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Sue Lovell

Council will vote on SafeClear changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TPC splits the difference

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

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

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

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

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

No more free tows

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s the day for the TIP

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

TPC delays vote on TIP

Houston Tomorrow:

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

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

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

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

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

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A very early look at 2011 fundraising

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

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

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

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

The returning City Council members:

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

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

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

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

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

The departing incumbents:

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

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

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

Finally, a few others of note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Department of rail-related corrections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now you know.

Council passes revised historic preservation ordinance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Public Hearing on Final Draft of Historic Preservation Ordinance

From the Inbox:

Final Draft of Proposed Amendments to Historic Preservation Ordinance Released

Houstonians,

After a two-month process involving public input from stakeholders, I have released the final draft of proposed amendments to the City’s Historic Preservation Ordinance and a specified process for transitioning the existing historic districts to the stronger protections offered by the proposed amendments. I envision the transition process to beginning following passage of the amended ordinance. To view the proposed amendments, transition process and other information, please visit www.houstontx.gov/planning/HistoricPres/hist_pres_amend.html.

I appreciate the engagement of City Council and other stakeholders. The new draft incorporates the concerns I heard from you, as well as the many suggestions offered at the series of town hall meetings during the last two months. It is a good compromise that reflects the needs of the preservation community while still protecting private property rights.

Annise Parker

Mayor

Public Hearing on Proposed Historic Preservation Amendments

The City of Houston Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing on the proposed amendments Thursday, September 23, 2010, 6:30 p.m. in the General Assembly room on the third floor of the George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenida de Las Americas, Houston, TX 77010.

Speakers will be allowed one minute to make their comments at the public hearing. If someone cannot attend the meetings, but would like to comment, please email [email protected] or mail your comments to Historic Preservation, City of Houston, Planning and Development Department, P.O. Box 1562 , Houston, Texas 77251-1562 by Wednesday, September 22, 2010.

To view the proposed amendments and other information about the process, please visit www.houstontx.gov/planning/HistoricPres/hist_pres_amend.html.

For a map and directions to the George R. Brown Convention Center, please go to www.houstonconventionctr.com/Home/MapsParking.aspx.

Some street parking may be available or attendees can park in the Hilton/George R. Brown Convention Center parking garage located on Polk Street, subject to availability. Attendees can submit their parking stub for validation (from that garage only).

Swamplot has a brief summary, while the Chron goes into some detail.

As expected, the revised law will close a loophole that allowed property owners to demolish the structures on their land even when a city commission disapproved of their plans.

However, the city also is raising the bar on neighborhoods that wish to receive the historic designation, reducing the size of areas that can qualify and requiring the approval of far more property owners to achieve the distinction. Existing districts will have to reapply, a change that has rankled some preservation advocates.

[…]

Under the new proposal, historic districts could be no larger than 400 properties, and 60 percent of property owners in the proposed area must return ballots mailed by the city showing they want the designation, said Marlene Gafrick, director of the city’s Department of Planning and Development.

If the amendments pass City Council, which is expected to take up the matter next month, then all 16 existing districts and three that are pending must petition the city for reconsideration of their historic status within 15 days. The revisions to the ordinance propose no threshold for how many in a given area must approve of the historic designation for it to remain so, Gafrick said.

The department will mail ballots to property owners and evaluate whether the entire area previously covered by the designation should remain historic, be reduced or if the district should be eliminated.

I don’t care for that last change, and I expect the existing protected districts won’t either. It seems wrong to me that this could allow for the un-protecting of districts that went through quite a bit of trouble to comply with the ordinances we now have. Why not just give them the option to remain as they are, with no changes to the rules? Then if they want to apply for designation under the stricter rules, they can pursue that. I don’t see the need to make them petition for reconsideration, especially on such a short time frame.

I’m sure that will be brought up at the hearing. According to the story, the realtors and the builders have not taken a position on the revisions, while Houstonians for Responsible Growth, who represent developers, say they like them. I’m not sure that a preservation ordinance that gets the support of those groups while being opposed by neighborhood groups is worth having, but we’ll see what happens.

The preservationists make their case

Ramona Davis of the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance has a long and detailed op-ed in the Sunday paper that makes the case for the new preservation ordinance currently working its way through Council. Here’s a sample of the bullet points:

• Houston’s preservation ordinance does not govern interiors. Section 33-202(c) of the ordinance specifically states, “Nothing in this article shall be construed to authorize the city to regulate the interior characteristics of any building or structure ” Section 33-241(a)(6) clarifies this further, limiting the Houston Archeological and Historical Commission’s authority to approving changes to exterior architectural features visible from the public right of way. The proposed amendments will not change any of this.

• Houston’s preservation ordinance does not govern paint colors. Section 33-237 of the ordinance states, “[historical commission approval] is not required for ordinary maintenance and repair.” Painting is covered under this provision. In addition, the city of Houston does not require permits for painting one- and two-family residences, so there are no mechanisms for the city to dictate paint colors. The proposed amendments will not change any of this.

• Houston’s preservation ordinance does not govern the type of air conditioning units that can be used in historic buildings. Air conditioners are temporary fixtures, not permanent features; therefore, they do not fall under the historical commission’s authority (Section 33-241). The same is true of porch lights, mailboxes and fences. The proposed amendments will not change this.

• Houston’s preservation ordinance does not require property owners to get historical commission approval for emergency repairs. Section 33-236(i) waives this approval “for achieving compliance with the life safety requirements [set forth in the Building Code].” The proposed amendments will not change this.

It’s quite a definitive statement, with a whole lot of factual assertions being made, many of which are intended to “correct” statements being made by the ordinance’s opponents. I look forward to seeing how they respond to this. I will say, the opposition seems to have the advantage so far in public opinion. I see a lot more of these signs than I do of the more-recently-arrived pro-ordinance signs, and those who want to slow this process down have successfully called for a re-vote on the committee. This is a long way from being over.

Michael Williams followup

Vote who for what?

Now I know which one you are

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

Council may vote today to strengthen preservation ordinance

Last week, we heard that Houston City Council was considering a change to the historic preservation ordinance that would actually prevent structures from being torn down or moved if the Houston Archeological and Historic Commission denied the request to do so. Right now, all that the owner of such a property needs to do is wait 90 days, then go ahead and do whatever he or she had originally planned. Assuming it doesn’t get tagged, Council will vote today on a proposal that would suspend 90 day waivers until the modified ordinance is ready for debate.

“We’re voting [today] to protect our historic structures in our historic districts until the committee of stakeholders agrees on revisions to the current historic preservation ordinance,” said Councilwoman Sue Lovell, who chairs the council committee that deals with preservation matters.

[…]

If passed, the temporary update would take effect immediately and apply to all new applications for demolitions, relocations and new construction on property in any of the city’s 15 historic districts. The new rule would not apply to those owners who already have sought permission for changes, which can run the gamut from demolition to a window update. Those who can show that they already have paid a contractor for work related to a change to their property also could get an exemption from the new rule, said Suzy Hartgrove, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Planning and Development.

The task force weighing the permanent changes and Lovell’s council committee are expected to work together to produce final proposed amendments to the ordinance. The city then would notify residents of its historic districts about the proposed changes, hold hearings and vet concerns, Hartgrove said.

Preservationists are understandably happy about this; I certainly think it’s long overdue. So far I have not seen any reaction from the developers, or from the shills like Kendall Miller of Houstonians for Responsible Growth. (Their website appears to be out of date – the most recent “latest news” on it is from last October. I wonder what’s up with that.) You can never really judge these things till you know who’s against them and why. My guess is that this will get tagged, and we’ll have a better idea of where the battle lines are after that.

Council may consider higher water rate hikes

As we know, a water rate hike of about 12 percent was proposed by Mayor Parker earlier this month. That ran into some resistance from apartment dwellers, since the hike would be higher for multi-family residences than it would be for single-family homes. Now some members of City Council are pushing for a steeper increase that would even things out more.

Although the Parker administration on Monday presented a revised plan that kept single-family increases at about 12 percent, about half the council body expressed a desire to raise all rates to what it costs to provide the service.

Under that idea, the bill of an average single-family household using 6,000 gallons of water a month would go up, from about $47 to $60. That increase would put the cost of Houston’s water at a higher level than many other major U.S. cities, including Miami, Oakland, Dallas, San Antonio, Fort Worth and Los Angeles, according to a rate study commissioned by the city.

“We have to do this,” Councilwoman Sue Lovell said in a Monday committee meeting where the plan to raise residential rates beyond Parker’s proposal first surfaced. “What I’m concerned about is that everybody, across the board, pays and participates” in the rate increase.

