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Peter Brown

Checking in on the Mayor’s race

Remember the Mayor’s race? Yeah, that.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

“The candidates have been running for months but were focused on fundraising and defining their message,” said Nancy Sims, a Houston political analyst. “Labor Day is when people tune into the election.”

The stretch-run of the race follows months of campaigning from Buzbee, a businessman and trial lawyer who announced his candidacy last October. King, also a businessman and lawyer, joined the race in February, then the field expanded in June with the candidacy of District D Councilman Dwight Boykins and, weeks later, former At-Large Councilwoman Sue Lovell.

Seven other lesser-known candidates also are running.

Despite vigorous campaigning from Turner’s opponents, the race has yet to reach its loudest pitch, in part because Turner only has appeared at campaign events without other mayoral candidates. Earlier this week, Buzbee and King criticized the mayor for not yet attending any candidate forums.

A Turner campaign spokesperson said he was not invited to the Wednesday forum or to a prior forum held in June by the Lake Houston Pachyderm Club, which Buzbee and King attended.

Even as the race heats up, mayoral candidates are battling with a bloated field of Democratic presidential candidates for the attention of Houston voters, who typically do not tune into city elections en masse until September.

“I think the challenge for the city candidates this year is that they are greatly overshadowed by the 2020 race,” Sims said. “They are struggling to get the attention they need for people to focus in on the city elections.”

Even without distractions, such as the Sept. 12 Democratic presidential debate in Houston, municipal candidates often struggle to drag voters to the polls: Just 27 percent of registered Houston voters turned out in the 2015 race, the first time since 2003 that turnout was more than 20 percent.

Still, the candidates are entering the critical part of the race with ample resources to draw out voters. Buzbee is self-funding his campaign and as of June 30 had contributed $7.5 million of his personal wealth. He had spent more than $2.3 million at the same point, and recently made a six-figure TV ad buy through the end of September.

“Tony Buzbee is a very unique candidate because of his ability to self-fund, so the normal rules and strategies regarding TV don’t really apply to him, because he effectively has a bottomless wallet,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “For other candidates who have to keep their powder dry, we’re unlikely to see major media buys until the first or second week of October.”

We’ve discussed this before, but as a reminder what drives turnout in city elections is a high profile referendum on the ballot. Contested Mayoral races are a factor too, but the addition of a referendum is the difference between 2003 (381K votes, Metro light rail referendum) or 2015 (286K votes, HERO repeal) and 2009 (181K, no referendum). Even without a contested Mayor’s race, a sufficiently hot ballot item can bring a lot of voters out – see, for example, 2005 (332K, anti-gay marriage Constitutional amendment). The Metro referendum this year isn’t nearly as controversial as the 2003 one was, and there may not be any astroturf opposition effort to it, but Metro will be pushing voters to the polls as well as the candidates are, and that should boost turnout a bit.

I would also push back against the notion that no one pays much attention to the Mayoral races before Labor Day, and I’d point to the last three open Mayoral elections as evidence. Bill White was running those white-background ads in 2003 early on in the year. Annise Parker, Gene Locke, and Peter Brown were releasing position papers and talking about ideas for traffic, crime, neighborhoods, economic development, and a whole lot of other things well before September. The pension issue, HERO, and the Adrian Garcia will-he-or-won’t-he tease dominated 2015. Maybe it was just the more engaged voters tuning in, but speaking as one of those engaged voters, there was a lot more happening in those past elections than there has been in this one.

Why might that be? Well, let me summarize the campaigns of the main Turner opponents so far.

Bill King: I’m a rich old guy who was once the Mayor of a town with fewer people than most HISD high schools, and I’m not Sylvester Turner.

Tony Buzbee: I’m a rich guy who’s buddies with Rick Perry, and I’m not Sylvester Turner.

Dwight Boykins: I’m not Sylvester Turner, and I supported Prop B.

Sue Lovell: I’m not Sylvester Turner, I supported Prop B, and unlike these other guys I also supported HERO.

I mean, you tell me why the excitement level has been set to “Meh”. I don’t see a whole lot changing from here, and it will be turned up to 11 in the runoff. Welcome to election season, y’all.

CM Steve Le not running for re-election

We have another open seat, in District F.

Steve Le

Steve Le

Houston City Councilman Steve Le announced Wednesday he will not seek a second term in November, leaving an open race for his District F seat and ensuring the southwestern district will get a new representative for the fourth straight election.

Le, a physician who practices in Cleveland, narrowly defeated incumbent Richard Nguyen in 2015, winning a runoff by about 230 votes, or 3 percentage points. He had drawn five opponents — including Nguyen — before deciding not to run again.

Le was seen as one of the most vulnerable incumbent council members seeking re-election.

Citing questions and a city investigation into the work habits and time cards of his former chief of staff, Daniel Albert, constituents and neighborhood leaders had called on Le to fire Albert and resign his seat.


Le also faced residency questions upon taking office, as he had more formal links to a home in Kingwood than to the district address he listed in Alief. His business was registered at the Kingwood property, he was one of five people listed on the deed of trust for the property, and he, at the time, registered three of his four vehicles at that address.

Le did not return calls for comment Wednesday. In a statement to KPRC, he said he plans to return to his medical practice, and pointed to several accomplishments, contending the district’s infrastructure improved during his tenure.

“My goal when running for election was to work with the mayor and current council to implement changes that would benefit the residents of Houston, be fiscally responsible with our budget, improve street and drainage conditions of District F, (and) increase public safety,” the statement said.

In addition to Nguyen, candidates Anthony Nelson, John Nguyen, Tiffany Thomas and Jesus Zamora are seeking to represent the southwest Houston district that covers parts of Alief, Eldridge-West Oaks, Sharpstown and Westchase.

Van Huynh, Le’s chief of staff, said Wednesday he, too, will run for the seat, and has filed a report with the city secretary’s office designating a campaign treasurer.

See here for some background; Le did eventually fire Albert. To be sure, other District F Council members have had questions about their residency before, including MJ Khan and Al Hoang. For whatever the reason, that does not seem to be an obstacle to getting elected in F. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Le is the first member of Council to not run for re-election when able to do so since Peter Brown ran for Mayor instead of a third term in At Large #1 in 2009. Chris Bell did the same thing in 2001. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a recent Council member who stepped down without running for something else. Feel free to fill in the blank if you can.

As always, you can see an up-to-date list of candidates in Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I guess I need to get an Election 2019 page going, as June finance reports will be coming in. As for the cast in District F, I know Tiffany Thomas and former CM Richard Nguyen; I’m Facebook friends with Anthony Nelson but haven’t met him. Le’s departure may lead to more candidates entering, but if there’s one thing this election has not lacked, it’s candidates.

What role might the city have in HISD?

The possibility that the city could have any role at all with HISD is itself interesting.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he has been asked to get “very, very, very involved” in Houston ISD as it faces potentially severe state sanctions, but he stopped short Wednesday of suggesting the city could take control of the district’s chronically under-performing campuses.

Asked whether the city could become a “partner” with the district, giving the city significant authority over operations at campuses, Turner said Wednesday: “Let’s just say I’ve been asked to be very, very involved by multiple individuals, and then I am deciding to what degree and to how far I am going to get involved in the day-to-day operation of any of the schools.”

