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Sue Lovell

Get ready for more Buzbee ads

Keep that remote handy.

Self-funding millionaire lawyer Tony Buzbee on Wednesday said he would spend whatever it takes to unseat Sylvester Turner and predicted a “full-on slugfest” during the five-week runoff to decide Houston’s mayoral race.

The runoff will test the effectiveness of Turner’s strategy to portray Buzbee as an acolyte of President Trump — whom Buzbee once supported — against the challenger’s own blueprint of casting himself as a nonpartisan outsider with the chops to improve on Turner’s record handling flood control, infrastructure and crime.

After full election results were published Wednesday morning, Turner wasted no time framing the runoff as a choice between his political record and “a Donald Trump imitator” who Turner said “will say anything, do anything or spend anything to get elected.”

Buzbee, speaking to reporters hours later, said he would not allow Turner to make the election “a referendum on Donald Trump,” promising to instead focus on matters of policy while predicting a “full-on slugfest” up until the Dec. 14 runoff.

[…]

To defeat Turner, political observers said, Buzbee will need to broaden his support beyond the base of voters he assembled in the first round. That includes making inroads with left-leaning voters who did not support Turner, a longtime Democrat, along with winning the support of those who cast ballots for Bill King, who competed with Buzbee for conservative support but struggled to match his rival’s self-financed $10 million campaign war chest.

“I think he’ll pick up the majority of the Bill King supporters and he’ll pick up some other folks who were just not happy with the mayor for some reason,” said Nancy Sims, a local political analyst who is not affiliated with either campaign. “It’s a tough path to victory, but in 2015 we saw King come in in a similar position.”

For what it’s worth, Turner led King by about 19K votes, in a higher-turnout election, in 2015. He led Buzbee by about 24K votes this time, and as noted drew more votes than Buzbee and King combined. Every election is different and nothing is ever guaranteed, but Turner is clearly in a stronger position this time.

I don’t know how Buzbee plans to spend his money in the runoff. I’m not sure Buzbee knows how he’s going to spend it. I figure we’re going to face another barrage of TV ads, but who can say beyond that. Buzbee did spend a ton of money earlier in the year on polling. I know this because I was on the receiving end of what seemed like dozens of poll calls, some live and some robo, from the Buzbee campaign. (They never identified themselves, of course, but you could tell from the questions they were asking.) I haven’t gotten one of them in awhile, so I guess it’s on to other things. Whatever the case, when you have more money than brains you find ways to spend.

“Mayor Turner’s biggest enemy in the runoff is not Tony Buzbee, but complacency,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “But I don’t know if it’s a major problem, because he has such a strong and sophisticated campaign machine.”

Potentially boosting Turner’s chances, Rottinghaus and Sims said, are a host of city council runoffs in districts that went heavily to Turner in the first leg of the election.

Turner won a majority of the vote in districts B and D, and a plurality of the vote in C, F, H and J, all of which will be decided by runoffs. Across the six districts combined, Turner received 55 percent of the vote, to Buzbee’s 21 percent share.

Buzbee’s strongest districts, E and G, were decided without runoffs Tuesday. He won a plurality of the vote in District A, the lone remaining runoff district, receiving 39 percent to Turner’s 36 percent.

“I think the city council races that are in runoffs are going to determine a lot of voter turnout,” Sims said. “And very clearly, the city council district races that have runoffs favor Turner.”

I made that same observation. I don’t have the draft canvass yet, but when I do I’ll be sure to quantify this.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Buzbee acknowledged the need to scoop up support from voters who backed King and Boykins, who finished in fourth place and was backed by the firefighters union. Buzbee said he is “looking for (Boykins’) support,” along with the backing of the firefighters.

“I’m going to be seeking that endorsement, and I certainly would welcome that endorsement,” Buzbee said.

Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, made clear in a statement Wednesday that the firefighters union would get involved in city runoffs, though he declined to say more about how the union would approach the mayor’s race.

“Making City Hall accountable and fixing the fire department remain our priorities,” Lancton said. “We’ll find a way forward to help do that. Our political work is not done in 2019.”

Boykins and King did not respond to phone and text inquiries about their endorsement plans. Lovell said she would not endorse Turner, and “beyond that I haven’t had conversations with anyone else.”