[…]

The revised proposal also slightly decreased initial rate hikes for multi-family and commercial users and includes the creation of a $14 million fund to provide grants to owners of qualifying multi-family properties if they make investments that conserve water.

I’ve said before that the size of the increase should be more equitable for apartments, so I’m glad to see Council consider this option. No guarantee it will happen, but it deserves to be discussed. And I’ll say again, a more organized push for conservation, involving things like rebates and incentives, educational initiatives, and so forth, would also be a fine idea. I hope that will follow whatever action Council takes here.

Runoff precinct analysis, At Large Council races

Continuing on with the precinct analyses from the runoff, here’s a look at the City Council At Large races. First up, At Large #1:

Dist Derr Costello Derr% Cost% ==================================== A 7,200 8,160 46.9 53.1 B 5,737 4,859 54.1 45.9 C 9,001 9,870 47.7 52.3 D 11,804 7,487 61.2 38.8 E 5,754 9,154 38.6 61.4 F 3,345 3,753 47.1 52.9 G 8,373 14,662 36.4 63.6 H 6,960 4,891 58.7 41.3 I 3,144 3,598 46.6 53.4

Derr did very well in her backyard of District H, and had a fairly strong showing in A and D, while Costello ran strongly just about everywhere else. I have to believe that his financial advantage, which included being on TV quite a bit in the closing days, helped push him over the top. Derr did have a slight lead after early voting – counting absentee and in-person ballots, she took a 28,373 to 27,898 lead in Harris County into Runoff Day – but her surprisingly weak showing in African American areas like District B and Fort Bend County, which Costello carried by over 500 votes, helped do her in. There was a push in the runoff to identify Derr as the Democratic candidate and Costello as not, and I can only presume that it either wasn’t received in sufficient number, or wasn’t perceived to be important enough, perhaps due to Costello’s ad blitz. You have to wonder what might have happened if Derr had spent more money on voter outreach.

At Large #2:

Dist Lovell Burks Lovell% Burks% ==================================== A 8,953 5,571 61.6 38.4 B 3,128 7,773 28.7 72.3 C 12,427 5,962 67.6 32.4 D 8,015 11,974 40.1 59.9 E 7,659 6,834 52.9 47.1 F 3,967 2,966 57.2 42.8 G 12,963 8,770 59.7 40.3 H 7,235 3,721 66.0 34.0 I 3,625 3,036 54.4 45.6

As before, not much to see here. The only places Burks did well were the African American districts, and even there he didn’t really do all that much. If he hoped to get a boost from the Hotze endorsement, I’d say Lovell’s showing in Districts A, E, and G stuck a pin in those hopes. There’s a reason why perennial candidates keep losing.

Last but certainly not least, At Large #5:

Dist Christie Jones Chris% Jones% =================================== A 10,541 5,300 66.5 33.5 B 1,658 10,673 13.4 86.6 C 10,675 9,215 53.7 46.3 D 3,681 17,653 17.2 82.8 E 10,894 4,771 69.5 30.5 F 4,404 2,964 59.8 40.2 G 18,001 6,039 74.9 25.1 H 5,011 6,531 43.4 56.6 I 3,025 4,119 42.3 57.7

You want sharp contrasts, look no further. I’m still boggling over the numbers Jones put up in B and D, which along with Fort Bend were what she needed to hang on. Christie, meanwhile, clearly got a huge bang for all those bucks he and others put into mailers that attacked Jones. All of that activity had an effect on turnout – while the other two At Large races had about the same number of votes as they did in Round One, this race had about 3000 more, with a relatively miniscule 12.64% undervote rate. This race was also a good illustration of the partisan vote patterns – Jones had by far the biggest lead in Harris County in early voting, racking up nearly an 8000 vote advantage from in-person votes, for a net lead of about 5000 overall once absentee ballots are factored in. She then lost that lead in Harris on Election Day. Again, the 2009 pattern seems to be more of what we saw in 2008, with Democrats voting heavily early, and Republicans showing up on Election Day. That may have been the nature of those particular races – the Democratic message in 2008 was long, strong, and consistent about voting early, while the lack of any Republican interest for the most part until late in the game shaped this year’s contests – but it bears keeping in mind as we head into 2010.

I will have some commentary on the two district Council runoffs and the HISD I runoff before closing the books on 2009. As always, let me know what you think.

Initial thoughts on the runoffs

I’ll go through them one race at a time, with the unofficial vote totals minus Montgomery County for each. Once I have precinct results, I’ll go through those and do a more detailed analysis.

Mayor

Annise Parker – 81,971, 52.78%
Gene Locke – 73,331, 47.22%

This was perhaps a bit closer than one might have thought given the most recent poll. At a guess, given the Fort Bend County results, I’d say that African American voters broke more strongly to Locke than had been previously indicated, but that there just weren’t that many of them in the end. Certainly, all the predictions that turnout for the runoff would exceed that of the general were way off. There were about 87,000 votes cast Saturday in Harris County, far less than the 112,000 predicted by County Clerk Beverly Kaufman. In the end, 67,653 early votes were cast in the Mayoral race, or 43.8% of the final Harris County tally of 154,618. In other words, this runoff was just like the last three runoffs in terms of early vote share compared to that of the general. I called it right, and I’m going to gloat a little about that.

Parker’s election has made the national news, and she’s a trending topic on Twitter. Lots of people are going to be talking about this for a long time. I don’t think we fully realize yet the impact her election will have. I think this will make an awful lot of people take a second and third look at Houston, and may finally make some of my progressive colleagues outside of Texas realize that there’s more to the state than just Austin.

Oh, and Parker made history in more ways than one, too. Go Rice Owls!

Controller

Ronald Green – 74,262, 51.48%
MJ Khan – 69,991, 48.52%

Green won early in-person voting by a fairly wide margin, but trailed in absentee ballots and also in Harris on Election Day. This suggests to me that as was the case in November, the early electorate was much more Democratic than the Election Day electorate. That was the case in Harris County last November as well. I sure hope the local Democratic strategists are paying attention to that. Green carried Fort Bend by 2,016 votes but would have won anyway. Oddly, I was more nervous about his chances going into today than I was about Parker’s, but less so about them once the early results were in. I figured if there was an African American surge that could carry Locke to a win, it would bring Green in its wake as well.

City Council At Large #1

Stephen Costello – 67,842, 52.15%
Karen Derr – 62,249, 47.85%

I had no feel at all for this race. The only thing that would have surprised me was a not-close result. Derr led coming into Election Day, but Costello pulled it out. If I had to guess, I’d say his late TV blitz – after not seeing any of his ads in months, I saw it four times this week – was a factor. Surely having such a large financial advantage should mean something. Costello had a fair amount of crossover support, and while I’m sad to see Derr lose I think he’ll make a fine Council member.

City Council At Large #2

Sue Lovell – 68,676, 54.08%
Andrew Burks – 58,317, 45.92%

Lovell has the easiest win of the night in the race with the highest undervote. Make of that what you will.

City Council At Large #5

Jolanda Jones – 69,763, 50.61%
Jack Christie – 68,080, 49.39%

Let this be Exhibit A for how hard it is to unelect a sitting Council member in Houston. It’s hard for me to imagine conditions more favorable for Jack Christie going into Election Day. Ultimately, he could not overcome the Democratic tilt of the early vote. Jones won early in person voting by a 58-42 margin, easily the widest of any candidate, but Christie ran strongly on Saturday, capturing Harris by 53.5-46.5, which combined with the absentee vote put him over the top in this county. Unfortunately for him, Fort Bend was to Jones what it was to Lee Brown in 2001, and that was enough for her to hang on. I voted for Jones, I’m very glad she won, but I have nothing bad to say about Christie, who ran a clean and honorable race. I sincerely hope that Council Member Jones uses this experience to help her channel her considerable talent and smarts more productively.

Houston City Council, District A

Brenda Stardig – 9,258, 56.59%
Lane Lewis – 7,103, 43.41%

Houston City Council, District F

Al Hoang – 4,681, 52.72%
Mike Laster – 4,180, 47.28%

The City of Houston proved its Democratic bona fides, but Districts A and F remained Republican. I’ll be interested to see how the citywide candidates did in each of these districts. Beyond that, my congratulations to the winners and my condolences to the losers. Oh, and in my favorite bit of trivia for the evening, Laster and Hoang split the Fort Bend vote evenly, with 19 ballots apiece.