In recent weeks, HISD administrators have proposed surrendering significant control over 10 underachieving campuses to “partners” as part of the district’s plan for avoiding state sanctions.

Under a law known as HB 1842, which was passed in 2015, the Texas Education Agency must replace HISD’s locally elected school board or close campuses if any one of the district’s 10 longest-failing schools fails to meet state academic standards this year.

Under a separate law known as SB 1882, which was passed in 2017, the district can stave off those potential sanctions for two years if it partners with a nonprofit, higher education institution, charter school network or government entity.

When HISD administrators initially recommended partnerships in early February, the district did not include governmental entities as a potential partner. However, in recent days, HISD leaders have added that option in public presentations about SB 1882, leading to speculation that the city of Houston could take control of HISD campuses.

There’s some precedent for this. Peter Brown advocated for an “urban school district” as part of his 2009 Mayoral campaign. Mayor Turner hired former HISD Trustee Juliet Stipeche as his Director of Education, a role he created. It’s not clear what role the city might play in HISD, if it even comes to that. Given the choices from SB1882, I’d go with a college or nonprofit first as a partner, and would prefer the city only if the other choices are a charter school or the state. There’s still a lot of uncertainty about what comes next, but I do appreciate the city being willing to step in, even if I’d rather it not be needed.

RIP, Peter Brown

A dedicated public servant and a heck of a nice guy.

Peter Brown

Former Houston city councilman, mayoral candidate and civic leader Peter Brown has died, his family said Tuesday.

Brown, an architect and urban planner, was 81.

“A loving father, committed public servant, and fearless advocate, former Council Member Brown passed on to the next life the same way he lived in this one – surrounded by his family in the city he loved most,” his son, the elected City Controller Chris Brown, said in a statement.

“The Brown family would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers, and asks for privacy during this very difficult time.”

You can see Chris Brown’s statement here. After the 2009 Mayoral election, Peter Brown went back to his roots, talking about urban design and making city streets safer and more user-friendly for people on his Pedestrian Pete website. He was a visionary and an advocate for building a better city to the end. Rest in peace, Pedestrian Pete.

Precinct analysis: Controller

Moving on to the office that is both second in prominence and last in ballot placement, the City Controller:

Dist  Khan   Brown  Frazer   Boney Jefferson Robinson
A    2,749   3,406   6,588     798       602    1,573
B    1,836   4,042   1,047   4,275     1,057    5,154
C    6,143  12,574  12,181   1,194       838    2,387
D    2,338   5,139   2,180   6,242     1,547    5,358
E    4,595   4,121  13,436     659       653    1,895
F    2,485   2,118   2,493     670       497    1,246
G    5,105   6,416  17,965     596       666    1,615
H    2,514   4,304   2,094   1,047       525    2,220
I    2,082   3,452   1,685   1,098       573    2,087
J    1,885   1,478   1,925     483       273      782
K    2,941   4,508   3,276   3,028       855    3,309
A   17.49%  21.67%  41.92%   5.08%     3.83%   10.01%
B   10.55%  23.22%   6.01%  24.55%     6.07%   29.60%
C   17.39%  35.60%  34.49%   3.38%     2.37%    6.76%
D   10.25%  22.54%   9.56%  27.37%     6.78%   23.50%
E   18.12%  16.25%  52.98%   2.60%     2.58%    7.47%
F   26.13%  22.27%  26.22%   7.05%     5.23%   13.10%
G   15.77%  19.83%  55.51%   1.84%     2.06%    4.99%
H   19.79%  33.88%  16.48%   8.24%     4.13%   17.47%
I   18.97%  31.45%  15.35%  10.00%     5.22%   19.01%
J   27.62%  21.65%  28.20%   7.08%     4.00%   11.46%
K   16.41%  25.61%  18.28%  16.90%     4.77%   18.47%
Bill Frazer

Bill Frazer

Remember how I said earlier that if you combined Lane Lewis, Tom McCasland, and Jenifer Pool in the At Large #1 race you’d have a leading candidate going into the runoff? The same can be said here for Jew Don Boney, Carroll Robinson, and Dwight Jefferson; just the first two together would be enough. Robinson was in the race first and had a more visible campaign, but Boney received some late-breaking endorsements from groups that likely moved a few votes. However you want to look at it, they basically canceled each other out.

MJ Khan got something for his party-like-it’s-2009 campaign strategy, just not nearly enough. He nudges ahead of Frazer in his old Council district once you add in Fort Bend, but then falls behind Chris Brown there. (Insert sad trombone sound effect.) The good news is that his timelessly generic TV ad that blanketed the airwaves over the past few weeks could easily be hauled out and reused in 2019 and/or 2023 as needed. He could be the model for campaigning in the Andrew Burks/Griff Griffin style with an actual budget to spend.

Here’s my three-point plan for Chris Brown to win next month:

Chris Brown

Chris Brown

1. Make sure Democrats know who he is and that he’s the only Dem in the race. Bill Frazer did about eight points better in District C than Bill King did. Putting it another, and more alarming way, Frazer plus Khan was almost 52% of the vote in C, while King plus Costello was 37%; even counting Ben Hall as a Republican only gets you to 43%. I can’t see a path to victory for Brown that doesn’t include a strong showing in C. The HCDP sent out an email on Monday saying that they would make recommendations now in races that have a single Dem in them, which will help a little, but I’d plan a blitz of mail targeting Democratic likely voters making sure they know which team each candidate in this race is playing for.

2. Deploy surrogates. First and foremost, do whatever is needed to get Brown’s soon-to-be-former boss Ronald Green to cut a radio ad or two for heavy rotation on KCOH and Majic 102 and so forth. Get Peter Brown to star in a mailer or two to voters who were known to like him from 2009 and his days on Council, and also from his days now advocating for sustainable urbanism. Chris Brown’s wife Divya is Indian-American; she and their baby daughter were in a standard family photo in Brown’s November mailings. I’d consider sending some mail to voters in F and J (where there is a high proportion of Asian voters as well as two district Council runoffs) that featured her more prominently. If a few voters there wind up thinking she’s the one they’d be voting for in this race, that would not be a bad outcome.

3. Make sure the police and firefighters are invested in this runoff. Frazer’s campaign is in large part based on the need for drastic action on pensions; there’s not much space between him and King on this issue. The police and firefighters’ unions backed Sylvester Turner for Mayor, but (as far as I know) did not take a position in the Controller’s race. Brown seems like a much better fit for them in the runoff. They may be gearing up to act anyway, but I’d be sure to talk to them and try to get them involved.

As for Frazer, he’s the frontrunner and thus only needs two bullet points: Make sure Republicans know who he is, and otherwise keep on doing what he’s been doing, which is to focus on the issues as he defines them and his qualifications as a CPA. The bad news for Frazer is that the runoff electorate is likely to be more favorable for Democratic candidates. The good news is that there’s no guarantee that voters who supported Robinson or Boney will necessarily transfer for Brown – one possibility is that they vote for Turner and one or more of the African-American Council runoff candidates and then stop there; Robinson recently sent an email urging support for Georgia Provost, Amanda Edwards, and Sharon Moses, but didn’t mention the Controller’s race at all – but Khan voters ought to have a home with him. What he’s done so far, in 2013 and this year, has worked pretty well for him. Don’t overthink it, and don’t do anything stupid, that’s my advice.

