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Mayoral debate #1

Who watched?

In the first televised debate in the Houston mayor’s race, three of the candidates jockeying to replace Mayor Annise Parker took aim at former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and the agency’s allegedly low crime clearance rates.

The pointed effort marked a swift and telling segue from the candidates’ summer circuit of mostly small forums, featuring intermittent fireworks, to their biggest stage yet.

At the end of the debate, former Congressman Chris Bell, businessman Marty McVey and former mayor of Kemah Bill King all honed in on Garcia, a Democrat who many view as a frontrunner in the Nov. 3 balloting.


Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said the first televised debate typically previews some of the battle lines and messaging beginning to emerge as the campaigns heat up.

Still, with the race crowded and the time limited to one hour Thursday, it was difficult for any one candidate to stand out. There was little new policy territory covered, but the candidates did find themselves on the hot seat, both with one another and the moderators, more than in previous settings.

“This (debate) rises above the clouds in terms of its prominence and its significance in that its audience is all of Houston, not just a specific interest group, and its medium is television instead of the best-case scenario a somewhat unreliable Web stream from a forum,” Jones said.

With State Rep. Sylvester Turner seemingly “close to invulnerable getting into the runoff,” Jones said, “pretty much everyone has an interest in taking a hit on Garcia.”

PDiddie was impressed by what he saw, Campos not so much. I confess I didn’t watch. I’m not a big fan of general interest candidate forums, which are especially hard to do with multiple candidates. You need to limit response times to give everyone a chance to speak, but that generally invites sound bite answers. I think forums that are focused on narrower and more specific topics can be more illuminating, partly because they often cover ground that gets very little attention overall, and partly because it gives you a chance to see who has actually thought about some of this stuff, and who is faking it.

And along those lines, there are a couple of upcoming specific-interest Mayoral forums coming up. On Thursday, September 10, Shape Up Houston and the Kinder Institute are hosting a forum on urban health and wellness. The forum goes from 8 to 9 AM with preliminaries beginning at 7 – see here for details and a list of sample questions. The event will be livestreamed here if you want to check it out. That evening at 7 PM, the Houston area Sierra Club, Citizens’ Transportation Coalition, and Citizens’ Climate Lobby with support of OilPatch Democrats will be hosting a forum on growth and climate change. That will be at the Trini Mendenhall Community Center, see here for more information and to RSVP. Finally, there’s an event this morning at Rice hosted by Emerging Latino Leaders Fellowship, Mi Familia Vota, the Hispanic Association for Cultural Enrichment at Rice (HACER), the Student Government Association at University of Houston-Downtown, and Young Invincibles on the subject of young adult and Latino community issues. It’s too late to attend if you wanted to – the venue is full – but this is one I wish I would have been able to see. I’m hoping it will be recorded, and if so I’ll post a link to the video. All of this is my longwinded way of saying that if you have an opportunity to go to an event like one of these, I recommend you take it. I think you’d learn more than you would watching a general purpose event. Just my opinion, of course, and your mileage may vary.

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  1. PDiddie says:

    Campos is just grouchy because the Astros are coughing up the division flag.

  2. Steven Houston says:

    PDiddie, given Campos has been such a cheerleader for King, you have to put his comments in perspective (and he remains a better Astros commentator than anyone at the Chronicle, setting the bar low, admittedly).

    Garcia: While I understand the attacks based on jail suicides or alleged misconduct of deputies, same for clearance rates, the fact is that there were a lot more deaths/misconduct under his predecessors and clearance rates are largely driven by manpower. The last two manpower studies HCSO engaged in showed they were terribly understaffed and (on average) answered 4x+ as many calls as city officers. Commissioner’s Court holds the purse strings and makes the priorities for county spending just did not want to give him enough people as the county’s population growth has skyrocketed. I think he’s an inferior choice to run the city compared to a few of the others running for office but fair is fair.

    King: At least he admits he FAILED in the Savings and Loan scandal, I’ll give him that, I’d be more interested in hearing how he intends on increasing city crime clearance rates than blaming someone else for a similar problem well outside their control to fix though.

    McVey: Step down or serve as a spoiler.

    Hall: As a long time supporter of Democratic candidates and a voting record to match, any true conservative believing he is on their side all of a sudden because of a single topic (HERO) is crazy. Some accuse him of selling out the city’s best interest to then be immediately hired for big bucks by a major law firm and point to his many flip flops to garner support last time, can anyone really trust him on anything?