HISD Trustee, District I

Anna Eastman – 4,959, 50.99%
Alma Lara – 4,766, 49.01%

HISD Trustee, District IX

Larry Marshall – 6,295, 51.15%
Adrian Collins – 6,012, 48.85%

A bad night for the Houston Federation of Teachers, as both of their candidates lost. Conversely, a good night for the HISD Parent Visionaries, who ultimately went three for three in the Trustee races. Lara had a slight early lead, which Eastman overcame, while Marshall led all along for yet another close escape. Again, my congratulations to the winners, and my condolences to the losers.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll have more when the precinct results are in. Chron coverage is here, here, here, and here. Let me know what your thoughts are about this election.

Chron on the Jones pileup

Here’s the Chron story about the mailers being sent out opposing Jolanda Jones.

The effort by five council members to oust Jones, arguably the most controversial and well-known figure on council, was virtually unprecedented in the past several decades, according to several City Hall veterans. The only comparable moment came in 1989, when supporters and colleagues of Councilman Jim Westmoreland fled after he made a racial slur during a council discussion on a memorial for the late U.S. Rep. Mickey Leland.

“I’m running my campaign based on issues voters care about and have no comment on the actions of some of my fellow council members,” Jones said Wednesday. “I think voters care about issues. … If the people need for me to speak up for them, then I’m happy to serve them in that way.”

I remember that incident. Westmoreland lost that year to Beverly Clark, who turned out to be a bit of a nut herself. She drew multiple challengers in 1991, and lost in a runoff to Gracie Saenz after leading Round One by a 42-19 margin.

Democratic political consultant Keir Murray said the public repudiation of Jones “is, at best, highly unusual and may prove problematic” for Lovell, an elected statewide member of the Democratic National Committee.

“Council member Lovell is in her own runoff race in which the outcome is not assured for anyone, so it defies logic that she would expend campaign resources on a race other than her own,” said Murray, who is unaffiliated with any council races this year but worked for Lovell’s opponent in 2005. “The rule is, you take care of your own business before you worry about anybody else’s.”

Lovell said the mailer has nothing to do with party politics but is one council member calling out another for making “inappropriate” comments. She also said the piece should not be seen as an endorsement of Christie, only an effort to support Houston firefighters.

All due respect, but that’s disingenuous at best. Jones is in a runoff. Any support she does not get as a result of Lovell’s mailer, which I will note did not mention Jack Christie at all, helps Christie. If enough people follow Lovell’s recommendation, Christie will win. Had this been sent prior to the general election, when there were four candidates running for At Large #5, you could reasonably claim to be not endorsing any specific opponent. In the context of a two-person race, when people are actually voting, saying “Don’t vote for Candidate A” is an implicit endorsement for Candidate B. There’s no two ways around that.

Of course, Lovell couldn’t send her mailer out any earlier than she did, because she knew there would be a backlash against her for doing so. Indeed, I have heard a number of people express regret for having voted for her. You can view her action as a courageous stand against an unworthy incumbent, or you can view it as a crass act of vindictiveness fueled by the feud between the two that Lovell denies but everyone knows about. It’s mostly a matter of how you feel about the two principals. You know how I feel about it, and at this time that’s about all I want to say. More from the Houston Politics blog and from KHOU. You’ll note that they mention my blog in that story. I got a call from Courtney Zubowski yesterday afternoon asking if they could use the images from the mailers, which they had found here, and I said yes. That’s all there is to that.

Jolanda versus the world

If you’re on Carl Whitmarsh’s mailing list, you’ve probably seen this, which is one of several mailers being sent out by the Jack Christie campaign. That one is going to the Heights, Montrose, and District C. The others are this one, being sent to voters in Council Districts A and G; this one, being sent to voters in District E; and this one, also being sent to voters in District C.

Looking at all of these, I think it’s safe to say that Council Member Jones has alienated a number of her colleagues. I can’t recall anything like this in recent years, where sitting members have openly support a challenger to a colleague. (Did anyone do this to Shelley Sekula Gibbs in 2003 when Peter Brown ran against her?) What’s damning about it is that much like the earlier mailer Christie sent out, it uses Jones’ own words and actions against her. I like CM Jones. I think she has a lot of talent, I think she represents a constituency that otherwise doesn’t have much of a voice, and I think she has the potential to do a lot of good. But she has definitely provided her critics with a lot of ammunition, and it’s stunning to see so many of her fellow Council members try to oust her like this. If she does survive, it’ll be very interesting to see what her relationship with these members will be like going forward. I’m thinking it’ll be awkward for awhile.

With all that said, I don’t think anyone has too much trouble with CMs Lawrence, Clutterbuck, Sullivan, and Holm, all of whom are on the opposite side of the political fence as Jones and none of whom are currently involved in an election of their own, supporting a fellow member of their party. The mailer by CM Lovell is the explosive one. It’s a little bizarre to think that at this time in 2007, Lovell was working to help Jones get elected. The relationship fell apart pretty quickly after the election, and the two have been feuding ever since. I happen to think that Sue Lovell is also a pretty good Council member, but it’s no secret that she is not the forgiving type. She has reportedly been telling donors not to contribute to Jones. I’m not going to defend what Jones said about HPFFA President Jeff Caynon, which is the basis of Lovell’s attack on her, though I will note that Jones did get a $1000 contribution from the Houston chapter of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters. But I believe Lovell crossed a line here, and judging from what I’ve seen elsewhere, that may be one of the more restrained reactions to this. If Lovell was still thinking about running for County Clerk next year, something that already seemed unlikely with the entrance of Sue Schechter and her show of strength early on, I’d say her odds of getting nominated just got a lot longer. Not to mention the fact that she still has an election of her own to win. She’s certainly stuck her neck out, I’ll say that much.

I guess what really bothers me about this is precisely that both Jones and Lovell are talented Council members. All of this is just a needless distraction and a waste of energy. I wish Jones had not put herself in this position but had instead channeled her energy and passion on Council in more productive ways. I hope that should she survive this election, it will spur her to do exactly that. I wish Lovell would learn to put things behind her and focus on what’s ahead. I hope whatever happens in their respective races, the next City Council finds a way to work together and help the new Mayor deal with the challenges that we face. Surely we all deserve that.

UPDATE: The Lovell mailer was sent out by her campaign, not by Christie’s. My apologies for the confusion.

Eight days out finance reports, At Large candidates

Continuing on with our look at the eight days out reports, here’s how things stack up for the At Large Council candidates in the runoffs.

Candidate Raised Spent Loans Cash PAC $$ PAC % =============================================================== Derr 26,692 13,034 5,000 5,487 8,650 32.4 Costello 193,225 165,200 15,000 16,065 71,000 36.7 Candidate TV Radio Mail Phone Field ==================================================== Derr 0 0 0 0 250 Costello 125,000 0 0 4,200 6,000

First, if I didn’t already know Costello was an engineer, I might have guessed it from his exceedingly orderly finance report, in which PAC and corporate donations were separated from individual ones, and each were alphabetized. As with the general election, he continues to raise money like gangbusters, and is putting a lot of it into TV ads. I have no idea what Derr is doing beyond having a presence at the early vote locations and all those yard signs that have been in place for months. It’s almost bizarre comparing the finances of these two candidates, in that if you knew nothing else you’d expect Costello to win without breaking a sweat. But Derr has nearly all of the establishment Democratic support, and with the primary history of early voters being roughly 60D/30R, with the rest having no primary history, that may be enough. Here are the current and former officeholders and candidates who have donated to each:

Derr – State Rep. Garnet Coleman (500), State Rep. Ana Hernandez (100), former At Large #4 candidate Deborah Shafto (50)

Costello – Lonnie Allsbrooks (200), former Council Member Gracie Saenz (75), UH Board of Trustees President Welcome Wilson (250)

Coleman’s name will appear on the report of every candidate he endorsed. Rep. Hernandez’s husband Greg Luna also chipped in $100 to Derr. Allsbrooks held a meet-and-greet for Costello at Beer Island over the weekend, according to a postcard I got in the mail from Allsbrooks. That’s more mail than either candidate has apparently sent recently.

Moving on to At Large #2:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans Cash PAC $$ PAC % =============================================================== Lovell 75,104 59,791 0 102,896 39,758 52.9 Burks 12,030 13,118 10,000 964 1,750 14.5 Candidate TV Radio Mail Phone Field ==================================================== Lovell 51,255 0 1,500 0 0 Burks 0 1,959 3,000 1,250 430

Again, no real contest in terms of who raised what, though in this case it really is the case that Lovell ought to win, if not that easily. I confess, I don’t get why she’s sitting on $100K in cash – that $51K won’t buy that much TV time (though I did finally see one of her ads on the air, during “The Closer” last night), and there’s little else to her outreach. I might have sent some mail or done some phonebanking or something. We’ll see how it goes for her. Here’s the officeholder/candidate list for each:

Lovell – Coleman (1000), Council Member Jarvis Johnson (100), Don Large (100), District Judge Randy Roll (50), State Rep. Ellen Cohen (50)

Burks – Dexter Handy (100), Justice of the Peace Zinetta Burney (100), Constable May Walker (250), Farouk Shami (1000)

I have no idea what the Shami-Burks connection is. Anyone want to guess?