Mayoral finance reports: Out of town cash and max donors

You may have noticed that there’s a lot of money in the Mayoral race this year, even after subtracting what the candidates have given or loaned to themselves. You may be wondering where all that money came from. This post aims to shed a little light on that.

First question: How much of the money raised by Mayoral candidates came from Houston donors, and how much came from outside Houston?

Candidate Non-Hou $ Total $ Pct % ========================================== Garcia 539,949 1,441,792 37.4% Costello 312,660 1,276,281 24.5% Turner 296,588 747,793 39.7% King 103,501 721,250 14.4% Bell 51,288 366,770 14.0% Hall 35,925 69,025 52.0% McVey 21,750 43,927 49.5%

Disclaimer time: All reports can be seen here. My methodology was ridiculously simple. All donations for which the city listed in the report entry was something other than “Houston” was counted for this. Obviously, not all “Houston” addresses are actually within the city – mail sent to all of unincorporated Harris County and such small cities as West U and Southside Place say “Houston, TX” on the envelope – but I wanted to complete this exercise before the election took place, so I followed this guideline for ease of use. As with all totals presented here and elsewhere, this was a manual process, which means I looked over the reports and counted up the totals myself. It is highly likely that I goofed here and there, so consider these numbers to be reasonable estimates and not gospel truth. Finally, also as before, the “Total $” figures represent the cash money raised by each candidate, thus excluding in kind donations, loans, and (in the case of Costello) contributions from the candidate himself.

Having done this exercise, I (reluctantly) feel like I should go back and review Mayor Parker’s July forms from 2009, 2011, and 2013, as well as Gene Locke and Peter Brown’s from 2009, to see if what we’re seeing here is completely out of whack with past results or not. I know Mayor Parker had a strong national fundraising network, but I’ve no idea offhand what that meant in total dollars and proportional amounts. Whatever the case, I feel confident saying that Adrian Garcia knocked it out of the park here. He raised more from outside Houston than Chris Bell, Ben Hall, and Marty McVey raised in total combined; his non-Houston total is 75% of Bill King’s overall total. And that still left $900K from in Houston. Holy smokes.

One thing I noticed while perusing Garcia’s report: He received a ton of contributions from people with Asian names, both in Houston and not. He also had a lot of contributions from Latino/a donors, but the sheer number of Asian supporters surprised me. Make of that what you will.

I am curious what motivates someone to donate to a Mayoral candidate they can’t vote for. I get why people contribute to Congressional and Senate candidates from other places – laws made in DC affect them regardless, and partisan control matters a lot – but the justification here is somewhat less clear. To be fair, the vast majority of these non-Houston donations came from places like Katy, the Woodlands, Sugar Land, and so forth. For all the griping I did about non-Houstonians driving the red light camera referendum, it’s clear that folks who work here but live elsewhere have a stake in the outcome of elections like this. And of course some of these out of towners are in the personal networks of the candidates – friends, family, in-laws, colleagues (Sylvester Turner received several contributions from other members of the Legislature, for example), and so forth. I’d still like to understand this phenomenon a little better. Surely one of our Professional Political Pundits can put a grad student on it.

Next item: In Houston, an individual can give a maximum of $5000 to a city candidate in a given cycle, and a PAC maxes out at $10K. Having an army of small-dollar donors is a great thing in many ways, but those big checks sure add up in a hurry. How much of these hauls came from the deep pockets?

Candidate # Maxes Max $ Total $ Pct % ===================================================== Garcia 148 745,000 1,441,792 51.7% Costello 138 720,000 1,276,281 56.4% Turner 76 410,000 747,793 54.8% King 71 365,000 721,250 50.6% Bell 25 125,000 366,770 34.1% Hall 11 55,000 69,025 79.7% McVey 2 10,000 43,927 22.8%

Again with the disclaimers: Same manual process as above. Not all max donors give $5K at once. There were several gifts of $2500 each, and other combinations I observed as well. “# Maxes” is the count of all max donors, both individuals and PACs, which I also counted as one even though they could give twice as much. Multiply “# Maxes” by 5,000 and the difference will tell you how many max PAC donations that candidate got.

With the large amounts of money collected, the large number of donors who gave their all should not be surprising. One reason why I did this was to see who might have a harder time replicating their success between now and the beginning of October, when the 30 day reports come due. You can’t hit up those who are tapped out for a repeat performance, after all. I guess this leaves Chris Bell in better shape than some others, but I’m not sure how much effect that will have.

I should note here that two of Ben Hall’s max donors were named Hotze, an “SM Hotze” and a “JS Hotze”. Hall has gone all in with the haters, despite his weak sauce denials. This could actually present a bit of a problem for King and to a lesser extent Costello, as both of them are in their own way wooing Republican voters. Clearly, some of those Republicans are not going to be open to them. I presume Hotze still has some sway among GOP voters (a subset of them, at least), so if he actively pushes for Hall via mail/robocall/whatever as the One True Candidate Who Will Stand Up To The Gays, then I think that has to put a ceiling on King and Costello. How much that might be I don’t know – if I were forced to guess right now I’d say “maybe two or three points” – but as we’ve been saying all along, this is likely to be a close race where not too many votes could make a big difference in the outcome. Hall is a threat to Turner as well, of course, I just wanted to point this possibility out.

I think that’s about all the patience I have for scouring the Mayoral reports. I may take a closer look at the other candidates’ reports as my copious spare time allows.

Mayoral ad spending

The Chron takes a look at one of the more visible aspects of all the money that Mayoral candidates have raised or loaned themselves so far.


Despite taking in a total of more than $7 million, Houston’s mayoral candidates spent relatively little on advertising in the first half of the year, paving the way for an onslaught of messaging in the closing months of the campaign.

In general, less-known candidates – such as City Councilman Steve Costello and former mayor of Kemah Bill King – poured more money into advertising, including pricey TV spots, to introduce themselves to the public.

Meanwhile, those with strong name identification with voters – such as former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and state Rep. Sylvester Turner – spent less on advertising or targeted their efforts at the voters most likely to support them.

Though it will be months before it is clear whether either strategy worked, the numbers from the mayoral hopefuls’ first round of campaign disclosures provide an early indication of how the race is shaping up.

King allocated more than $191,000 to advertising, nearly as much as the rest of the field combined, while Costello spent about $66,000, more than a third of which went toward online campaigns and $37,000 for video and associated production costs.

I haven’t seen a single TV ad yet. For what it’s worth, I think that unless you’re going to carpet-bomb the airwaves a la Bill White in 2003 or (to a lesser extent) Peter Brown in 2009, early TV ad spending won’t have much effect. The main problem with TV ads is that they’re written on water – if your target audience isn’t watching at the right time, it’s on and gone. On the other hand, I can’t visit a webpage anywhere these days without seeing a Bill King ad, as it was for me with Annise Parker in 2013. I am, to put it mildly, unlikely to base my vote on Internet advertising, but at least he’s out there in a tangible way.