Honestly, I have no idea how much these endorsements matter. Better to have them than not for sure, but I think it takes a specific set of circumstances for them to make much difference. The interesting bit here is the firefighters, who were so gung ho about beating Turner in the general and now seem all “meh” in the runoff. Are they abashed that their endorsed candidate barely got five percent of the vote, or are they just not into Buzbee? (“Both” is an acceptable answer to that question.) The firefighters do have a number of their endorsed Council candidates in runoffs, so they have plenty to do and much to gain whether or not they get involved in the Mayoral runoff. But after months of hearing about their feud with the Mayor and all the rest of the Prop B stuff, it’s quite remarkable that it will seemingly end on such a low-key note.

Initial thoughts on Election 2019

All bullet points, all the time…

– Here’s my opening statement on the election returns debacle. We have more information about this now, but we still need more before we can go anywhere else with it.

– All incumbents want to win without runoffs, but for an incumbent that was forced into a runoff, Mayor Turner did pretty darned well. Including Fort Bend, he got about 12K more votes than Buzbee and King combined, and missed by about 2K outscoring Buzbee plus King plus Boykins. Suffice to say, he’s in a strong position for the runoffs.

– We are going to have a cubic buttload of runoffs. In addition to the Mayor, there are seven district Council runoffs, all five At Large Council races, two HISD races, two HCC races, and HD148. We might have had pretty decent overall turnout without the Mayor’s race included, but with it at the top it will be a lot like a November election. I’ll put the initial over/under at about 175K, which is roughly the 2009 Mayoral election runoff total.

– Among those Council runoffs are districts B and D, which along with HISD II and IV and HCC 2 will favor Turner. There are no runoffs in E or G, which would have favored Buzbee, and the runoff in A is almost certain to be a serene, low-money affair. Districts C and J went for King in the 2015 runoffs, but the runoffs in those districts involve only Democratic candidates. Turner has a lot more wind at his back than Buzbee does.

– For a more visual representation of the above, see this Mike Morris tweet. Nearly all of those Buzbee areas are in districts A, E, and G.

– In a sense, the main event in November is the At Large runoffs, all five of which feature a Republican and a Democrat. A Council that includes Mike Knox, Willie Davis, Michael Kubosh, Anthony Dolcefino, and Eric Dick is a Council that (including the members in A, E, and G) is fully half Republican, and could thus throw a lot of sand into the gears of the second Turner administration (or really grease the wheels of a Buzbee administration, if you want to extend the metaphor). Yes, I know, Council doesn’t really work like that, but the difference between that Council and one that includes three or more of Raj Salhotra, David Robinson, Janaeya Carmouche, Letitia Plummer, and Sallie Alcorn, is likely to be quite large. You want to have an effect on the direction Houston takes over the next four years, there you have it.

– Council could have been even more Republican, but at the district level it looks to remain at least as Democratic and possibly a little more so than it is now. Districts C and J may have gone for King in 2015 as noted, but Democrats Abbie Kamin and Shelley Kennedy are the choices in C (Greg Meyers and Mary Jane Smith finished just behind Kennedy), while Ed Pollard and Sandra Rodriguez are the contenders in J. (Yes, Pollard is considerably more conservative than most Dems, especially on LGBT issues. He’ll be the next Dwight Boykins in that regard if he wins.) District F has been (with a two-year break from 2013 to 2015) Republican going back to the 90s, but Tiffany Thomas is in pole position. She will no doubt benefit from the Mayoral runoff.

– I should note that in District C, the four candidates who were on a Greater Heights Democratic Club candidate forum I moderated in September – Kamin, Kennedy, Candelario Cervantez, and Amanda Wolfe; Kendra Yarbrough Camarena was also in the forum but switched to the HD148 race – combined for 55% of the vote in C. That’s a nice chunk of your HD134, CD02 and CD07 turf, and another illustration of how Donald Trump has helped kill the Republican Party in Harris County.

– Speaking of HD148, 69% of the vote there went to the Democratic candidates. Jessica Farrar got 68% in 2018, and she was on the high end.

– Remember when I said this about HD148 candidate Adrian Garcia? “It’s certainly possible some people will think he’s the County Commissioner, but whether they’d be happy to vote for him or confused as to why he’d be running for another office is a question I can’t answer.” I would say now the answer is “happy to vote for him”, because with all due respect I cannot see how he finishes third in that field if he was differently named. Low profile special elections are just weird.

– To be fair, name recognition also surely helped Dolcefino and Dick, neither of whom had much money. One had a famous name, and one has been a candidate multiple times, while littering the streets with his yard signs, so there is that.

– I’m just about out of steam here, but let me say this again: We. Must. Defeat. Dave. Wilson. Tell everyone you know to make sure they vote for Monica Flores Richart in the HCC 1 runoff. We cannot screw that up.

– If you still need more, go read Stace, Nonsequiteuse, and Chris Hooks.

