red light camera ruling

I said before that what happens next with the red light camera ruling is a political decision. Here’s how that’s shaping up.

City Attorney Dave Feldman said Friday’s ruling will force the city to choose from canceling the contract with American Traffic Solutions — which might cost the city $16 million — or keeping the contract in force and turning the cameras back on. A third choice would be to hold another referendum and ask voters which of the two options to choose, he said.

“We lost on the issue of the validity of the charter amendment, so what the court is saying (is), ‘OK city, now decide what you’re going to do with the contract,’ ” Feldman said. “We need to decide how we’re going to move forward and what position we’re going to take with the contract in light of the fact he’s declared the charter amendment invalid.”

Mayor Annise Parker said Friday afternoon that although she supports the use of red-light cameras and has the authority to turn them back on, she will not do so before conferring with the City Council and possibly the voters.

“The cameras are going to stay off until council is fully briefed, and we have an opportunity to discuss all of our legal options and choose one of those legal options,” the mayor said.

Complicating matters for Parker is that the city is still in a contract dispute with ATS over damages the company suffered when the city turned off the cameras.

The mayor said she and the City Council received sound legal advice last year from the city attorney, who advised that they were mandated to put the question on the November ballot.

Which is the exact opposite of what the judge said, as observed by JJ in the comments. Be that as it may, it will be very interesting to see how Council members react to this. As we know from the precinct data, the strongest opposition to red light cameras by far came from African-American neighborhoods. Republican and Anglo Democratic neighborhoods were the strongest proponents, with Latino and multicultural neighborhoods being modestly opposed. I think it’s reasonable though not certain to assume that the four African-American Council members would oppose turning the cameras back on, though the prospect of paying $16 million to ATS might mitigate against that. CM Sullivan is a known opponent of the cameras. On the flipside, CMs Lovell and Clutterbuck are known to favor the cameras, and I’d expect Pennington and Stardig to go along with their voters. That’s five probably against, four probably in favor, and four that are up for grabs. Should make for a lively debate, that’s for sure.

Putting the question of reinstating the cameras or paying off ATS up for another vote strikes me as the least messy way forward at this point. The questions then become how big a factor is the potential hit to the budget in affecting voter behavior, and how does the change in participation levels from an even-numbered year to an odd-numbered year move the numbers? The two groups with the loudest opinions are also the ones that tend to vote the most in city election years, but there’s still dropoff for each. As for the first question, the irony is that the city might argue that the voters didn’t really know what they were voting for when they supported removing the cameras, which would no doubt make Paul Bettencourt’s head explode. Nobody ever said consistency was a virtue in politics. This is going to be fun to watch, I’ll say that much.

Jones and Sullivan name their delegates

As we know, CM Jolanda Jones gets to pick a fellow Council member to represent her in the meeting on Monday to determine if any formal action will be taken against her. Yesterday, she picked CM Brad Bradford to be her advocate in the process. Originally, the city said that the other two people on the panel would be Mayor Parker and CM Mike Sullivan as the person who filed the complaint, but later revised that to say that Sullivan needed to designate someone else, too. Though Sullivan was given an extended deadline till today to make a choice (a step-out to the process that generated some grumbling from Team Jones), he made his choice yesterday as well, naming CM Sue Lovell to represent him. The subtext to that is so deep you’ll need scuba equipment to begin to comprehend it. Anyway, Monday is the big day. I for one am looking forward to whatever emerges from this.

Our first campaign drama of 2011

I’m pretty sure we’d have had some sort of kerfuffle like this by now if we hadn’t had to redraw Council lines, which has pushed the timeline back a bit.

Lone Star Strategies has dropped City Council candidate Jenifer Rene Pool as a client in anticipation of working for another candidate in the race to succeed the termed-out Sue Lovell in at large seat #2.

Lone Star’s Matt Zeis won’t comment on whom the firm will be raising money for other than to say she is an existing client. Pool campaign manager Clay Sands said Zeis told him it’s Kristi Thibaut, who is listed on Lone Star’s Web site as a client and lost her re-election bid as state representative in 2010.