The rest of the story is about the so-far lower-cost advertising efforts by other candidates. You can scan the finance reports yourself if you are a crazy person like me have the time, but there’s not that much to see there on this front as yet. One thing I’ll say is that these efforts are either to boost name recognition or to remind certain groups that a particular person is running. The target is the 180,000 to 200,000 people that everyone knows will show up to vote in November.

There are many people who vote in Houston in even-numbered years but generally not in these odd-numbered municipal election years. For example, there were 398,337 votes cast in the city of Houston in 2010, including 350,000 in the red light cameras referendum and 340,000 in Renew Houston. There were 590,566 votes in Houston in 2012, with vote totals ranging from 417,000 to 446,000 for various charter amendments and bond referendums. I don’t think traditional city election advertising, whether on TV, radio, the Internet, or in newspapers, is geared to or noticed by these larger groups. These folks, I suspect, need to be informed that there is an election, that they have a stake in it, and that there’s a candidate that might appeal to them. I suspect as well that more direct contact – door knocking, phone calls made by actual people, that sort of thing – is the key to getting their votes.

Every candidate wants to get as many votes as they can from that core 180 to 200 thousand group, since they each represent a vote that would then not be going to their opponents, but at least some of these candidates need to tap into that harder to get larger group as well. Adrian Garcia, who is likely to do very well among a group (Latino voters) who are far more likely to show up in Presidential years than non-Presidential years, is one such candidate. Fortunately for him, he’s already run in two Presidential-year elections, so there’s a lot of people out there who have already voted for him at least once. Sylvester Turner, who is used to running in even-numbered years, is another. When the 30-day and 8-day reports come out, look in them for evidence of field-related expenses. That will tell you what you need to know about this aspect of voter outreach.

Turner and Garcia lead early Mayoral poll

We have our first polling numbers for the 2015 Mayoral election.

Rep. Sylvester Turner

Rep. Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner and Adrian Garcia have emerged as the clear front-runners in the first independent poll before the election that will determine Houston’s next mayor.

The KHOU – Houston Public Media Poll indicates a clear divide between two tiers of candidates, with Turner and Garcia well ahead of all other contenders to take charge at Houston City Hall after the term-limited Mayor Annise Parker leaves office at the end of this year.

Turner, the longtime state representative making his third run for mayor, leads the pack with 16-percent of surveyed likely voters. Garcia, the former Harris County sheriff, comes in second at 12-percent.

Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

The rest of the candidates in the poll drop into single digits. Chris Bell, the former congressman making his second run for mayor, won the support of 8-percent of surveyed voters.

Both Ben Hall, the former city attorney making his second mayoral run, and former Kemah mayor Bill King, stand at 3-percent. City Councilman Stephen Costello stands at 2-percent.

“There’s two tiers of candidates,” said Bob Stein, the KHOU political analyst and Rice University political scientist who designed the poll. “If you had to pick a runoff match-up, it would have to be Turner and Garcia. And I don’t think that comes as any surprise.”

And here’s the KUHF version of the story, with audio.

News 88.7 Managing News Editor Jose Luis Jimenez sat down with pollster and Rice University Political Science Professor Bob Stein for a closer look at the results of our exclusive News 88.7/KHOU 11 News Houston Mayoral Election Poll.

Click on the audio link above to listen to the conversation.

To view the full poll results – including what Houston voters think are the major issues in the race – visit the 2015 Houston Mayoral Race special page.

OK then, let’s click the link.

Mayor Annise Parker cannot run again for Mayor because of term limits. There are seven major candidates for mayor. For whom would you be likely to vote for if the election were held today?

Choices            All   RVs   LVs
Stephen Costello    4%    4%    2%
Bill King           2%    2%    3%
Sylvester Turner   14%   13%   16%
Adrian Garcia      15%   15%   12%
Chris Bell          5%    4%    8%
Marty McVey         1%    1%    0%
Ben Hall            3%    3%    3%
Don't know         53%   54%   50%
Refused             3%    4%    6%

And finally, the methodology:

Methodology: Polling was conducted from May 20 to June 21, 2015 using two simultaneous samples of 500 eligible voters each. The first sample included registered voters (i.e. “Likely Voters”) who voted in two of the last three municipal elections in 2009, 2011 and 2013. The second sample included all other registered voters (i.e. “Registered Voters) who voted in at least one of the last three municipal elections. Results are reported for both samples separately and combined. The combined sample is weighted to reflect the actual representation of likely voters in the 2015 municipal election. The margin of error for each sample is +/- 4.5% and margin of error for the combined weighted sample is +/- 3.2%.

What do I think?

1. I think this mostly recapitulates name ID, which is about what you’d expect at this point.

2. I’ve complained about “likely voter” screens for this kind of poll in the past, but I have no major complaints here. Screening for those who have voted in two out of the last three city elections is the way I’d do it. The Likely Voter sample is whiter, richer, and older (average age = 69) than the sample as a whole and much more so than the city as a whole, which is – for better and worse – the kind of electorate we tend to get in our odd-numbered-year elections. The candidates and campaigns have the capability of altering the size and shape of the electorate, though barring anything strange it’s unlikely to change much. Bottom line is there’s nothing here that screams “unrepresentative sample” to me.

3. Don’t be mesmerized by the high “Don’t know” level. A late September 2013 poll, six weeks out from an election that featured a two-time incumbent, had a 48% “Don’t know” response. Here, each candidate has some base level of support, and the rest are people that I think very likely really don’t know yet. I’d have given the same answer myself if I had been polled, and I’m not exactly a low-information voter. Sometimes “Don’t know” means “I haven’t paid enough attention to it yet to have any idea”, sometimes it means “I do know who I’m voting for but I like to think I’m keeping my options open”, and sometimes it means “There’s more than one candidate that I like and I don’t know yet which one I’ll pick”.

4. Similarly, don’t let the low numbers for the nominal Republican candidates (King and Costello) fool you. Roy Morales polled at five and six percent in those 2009 polls, but wound up with 20% and actually did better than Peter Brown on Election Day itself, thanks in part to Republican voters figuring out and being told that he was “their guy” in the latter stages of the campaign. King and Costello will get their share of the vote, though it remains to be seen if it will be enough for a runoff for either of them. Their main danger is having some of those votes poached, by either a late entry from the wingnut population (think Eric Dick) or from Ben Hall, who has gone full-on anti-HERO. I don’t think there’s a lot of these votes to be siphoned off, but in a tight multi-candidate race like this it doesn’t take much to put the runoff out of reach.

5. When people ask me who I think will make the runoff, my answer is a firm shrug of the shoulders. I can make a case for at least five candidates to have a shot at it – Hall and McVey are the ones that I think are highly unlikely to make it into the top two. It’s entirely possible to me that only a few thousand votes will separate second place from fourth or fifth, and any number of things including dumb luck can affect who winds up a contender and who finishes as a palooka.

So that’s how it looks for now. There will be more polls, and things will surely look different as we go forward. PDiddie has more.

Reviewing the Mayoral websites

The Chron reviews the candidates’ online presence so far.