2019 election results: Houston and Metro

Unfortunately, we have to start with this:

Results of Tuesday’s election could take until 2 a.m. Wednesday after the Texas Secretary of State issued a new regulation that upended plans by the Harris County Clerk’s Office to speed vote counting.

The first tubs containing electronic ballot cards from across Harris County arrived at central count just before 9:30 p.m., where election judges and poll watchers waited to see the vote count in action.

Dr. Diane Trautman said she had hoped to have votes come in from 10 countywide drop-off locations, fed in through a secured intranet site, leading to faster results on election night.

Instead, Secretary Ruth R. Hughs ordered on Oct. 23 that law enforcement officers would instead escort the ballot box memory cards from each of the 757 polling sites to the central counting station.

That change, made nearly two weeks before Election Day, led to a major delay that left voters wondering for hours how races up and down ballot would turn out.

Early election results trickled in shortly after 7 p.m., but remained virtually unchanged for hours Tuesday.

Here’s the County Clerk’s statement about that order. I don’t know what was behind it, but it sure did gum things up. In the end, final results were not available till quite late, with no more partial results after midnight because producing those was slowing down the input process. Here’s the later statement on when results would be expected. Suffice to say, this was a mess, and no one is happy about it all. Expect there to be an extended fight between the County Clerk and SOS offices.

Anyway. I’m still groggy from a late night, so I’m going to hit the highlights, and we’ll get final results later. Here we go.

Mayor: Turner leads, is close to a majority.

Mayor Sylvester Turner held a wide lead over Tony Buzbee in limited early returns late Tuesday and was within striking distance of an outright re-election win, though it was unclear at press time if he would secure enough votes to avoid a runoff.

Buzbee, a millionaire trial lawyer, jumped out to an early second-place lead that he appeared likely to retain over Bill King, an attorney and businessman who narrowly lost a 2015 runoff to Turner but struggled this time to compete financially with Buzbee, his main rival for conservative votes.

With a small share of Election Day precincts reporting, Turner remained a shade under the majority vote share he would need to avoid a December runoff against Buzbee.

Councilman Dwight Boykins, who competed with Turner for the support of Democratic and black voters, trailed in fourth place, while former councilwoman Sue Lovell was further behind in fifth. Seven other candidates combined for the remaining share of the vote.

Adding in the Fort Bend results, and we get the following:


Turner     63,359  47.28%
Buzbee     39,361  29.37%
King       17,878  13.34%
Boykins     7,848   5.86%
Lovell      1,433   1.07%
The Rest    4,121   3.08%

Three things to think about: One, Turner has at this point more votes than Buzbee and King combined, so if we do go to a runoff that’s not a bad position to start with. Two, the Election Day results reported so far came mostly from Districts A, C, E, and G, so they would be more favorable to Buzbee and King than the city as a whole. And three, the election polling was pretty accurate, especially at pegging the support levels for Boykins and Lovell.

Oh, and a fourth thing: Tony Buzbee’s drunken Election Night speech. Yowza.

Controller: Incumbent Chris Brown leads

It’s Brown 62,297 and Sanchez 54,864 adding in Fort Bend, and again with mostly Republican votes from yesterday (Sanchez led the Election Day tally by about 1,700 votes). Barring a big surprise, Brown has won.

City Council: Most incumbents have big leads, and there’s gonna be a lot of runoffs. To sum up:

District A: Amy Peck has 44.3%, George Zoes 16.8%
District B: Tarsha Jackson 21.0%, Renee Jefferson Smith 15.1%, Cynthia Bailey 13.7%, Alvin Byrd 10.7%
District C: Abbie Kamin 30.8%, Shelley Kennedy 15.8%, Greg Meyers 14.4%, Mary Jane Smith 14.0%
District D: Carolyn Evans-Shabazz 19.0%, Carla Brailey 12.3%, Brad Jordan 11.9%, Rashad Cave 11.4%, Jerome Provost 10.4%, Andrew Burks 10.3%
District E: Dave Martin easily wins
District F: Tiffany Thomas 39%, Van Huynh 24%, Richard Nguyen 18%
District G: Greg Travis easily wins
District H: Karla Cisneros 38.9%, Isabel Longoria 27.5%, Cynthia Reyes-Revilla 24.0%
District I: Robert Gallegos easily wins
District J: Edward Pollard 32.4%, Sandra Rodriguez 26.4%, Barry Curtis 19.7%
District K: MArtha Castex-Tatum easily wins