And finally, At Large #5:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans Cash PAC $$ PAC % =============================================================== Jones 80,248 33,016 0 49,957 22,358 27.9 Christie 42,925 68,714 500 35,844 10,500 24.5 Candidate TV Radio Mail Phone Field ==================================================== Jones 0 8,000 20,000 0 0 Christie 0 956 56,267 5,310 0

Jones has raised a respectable amount, but Christie has spent more, putting a huge sum into an effective attack mailer. She’s still got to be the favorite based on partisan affinity, but this may be the tightest race of the bunch. The list of who gave what to whom contains a couple of interesting bits:

Jones – Burney (150), Saenz (50), Handy (100), Coleman (1000), Ron Reynolds, Democratic candidate for State Rep. in Fort Bend, (250), State Rep. Kristi Thibaut (1000), District Judge Steve Kirkland (250), State Sen. John Whitmire (1000), State Rep. Sylvester Turner (400), Saenz (75), John Sharp (3000), US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (250), Wilson (500), Roll (50), former State Rep. (running again in 2010) Borris Miles (1000)

Christie – Council Member Anne Clutterbuck (10,000), Chase Untermeyer (250), State Rep. Beverly Woolley (500)

Clutterbuck’s $10K donation from her campaign fund is by far the biggest donation from any of the politicos, and is nearly 25% of Christie’s total haul for this period. It’s also the only example I saw of a Council member donating to the opponent of a sitting member. That could liven up some future committee meetings. I guess I have to take back what I said about Ronald Green getting the most donations from colleagues, as it sure looks like Jones has him beat on that score.

Just the district Council races to go. I should have those tomorrow.

Lovell v. Burks

And here’s the Chron story on the At Large #2 runoff, featuring Council Member Sue Lovell and Andrew Burks. Unlike Jones v. Christie, my opinion that CM Lovell will retain her seat is much more common. Burks does have a base of support in the African-American community, where he’s picked up several endorsements, but I don’t believe he has enough support beyond that to put together a majority. He’s tried to appeal to Republican voters, but that didn’t work too well for him in Round One. The bottom line for me is that I believe CM Lovell has been a very good Council member, and she deserves to be re-elected. My interview with her is here; I did not conduct an interview with Burks.

One point to comment on:

Burks, a minister and owner of a telecommunications company who has run and lost in four previous City Council races

By my count, and by combing through the city election archives, this is Burks’ sixth run for a Council office, not his fifth. He ran for District E in 1995, finishing second by eleven votes over Gregg Stephens and 20 votes over Danny Perkins; he then lost in the runoff to Rob Todd. He ran for At Large #3 in three straight cycles, from 1997 through 2001, twice losing to incumbent Orlando Sanchez, then losing in a runoff for the open seat to Shelley Sekula Gibbs. Finally, he ran for the open At Large #1 in 2003, finishing second as Mark Ellis won without the need for a runoff. He also ran for Congress in District 29 in 1992, finishing last in a field of five, and ran for Harris County Department of Education Trustee in 2006 against Roy Morales. According to Carl Whitmarsh, Burks also ran for State Rep in 1990 and chair of the HCDP at some point, but the state election archives only go back as far as 1992, and I can’t find a record of the latter race. Suffice it to say that Burks is a familiar presence on the ballot.

Council turnover

One underappreciated aspect of this year’s election is that we may wind up with more than two new At Large City Council members. We started with two open seats, and with incumbents Sue Lovell and Jolanda Jones in runoffs, the possibility exists that we could have as many as four freshman members in January. This would be a first for Houston, at least in the term limits era. Since 1997, here are all of the newly-elected Council members for that year:

1997 – Annise Parker (1), Carroll Robinson (5)
1999 – Gordon Quan (2)
2001 – Shelley Sekula Rodriguez/Gibbs (3), Michael Berry (4)
2003 – Mark Ellis (1), Ronald Green (4)
2005 – Peter Brown (1), Sue Lovell (2)
2007 – Melissa Noriega (3), Jolanda Jones (5)

There actually was a third new Council member in 1997, but not in November. John Peavy won a special election in January of 1995 to replace Sheila Jackson Lee in At Large #4 after she was elected to Congress. After he won re-election that November, he announced in 1996 that he was stepping down. Chris Bell then won a special election in January, and won election to a full term that November. His seat came open in 2001 when he ran for Mayor (Orlando Sanchez, who had been the incumbent in At Large #3, was first elected in 1995 and thus was term limited out that year.) Michael Berry, who won #4 in 2001, briefly ran for Mayor in 2003, and when he pulled back from that he filed instead for At Large #5; I forget what the reasoning behind that was. As such, there were technically three open seats in 2003, but only because of Berry’s seat shifting. Besides, Mark Ellis had been a two-term incumbent in District F before winning a final term in Council as the At Large #1 member, so even if one of Berry or Shelley Sekula now-Gibbs, who nipped Peter Brown in a runoff for her first re-election, had been beaten, there still would have been only two truly new At Large members.

This year, we will have new At Large members CO Bradford and the winner of the Stephen Costello/Karen Derr runoff. I think Sue Lovell will win easily enough in #2, but Jolanda Jones has a tough race on her hands, and may well lose. If either one does lose, then we’ll have the unprecedented situation of three or more new At Large members, and in a year with a new Mayor and a new Controller. I’m thinking the first few Council meetings would be a lot of fun under those conditions.

One other thing to consider in the event we do have three or four new At Large members is that there would not be an open seat until 2013, when Melissa Noriega gets term limited. I would think that a Council Member Andrew Burks or a Council Member Jack Christie would be wise to prepare for a strong challenge from somebody in 2011, for two reasons. One is that those with ambitions for Council aren’t going to want to wait that long. The pent-up demand for an open Council seat by then would surely lead to a ginormous field, in which even a good candidate’s chances would be a pure crapshoot. Seems to me you’d get better odds taking on a freshman incumbent in 2011, in what could be a straight up two-person race. And two, the political establishment might well view Burks and/or Christie as flukes whose victories said more about their opponents than themselves. I believe the likelihood of that is greater if the turnout for the runoff is low. The same could happen to Bradford or Costello/Derr, of course, but I’d expect Burks or Christie to be a more inviting target.

Anyway. Just something I’ve been thinking about. What do you think?

UPDATE: Forgot to include Jolanda Jones as a new Member in 2007. Whether she wins or loses, the only seat that would be open in 2011 is Sue Lovell’s seat, assuming Lovell wins. If Lovell wins and Jones loses, we have one open seat in 2011 and one in 2013, then three in 2015. If Lovell loses and Jones wins, we have no open seats in 2011, two in 2013, and three in 2015. If both lose, no open seats in 2011, one in 2013, and four in 2015. I should have been more clear about that. Also, as noted by Jennifer in the comments, we will have two new District Council seats in 2011, which may provide an outlet for some of those who would otherwise run At Large if there’s a paucity of those seats available.

Sue Schechter announces for County Clerk

Former State Rep. and Harris County Democratic Party Chair Sue Schechter has announced her intent to run for the to-be-open Harris County Clerk position next year. Schechter was known to be interested in this position, and now she’s made it official. I’ve reprinted her press release beneath the fold, to which I’ll add two observations. One is that she’s already lined up a decent amount of support for her candidacy – there are a lot of elected officials and other heavy hitters in her list of who’s with her. And two, the timing of all this has been just awful for Council Member Sue Lovell, whose interest in the Clerk’s office is longstanding, as Lovell is engaged in a runoff for her Council seat that won’t be resolved until a week after the filing period opens. Will these things deter her from running? Hard to say. As for the Republican side of things, incumbent Clerk Beverly Kaufman has made no bones about whom she would like to see succeed her, though her man Kevin Mauzy will almost certainly not go unchallenged. It’ll be fun to watch, that’s for sure. Click on for Schechter’s release.

(more…)

The HCRP view of the candidates

Here, in PDF format, you will find a copy of the mailer that Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill sent out to his flock before the election. In it you will find three things of interest. One is all the ads several candidates reported spending $5000 on. Another is the official endorsement that Roy Morales got from them; he’s the only one whom they endorsed, at least at that time. They may not have trumpeted it on the internets, but they did make their feelings known the old-fashioned way. Finally, there’s the 16-question “How much do you agree with our positions?” test, which some candidates answered but quite a few did not. For the runoff elections, here’s how many questions the candidates got “right” from the GOP’s perspective:

Annise Parker – 8 out of 16
Gene Locke – Did not respond
(For comparison, Roy got all 16 “right”. Peter Brown did not respond.)