    Bell: Name recognition and favorable name recognition are not the same thing. Given the education levels of the populace, some of his “name recognition” is likely due to the scientific achievements of Alexander Graham Bell so I don’t think he should rest on those laurels. He is genuinely intelligent and personable, a very likable guy all around, but no one is taking him seriously right now (and he is not doing much to stand out by telling people specifics of what he plans).

    Costello: Is so tied to the rain tax and placing all city ills on pensions that he just isn’t viable. His voting record mirrors Mayor Parker’s to a great extent as a councilman yet he comes across as a one trick pony, much like King does so often.

    Turner: Another intelligent, likable candidate but some of his proposals are going to piss off a lot of people. If he is pitted against any of the RINO candidates in the runoff, he’ll have 6 years to enjoy his new position as mayor.

  3. Paul Kubosh says:


    Nice post. How does anyone beat Turner? At this early stage I would say that most people better hope for a Clayton Williams type moment from Turner. If not then he very well could be our next leader.

  4. Steven Houston says:

    The best way to “beat Turner” if that is the goal, is to get a few of the marginal candidates to step down, to really push a single opponent, and to “get out the vote” against him. It would sure help if he made some wild statement that all could latch onto but given his measured responses and pretty quick wit, I wouldn’t expect it.

    Personally, I think he’s the best overall candidate for the spot. He’s the only one that will get any concessions from employee groups without years of court battles and he is likely to get more of the black vote than someone many consider a “Tom” no matter what some historically black churches push for. He’s not as conservative as I would like but he’s a pragmatic fellow who tends to seek an acceptable middle ground rather than jump off any available cliff when confronted with disagreement.

  5. Yvonne Larsen says:

    Campos should disclose what he did to earn that money off the HISD contract with Linebarger.

  6. Yvonne Larsen says:

    Sylvester Turner should disclose his role associated with the Linebarger contract too.

  7. Paul Kubosh says:


    Welcome to the party. Nice to see you post on the Kuffner. I have been a fan of your comments on Big Jolly. Do you care to comment more on the questions you raise?

  8. PDiddie says:

    “Garcia: While I understand the attacks based on jail suicides or alleged misconduct of deputies, same for clearance rates, the fact is that there were a lot more deaths/misconduct under his predecessors and clearance rates are largely driven by manpower…”

    The best argument ever for not voting for the lesser of two (or three, or four) evils.

    “The best way to “beat Turner” if that is the goal, is to get a few of the marginal candidates to step down, to really push a single opponent, and to “get out the vote” against him.”

    That’s called a runoff.

  9. Steven Houston says:

    PDiddie, I think it’s slightly different in that all the other viable candidates are so busy bashing each other that whoever else makes it to the runoff will be damaged goods, heavily damaged goods. Houston as a whole leans pretty heavily to the left given past voting and nothing has occurred that seems to change that. Chasing the conservative vote is a strategy that works best in the county as the county leans as much to the right.

    So while voters do not always follow predicted choices and polls are not always right, I’d be highly surprised if 1) Turner does not make the runoff, and 2) he doesn’t win the runoff by double digit amounts.

  10. Manuel Barrera says:

    Steven, Orlando Sanchez ran a bad campaign for mayor. A Spanish surnamed person with Republican backing can win in Houston. Too many of us Americans with Spanish surnames are not stuck on a letter D or R, but we are as bias as are all other groups, in that we tend to vote for people that look like us. The Governor of New Mexico is Republican.

  11. Steven Houston says:

    Manuel, in time, I think Latinos (or “Americans with Spanish surnames” as you put it) will become the dominant force in city politics regardless of the letter next to their name. Brown had so much baggage that it was a miracle he won office once, never mind 3x, but the democratic machine inside the city limits is mighty powerful, the bulk of republicans tending to live in the surrounding unincorporated limits of Harris County (though some rent a place to run for office, heaven forbid they actually live in the city).

  12. Manuel Barrera says:

    They may vote as Ds in the primaries, but they are controlled by the money people who are mostly Rs. There is no mighty D machine in Harris County, if such a machine existed there would be no Rs. I believe that is a person in D, not sure, that has voted in Rs primaries. The republican party has not gotten involved in city politics as they saw no need to do so, they controlled the Ds. when was the last time that the City passed anything that would be considered far to the left? The ERO and now the Rs are getting involved. Bad timing by the big Rs that run the city.