At Large #1: Mike Knox 38.1%, Raj Salhotra 21.1%, Yolanda Navarro Flores 16.3%, Georgia Provost 14.7%
At Large #2: Davis Robinson 38.9%, Willie Davis 28.8%, Emily DeToto 18.8%
At Large #3: Michael Kubosh 50.8%, Janaeya Carmouche 20.6%
At Large #4: Anthony Dolcefino 22.9%, Letitia Plummer 16.4%, Nick Hellyar 12.8%, Ericka McCrutcheon 11.3%, Bill Baldwin 10.5%
At Large #5: Sallie Alcorn 23.2%, Eric Dick 22.0%, no one else above 10

Some of the runoff positions are still very much up in the air. Michael Kubosh may or may not win outright – he was only at 46% on Election Day. Name recognition worth a lot (Dolcefino, Dick) but not everything (both Provosts, Burks). Not much else to say but stay tuned.

HISD: Davila and Lira are going to lose

Dani Hernandez leads Sergio Lira 62-38, Judith Cruz leads Diana Davila 64-36. Kathy Blueford Daniels is close to fifty percent in II but will likely be in a runoff with John Curtis Gibbs. Patricia Allen, Reagan Flowers, and Matt Barnes in that order are in a tight battle in IV.

HCC: No story link on the Chron front page. Monica Flores Richart leads the execrable Dave Wilson 47-34 in HCC1, Rhonda Skillern-Jones leads with 45% in HCC2 with Kathy Lynch-Gunter at 26%, and Cynthia Lenton-Gary won HCC7 unopposed.

Metro: Headed to easy passage, with about 68% so far.

That’s all I got for now. Come back later for more.

8 Day finance reports: Mayor and Controller

The Erik Manning spreadsheet is here, the July reports from Mayoral candidates are here, the July reports from Controller candidates (which in this case was just Chris Brown) are here, and the 30 day reports for both Mayorals and Controllers 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. Finally, the Chron story about the 8 day reports is here.

I’m not going to run through the 8 day reports for all of the races and candidates, as I have done for July and 30 day reports. Too many candidates, not enough time, and honestly not that much of interest for most of these campaigns. Though I may check out a couple of the Council campaigns, just because I’m curious about them. Anyway, the first reports are mostly about raising money, but the 8 day is mostly about spending it – ads, canvassers, calls and texts (note to campaigns: I’ve already voted please stop texting me kthxbai), signs to post at EV locations, etc etc etc. Keep that in mind as we examine these reports.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner       376,947  1,260,650        0     787,331
Buzbee             0  2,866,445        0   1,300,780
King          87,344    193,980  410,000     141,287
Boykins       20,250     38,308        0      29,969
Lovell        
Baker          1,500      2,000        0       3,419
Broze          4,472      1,560        0       2,955
Houjami        1,377        273        0          38


Brown         37,010    211,379   75,000     108,907
Sanchez      107,581     81,350        0      66,299

Sue Lovell did not have a report posted as of Tuesday. She was one of the last to post a 30 day report, so I’m guessing it will be there eventually. Some day, I hope a bright young political science student will embark on a study of why anyone would be donating to an obviously going-nowhere campaign like one of Baker/Broze/Houjami, in particular in the end days before the actual election, when there can be no doubt that to do so is to light that money on fire. Beyond the scope of this post, and this blog, but I’m putting it out there into the universe to see what I may get.

We’ve known all along that the Buzbee finance reports are weird since he’s not actually raising any money but just writing himself bigger and bigger checks, thus rendering the “Raised” and “On Hand” fields useless. The main thing we learn here is that he apparently hasn’t written any more checks since September 27. One reason why Mayor Turner may really really want to avoid a runoff with Buzbee is because he’s going to have to raise a bunch of money in a very short time frame to be able to compete with Buzbee on the air. The good news is that contribution limits are reset for runoffs, so any currently maxed-out donors can be tapped again, but it still takes time and effort. Or maybe it doesn’t matter that much – maybe it’s all about GOTV and running yet another attack ad will just turn everyone’s stomach and not actually affect anything.

On the Controller side, Orlando Sanchez raised quite a bit, no doubt making up for lost time due to his late entry into the race. Chris Brown has pressed his financial advantage, spending quite a bit in this period, but maintaining a financial edge afterwards. I was a bit surprised to see an attack ad by Brown on Sanchez during Monday Night Football, which was essentially a retelling of the financial dominatrix story, and oh yes I am very glad to have the opportunity to use the phrase “financial dominatrix” again. Brown had been running positive, accomplishments-and-biography ads before now. I don’t know if this is a sign that he’s worried, or just a pre-emptive strike, but either way it took me by surprise. I guess life doesn’t hand you that many chances to run that kind of ad, so you may as well go for the gusto when you can.