MJ Khan – 16 out of 16
Ronald Green – Did not respond
(Pam Holm got all 16 “right”.)

Stephen Costello – 4 out of 16
Karen Derr – Did not respond

Andrew Burks – 14 out of 16
Sue Lovell – Did not respond
(Griff Griffin got 14 out of 16. Keep that in mind the next time he’s on the ballot.)

Jack Christie – 12 out of 16
Jolanda Jones – Did not respond

For the two district races (A and F), only Al Hoang (16 out of 16) responded.

You can make of this whatever you want, I’m just presenting it. From my perspective, some of the questions are inconsequential, while others are very much not. Read through the questions and answers and see for yourself what you think.

Precinct analysis: City Council At Large races

Moving on to the At Large City Council races. I’m going to look at each of them here. First up, At Large #1:

Dist Cook Litt Alls Cost Derr Rodr Perk Batt ============================================================ A 1,521 1,629 397 4,806 4,144 2,087 919 439 B 1,091 679 252 1,063 1,622 1,466 3,133 1,138 C 1,340 6,626 339 4,423 2,852 1,611 826 673 D 1,689 2,994 526 2,372 3,472 2,026 2,203 2,821 E 1,903 1,287 475 4,842 2,979 2,343 1,104 725 F 1,298 779 193 1,610 1,128 1,153 553 324 G 2,056 3,039 417 8,914 4,218 1,860 1,140 630 H 684 1,309 359 1,635 3,790 3,304 585 334 I 609 671 169 999 1,017 2,976 471 640

I think this is the kind of result you get when you have a lot of candidates, none of whom have citywide name recognition, and not a whole lot of money spent, Stephen Costello somewhat excepted. Costello ran strong in Republican areas, especially District G. I presume that’s where his ads ran on cable. He also led in F and was runnerup in C. Karen Derr did well in her backyard of District H, and reasonably well in neighboring District A. She led in District D, though with a fairly modest 19% of the vote. You can see each of their paths to victory here. Costello needs to amp up his numbers in the Republican and outside the Loop districts while staying competitive in C. Derr needs to dominate the Democratic districts – she has already collected a number of endorsements that went to Herman Litt originally, plus that of the HCDP – and stay close in A and G, both of which reach inside the Loop. She should benefit from having Litt, Rick Rodriguez, and Kenneth Perkins (who as far as I can tell never filed a finance report during this cycle) out of the race. Costello had the benefit of being the only Republican candidate in Round One, and so probably shouldn’t expect too many votes to be transferred to him – he apparently has Lonnie Allsbrooks’ endorsement, judging by the appearance of Costello signs at Beer Island – but the votes he does have should be pretty solid. This one could go either way.

At Large #2:

Dist Lovell Burks Shorter Griff =================================== A 8,333 2,311 940 3,908 B 3,156 3,841 1,684 1,332 C 10,803 2,582 1,254 3,342 D 7,108 6,390 3,039 2,071 E 7,278 3,330 1,175 3,717 F 3,333 1,317 740 1,568 G 11,617 3,404 1,087 5,762 H 5,856 1,708 1,023 1,930 I 3,272 1,434 945 1,233

Not much to see here, really. Lovell came close to an outright win, with Burks and Griff having a nearly equal share of the vote against her. She had majorities in districts A, C, G, and H. She has some issues with the African-American community but still did reasonably well in B and D. I don’t see any path to victory for Andrew Burks that doesn’t include dominating those two districts, and even then it’s unclear how he gets to a majority. You never know what can happen, but I don’t see how Lovell doesn’t win next month.

At Large #4:

Dist Bradford Shafto Freeman Garmon ======================================= A 5,762 2,935 4,031 2,873 B 9,561 666 883 589 C 8,815 2,780 4,261 1,905 D 14,467 1,673 2,884 848 E 6,614 2,604 3,792 3,266 F 3,051 1,227 1,779 959 G 9,296 3,226 5,447 3,942 H 4,942 1,933 2,683 905 I 3,757 1,264 1,517 660

I’m not sure if I underestimated Bradford, overestimated Freeman, or both. It had seemed clear to me that Bradford’s name recognition was a double-edged sword for him – if it had been an unequivocal positive, he’d be our District Attorney right now. By my calculation, he ran about a point and a half behind the average Democratic judicial candidate inside the city of Houston last year, which was enough to hold him back. But if there were any lingering negative effects, it’s just not apparent in the data. He did very well in the African-American districts, easily outpacing Gene Locke in each. He performed well in the three Republican districts, carrying each one and only dropping below 40% in District A. He had a near-majority in Freeman’s home district H, and a clear majority in District I. I don’t know if things might have been different had Freeman been able to raise more money, but it doesn’t really matter. However you slice it, Bradford is Council Member-elect, and all the others who had opponents are in runoffs. You have to tip your cap to him for that.

At Large #5:

Dist Obando Christie Daniels Jones ======================================== A 2,190 8,713 944 4,544 B 843 1,002 940 8,907 C 2,522 6,322 1,532 7,844 D 1,485 1,877 2,727 14,022 E 2,333 9,040 1,143 3,978 F 1,214 3,032 625 2,304 G 2,456 14,922 1,118 5,376 H 2,752 2,536 841 4,735 I 2,156 1,478 725 3,154

When Jack Christie first entered this race, I thought he had a good chance to make things interesting. Then he posted non-existent numbers for the 30 days out report, and I thought it meant his campaign was a non-starter. And then his 8 days out report showed a bunch of spending and I had to reassess again. He showed a lot of strength in the Republican districts, and he did well in C and F besides. I get the impression that the Republican base is more excited about his candidacy than any of the other citywide races, so he should get a lot of his voters back for the overtime period. If he can bring out some new voters, or find a way to grow a little inside the Loop, he can win. Jones, like Bradford, basically maxed out in B and D; I thought it was possible for Davetta Daniels to siphon off some support from her in those districts, but she was a non-entity in B, and didn’t do that much in D. If anything, Jones was probably more hurt by Carlos Obando’s presence in H and I than Daniels’ in D. If she can shore up her support in those places, and keep Christie at arms’ length in C, she ought to win. I think she’s the favorite to win here, but I wouldn’t put it at better than 3:2 odds.

So that’s the end of these analyses. I may have one or two more things to add later. Hope you found this useful.

UPDATE: Greg brings the neighborhood data.

Six questions for the runoffs

Six questions that I can think of, anyway.

1. What will Peter do?

Will Peter Brown endorse someone in the runoff? If so, how vigorously does he support that person? He’s in a position to have an effect on the outcome if he chooses to do so. What will he do?

His won’t be the only endorsement that will be sought out and may make a difference. As you know, I don’t think Roy’s voters will be inclined to come back out in December, but I could be wrong about that. It is worth wondering what, if anything, Roy will do at this point. Beyond that, will Pam Holm pick a side in the Controller’s runoff? So far she hasn’t, but that could certainly change. Will the Democrats who sided with Herman Litt or Rick Rodriguez reposition themselves in At Large #1? Will Linda Toyota back a candidate in HISD I? Not all endorsements matter, and of those that do, some count for more than others. I believe these count for something, and I expect there’s a lot of inter-campaign conversation going on right now.

2. Where’s the money?

Gene Locke reported $391,969.75 on hand in his eight days out report. Parker had $83,229.73. I strongly suspect both of them are running lower than that now, and needless to say neither can write their own check. How much fundraising can they do over the next (say) three weeks, and which one can get back on the air first? What’s their plan to get their voters out if they can’t afford airtime?

3. What about the Republicans?

I estimate Roy won something like 55-60% of the Republican vote in this election, based on the fact that folks with a Republican primary history made up about 31% of early voters, and that Roy did better on Election Day (22.86%) than he did in early voting (15.37%). That’s a significant bloc if they decide they have a preference for one or the other remaining candidates. It doesn’t come without risk, however – there are still way more Democratic voters in this city, and a high-profile embrace of Roy might turn some of them off. There have been rumors for a couple of weeks that the likes of Steven Hotze and Dan Patrick will stump for Locke. I have no idea if there’s any truth to that, but it would very much be a double-edged sword for him. I can’t think of a better way to fire up Parker’s supporters than that.