Five months before voters head to the polls, the candidates’ digital platforms are up and running, but most are heavy on biography, light on ideas.

“They’re checking the box. They have a website, they have a Facebook, they have a Twitter,” said Luke Marchant, a Houston-based Republican consultant. “They’re all doing what they need to do, but no one’s really pushing the envelope.”

That is not surprising at this stage of the game, when the hot summer months loom large and politics remain an afterthought for all but the most active voters, political experts said.


Some of the contenders have made small forays into the online policy conversation, with state Rep. Sylvester Turner’s proposals including a job training program aimed at fixing the city’s streets and lifting the existing cap on public arts funding. Among former congressman Chris Bell’s suggestions are reorganizing the city’s public works department, expanding bus rapid transit and housing pre-kindergarten programs in city libraries and community centers.

“A lot of the effort right now is focused on fundraising, but the people who are donating to campaigns are no different than any other type of voter. They want to know where you stand,” Bell said, “and the best place for them to find that information in a quick manner is online.”

Others, namely City Council member Stephen Costello and former mayor of Kemah Bill King introduce themselves on their websites and broadly outline campaign priorities: Costello wants to add to the Houston Police Department’s ranks, while King suggests auditing the department and doing away with the city’s crime lab.

Former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and businessman Marty McVey leave it mostly at biography. “Before I’m able to govern effectively, I need to know what’s important to the people,” McVey said, noting that his policy is developing as he talks to potential voters.

Meanwhile, 2013 mayoral runner-up Ben Hall’s website was down as of Friday afternoon, having previously sported ‘donate’ and ‘endorse’ buttons, as well as a countdown clock until election day, but no candidate information whatsoever. Hall said he was refining his policy positions before updating his website.

Hall may be between domains. His 2013 website and the site listed on his current Facebook page are different. Not that it matters much – Hall was feather-light on policy in 2013, and I doubt he’ll be any better this time around.

For all the grousing I’ve done about the substance of the campaign so far, I have to admit that as the story suggests, it’s not unusual at this point in time. I went back through my Election 2009 archives, and the first post I wrote about a candidate saying something serious policy-wise was this post about Annise Parker’s crimefighting plan on August 6. Following that, there was this post about Peter Brown’s traffic plan posted on August 10, and this post about Gene Locke’s crimefighting plan on August 26. I guess that means I’ve got another two months of waiting for something interesting and illuminating. That won’t stop me from pointing out, again and again, that there are things happening right now that will greatly affect the decisions and policies of the next Houston Mayor, and right now we have damn little idea of how any of them will react. Someday soon, I hope.

January campaign finance reports – Controller wannabes


Like the Mayoral race, the 2015 race for City Controller is wide open, as incumbent Ronald Green is term-limited. There are three candidates of which I am aware so far – HCC Trustee and former At Large city Council member Carroll Robinson, who formally announced his entry last November; 2013 Controller candidate Bill Frazer, who hasn’t made a formal announcement of which I am aware, but whose campaign website is still live; and Metro Board member Dwight Jefferson, who was kind enough to publicly acknowledge his interest in the office yesterday. I have heard other names bandied about for this office as well – former Council member and Mayoral candidate Peter Brown has come up in conversation, and I have heard rumors that Some People are trying to get Council Member Stephen Costello to switch races to this one – and I’m sure there are other possibilities.

As far as finance reports go, the only ones to reference are for Robinson and Frazer. Robinson has to file biannual reports as an HCC Trustee. They don’t have their January reports posted yet on the HCC Trustees website, so the best I can do for now is his July 2014 report. Frazer still has a city account from 2013, so he has a report on the city’s website.

Carroll Robinson
Bill Frazer

Name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ==================================================== Robinson 1,820 3,700 25,000 21,637 Frazer 0 3,503 0 160 Green 0 14,402 0 28,563

Incumbent Ronald Green’s totals are included as well for comparison. Not a whole lot to see here. Robinson was first out of the gate with a fundraising email on January 13, right after the injunction against the city’s blackout ordinance was handed down, but that wouldn’t have affected his January report anyway. Frazer ran a solid campaign in 2013 and gained a fair amount of traction against incumbent Green, who had some baggage to carry, but it’s not clear how much of that will stick in an open seat race. Controller races are often low-key, and it wouldn’t surprise me if one of the many Mayoral hopefuls makes the strategic decision to shift into this race, which if nothing else might provide a nice head start on the 2021 Mayoral campaign. And yes, my soul just died a little by the act of me typing that sentence. Anyway, this is what we have for now.

Davis’ internal poll

I had been wondering if Wendy Davis was going to release one of these.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis is trailing Republican opponent Greg Abbott by single digits for the first time this year in her campaign’s internal polling, according to a copy of it obtained by the Chronicle.

The Davis campaign’s latest survey, which was conducted last week, shows her taking 38 percent of the vote to Abbott’s 46 percent. A Rasmussen poll released last month also found Davis down by 8 percentage points.

Davis has narrowed Abbott’s lead by nearly two-thirds since January, when her campaign’s internal survey showed him up by 23 points. He led her by 11 in May and 12 in August, according to her campaign’s private polling.

The September survey is the first one Davis’ campaign did since launching a series of TV ads attacking Abbott. The first commercial, which started airing Aug. 8, has drawn the most attention, accusing Abbott of “siding with a corporation over a victim of rape” as a state Supreme Court justice.

A document summarizing the Davis campaign’s internal numbers this year shows the January survey is the only one in which Abbott garnered more than half the vote. The document’s headline reads, ”Davis Chipping Away At Abbott Vote As He Falls Below Critical 50% Mark.”

The Davis campaign’s internal poll suggests a much closer race than a private survey done by Abbott’s people during the last week of August. The Abbott campaign’s internal numbers, which were shared with donors earlier this month, had him beating Davis by 18 points. Most public polls this year have found Abbott leading Davis by double digits.

As with that other poll, which we heard about first from the Ken Paxton campaign, there’s no data or poll questions to examine (not even a polling memo in this case), so I can’t offer any kind of objective analysis. The lack of further information about this poll actually makes it sound a bit more credible to me than the one Abbott touted simply because it makes no claims about subsamples that are hard to reconcile with the overall data. It also fits with my own perceptions about the race, and who doesn’t love a little confirmation bias? Beyond that, take it with the amount of salt with which all internal polls should be taken.

You may wonder why Davis would bother to release an internal poll showing her to be down by eight. Countering that Wilson Perkins poll was surely part of the calculus here. More broadly, this is to try to establish a “she’s gaining momentum” narrative, hopefully to replace the “she’s trailing by double digits” narrative that has pervaded the coverage of the campaign. The Rasmussen poll from last month helped with that, but it’s only one result. With the release of the Abbott internal poll and now the release of another YouGov poll that’s more of the same from their static sample, a different perspective was a good idea. (YouGov also shows Sen. John Cornyn leading David Alameel by 20 points; for a good discussion of how to interpret their overall numbers, see Steve Singiser.)

