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February 2nd, 2003:

Mayoral race roundup

Some new developments in the 2003 Mayoral Race Sweepstakes this week. First was the announcement that Ed Wulfe is not a candidate.

Wulfe, an adviser to Mayor Lee Brown who has helped develop a Main Street revitalization program, was considered a long shot in the November race because he lacks political experience.

He also appeared unable to peel away enough monied supporters from other candidates to compete in a mayor’s race that may break campaign spending records.

No big surprise there. The article notes that Wulfe’s departure helps Bill White, who would have competed with Wulfe for the moderate white vote. White has scheduled a formal announcement of his candidacy for later this week. White, who has a Democratic resume and a strong background in finance, is a very attractive candidate to me:

Two years ago, Bill White saw a serious problem brewing for his town.

Houston city officials were running short of money at a time White believed neighborhoods desperately needed more parks and libraries to cope with a population boom.

But instead of complaining to City Hall, White volunteered his time, effort and business acumen.

Within several months, White had helped Mayor Lee Brown’s administration squeeze an additional $120 million from the city’s bond program by restructuring the repayment schedules.

As a result, Houston has $80 million more for parks and $40 million more for libraries, with no tax increase.

That’s my kinda guy. I have serious concerns that he’ll get squeezed out between the Hispanic/conservative white bloc that will likely support Orlando Sanchez and the black/liberal white bloc that will likely back Sylvester Turner (does the name George Greanias ring a bell, Houstonians?), but he’s my man right now.

One possible wild card was mentioned at the end of the Houston Press article on the Bradford trial:

While [District Attorney Chuck] Rosenthal’s troops left muttering about Judge Rains’s knuckling under to public pressure, Chief Bradford finds himself at the center of a boomlet as a candidate for next year’s wide-open mayoral race. There’s talk his defense fund supporters may reconstitute themselves into a campaign exploratory committee.

“I’m going to relax for a few days,” the smiling chief said as he and wife Dee faced the media. Asked whether he would consider running for mayor, Bradford deferred to “God’s guidance,” adding, “At this point I haven’t made those decisions.”

If the exonerated Bradford does decide to run, he can thank Rosenthal for providing the campaign springboard.

I don’t know if anything will come of this, but if Bradford decides to run it will be ugly for Sylvester Turner, who will need the full force of the Lee Brown machine behind him to win. If Bradford does run, either Turner will have to find a face-saving way to drop out, or the two will risk splitting their base and letting someone else (Bill White?) slip in to a runoff with Sanchez.

In a sense, this is the best time for Bradford to run, as his name recognition and public empathy levels will never be higher. On the other hand, it might be wise for him to lay low, hope for a Sanchez victory, then challenge him straight up in 2005 when the field will likely be otherwise empty. I’m not sure which is the better choice – I’m just a blogger, not a highly-paid political consultant – but it will be interesting to see which way he goes.

The last word on the Bradford trial

The Houston Press has weighed in on the perjury trial of Houston Police Chief C.O. “BAMF” Bradford, and it’s almost embarrassing how much more detail they have than the Chron did. I could quote large bits of it, but you should really just read it. If you live in Harris County and weren’t already convinced that District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal is a clown, this will go a long way towards doing so.

Here’s my favorite section, in the Strange Bedfellows Department:

As it was, the chief’s trial had already made allies of such unlikely folks as former mayor Bob Lanier, former HPD chief Harry Caldwell, Nation of Islam Minister Robert Muhammad and Quanell X, accompanied by members of his New Black Panther Party done up in uniforms and shades. Caldwell, who gave Bradford his sergeant stripes back in the early ’80s, called the charges “a travesty of justice” and “a crying shame.” He admitted he was not altogether comfortable with his newfound activist comrades. Quanell X, a schoolkid during Caldwell’s tenure as chief, was simply puzzled by this new ally. “Who’s Harry Caldwell?” he asked blankly.

Obviously, Quanell X is objectively pro-police, and former Chief Harry Caldwell and former Mayor Bob Lanier are pawns of the Nation of Islam. It sure isn’t easy picking sides these days!

Lottery changes proposed

As expected, the state Lottery Commission has proposed changes to Lotto Texas which result in longer odds of winning the jackpot. The hope is that this will also result in bigger jackpots and brisker sales, mostly from people who only play when the number gets to a certain size.