    Besides I know too many Ds that have lined their pockets with the blessings of the Rs, they ain’t about to rock that boat.

  13. Steven Houston says:

    Manuel, in fairness, I don’t think either party “controls” any group and the GOP consciously avoids running a really good candidate in city elections or financially supporting one for the same reason they are appreciative of folks like Jackson-Lee; using such liberals to point fingers and generate huge donations. When was the last time the GOP fielded or supported a candidate that won the mayoral race? Surely you don’t think there wouldn’t be benefits to directly controlling such a large city?

    By democratic machine, I really mean the amalgamation of groups driven by left leaning policies; HERO, the food ordinance, the train, housing for the poor, and many other areas that the more conservative county won’t touch. So while I think developers and ultra rich have disproportionate influence in the city, the same can be said of anywhere else and they really don’t fall neatly into either political party (their party of choice usually their pocketbooks).

  14. Manuel Barrera says:

    What has Annise Parker or Bill White done that would be contrary to what a Republican mayor would do?

    The food ordinance I thought that was a Christian conservative thing a la Kubosh. Parker the leftist would prefer they not be fed.

    The train, just what developers won the battle.

    What housing for the poor? You mean rent or do you mean where they actually build a lot of houses, if the latter what housing for the poor?

    The last statement says it all what is in it for them. There is always the rule, there are exceptions.

    There is no Democratic machine if it existed they would not lose on years like 2014, 2010 in Harris County. The difference between the number of voters in 2013 and 2014 is that 2014 is about 75% higher.

    When was the last time you saw all those Democrats fighting to push a tax increase?

  15. Jason Hochman says:

    Nothing that Parker has done is contrary to what a Republican would do.

    In a city that had any real leadership, none of this candidates would be in the running. In can’t believe that the defenders of Garcia say that things were worse under his predecessor, as though clearing some low bar makes him a great sheriff. The whole reason that people chose him over Tommy Thomas was because he was going to fix all the problems. Instead he had the Briones episode and the James T Kirk episode. His leadership consists of blaming and shaming others and not taking any responsibility. As someone who worked as a corrections officer (not here in Houston), I understand that these overworked, underpaid and poorly trained employees are an easy target, and the supervisors are simply trying to complete an impossible task. Nonetheless the sheriff needs to accept some responsibility for all of this and not just fire some mid level supervisor. I did email Commissioner Radack and apply to be sheriff, but he never did write back. When I heard that Hickman got the job, I thought that I had, but no, I didn’t. I also wanted to have the job managing the jail, but Hickman never followed through with that. Besides they don’t want someone who would tell the truth about the whole dysfunctional system.

    Not to be negative, however, the voters need to know the truth, and not just read the puff pieces in the Chronicle.

  16. Steven Houston says:

    Manuel, my example of the food ordinance showed something Parker, the liberal, passed that conservatives GOP have bashed her about. Paul and friends have discussed this at length, yes? That sounds like the GOP getting involved with city politics to me. The train was built and expanded upon despite heavy GOP resistance. By housing for the poor, my suggestion is you look at the city budget and that of some TIRZ’s such as Midtown; your claim was that the democrats don’t do anything unless their puppet mater GOP owners let them. I’m pretty sure spending large sums on subsidized housing is not a GOP priority. And as I mentioned, it isn’t the GOP that controls things (any more than your previous comments about “gay cabals” or small groups banding together to drive Hispanic surname people out of office is they aren’t Latino enough), it’s the money men who often seem to show up at democratic fund raisers at least as much as they do GOP.

    But in reference to the county, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? City politics and county politics are very different. Those with influence in the city have precious little say in county affairs and vice versa. Ed Emmett was fussing about those MUD agreements in recent years, along with several high ranking GOP leaders, because the city was “taking advantage of the county” yet every single one of those deals stands. He further announced no that long ago how the city should be fixing county streets with such funds, but don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen. But just on the curious side, how often do extreme right wing candidates for municipal elections win elections inside the city limits that aren’t located in one of a few select areas? How often do even right leaning candidates win at large council seats?

    Jason, nobody here said Garcia would make a great anything, only pointing out that he was an improvement over Thomas. That said, he didn’t just “fire one mid level supervisor”, he punished a slew of people, fired 6 supervisors charged with correcting such situations, demoted a major to Lt and even ended the employment of his #2 man, something completely unheard of in local circles. Knowing things like that help bolster one’s credibility when applying for positions by the way.