You may also wonder why her campaign would release a poll showing her at 38 percent. Clearly, the key here was Abbott being under 50, at 46 percent, which was a change from their earlier results and a suggestion that the campaign is having an effect. For what it’s worth, in the large majority of polls that include crosstabs that I’ve seen in recent years, the lion’s share of “undecided” voters come from populations that are generally Dem-friendly, specifically African Americans and Latinos. I presume the same thing is going on in this poll, but of course I don’t have the data, so who really knows.

What would truly be of interest here would be to know how the population Davis is sampling differs from the others we have seen, which I strongly suspect bear a close resemblance to the 2010 electorate. Determining what the electorate will look like is a guessing game that all pollsters must engage in, and when there is a clear failure to accurately predict an election result (think Gallup in 2012), the culprit is often a wrong view of who will be voting. This is one area in which an internal poll can be more accurate than a third party poll, since any viable campaign ought to have a fairly clear view of their voter universe. My favorite example of this was the 2009 Mayor’s race here, where two polls of registered voters gave a lead to Peter Brown (who had been doing a lot of TV advertising) but an internal poll of Annise Parker’s that had a tighter (and in my opinion, more appropriate for that kind of race) voter screen had her leading instead. We know how that turned out. Of course, this can easily turn into an exercise in wishful thinking for a candidate that needs some good news. That’s why election forecasters that use poll averages tend to discount internal polls in some way, since they often represent something like a best case scenario. What makes this particular poll interesting, and why it would no doubt be enlightening to know how its demography compares to other polls, is precisely that there is an unprecedented effort by the Davis campaign and Battleground Texas to boost turnout among less frequent voters. Everyone agrees that will have some effect on the election, but no one knows how much. Knowing what kind of population the Davis team sampled would give us some insight into how they think it’s going. Without that, we’re left with waiting to see the final numbers, as we were before.

Planning to plan

Not really sure what to make of this.

“We’ve had a lot of planning in this city and most of us continue to do a great deal of it,” said Central Houston president Bob Eury. “What we haven’t had is the coordination and the ongoing framework for coordination. That’s what is so incredibly important coming out of this process.”

The effort is in its early stages, with Denver-based urban planner, professor and consultant Peter Park having conducted a “plan to plan” in recent months, holding discussions with numerous civic leaders to get a sense of what makes Houston tick and decide what the plan should look like.

City officials presented results of that effort and next steps to a City Council committee last week, to general enthusiasm from council members and civic leaders.

Planning and Development Department director Patrick Walsh said the plan should prevent inefficient decisions, such as paving a street and then tearing it up a few years later to install new drainage pipes, or redundant plans being pursued by the city and local development boards.

It would identify the public’s preferences in specific areas and help guide investment choices, Walsh said. For instance, a park could be a place to relax, or it could be a catalyst for economic development, such as Discovery Green. Or, he said, if it included a trail, it could be part of the city’s mobility system; or it could provide drainage for a nearby public project.

“We are attempting to recognize that there’s been an awful lot of very good work that’s gone on before us,” Walsh said. “It’s time to take advantage of that work and utilize it … There is no need to re-create the wheel here.”


[Mayor Annise] Parker said neither comprehensive planning advocates’ highest hopes, nor opponents’ worst fears, will be realized in the final product.

That sort of rhetoric hasn’t calmed David Crossley or Peter Brown’s excitement. The two smart-growth gadflies launched BluePrint Houston 12 years ago and, despite the time invested, never quite saw the idea take root. The same could be said for a 1994 effort dubbed Imagine Houston.

“I’ve had outside developers who are interested in investing in Houston ask me, ‘Show me your adopted plan so I get a feel for where I might do a project,’ ” Brown said. “I met with deputy administrator of the EPA in Washington … (who) said, ‘Show me your adopted comprehensive plan.’ There wasn’t one. This is going to help us in many, many ways.”

Even those typically inclined to frown at such proposals see promise.

Josh Sanders, of developer-led Houstonians for Responsible Growth, said there was “some initial trepidation” among his members when whispers emerged of a “general plan.” Those fears proved unfounded, he said, as the planning strategy took shape.

“We think the city does need more of a strategic outlook and does need more coordination between its existing plans,” Sanders said. “What we can do a better job of doing is figuring out how to plan and accommodate growth.”

We’ll see what this turns into. No question, there’s a need for the left hand to know a little more about what the right hand is doing. How that will translate into a set of action items, I have no idea. I’m glad everyone seems to be on board with this, I just have no idea what to expect at this time.

Everybody wants to help the judge rule on the Ashby lawsuit

I really don’t envy Judge Randy Wilson the task he has.

Sue me!

Lawyers aren’t the only ones peppering the judge in the Ashby high-rise case with last-minute paperwork. A former city councilman, a pro-developer interest group and residents who live near the planned tower have all submitted pleas in hope of influencing his decision. One arrived in an email addressing the judge in the case by his first name and closing with, “Sent from my iPad.”

In addition to formal correspondence from the lawyers who participated in the monthlong trial that resulted in a jury verdict that favored opponents, four other letters and a friend-of-the-court brief from a Houston attorney also have been entered into the official court record since state District Judge Randy Wilson heard their final arguments to a week ago.


Peter Brown, director of Better Houston, a nonprofit urban planning group, sent a letter to the court also. In the letter, Brown, who was on City Council from 2006 to 2010, also sided with the residents.

“A ruling in favor of the developers in this case would perpetuate the unplanned, hap-hazard, inefficient development patterns which negatively impact city life,” Brown wrote in part. “A ruling in favor of the developers would unnecessarily limit the authority of the City to enact reasonable rules, standards and incentives to promote important initiatives now underway.”

He recommended downsizing the tower to seven stories or 90 feet and to require a public space. He also suggested the judge mandate a basic overhaul of city development regulations to ensure more security for developers for future projects.

The Houston Real Estate Council took the side of Buckhead in its statement to the court. The group noted that an earlier friend-of-the-court brief submitted by Houstonians for Responsible Growth, a nonprofit that represents developers, which argued against a permanent injunction for a project that otherwise complied with city regulations and state law.

See here, here, and here for the background. I truly have no idea what Judge Wilson should do, or what he might do. The only thing I feel confident about is that someone will appeal his ruling, whatever it is.

Why not three?

Greg suggests a couple of tweaks to term limits.

Jolanda Jones

Jolanda Jones

» Fix the JoJo exclusion. The statute, as written, is amazingly short and simple:

Section 6a. – Limitation of terms.
No person, who has already served two full terms, shall be eligible to file for that same office.

The statute is also amazingly unequal in how it applies a qualification for office. So much so, that I’m curious if this inequality provides an opening for a legal challenge. Basically, the law says that some folks get to serve three full terms and some only get to serve two full terms. If a candidate loses re-election to their second term (ala Brenda Stardig and Helena Brown), you have an entirely different qualification for office than someone who lost re-election to their third term (ala Jolanda Jones and Al Hoang).

There haven’t been many parties aggrieved by this statute, so it seems to me that there might be improved odds of that happening now that we have two such individuals. I would think that there might be ground to make this application more equal by substituting equally simple language that limits any officeholder to no more than three full terms … period.

That may not address any deeper concerns about the Clymer Wright-era limitations. But it does offer an incremental cleanup. And if it were to go through a charter amendment vote, it might be an easy enough one that it opens the door for public perception to see that elected officials aren’t trying to change the rules they have to abide by in the middle of the game. If you’re not sure about the public appetite for altering term limits, this modification would be a good test run.

