Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

December 28th, 2007:

“Why Houston?”

I think the better question is why this?

After trotting out and discarding a series of slogans over the years, Houston’s official marketing agency is taking a new approach as it prepares to launch a $3 million campaign to enhance the city’s national image.

Instead of a snappy catchphrase, advertisements soon to appear in national publications will feature earnest testimonials from well-known current or former Houstonians such as singer Beyonce Knowles, soccer star Brian Ching, heart surgeon Denton Cooley and former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara.

Starting in February, the campaign will feature ads in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Continental Airlines’ inflight magazine, Texas Monthly magazine and other publications, said Lindsey Brown, marketing director for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. Broadcast ads also are in the works, she said.

The celebrities featured in the “My Houston” ad campaign, however, aren’t being asked to recite slogans. The bureau has stopped using its most recent slogan, “Space City: A Space of Infinite Possibilities,” Brown said.

“We feel that Houston is the word that’s important right now — Houston is the word that needs to be at the top of the mind rather than a slogan,” Brown said.

Whatever. I don’t see why anyone thinks this will do better than any of Elyse Lanier’s infamous efforts, or why anyone thinks it will be more effective than “Houston: It’s Worth It”. But I suppose the GHCVB has to do something to justify itself. As for me, you can put me down as being with Cory on this one.

Chuck’s curious statement

The following is a press release from Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal, which landed in my inbox a little while ago:

Statement by Chuck Rosenthal

Recently some Harris County District Attorney inner office emails have been released in the media.

I understand that I have said some things that have caused pain and difficulty for my family, my coworkers and friends. I deeply regret having said those things. Moreover, I am sorry for the problems I have caused anyone.

I also understand that sometimes things happen for a purpose. This event has served as a wake-up call to me to get my house in order both literally and figuratively.

Charles A. “Chuck” Rosenthal

Harris County District Attorney

Well okay then. Not sure what this accomplishes for him, but there it is. By the way and for what it’s worth, a quick sample of the Republican blogs in town reveals that not a one has mentioned this story as yet. Some of them are of course taking a break for the holidays, but not all of them. Make of that what you will.

UPDATE: WilcoWise has two posts about our amorous DA. I had only looked at local blogs, so I didn’t spot them.

Billboard battle delayed again

The new billboard ordinance, which was put off till next year after pushback from beautification groups, has been delayed again so that the disagreements can be worked out.

It had been scheduled to come up for council vote Jan. 9.

“We can tweak the tools that are used,” White said. “We both share the same goal of billboard removal.”

White met Thursday with representatives of Scenic Houston and a legal expert on billboard regulation, Bill Brinton. Scenic Houston had paid for Brinton to fly from Florida to meet with White.

Despite the holiday slowdown, Scenic Houston representatives have also met with 10 of 14 council members.

The billboard proposal grew out of an attempt by the city to settle legal disputes with Clear Channel Outdoor, one of the main billboard owners in Houston. The agreement would speed up the dismantling of smaller billboards, while allowing the company to move some medium-sized boards to new spots. The city’s 23 scenic districts, and local residential streets, would be off limits.

Mayor Bill White and Councilwoman Pam Holm had touted the immediate gains: 881 billboards taken down in 2008, versus 687 scheduled to come down by 2013.

But critics said the administration had offered the industry a major loophole: a “relocation provision” that would allow Clear Channel to move 466 medium-sized billboards to new locations.

“On the surface, it’s pretty good public relations,” said Councilman Peter Brown. “Put up 466, but take down 800-odd billboards. But most of those 800 some are coming down anyway, by attrition, or they’re blocked by trees or new construction. They’re just not marketable anymore.”

Brinton, the Florida expert, said the relocation provision “violates a core principle of billboard reduction … freeze everything in place. Don’t let it move, don’t let it be rebuilt.”

Brinton said Houston’s original policy was working over time. Through attrition, billboards were coming down because of lease expirations, new development, weather damage and market downturns.

I’ve said before that in theory at least, the tradeoff of faster reductions for fewer ones was an acceptable price to pay. Obviously, not everyone sees it that way. I’m certainly not claiming any expertise in this matter. If the folks who do know better say that price can be reduced, I say more power to them. We’ll see what happens.

Looking Forward to 2008: Matt Stiles

(Note: I have asked a variety of people to submit an essay to me to be posted during the month of December, to be called “Looking Forward to 2008”. This entry was written by Matt Stiles.)

Next year will bring us a tale about a big port city, a place with aging infrastructure, schools facing challenges and a police department crunching crime statistics.

I should probably mention that there’s a politically ambitious mayor in this story, too.

You think I’m speaking of Houston, right?

Well, not exactly.

In 2008, with all its promise of historic political contests in Texas and across the nation, the thing I’m most looking forward to is a great American television show.

I’m talking about The Wire, HBO’s gritty urban drama set in Baltimore. Most people think the show is about organized crime, specifically the drug trade. It is, and isn’t.

Entering its fifth and final season next month, The Wire really is about public institutions, the places critical to our society — police departments, local political entities, public schools.

In The Wire, an impressively realistic and honest series that has never received the attention it deserves, these institutions get a critical look. And what we see isn’t pretty: police officers paralyzed by bureaucratic brass, politicians making short-sighted decisions — and schools (and the families that send their kids to them) often failing. It seems every institution also lacks the ambition to solve its problems.

