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Chron Mayoral profile: Chris Bell

It’s “the first in a series of profiles on the top candidates running for mayor in Houston”.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Friends and colleagues said it’s [Chris] Bell’s belief in good government and that streak of political ambition, even in the face of sometimes daunting odds, that have fueled his 10 runs for various local, state and Congressional offices. And so, despite a seven-year break from the political circuit, it came as little surprise when Bell was the first candidate to publicly announce his campaign for mayor, an office he ran for in 2001 but lost to Lee Brown, who bested Republican Orlando Sanchez in the runoff.

In this year’s crowded race for term-limited Annise Parker’s seat, Bell’s first campaign finance report this summer put him behind other major mayoral contenders, which political scientists said didn’t rule him out but would make his path to City Hall tougher. Bell and his team said they aren’t concerned, pointing to his name ID in Houston and a record of showing well at forums and debates thanks to his ease with public speaking.

Bell’s campaign is centered around a promise to “modernize” Houston. He’s focused on mobility issues, pledging to synchronize traffic lights and build 200 miles of sidewalks in his first term as well as education, proposing to work with school districts and use library space for classrooms. Bell has also billed his experience at the local and national level as a boon to the city, dismissing suggestions that his recent campaign losses will be a vulnerability – he’s lost three races in a row.

Bell, 55, has been ambitious in picking races, often seeking election in districts that skew Republican or, as a young lawyer, running as a relative unknown. Bell has also drawn some criticism from colleagues for being quick to go on the offensive and deploying a sharp wit that doesn’t always translate well with constituents.

At his campaign launch on a blustery January day at Sam Houston Park, Bell was careful to fend off perceived attacks from opponents about his election record; “if it’s necessary, I’ll talk about the races they’ve run and lost” he said.

Brett Shipp, a friend of Bell’s since high school in Dallas’ swanky Highland Park neighborhood, said Bell has been running for office ever since there was an office to run for, “a perpetual candidate for student council.”

“He was like this Bruce Springsteen – born to run,” said Shipp, now a broadcast reporter in Dallas. “I think it’s this innate leadership quality that he knows is part of his DNA. And he’s always been kind of a political junkie, a political savant, and he loves politics, and it really kind of fuels his fire.”

Bell grew up in what he said was a middle-class household. His high school was attended almost exclusively by white students, something that became more jarring to Bell when he left for the University of Texas in Austin. It’s there that Bell, who headed the Interfraternity Council and pushed to form a student government, began to truly shift across the political spectrum away from his conservative upbringing.

“I’ve talked about this campaign more than I really probably ever have because I think I’ve sort of reached a comfort level,” Bell said. “When you grow up in a middle-class home in one of the wealthiest areas in the entire state it’s obviously going to have an impact on you. I think it gives you sort of a sense of unfairness in certain instances and kind of more of a desire to stand up for folks who may not be as well connected or as powerful.”

Read the whole thing, it’s a good profile. I’ve known Bell for ten years, and known of him for ten more before that, so there’s not really anything new here for me, but if you don’t know Bel that well, this is a good introduction. I look forward to seeing the other six articles (I’m assuming they’re including Marty McVey in the “top candidates” list) in the series. I hope there will be an equivalent series of articles that go into as much depth about what the candidates would do as Mayor as well.

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  1. […] the first entry, about Chris Bell, this one is long on biography and what-makes-him-tick and not so long on policy. […]