I like both Jenifer and Kristi, whose apparent candidacy for Council is news to me, so I’m sorry to see this happen. Be that as it may, I guess this is further evidence that Council doesn’t represent a “step down” from the Lege. We could have three former State Reps, on Council next year if Kristi Thibaut and Ellen Cohen join on Melissa Noriega there. Might make for an interesting dynamic if it happens.

Council will vote on SafeClear changes

Back in March, the city announced that it would be removing most of the subsidies for SafeClear as a cost-saving measure. The details have now been finalized and will be ready for Council action in June.

Roadside services, such as changing a tire, would cost $30.

The city had been paying that $50 per tow. Under [Mayor Annise] Parker’s plan, the city’s only involvement in the program would be a $100,000 fund, set aside to cover the fees of indigent drivers.

If a driver cannot pay when towed, the car could stay at a storage lot for 48 hours without charge while the owner found the money, Parker said. She acknowledged that loss of revenue to lot operators took time to negotiate.

SafeClear “makes it safe for the motorists who have broken down and it makes it safer for the rest of the traveling public,” Parker said. “We believe that this is a much more sustainable program going forward.”

Passing the burden to motorists would save the city $3.5 million.

The funds come from Metro, and will be redirected to roads. You can see Mayor Parker’s statement about this here. One question that was raised in the comments of my previous post is what happens to someone who can’t pay the towing fee within the 48 hours of “free storage time” for their car. I sent an inquiry about that, and was told that the 48 hours is to provide those who may be unable to pay with time to present verification that they qualify for the assistance. All they will need to do is present some form of verification that they qualify for other assistance programs. This might include a Long Star Card, a hospital district card, unemployment or something similar. Seems sensible to me.

UPDATE: According to the Mayor’s office, Council will vote on the changes this week. If they pass, they will take effect in June. I misread the story, and have corrected the headline accordingly. My apologies for the confusion.

TPC splits the difference

Bike advocates get a partial victory as the Transportation Policy Council voted to keep the last $12.8 million of unallocated federal funds on alternate mode projects instead of redirecting it towards roads.

“Whatever we do in this room is supposed to be representative of our regional values and needs,” said Harris County Public Infrastructure Department Director Art Storey, who said he favored redirecting that $12.8 million to roads. “If we allocate federal money to small-ticket things that are representative of individual communities’ values as opposed to regional values, we’re sucking up our discretionary funding because of the deficiency in mobility, the big-ticket things.”

Ultimately, Storey voted with Harris County Judge Ed Emmett to funnel all the remaining dollars to mobility work, but leave previous funding decisions intact.

A proposal by Houston City Councilwoman Sue Lovell to give $7.2 million more to bike and pedestrian projects and another $72.6 million to roads was voted down.

CM Lovell put out a statement following the TPC meeting that said “This action not only stopped the loss of $12.8 million in federal funding recommended at the February 25 TPC meeting but also secured the commitment of the $51.6 million, which represents 15 percent of the total federal funding and exceeds the original recommendation that was originally considered by the Transportation Policy Council.” That is higher than the nine to thirteen percent range for alternate mode projects that Judge Emmett had recommended, but considerably lower than the 34% target that advocacy groups like Houston Tomorrow wanted. Still, they managed to reverse the original decision to use those remaining funds for roads and drew a considerable amount of attention to their efforts in the process, which is no small thing. I haven’t seen a statement yet from either HT or BikeHouston yet so I don’t know how they feel about this, but my guess would be more positive than negative.

No more free tows

Change is coming to SafeClear – it will now cost $50 for a tow on a highway inside the city, instead of it being provided for free.

Passing the cost of towing to motorists is expected to save the city about $3.3 million a year, one of numerous steps the city is considering to close a $130 million budget gap for the year that begins July 1.

“We can no longer afford to pay for this program,” said Councilwoman Sue Lovell, who chairs council’s transportation committee and helped work out the new arrangement with city-contracted towing companies.

The SafeClear program’s operations will not change much beyond the pay-at-the-curb proposal. When a car breaks down in the emergency lane, a city-dispatched truck arrives within six minutes and tows it from the freeway, with or without the driver’s consent. Currently, the city pays the towing company $50 per vehicle cleared from the freeway.