Republicans may aim a little lower and try to win the Controller’s office, while knocking off incumbent Council member Jolanda Jones. Both are doable, though I don’t think either will be easy. They may also work to hold MJ Khan’s District F seat by supporting Al Hoang against Mike Laster. I consider Brenda Stardig the favorite to win against Lane Lewis in District A, but if there’s little Republican interest at the top of the ticket, Lewis may get some coattails from the dual Democratic Mayoral campaigns.

4. How negative are things going to get?

Hard to say. While all of the Mayoral candidates attacked each other, the main image I have of negativity is Brown’s ad campaign against Locke. You figure Parker and Locke have to attack each other, it’s just a question of how and how much. I will say this, since several people have asked me about it: I don’t expect Parker’s sexuality to be any more of an issue in the runoff than it was in the general. For one, that’s not who Gene Locke is, and for two, I don’t think it would be a successful strategy.

Similarly in the Controller’s race, the main source of attack ads is now out. Does Khan pick up the theme from Holm, or does he decide she didn’t gain anything from it and stick to his “I’m the most qualified” theme? For that matter, does Green bring up the residency issue against Khan? I think if the one happens then the other does, but it’s not clear if the one happens, or which campaign shoots first.

I definitely expect some negativity in the Council races, where a last minute attack on Sue Lovell may have helped keep her below 50%. If Jack Christie, or someone on his behalf, doesn’t send out at least one mailer attacking Jolanda Jones, I’ll be shocked.

Finally, remember that negativity doesn’t mean lower turnout. If this election doesn’t drive a stake in the heart of the notion that voters are turned off by negative campaigns and prefer nice, quiet, issues-oriented ones, I don’t know what would.

5. Who will the Chron endorse?

Time to get off the fence, fellas. Who’s it gonna be, Parker or Locke, and how long will you make us wait? Will any other endorsing entity that declined to pick a side in the first go-round commit to one candidate or the other in overtime? My guess on the latter question is No, but surely the Chron won’t weasel out again. Or maybe they will, if their editorial board is sufficiently divided. I can’t wait to see what they do.

6. What will early voting look like?

As noted, 31% of all votes in Houston were cast early, which is a significant uptick from previous city elections. My guess is that an increasing number of the more habitual voters, who needless to say were the bulk of this electorate, have shifted their habits towards early voting. I would guess that a similar share of the runoff vote, perhaps more, will vote early.

Those are my questions. Prof. Murray has a few as well. What are yours?

UPDATE: I get some answers to one of my questions via press release from Karen Derr:

Candidate Karen Derr for Houston City Council At-Large Position 1 has received mounting support from a broad base of organizations and elected officials. Karen Derr has gained the endorsement of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, Democracy for Houston, and the Houston AFL-CIO. In addition, Karen Derr has also received the endorsements from State Representatives Garnet Coleman and Ana Hernandez.

The HGLBT Political Caucus endorsed Herman Litt in the first go-round; I’m not sure about the other groups offhand. But this is a pretty clear sign to me that much of Litt’s support will transfer to Derr.

Eight days out: Spending on voter outreach by At Large candidates

As with the Controller’s race, I took a look at spending on voter outreach for At Large candidates in the 30 day out report. Given that some large number of people have no clue about who is running for these offices, I figured I’d better look at the 8 day out reports as well. Here we go, starting with the big field in At Large #1:

Candidate Amount Purpose ============================================================ Karen Derr 1,000.00 Advertising (HBAD) Karen Derr 150.00 Advertising (Jewish Herald Voice) Karen Derr 251.00 Advertising (Allen Jamail) Karen Derr 1,813.78 Advertising (Allen Jamail) Herman Litt 300.00 Advertising (Charity Productions) Herman Litt 600.00 Advertising (Jewish Herald Voice) Herman Litt 15,998.63 Mailer Herman Litt 1,110.65 Yard signs L Allsbrooks 2,000.00 Signs S Costello 840.13 Push cards S Costello 970.30 Push cards S Costello 80,000.00 Media buy (Rindy Miller) S Costello 12,625.00 Production S Costello 79,975.00 Media buy (Rindy Miller) S Costello 297.42 4 x 4 signs S Costello 2,846.98 4 x 4 signs Don Cook 315.73 Yard signs Don Cook 432.24 Postcard mailer Rick Rodriguez 1,500.00 Door hangers Rick Rodriguez 650.00 Web ad (Houston Chronicle)

Costello’s media buy is the big news here. You figure that has to be an advantage for him for getting into the runoff, as nobody else is doing anything remotely like it. Only Litt has sent a significant amount of mail, so advantage to him as well. I’ve been getting text messages from the Lonnie Allsbrooks campaign, but did not see an expenditure listed for text messaging; it may have simply been classified as “phones” or “phone service” or some such, however. I also didn’t see anything relating to video production, but that expense may be recent enough to not be in the 8 day report. He does have a contribution of $7280 listed in this report from “The New Beginning hosted by Nosa Edebor”, which I suppose could be an in-kind donation of the video production, but 1) it wasn’t listed as such, and 2) that’s above the $5K contribution limit. There was also a $12,125 contribution from the 30 day report that I’d forgotten about till I went back looking for something that might relate to this, with “friends of Barrett Brown” written in the in-kind box. Not sure what that’s about, but again, over the $5K limit. Oops.

UPDATE: I received the following in response to this:

We, here at the Allsbrooks Campaign, saw your latest blog entry about the At Large Candidates spending on voter out reach. We noticed you had some questions about our expenditures and our contributions.

1. First there is the question of text messages. Those are sent directly from our campaign phone and not by an outside company, so that is included in our “phone service”.

2. Secondly there is the video production of our latest video or slide show on YouTube. That video was done by a friend of Mr. Allsbrooks and will be on our next campaign finance report. Given it came out after the final day of our last report.

3. Lastly there is the question of our actual contributions because they appear to be over the $5000 limit. The “friends of Barrett Brown” and “The New Beginning hosted by Nosa Edebor” were two separate fundraisers that had nothing to do with the video production. The reason they are over the $5000 single person limit is because they were hosted by those people and other people were contributing to the campaign.

Thank you for you time,
Allsbrooks Campaign 09

So there you have it.

At Large #2:

Candidate Amount Purpose ============================================================ Sue Lovell 30,450.00 Media buy (Rindy Miller) Sue Lovell 1,418.04 Mail R Shorter 375.00 Advertising (D-Mars) R Shorter 750.00 Signs Griff Griffin 70.00 Signs Griff Griffin 160.00 Push cards Griff Griffin 300.00 Flyers Andrew Burks 1,957.19 Signs Andrew Burks 376.80 Campaign Literature

My understanding is that Lovell’s purchase is enough for a week on cable – MSNBC was the station I’d heard – but I have not seen a video of her ad, nor have I seen it myself (no surprise since I never watch cable news). Anyone out there seen this? As for the rest, I guess they finally had their fill of Subway sandwiches at Griff’s headquarters, as I saw no more purchases of them. Good news for Lovell that nobody else is spending money, bad news that Griff and Burks come with built-in name recognition, thanks to their tireless efforts to be on a ballot as often as possible. She may win without a runoff, but it’s easy to imagine those two getting 20-25% of the vote each, and that leaves her very little room to get to 50% plus one.

At Large #4:

Candidate Amount Purpose ============================================================ Noel Freeman 4,354.90 Printing & processing bulk mail CO Bradford 125.00 Radio ad (KWWJ) CO Bradford 75.00 Ad (Williams Temple) CO Bradford 1,000.00 Ad (African American News & Issues) CO Bradford 650.00 Radio ad (KCOH) CO Bradford 1,948.50 Door hangers CO Bradford 2,704.52 Push cards CO Bradford 2,186.65 Campaign signs CO Bradford 420.00 T-shirts CO Bradford 5,347.55 Door hangers CO Bradford 500.00 Texting campaign info CO Bradford 225.00 Ad (Jewish Herald Voice) CO Bradford 300.00 Ad (Our Tribune) CO Bradford 530.43 Yard signs Curtis Garmon 357.63 Car magnets Curtis Garmon 525.01 Push cards Curtis Garmon 1,428.48 Bumper stickers Curtis Garmon 2,458.36 Signs Curtis Garmon 1,200.00 Ad (KSEV)

We knew about Freeman’s mail piece, which attacked Bradford; I’m not sure if that had gone out before and this is a second mailing or if it’s just going out now, but he’ll need it to counter some of Bradford’s outreach. As with Gene Locke, Bradford has a paid field campaign, though of course not nearly as large, and he’s been on the radio. Bradford has the better name recognition, too, which cuts both ways for him. Garmon is basically self-financing – he listed no contributions on his form, and all of his expenditures were filed on the Schedule G form, which is for spending money loaned to oneself for the campaign.