This season, the show is tackling what some see as another troubled institution: the newspaper business. The show’s creator, David Simon, is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who has complained that “the media, which is supposed to be the assertive watchdog of the political and social culture, the last hope of reform — they’re not here anymore.”

As heartbreaking as it is entertaining, The Wire would be depressing without the characters, especially wily Officer James “Jimmy” McNulty (Dominic West). He, like others in the show, is flawed. He drinks, carouses and disregards the chain of command. But sometimes Jimmy and the others break through the roadblocks placed by the system. Those moments are magic.

Their triumphs, like ours, are often subtle, fleeting or incomplete. The show isn’t tidy. The Wire is as real as television gets, and it masterfully explores the complexities of the cities we live in (and write about).

That’s why I’m looking forward to 2008.

Matt Stiles is a reporter and blogger for the Houston Chronicle.

Help me spend some money at the iTunes store

So one of the Christmas presents I got this year was a $15 gift card for the iTunes store. Now in the old days, back when I was walking uphill in the snow to school every day, fifteen smackers bought me a CD. Needless to say, that’s so 20th century. I want to be a modern music consumer and just buy me a few individual songs, like the cool kids do. Problem is, I don’t have a very good feel for what tunes are out there that I simply need to have. And so I turn to you, my readers and your collective intelligence. If you had $15 to spend on iTunes, what song or songs would be on your must-have list? Please leave your suggestions, along with any relevant info about why I should have these songs and why I’m a cretin for not already having them, in the comments. Thanks very much.

Filing news: Lots of action

The holiday lull in candidate filings is officially over – things were very busy today. Here’s a roundup of who’s running for what:

– I was very pleasantly surprised to see that Jim Henley (who’s gonna need a new domain name) has filed to run for the Harris County Department of Education in Place 7. Not only does that clear the path for Mike Skelly to get the nomination for CD07, it also gives us an opportunity to elect an actual educator to the HCDE, which is currently populated by the likes of Roy Morales and Michael “Ronald Reagan Roolz!” Wolfe (sadly, neither is on the ballot this time around). Henley is joined on the ballot by the also-well-qualified Debbie Kerner, who’s running for Place 5. Interestingly, both Republican incumbents have primary opponents, each of whom is a member of the Republican Leadership Council, and one of whom is Michael Riddle, husband of Debbie “Pit of Hell” Riddle. I wonder what’s up with that.

– In my previous filing update, I mentioned that Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas had a primary opponent, and I mused about the motivation behind that. A little research tells me that Thomas’ opponent has run against him at least twice before, in 2004 and 2000, so I daresay it’s just a perennial candidate thing.

David Mincberg has a primary opponent for County Judge, a fellow named Ahmad Hassan, who appears to have been Sheila Jackson Lee’s Republican opponent for CD18 last year. Hal had the opportunity to hear him speak, and came away duly unimpressed. As I said about the Senate primary, if it gets Mincberg to start identifying and targeting voters earlier on, then it’s all to the good. He’s certainly in no danger of losing.

– Numerous Congressional filings: The Democrats now have two candidates for CD03 (Tom Daley and Ron Minkow), a candidate for CD12 (Tracey Smith), a candidate for CD19 (Dwight Fullingin), and a candidate for CD13 (Roger Waun, who ran last year). On the Republican side, Ron Paul and one of his primary opponents (Chris Peden) are in, while Mike McCaul picked up a challenger in CD10 (Charles James). I’m hoping that some Democrat files in CD14 on the odd chance that Paul survives his primary, then drops out to pursue an indy/LP Presidential campaign. I’m not sure if the Tom DeLay situation would apply here, but wouldn’t it be freaky if the GOP had to run two write-in campaigns for Congress in a row? Also, as yet no one has filed to run against Chet Edwards in CD17. Wouldn’t it be a hoot for Edwards to get a free pass?

– Victor Morales has made official his candidacy in Texas House District 4. John McClelland is set to file for HD64 in Denton County. Chad Khan is back for a second run here in HD126. Still no GOP opponents for Ellen Cohen or Scott Hochberg, or any other Harris County Dem besides Hubert Vo. Meanwhile, Republican John Davis has a primary opponent in HD129, a Jon Keeney. I’ve heard some rumblings that the party is unhappy with Davis, but I don’t know any more about it than that. No Republicans have yet filed (according to this, anyway) for any of the HDs between 31 and 43, all of which are in South Texas and which include the likes of first-termers Juan Garcia, Solomon Ortiz Jr, and Eddie Lucio III. I can’t believe that will still be true on January 3, but hey, one can hope.

– State Sen. Mario Gallegos will have a familiar Republican opponent, Susan Delgado. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, read here, here, and here (scroll down). She’s no threat to his re-election, but her presence will up the titillation factor next year, as if Chuck “Sexy Ears” Rosenthal needed the competition.

– We have a Democrat running for State Board of Education, District 7, one Laura Ewing, who appears to be a member of the Friendswood City Council. Anybody know anything about her? Now we need someone to step up for Districts 6 and 8, and if we get them I think the ballot will be full (modulo whatever’s left for the Supreme and Criminal Appeals courts). That would be excellent.

– Speaking of judges, there are still a lot of candidates who have not yet filed (I’d guess they’re still getting their petition signatures in order), and as there has been some recent shuffling on the Democratic side, I’m not sure who’s still to file. I’m going to see what I can find out about that today.

Less than a week to go. Hang on!