Trib overview of the Houston Mayor’s race

Not really anything here you don’t already know, but a good summary of the race so far.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

With early voting underway, the Houston mayoral race is not lacking for drama, but through it all, a fundamental question has persisted: Whatever the first-term stumbles of incumbent Sylvester Turner, is the solidly blue city willing to vote him out for a less-than-Democratic alternative? His closest competitor, swashbuckling attorney Tony Buzbee, is feverishly testing that hypothesis ahead of the Nov. 5 election, spending millions of his dollars to portray Turner as awash in corruption — and Buzbee as the City Hall outsider who can clean it all up.

But Turner has a Trump card — literally — and has spent the closing weeks of the race emphasizing Buzbee’s past support for the president, who is deeply unpopular in Texas’ biggest metropolis.

“This is a Democratic city,” said Keir Murray, a local Democratic consultant not working for any mayoral campaign. With Turner “pretty aggressively painting Buzbee with the Trump brush,” Murray added, “I think that that’s improving the mayor’s fortunes on a daily basis and given him some opportunity to win this race without a runoff.”

To be sure, Turner has his own vulnerabilities as he fights for a second four-year term in the mayor’s office, the potential culmination of a career in public service marked by 27 years in the Texas House and two unsuccessful mayoral bids before finally winning in 2015. And until the bitter end, Turner will have to contend with an unconventional, spotlight-grabbing challenger in Buzbee, who has already self-funded his campaign to the tune of $10 million while refusing donations from others. Beside Buzbee, Turner faces three other challengers seen as viable to varying degrees: Bill King, the businessman who narrowly lost to Turner in the 2015 mayoral contest; Dwight Boykins, a City Council member; and Sue Lovell, a former council member.

The race is non-partisan, though there is little mystery where the leading candidates are drawing their support. In the latest poll, Turner, a longtime Democrat, got majority support from that party’s voters, while Buzbee, who is eschewing party labels, had the backing of most Republicans.

There have been two public surveys in the race, both giving Turner a wide lead over Buzbee, but not enough to clear 50% and win outright on Nov. 5. Around one-fifth of voters were undecided in each survey.

[…]

Turner largely ignored his challengers until early September, when he launched an attack ad tying Buzbee to Trump, calling Buzbee a Trump “imitator” and “copycat.” Buzbee hosted a fundraiser for Trump, then the presumptive Republican nominee for president, in June 2016, and while he later disavowed Trump after the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, he ended up giving $500,000 to Trump’s inauguration committee.

Buzbee has rebuffed Turner’s efforts to yoke him to Trump by arguing he has supported politicians from both parties who have let him down — none more than Turner. Buzbee held a fundraiser for his now-rival in the 2015 runoff.

At a Monday debate, Buzbee conceded some things Trump has done “make me cringe” but insisted he wanted to “divorce myself from all this national politics which is ruining our political system.”

“This mayor would love this to be an election about Trump, but I’m running as Tony Buzbee, my own man, captain, United States Marine, who’s gonna change this city,” Buzbee said.

Turner responded: “If you’re making the same noise, if you’re coming with no experience, if you’re embracing people like Steve Hotze” — a controversial anti-LGBT power broker in Houston politics — “if you’re not running away from President Trump and yet you’re accusing other people of being the worst person you have ever supported, then what does that say about the person making those claims? It’s very important.”

(Hotze himself has grown as an issue in the race after Buzbee repeatedly distanced himself from Hotze’s endorsement at the debate. A day later, the Houston Chronicle reported Buzbee had met multiple times with Hotze in pursuit of his support, and on Thursday, Hotze withdrew his endorsement, calling Buzbee “a liar and a charlatan.”)

There’s more, and they touch on a bunch of other items that have been a part of the campaign. I didn’t see anything that I didn’t already know, but if you have a friend who needs a primer on what has happened so far in this race, this would suffice. To me, the two big things that appear to be affecting the outcome are the Republican support for Buzbee, which has helped him at King’s expense, and the lack of Democratic support for either Boykins or Lovell, which could have significantly held Turner back. I feel like the BuzbeeHotze dustup has opened a path to Turner winning in November, as polls show that much of Buzbee’s support comes from the Trump crowd, which we all know is now mostly equivalent to the Hotze crowd. If those people don’t show up or skip the Mayor’s race, that reduces the total number of votes Turner needs to get to make it to fifty percent. It’s still not the most likely outcome, but it’s possible.

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.