Finally, At Large #5:

Candidate Amount Purpose ============================================================ Jolanda Jones 8,521.44 Printing Jolanda Jones 23,115.12 Direct mail Jolanda Jones 21,273.92 Direct mail Jack Christie 3,003.94 Signs Jack Christie 5,000.00 Ad in mailer (Tx Conservative Review) Jack Christie 5,000.00 Ad in mailer (HCRP) Jack Christie 8,865.10 Mailer Jack Christie 30,000.00 Mailer

Jones hits the mailboxes in a big way, though as yet I have not seen what she may have sent. Anyone gotten this? Christie did pretty well in this period after having squat to report with 30 days out. He raised $48K, helped by six $5K donations, including one each from Bob and Doylene Perry. He also spent $62K, which includes that $30K mailer, which was a loan to himself. Makes you wonder what things would be like if he’d gotten an earlier start. Regardless, I think his late push has the potential to make this a race again. I still expect CM Jones to win, but Christie could sneak up on her and force a runoff. I did not see any reports for Davetta Daniels or Carlos Obando; at least in the latter case, he may have been distracted.

Coming Monday: Spending in the district Council races.

UPDATE: See the note above from the Allsbrooks campaign. As of this morning, reports from the Obando and Daniels campaigns were available online. Obando had some expenditures on signs, and Daniels had three entries totaling $3500 on “advertising/marketing”, whatever that means.

Brown ad #5

You’ll probably see this without my help, but here’s Peter Brown’s fifth, and presumably final (modulo the runoff) TV ad:

I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing the Brown ads all over the place. I haven’t seen a Parker ad in at least a week, and saw my first Locke ad in at least that long Tuesday night, but I’ve seen the Brown ads during the baseball playoffs, and several of the shows I record on the TiVo. Heck, my office building has a big-screen TV in the lobby that’s usually tuned to CNN, and twice this month it was showing a Brown ad as I entered. There’s no escape, the man is everywhere. You know how I feel about the Chron’s poll sample, but I do believe all this airtime has helped him. It also helps that he’s got a good message, and that he’s delivered it consistently. One can only wonder what the landscape would look like if Parker and Locke had the same resources available to them.

Meanwhile, At Large #1 contender Stephen Costello is on the air as well:

Not bad, and according to Greg it should be on broadcast by now. I am also informed that Council Member Sue Lovell has an ad running – I don’t have a YouTube link handy, but will be on the lookout for one. As we get down to the wire and the cost of running an ad till Election Day, especially on cable, comes down, expect to see some more of this.

Eastwood art deco facade saved

The art deco facade on the Sterling Laundry & Cleaning Co. on Harrisburg in Eastwood, which had been marked for demolition as part of the construction of the Harrisburg line, has been saved. From the inbox:

Vice Mayor Pro Tem Sue Lovell, District H Council Member Ed Gonzalez, and At-Large Position 3 Council Member Melissa Noriega are pleased to announce that a historic structure in Houston’s East End-the Sterling Laundry & Cleaning Co. façade at 4819 Harrisburg Blvd.-has been saved. This was accomplished through an effort between the Council Members, METRO, and leaders of the surrounding neighborhood. The façade will be saved and then relocated to Eastwood Park, where it will remain a part of the streetscape on Harrisburg, as it has been since 1935.

As chair of the City of Houston historic preservation committee, Vice Mayor Pro Tem Lovell thanks all the partners who have participated in saving this historic structure. “These are the kinds of partnerships that are needed to save our history as the city continues to grow and develop.”

Details will follow as to the timing of the façade removal and relocation.

All things considered, that was probably the best outcome possible. Swamplot has some snarky fun with the idea, but if the neighborhood is okay with it, who am I to argue?

Interview with Council Member Sue Lovell

Sue LovellCouncil Member Sue Lovell is running for re-election to her third term in At Large #2. She chairs the Quality of Life committee, from which the recent ordinances about billboards, signage, and attention-getting devices originated, as well as the Transportation, Infrastructure, and Aviation committees, and she also serves as Mayor Pro Tem. Oh, and she’s Houston’s representative on the Houston-Galveston Area Council, and serves on H-GAC’s Transportation Policy Council. She’s had a full plate, to say the least. Lovell has four opponents in November, including perennial candidate Griff Griffin, who collected 47% of the vote against her in 2007 when she didn’t run an active campaign but put a lot of effort into helping several other Council members get elected. She’s running a vigorous campaign this year, and that was one of many things we discussed in this interview.

PREVIOUSLY:

Download the MP3 file

Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4
Stephen Costello, At Large #1
Lane Lewis, District A
Lonnie Allsbrooks, At Large #1
Noel Freeman, At Large #4
Brenda Stardig, District A
Oliver Pennington, District G
Amy Peck, District A
Herman Litt, At Large #1
Natasha Kamrani, HISD Trustee in District I, not running for re-election
Alex Wathen, District A
Robert Kane, District F
Council Member Melissa Noriega, At Large #3
Jeff Downing, District A
Mike Laster, District F
Council Member Jolanda Jones, At Large #5
Mills Worsham, District G
Rick Rodriguez, At Large #1

At Large action

We’ve certainly got a fascinating Mayor’s race going on this year, with three viable candidates that can all plausibly claim a path to victory, but it seems to me that there’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in the At Large races as well. Marc Campos writes about a development that could affect one of them.

Yesterday, Commentary’s shop sent out an email announcing the supporters for Rick Rodriguez, candidate for H-Town City Council, At Large, Position 1. We will be helping him out this election season. Rodriguez is being taken very seriously. One opposing campaign asked him to consider running in At-Large, Position 4 race – no thanks. Another major interest group asked Rodriguez to run in At-Large, Position 5 – no thanks again. It is pretty obvious to Commentary that local political players know that Rodriguez has a strong base and is a force to deal with. Stay tuned!

Stace made notes of this as well. The email Campos’ shop sent included State Sen. Mario Gallegos, who I’m told made numerous calls on Rodriguez’s behalf, State Rep. and former City Council Member Carol Alvarado, and current City Council Members Ed Gonzalez and James Rodriguez, as supporters. And according to David Ortez, who attended Gene Locke’s event at Doneraki’s on Tuesday, at which Locke announced the endorsement of Gallegos, Alvarado, and several other local Latino leaders, Locke has “informally endorsed” Rodriguez as well. I wish I’d seen that before I conducted my interview with Rodriguez, who was as non-committal about his preferred candidate for Mayor as just about everyone else has been, but oh well. That’s an impressive amount of support for Rodriguez, and established him as someone to watch in a race that already has several strong candidates.

Having said that, Rodriguez still has to establish himself. He finished fourth in the District H special election, with 9.5% of the vote. He entered this race late, and reported essentially no money raised as of July 15. He has not won any endorsements yet; the Tejano Dems went with Herman Litt. All this backing puts Rodriguez on the map, and may position him to get into a runoff, but winning it would be another matter; ask Joe Trevino about that. Let’s not forget, Steve Costello raised a ton of money in the first six months, and has won several endorsements; he announced the support of the Houston Contractors Association and the Houston Apartment Association Better Government Fund today. Herman Litt starts out as a fave among many Dems for all the work he did on things like the Johnson-Rayburn-Richards dinner last year, and he came out of the gate with a lot of endorsements from establishment Dems. Karen Derr has been running longer than anyone in this race, and has raised a pretty respectable amount, though she didn’t have much cash on hand as of July 15. She has won some group endorsements as well. Lonnie Allsbrooks trails in all of these categories, but I sure see a lot of his signs in yards around where I live. Point being, this is a crowded field, and everyone in it has a base.

So I can understand the reasons why there might have been suggestions to Rodriguez that he consider another race. I’m going to guess that one reason why he might prefer At Large #1 to #s 4 or 5 is that he might not want to wind up in a runoff against an African-American candidate when there’s a strong likelihood Gene Locke will also be in a runoff for Mayor. On the other hand, a lot of the votes in this year’s runoff are likely to come from Districts A and G, and while Locke has certainly spent time courting Republican support, it’s not at all clear to me that those folks would go on to vote for C.O. Bradford and/or Jolanda Jones as well.

And that brings me to the other At Large races. Melissa Noriega in #3 is uncontested so far, and will likely get nothing more than token opposition. Pretty much everyone likes her, and nobody likes running against an incumbent, especially one with good fundraising numbers. Sue Lovell in #2 has three opponents, first-timer Roslyn Shorter plus perennials Andrew Burks and Griff Griffin. Unlike 2007, when Lovell spent a lot of her time helping Wanda Adams, James Rodriguez, and Jolanda Jones get elected and wound up in a surprisingly close race against the do-nothing Griff, Lovell is taking her re-election very seriously this time. She’s raising money like never before. I see no reason why she won’t win easily, but I daresay she won’t take anything for granted.