» Why not three? – Many Texas towns have three year terms. Why is there such an immediate impetus for four-year terms when there is already a more common model already being utilized throughout Texas? You could leave the term-limit language as-is or make the tweak above. Doing so would create a nine-year window of service for people.

More importantly, it would also open Houston City Council to the whims of bigger electorates. If you really wanted to see a different City Council, the easiest place to start has always been to hold the election on even-numbered years. District A would be quite a bit more Dem-friendly, as would District F. My own District J, as it turns out, is as close to 50-50 in terms of partisanship among city year voters. That tilt would be eviscerated with an even-year electorate and the district would be reliably Dem-leaning. The rotating cycle of seats would lead to a seat being up for a vote in two odd-numbered election years for each six-year cycle. So there is some moderation to those swings that might be appealing.

It would seem practical, under this scenario, to stagger the elections so that each individual year would see one-third of city seats up for a votes. I’m not sure who that may appeal to or be unappealing to, frankly. One positive that I can see from this is that it might lead to an increase in competition for seats. If an elected thought to run for Mayor one year after being elected to a council seat, they could. In short, there would no longer be an incentive to sit out six years when terms are the same – as they currently are for the office of Mayor and Controller.

I completely agree with the first point, and also think it would have a decent shot of being passed. I think everyone already thinks of the term limits law as being “three terms max” and not “three terms unless you leave after your second term, in which case only two terms”. I’d add that there’s a third former Council member affected by the current interpretation – Peter Brown, who resigned a few days early in 2009 in an attempt to circumvent this; City Attorney David Feldman opined against it. In any event, I think this minor change is very doable. It’s straightforward enough that the plain wording of the amended ordinance would be easy enough for voters to understand and hard to argue against. Heck, I don’t even know what the case against it would be. If we want to go small, as a first step or as an end unto itself, this is a good way to do it.

The second suggestion would be much more contentious. I’m not sure if it’s meant as a switch from three two-year terms to two three-year terms, or if it’s also intended to increase the overall allowable length of service while also addressing the concern about two year election cycles being too short, as the two four-year terms proposal was intended. If we were to go this route, I’d prefer the latter, but that may be a bridge too far. Here are the pros and cons of three-year terms as I see them.


  • Higher turnout in at least half of city elections. Presidential years would exceed 50%, gubernatorial years would likely exceed 35%. Both are much higher than even high-turnout city elections have been.
  • As Greg notes, this would almost surely make city government more representative of the city’s demographics. In particular, I’d expect this to be a boon for Latino candidates, at least in the even-numbered years.
  • If you believe that two-year terms force Council members back into campaign mode too quickly, then having three-year terms should help alleviate that.
  • You may consider this a pro or a con, but having three-year terms would likely force some ambitious Council members to rethink their strategy for seeking other office, since the Texas constitution would require them to resign if they run for office with more than one year remaining on their current term. That’s just not an issue now with two-year terms, but it would be an issue at least some of the time with three-year terms.


  • That higher turnout will come entirely from people who otherwise would never vote in city elections. To put it gently, that could have an unpredictable effect on lower-profile and multi-candidate races.
  • Having city elections in partisan election years will necessarily make city elections more partisan. Sure, there are partisan elements to city elections now, with some races being more overt than others, but the non-partisan nature of our races now basically ensures that the vast majority of candidates run as inclusive/consensus types. I expect you’d see much harder D and R lines being taken in even years. Again, one may consider that to be more pro than con, but it would be a change.
  • Perhaps of greater concern is the likelihood that city races could get drowned out in a high-profile even year election. Imagine what city elections might look like this year, where we’re sure to get wall-to-wall ads in the Governor’s race for at least the entire month of October.
  • Large disparities in turnout between even and odd years could make for more turnover on Council, as a candidate that got elected under one scenario might well get swept out under the other, in each case with candidate quality not being a major factor.

I’m doing a lot of speculating here, and I could easily be wrong about some of these points, but I think they’re worth considering. Three-year terms would be a big change, some likely good and some maybe not so good. I still think a better answer is to get rid of term limits (which Greg also suggests) and to at least consider some form of public financing for campaigns. At the very least, I’d like to see a real conversation about what we think we’re getting out of imposing these particular limits on this one type of office. It’s been long enough now that I’m confident that “we’ve always done it this way” is the prevailing sentiment. Surely we can come up with something better than that.

Endorsement watch: For the Mayor

The Chron endorses Mayor Parker for a third term.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

During Annise Parker’s first term, Houston was stuck in a drought. The global economy was in an economic downturn. And City Hall had to prune a budget suffering from wilting revenues. At the end of her second term, the grass is green again. Houston’s supercharged energy economy has us growing to new heights. Risk-averse, competent and scandal-free, Parker is using the good times to transform Houston from a city where people want to work into a place where people want to live. Voters should give her a third and final term as mayor to conclude her 16-year marathon run of public service.


The once-hostile relationship between Houston and Harris County has turned into, as one City Council member put it, “a rapid group hug.” And her successful public-private partnerships set a model for unifying Houstonians behind a worthy cause. B-Cycle stations have sprouted up across the Inner Loop. The bayous are being transformed into a citywide system of parks and paths, funded with matching private dollars. Her newly announced Complete Streets plan will help ensure that roads aren’t just for cars, but pedestrians, bikes and businesses.

This is an admirable agenda – we’ve supported it. And yet it lacks a sense of cohesion. If you step back and squint, these individual policies can come together like pixels on a screen. Despite her efforts, there is still too much white space between the policy dots. Our most vulnerable residents are falling through those gaps.

Affordable housing inside city limits is increasingly scarce, and changes that allow denser housing construction only seem to encourage expensive townhouses. Our burglary rate isn’t the worst, but it merits a higher ranking on Parker’s priorities. Human trafficking runs rampant in several parts the city. It isn’t just massage parlors. Kitchens, fields and factories are essentially filled with modern-day serfs. The same trade that has brought our city untold wealth has also made us the crossroads for trafficking in the Western Hemisphere. Parker’s Human Trafficking Task Force is a step in the right direction, but it may not be enough to combat such a pervasive evil.

Memories of Hurricane Ike, which barely missed Houston Ship Channel, should have led our county and coastal cities to implement a storm protection plan years ago. They’ve dallied for too long, and it will fall on the mayor of Houston to set the agenda if no one else will. Too much of our national energy economy relies on Texas’ refineries for another hurricane season to pass by without a plan in place.

Parker has tried to set a comprehensive agenda, and she can secure this ambitious goal for future mayors by overseeing city charter reform that will extend term limits.

Houston is in full bloom. We’re diverse, cool (so they tell us) and an economic powerhouse – the Energy Capital, in more ways than one. We’ve survived the booms and busts, though these days it feels like our city truly follows the ethos engraved at Main Street Square: As we build our city, let us think that we are building forever. Mayor Annise Parker deserves a final term in office.