The Lottery Commission is banking on the theory that making it harder for players to win will increase the jackpots and boost stagnant sales. The three-member commission voted Friday to take the first step toward introducing the new game in May.

Players would have to match five of 44 numbers plus a bonus ball from another set of 44.

“These games have to be looked at and modified from time to time,” said commission chairman C. Thomas Clowe of Waco. “There’s a very large group of players that likes to see the jackpot at $20 million or more.”

The risk, of course, is alienating the people who already play all the time and who think that odds of one-in-47.7 million represents a significant reduction from one-in-25.8 million.

One critic of the game change didn’t wait. Dawn Nettles, publisher of a lottery newsletter and Web site, said the long odds make the proposed game “absolutely a scam.”

“We want a lottery, but we don’t want to be robbed,” she said.

The new game also would pay out a smaller percentage of revenues to players. Now, 55 percent of lottery dollars goes back to players; under the new game it would be 52 percent.

The game’s already a scam and always has been. All forms of gambling where there’s a “house” involved is a scam. It’s only a question of degree. It’s legitimate to question whether you’re getting your dollar’s worth of fun (or “utility”, as the economics types like to say), but complaining about the odds has always been pointless. The lottery is a device to raise funds for the state in a way that doesn’t involve the dreaded T-word. Never forget that.

And given the state of our state’s finances, this is a big deal:

Lottery officials are predicting a steep decline if the game isn’t changed. Sales are projected to drop from $550 million this fiscal year to $400 million in fiscal 2005.

With the proposed game change, lottery marketers believe sales would jump to near $600 million in fiscal 2004 and would stay above $500 million for the next four years.

They better hope they’re right, because every dollar counts.

Left unsaid in this article is whether the switch to a Powerball-style game means Texas is taking a step closer to joining the national Powerball game. There was some talk about this after the last humongous Powerball jackpot, as there was a flood of Texans driving to Louisiana to buy tickets for it. I fully expect that we will someday join in that national lottery, I just don’t know when.

Just put it on our tab

Here’s a potential cost of invading Iraq that you probably hadn’t given any thought to: Airlines are lobbying for another handout to help them recoup losses that they expect to face as a result of a war.

As the threat of war looms, the industry is seeking tax relief, the relaxing of some antitrust laws and relief on fuel taxes. They also want the federal government to reduce oil prices by releasing crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

There’s a whole lot of worms in this can. The anti-trust laws they want relaxed are ones that prohibit them from sharing flight schedules with each other. The airlines want to be able to coordinate routes in the event of reduced demand. Even with a guarantee that this would be sunsetted after any invasion, I say this is way too collusional to be allowed.

The airlines also want the government to temporarily suspend a $2.50 security tax implemented by the federal government after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to pay for increased security measures.

Bethune has long called for the elimination of that tax, saying it unfairly burdens the airlines and airline passengers.

“We are asking passengers to underwrite the national security,” the Continental CEO said in an interview recently. “It is just unprecedented.”

Strangely enough, I agree with him. This is precisely the reason I favored federalizing airport security after 9/11. It’s nothing but a cost center to airlines and airports, and they have always treated it as any business treats such a thing – as cheaply as possible. We all know what happened. This should be run and funded by an agency that doesn’t have stockholders to answer to. Unfortunately, we picked a halfassed way to go about federalizing airport security. It’ll take more than just placating Gordon Bethune to fix that.

Companies that service the major airlines already are preparing for war. Texas Pneumatic Systems of Arlington recently developed a contingency plan, company President Bernie Rookey said.

The businessman worked for a similar company during the Gulf War in 1991 and said the airlines saw about a 20 percent decrease in business.

“It was pretty poor that year,” he said. “I think generally you are going to see the American public is going to be reluctant to fly on airlines. Basic travel is going to cease or be reduced for a period of time.”

Yes, an invasion will definitely be a big blow to many companies’ bottom lines. Keep that in mind the next time Mitch Daniels starts blowing smoke about the costs of this little excursion.

RIP, RAWbservations

Sadly, Alex Whitlock has had to make good his promise to take down RAWbservations. He does have a couple of group projects in the works, and will be continuing his fiction writing. I wish you the best of luck, Alex, and I look forwawrd to checking out the No-Lyfe Journal and Disagreement, Inc.

On a happier note, the H-Town Blogs page has moved off of Blogspot and onto Movable Type. Woo hoo! Props to Christine and Elaine for making it happen.