At Large #4 hasn’t changed from the beginning. Bradford and Noel Freeman are fairly evenly matched. Both have won some endorsements. Neither has raised a ton of money. Bradford has more name recognition, but that’s not necessarily a positive for him. I understand the logic that would go into gaming out various runoff scenarios, as described above, but I still don’t quite understand why At Large #1 has five candidates and this race has (for all intents and purposes) two. And I say that as someone who likes both of these gentlemen.

And finally, there’s At Large #5. A month or two ago, I’d have expected Jolanda Jones to cruise to re-election. Carlos Obando, whom I interviewed recently, is a nice guy and I thought he had some good things to say, but he has no money and no obvious backing, and it’s just hard to knock off an incumbent in our system; it’s only happened once since we adopted term limits. Now Jones has two more opponents, and I daresay a larger number of people who would prefer to vote for someone else, but I don’t see any of that translating into support for any one person yet. All three of her opponents have fared poorly in previous elections – Obando lost a GOP primary for HD134 last year, Davetta Daniels lost by a 2-1 margin for HISD Trustee in 2007, and the less said about Jack Christie’s abortive attempt to win this same At Large #5 seat in 2007, the better. I can envision there being enough of a not-Jolanda vote to force a runoff, and I can envision the challenger coming out on top in that scenario, but until one of these folks shows me something, like winning an endorsement that Jones has lost or getting some establishment support on his or her side, I think the smart money stays on the incumbent. Again, while I understand the reasons for running in At Large #1, I can’t help but think there’s an opening here for someone.

Tuesday Council roundup

Council Member Sue Lovell, who is running hard for re-election after her close win in 2007, has added some fundraising muscle to her team.

Houston Vice Mayor Pro Tem Sue Lovell announced today that Robert Miller would lead the Finance Committee for her campaign for re-election to At-Large Position 2 on the Houston City Council.

Miller is chair of the Public Law Practice Group at the law firm of Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell and a past Chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas.

“Robert Miller and I have worked together on so many important projects that are making a real difference for Houston,” said Lovell. “I am thrilled – and honored – to work with him again on my campaign.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that Houston needs Sue Lovell’s leadership in the next two years,” said Miller. “With a new mayor and controller facing an uncertain economy, Council Member Lovell’s knowledge, experience and results-driven approach will be critical to continuing our progress.”

This is a good get for Lovell. Miller’s one of those people who knows everyone and should bring with him a lot of opportunities to add to her campaign coffers. Expect her to have a strong 30-days-out report.

One of Lovell’s opponents, Roslyn “Rozzy” Shorter now has a new website. She’s also on Twitter, meaning I’d better update my post. She did not report raising any money in the first half of the year, however, so it’s hard to say how much of a threat she’ll be to Lovell.

Speaking of fundraising, I’ve updated my spreadsheet to reflect the fact that a number of previously missing reports are now – finally! – available online. Anyone who still doesn’t have a report up at this point is presumed by me to have not filed one.

Over in At Large #5, new entrant Dr. Davetta Mills Daniels had her campaign kickoff reception tonight. You can see the invitation and sponsor list here as a Google doc. I’ll be very interested to see what her finance report looks like in October.

Meanwhile, At Large #5 Council Member Jolanda Jones released this letter of support from current, former, and retired Houston firefighters. I presume that was in response to this story about female firefighters who met with Mayor White and pushed back on the charges of rampant sexism and racism within HFD.

Finally, the Houston Press has a detailed report from Monday’s Council hearings on BARC that includes grades for various Council members’ performance. That’s a novel way to approach this sort of thing, and I daresay it will get some strong reactions from inside City Hall Annex.

Hey, remember when we were gonna reform county ethics?

How’s that been going?

Efforts to clean up Harris County government appear to be on indefinite hold as any serious debate about ethics reform has been derailed for months by infighting and political gamesmanship.

Commissioners Court has yet to act on a slate of suggestions prepared by an ethics reform task force that County Judge Ed Emmett appointed as scandals involving his colleagues clouded his Republican primary campaign.

The most significant reforms would require legislative approval, but only one bill has been filed as the biennial session’s end quickly approaches.

That legislation, which aims to block county officials from profiting from their connections after they enter the private sector, was drafted at the behest of Commissioner Sylvia Garcia and does not have the backing of the full court.

When asked why the reform package has gone nowhere, locally or in Austin, court members are quick to assign blame to someone else.

Commissioners Steve Radack and Jerry Eversole said it is up to Emmett to bring the package up for a vote since he is the one who appointed the task force. He does not need court’s permission to push his own bills in Austin as long as he does not claim he is speaking for the entire court, Radack added.

“If Emmett doesn’t have the courage to place the proposals on the agenda, he shouldn’t blame me because I would vote for anything constructive and beneficial to Harris County,” Eversole said in a statement.

You may recall that back in September, Commissioner Eversole said he’d back whatever ethics reform bill came before the court because he expected to be busted by the FBI before the new laws would affect him. That’s the last time we’ve heard anything about ethics reform. As it happens, a couple of days after that Hurricane Ike paid us a visit, and the focus of the County Judge race shifted away from ethics, for obvious reasons. But it never went away, and with the legislative session creeping to a close, it’s getting to be now or never.

Ethics reform became a major theme of Emmett’s campaign last year after Eversole came under fire for questionable campaign spending and former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal resigned following the release of e-mails that included racist jokes, sexually explicit images, campaign materials and affectionate messages to his executive assistant.

Emmett promised on the campaign trail to push for legislation authorizing Harris County to establish a board to investigate ethics complaints, to require lobbyists to register and to close the revolving door. He acknowledged, however, he has done little lobbying on the measure since Commissioner El Franco Lee twice referred the package to the County Attorney’s Office for comparisons between current law and the recommendations.

County Attorney Vince Ryan submitted his final report in February. The court took no action, and the package has not reappeared on the agenda.

[…]

Failing to adopt the reforms he touted could provide ammunition to a Republican primary challenger in 2010, when Emmett faces running again for his first full four-year term.

Or, you know, for a Democratic challenger in November. Ethics reform was a big part of David Mincberg’s campaign last year. Emmett eventually co-opted some of Mincberg’s ideas when he formed that task force last May, but since then there’s been nada.

Garcia said she agrees with every element of Emmett’s package and would like to add campaign contribution limits and strengthen other financial reporting requirements.

She said she was the under the impression the court supported her revolving-door bill when she took it to [State Sen. Mario] Gallegos, a Houston Democrat.

She said she did not find out that Radack opposed the bill until Thursday night, minutes before she was supposed to testify about the measure before a Senate committee.

Radack said he would support the bill if it was amended to block city officials from remaining in office while running for a county post. Garcia remained Houston’s city controller while she ran for her current seat in 2002.

And there was Adrian Garcia, now Harris County Sheriff, last year. Council Member Sue Lovell is known to be looking at a run for County Clerk next year. You don’t suppose there might be a partisan motive in Radack’s objection, do you? Nah, surely not.

Shorter to challenge Lovell

Isiah Carey reports.

The Insite had a brief conversation with Houstonian Rozzy ‘Roz’ Shorter. She’s not quite given up on her political career. You may remember Shorter as the local woman chosen by the Barack Obama camp to get the Houston audience hyped when then Seantor Obama made a campaign stop in the Bayou City. Shorter now says she’s already to take on sitting Houston City Council Member Sue Lovell. Shorter says At-Large Position 2 is perfect for what she wants to do and she’s willing to do serious battle with Lovell to take the spot. Shorter says she will make an official announcement in the weeks to come.

After Council Member Lovell’s close win in 2007, I figured she might get a serious challenger this time around. I don’t know Ms. Shorter, so I can’t say for sure if she’ll qualify as such, but at the very least she isn’t Griff Griffin. I’m happy with CM Lovell and see no reason not to vote for her, but this will be worth keeping an eye on, if only to see who among the electeds sides with Shorter.

By the way, if things break just right, Houston could end up with a Mayor, a Controller, and three out of five At Large City Council members who are all African-American, and that’s without there being such a candidate running for Peter Brown’s At Large #1 seat as yet. With CMs Jarvis Johnson in District B and Wanda Adams in District D, that could mean seven or even eight of the 16 members of city government are African-American. That would really be something.

On a side note, Mike Laster has his campaign website up and running for District F. He’s still the only candidate I’ve heard anything about in that race.