Jeanette Rash, of the SafeClear Management Group, a consortium of towing companies that patrol the freeways and respond to city dispatchers’ calls, said she is trying to arrange direct billing to insurance companies so motorists do not have to pay tow truck drivers up front and later seek reimbursement under their policies.

Considering that ending the program altogether had been on the table, that’s not so bad. There are still issues to be worked out, such as how to deal with uninsured and indigent motorists, and of course Council will weigh in, which is sure to mean some non-trivial amount of disagreement. But one way or another, SafeClear is going to be different.

Today’s the day for the TIP

That postponed Transportation Policy Council meeting to determine how to allocate unprogrammed federal transportation funds happens today.

A proposal before the regional Transportation Policy Council last month could have clawed back $12.8 million in funding set aside for bicycle and pedestrian projects and directed those dollars to road and freight rail work. At the urging of advocacy groups, the proposal was tabled to allow for more discussion.

The TPC — an appointed body of mostly elected officials that directs federal transportation funding in the eight-county region — will take up the issue at its meeting Friday.

“I’m hoping we can reach a compromise to where all of the (bike and pedestrian) funding is not lost, yet certainly understanding the need for roadway and rail funding,” said Houston City Councilwoman Sue Lovell, a TPC member.

[…]

In its 2011-14 transportation plan, the council has direct discretion over just $346 million in federal funds, $266 million of which already is allocated.

Some TPC members have proposed setting percentage guidelines on how the remaining $80 million should be spent: 1 percent on planning studies, 9 percent to 13 percent for alternative modes such as biking, walking and mass transit, and for air-quality projects, and the remaining 75 percent to 82 percent on roads and rail.

“I think there are going to be a lot of people in the broader community who aren’t in a particular interest group who say, ‘Wait a minute, of course, we ought to be giving 80 percent of mobility funds to actual mobility projects,’ as opposed to sidewalks or hike-and-bike trails,” [Harris County Judge Ed] Emmett said.

[…]

Advocacy group Houston Tomorrow has suggested spending 55 percent of the funds on roads and rail, and 34 percent on alternative modes.

They lay out their case here, with David Crossley adding more here. The meeting is this morning at the TPC’s office at 3555 Timmons, 2nd floor, room A. It’s open to the public, and the public comment period begins at 9:30, though there will be a TPC workshop beginning at 8:45 that you can also attend but not participate in. I look forward to seeing what happens.

TPC delays vote on TIP

Houston Tomorrow:

The Houston-Galveston Area Council’sTransportation Policy Council (TPC) unanimously voted on Friday morning to delay by thirty days its vote on a full $79.8 million allocation of unprogrammed federal transportation funds toward Mobility – roadway and freight rail – projects and a reallocation of $12.8 million from already committed pedestrian, bicycle, and Livable Centers projects to Mobility projects.

The 30-day delay will allow the public and elected officials to further explore how potential money from the federal Surface Transportation Program Major Metro (STP MM) and Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality (CMAQ) funds should be allocated within the Houston-Galveston region’s2011-2014 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

The decision came after elected officials heard from more than 20 business, bicycle, pedestrian, and political advocates in attendance, plus thousands of citizens who signed petitions and called officials’ offices during the week to voice their concerns regarding the manner in which federal funds were being distributed toward various transportation modes.

Rather than push a vote through, City of Houston Council member Sue Lovell requested that the TPC delay voting on the issue for 30 days so that elected officials could more carefully examine the options on the table and hear from their constituents.

See here and here for some background. Houston Tomorrow has an online petition that calls for roadway spending to make up no more than 55% of regional transportation infrastructure spending, which it says in accordance with the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan. I don’t know enough about the 2035 RTP to comment on that, but I am glad there will be more time to discuss this issue. A press release from CM Lovell about the requested delay to the vote is beneath the fold.

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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.

Department of rail-related corrections

Council Member Sue Lovell writes a letter disputing certain aspects of the recent story about Galveston commuter rail being off track.