    Without knowing just how little experience you had in corrections, here’s a tip, if you are interested in a high level elected or appointed position and the best you come up with is to email a single county commissioner with interest in the position, you don’t deserve the position. It has nothing to do with your self professed propensity to “tell the truth”, it has everything to do with having built the contacts and having long established your credentials. I’m sure they need grant writers in the HCSO somewhere much, much further down the totem pole, but snatching up such a hot commodity to replace a sheriff in one of the largest counties in the entire country is not going to happen.

  17. Manuel Barrera says:

    Steven rather than discuss something that requires some history for proper discussion, let me suggest you read, “Progrowth Politics – Change and Governance HOUSTON” Robert D. Thomas and Richard W. Murray. There is a used paperback available for only $141 on Amazon.

    Good luck trying to find a cheap copy of the book, they all disappeared almost immediately. The only reason I have a copy is because I had checked it out from the Library when it first came out. I was in a serious accident and the book was badly damaged so I had to pay for it.

    Did you ever wonder why Houston had no riots during the 60s, the book tells you how the “Leaders” pulled it off.

    Ever wonder why all the Mexicans moved into the 2nd Ward – Eastend area, the book tells you.

    Sign on a city park that says no “Mexicans” the book has an image.

    Some people did not want that book to be around, think on that.

    Read the book and then come back and we can discuss how the City is run.

    One Saturday (Sunday version)the Chronicle ran a story about how Lanier was misstating the budget, the same story was changed for the Sunday version. The reporter was demoted.

    The rail it is is there, battle between developers as to what lands to develop. The train will help inner-loop developers. The route that made the most sense was the monorail proposed by Kathy Whitmire, ever wonder why that did not go anywhere?

    Knowledge is power, unfortunately people for the most part are stuck with 30 second commercials.

  18. Manuel Barrera says:

    One more thing Steven keep this quote in mind by Winston Churchill.

    “Churchill: “Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?” Socialite: “My goodness, Mr. Churchill… Well, I suppose… we would have to discuss terms, of course… ”
    Churchill: “Would you sleep with me for five pounds?”
    Socialite: “Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!” Churchill: “Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price”

    Also consider this quote, “everyone has their price”.

  19. Jason Hochman says:

    Well Steve, I guess if I ever will be applying to be sheriff again I will enlist your help. I will of course do the job for a lower rate than the guy that’s in there now. And I will step down after I have done what is important.

    I still contend that in a city with better leadership, Garcia (really all of these candidates) would not be taken so seriously. I guess I can’t build contacts, because I am kind of a private person, and don’t have many opportunities to hob knob with the rich. Just trying to get by takes up too much time, as is the case with most people. Of course from what I’ve read Garcia didn’t do too much to establish credentials. I understand that he came from a working class background (so do I!) and then he became a police officer. Although not necessarily that great of one. Then he got elected to District H (my council member when I first moved here) and again was just mediocre. From there he was elected to sheriff and after that runs for mayor.

  20. Steven Houston says:

    Manuel, that quote was old when Ben Franklin reportedly used it far, far more years ago than Churchill but I’ll pass on finding obscure books to debate over. I have a moderate level of local knowledge that has worked quite well and as I have pointed out, you and I seem to agree on enough things that I needed quibble over a few details with you.

    Jason, it’s not about enlisting my help but you just don’t come out of nowhere to send an email for that type of position, ever. It’s one thing if you are Emmett’s best friend and you golf regularly with Radack but given your woes of needing to take two buses to get to work, I felt pretty safe that you weren’t hob knobing it with the inner circles of the power brokers. And if you think your limited experience in corrections is that great, perhaps you’d do better to find out which private company the two of those characters favor to run the jail given Hickman wants nothing to do with that part of his appointed position.

    And I’m not arguing with you on Garcia’s lack of awesomeness, he used his time working for the city police to establish connections, got appointed to the gang task force to make more connections despite any meaningful accomplishments, and then worked his way up the ladder as opportunities arose. To do so, he had to take some chances, the county democratic party rarely wasting time finding credible candidates to run for that office before 2008, Garcia thought a long, long shot despite Thomas having some vulnerability (little did people realize that the “Obama sweep” would happen). At least when he was in office at HCSO, he was smart enough to hire an expert in the field to work on improvements.