Barry Goodman blames lack of a regional transportation policy as a big obstacle. The eight-county transportation planning region represented at TPC has begun review of commuter rail options with the Houston-Galveston Area Council Regional Commuter Rail Connectivity Study that analyzed existing freight rail lines for their commuter service potential.

More importantly, Harris County and Fort Bend County joined with the city of Houston in 2007 to create the Gulf Coast Rail District. Since then, Galveston County and Waller County have joined, and Montgomery County Commissioners Court is expected to approve membership.

Each of these entities understands that the region cannot continue to rely on roadways for movement of goods and commuters. H-GAC estimates that the exceptional regional growth will double freight truck traffic, causing significant increases in congestion for all vehicles. New capacity will be required, and even the Texas Department of Transportation will admit that it cannot all be on roadways.

I disagree with Bill King, who was incorrectly identified as a current member of the TPC, when he asserts that rail projects “don’t add any extra capacity for cost.” Freight rail lines represent existing capacity that could be used for commuters.

It is incumbent upon regional officials to determine if, where and at what cost partnership with the railroads is a viable option. The Gulf Coast Rail District is charged with that responsibility for the region. Only when those costs have been determined can there be real discussions about how to pay for these projects.

Elsewhere, the Chron story that was the basis of this post about a more suburban Metro has been amended to include the following:

Correction: A story on page B1 of Sunday’s Houston Chronicle incorrectly stated the manner of appointment of new board members if the Metropolitan Transit Authority board were to expand from nine to 11 members as a result of the federal census. The Texas Transportation Code calls for one new member to be appointed by Commissioners Court and an 11th member, who would be the chairman, to be appointed by a majority of the 10 other members.

As we know, currently five members, plus the Chair, are appointed by Houston’s Mayor, with two members being appointed by Commissioners Court and two by the other cities. The change described, if and when it happens, isn’t quite the seismic shift that Commissioner Steve Radack made it out to be. The relevant statute is 451.502 of the Transportation Code, in particular subsection (e):

(e) In an authority having six additional members, the additional members are appointed as follows:

(1) two members appointed by a panel composed of:

(A) the mayors of the municipalities in the authority, excluding the mayor of the principal municipality; and

(B) the county judges of the counties having unincorporated area in the authority, excluding the county judge of the principal county;

(2) three members appointed by the commissioners court of the principal county; and

(3) one member, who serves as presiding officer of the board, appointed by a majority of the board.

So now you know.

Council passes revised historic preservation ordinance

I’m glad to see that City Council finally passed the long-awaited and much-revised historic preservation ordinance, and even more glad to see that the 90-day waiver for demolitions has been excised, so that what we have now is an actual ordinance and not merely a preservation suggestion. But it’s clear that the fight is a long way from being over.

“In a lot of ways, our work has just begun,” said Bill Baldwin, a Heights-area realtor and founding member of Responsible Historic Preservation for Houston.

Individual property owners should be able to choose to preserve the buildings they own, Baldwin said. He also warned that there will be significantly less investment in historic districts because demolition or even remodeling will be more expensive, and they may become less welcoming to new people.

“I have concerns on my neighborhood’s continued ability to be progressive and meet the needs of a growing and diverse city,” he said. “This is very burdensome for young couples, older couples or others who are facing other alternate choices for their habitation.”

Baldwin said he planned to begin to immediately gather support to rescind the historic status of his neighborhood in the Heights.

Council on Wednesday made that reconsideration process easier in an amendment to Parker’s proposal. Those who want their neighborhood to lose its historic designation must collect the signatures of 10 percent of property owners and turn them in to the city within 30 days. That will trigger a public meeting and a survey from the city’s Planning and Development Department. If 51 percent of property owners oppose the designation, the planning director must either recommend to City Council reducing the size of the district or eliminating it. Council is not bound to follow the recommendation.

We’ll see how that goes – it won’t be long before we know how many neighborhoods will undergo the reconsideration process. If a few wind up being a little smaller, I’ll take that trade. Otherwise, I’m glad this got done. Hair Balls and Swamplot have more, and an email from CM Sue Lovell, sent out later in the day that this passed, is reprinted below.

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