The endorsement comes with a certain amount of sideshow drama, as Ben Hall refused to participate in the screening because it wasn’t open to the public. You can read his press release here, and a copy of the email exchange between Hall and the Chron is at that first link. Texpatriate notes that this is how the Chron has always done things, and indeed the closed nature of their endorsement screenings has always been one of the many grievances certain partisan interests have had against them. I don’t see the point of this other than to feed into that narrative and hope it gets a few votes from the people that already hold those views, but I suppose if one thinks the process is rigged against them for whatever the reason, one does what one thinks one must. It did generate discussion, so there’s that.

As for the substance of the endorsement, I’m not quite sure what the Chron is getting at about the Mayor’s vision. Does anyone recall what Bill White’s vision was for the city? I’m not being snarky, I just don’t remember it being a big part of his tenure. The only Mayoral candidates I can recall in recent years who had a clearly defined vision was Peter Brown, and the Chron didn’t much care for it. There’s something to be said for having a vision, if it’s a good one, but even more to be said for getting stuff done. I’m also not sure what to make of the Chron’s call for charter review, for which they wrote a separate editorial. I’m happy to have the conversation, but I hardly think Mayor Parker’s third term depends on it to be successful. I can think of plenty of other things I’d like to see her get done ahead of that. PDiddie has more.

KHOU polls the Mayor’s race

The first poll of the season is always exciting news.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Annise Parker seems headed for a runoff in her campaign to keep her job, but she commands more than twice as many supporters as her leading challenger in a newly released poll commissioned by KHOU 11 News and KUHF – Houston Public Radio.

Still, just six weeks before Election Day, roughly half of all surveyed voters either didn’t know or wouldn’t say how they’re going to vote.

Parker leads the pack of candidates at 34 percent, with former city attorney Ben Hall at 14 percent. About 48 percent of voters are classified as undecided, indicating the incumbent mayor will have to fight to keep the post to which she was narrowly re-elected two years ago.

“I don’t see the mayor losing this race,” said Bob Stein, the KHOU political analyst who conducted the survey. “I’m not certain she’ll win it in the general election, like she did in 2011. But the mayor, who tends to get high marks as a mayor, simply doesn’t get what I’d call great public support as a candidate.”

Seven other candidates who filed for the office garnered little support in the poll, but their presence on the ballot may attract just enough votes to toss the election into a runoff.

The Chron story on the poll puts the numbers at 34.1 for the Mayor and 13.6 for Hall. It also reports that Erick Dick was next in line with 2 percent, and that the sample was 424 “people” – I presume that means “registered voters”, not just anyone who answered the phone – with a margin of error of 4.76%.

Couple things here. First, as I have said before, polling in a Mayor’s race is a tricky affair because turnout is low. We had less than 20% turnout in 2009, and not much more than 10% in 2011. Polling “registered voters” and not “mostly people who have voted in at least two of the last three municipal elections” is going to get you a skewed result because you’re going to get a lot of responses from people who will not be voting in November. Just ask Mayor Peter Brown, who was the frontrunner in two separate polls in 2009. Brown’s numbers relative to his opponents were bolstered by his being on the airwaves for weeks at the time of the polls. Hall has not run nearly as many ads as Brown did four years ago, so his lower total is not surprising.

As for Parker’s 34%, there are a couple of ways to look at this. One is to note that it’s slightly less than the support she received in an October 2011 poll, which had her at 39% on a “re-elect or not” question and at 37% in a question where she and all her opponents were named. If Ben Hall, who put out a triumphant press release about this poll, wants to grab onto something, that’s what I’d reach for. Against that is the fact that in 2011, “fully half of likely Houston voters — 50 percent — rate Parker’s job performance ‘fair’ or ‘poor,’ while 47 percent rate her ‘good’ or ‘excellent’.” She did better in this year’s poll, as noted by the Chron:

Political observers said arguably more important than the poll’s horse-race numbers are the wider trends: 62 percent of respondents said Houston is on the right track, 56 percent said they expect the economy to improve in the next few years, and 57 percent said Parker has done an “excellent” or “good” job.

You can see the full numbers here. The “fair” or “poor” total is 41%. These are much better numbers for Parker, and no doubt reflect the better economy as well as her much more peaceful second term. It’s fair to say that overall, she’s in better shape than she was two years ago.

That doesn’t mean she’ll top fifty percent in November, however. Back to KHOU:

Hall has indicated he hopes to garner significant support from two key constituencies: African-American voters and Republicans disenchanted with Parker. But so far, the poll indicates that strategy isn’t working well enough to propel him into office.

“Ben Hall is an African-American former city attorney,” Stein said. “He expects to bring out a large number of African-American voters and win 80, 90 percent of that. Doesn’t seem to be working. Turnout may be a little bit higher among African-American voters, but he’s only winning 29 percent of the African-American vote, to the mayor’s 24 percent.”

Meanwhile, Parker garners 27 percent of Anglo Republican voters’ support compared to Hall’s 11 percent.

Don’t put any stock in Hall’s totals here – the “I don’t know, but then again I’m highly unlikely to vote in November” factor is too big. I refer back to my earlier observation about the African-American vote in the 2009 runoff. Gene Locke received 72% in the old districts B and D. If Ben Hall needs to top that by ten or twenty points, he’s in trouble. That said, Locke did get 83% in District B, and the old District D included some Parker-friendly turf like parts of Montrose, so there is some wiggle room in those numbers. But Hall does have to maximize his share of the vote in his best areas, and he has to boost turnout, and he needs more than just a good share of the vote in Districts B, D, and K. There’s not much here to suggest that he’s on track for that.

Of course, that’s all in the context of a two-candidate race, which is to say a runoff. We’re not in a runoff situation yet. How good a job Parker and Hall do getting their voters to the polls will have a large effect on whether Parker can make it past the 50% line or not. Along the same lines, if the minor candidates combine for about ten percent of the vote, fifty percent is in reach for Parker. If they combine for 20, a runoff is a near certainty. One theory, which Campos voiced last week, is that both Parker and Hall are keeping their powder dry for a runoff, which they both expect. I have no idea if that is the case, and if I’m Team Parker, I’d much rather take my best shot at winning in November. But with the relatively low visibility of the campaigns so far, it’s not completely far-fetched.

Finally, speaking of turnout, here’s the KUHF story:

Mark Jones says the mayor’s race and the Astrodome initiative may draw a few thousand extra voters, but that might work against some of the races.

“That benefits the incumbents some, but it also can lead to a greater probability of a run-off simply because people are casting votes with relatively little information about the candidates in play. The larger the turnout gets, probably the more likely most of these multi-candidate races are to go to a run-off.”

There are about one million registered voters in the City of Houston, but less than 200,000 are expected to turn out for the general election.

I agree that the Astrodome referendum, which is also pretty low key at this time, is unlikely to have much effect on the Mayor’s race. To say the least, however, “less than 200,000 are expected to turn out for the general election” is an understatement. Less than that turned out in the much noisier 2009 general election. My opening over/under line was at 150,000, about the level for the 2009 runoff, but that feels like it might be a bit high, too. It’s still early, and I know both campaigns are doing ground work, but still. I’m not expecting much, and for better or worse one has rarely been wrong taking the under in turnout predictions in recent years. Stace, PDiddie, Bay Area Houston, and Texpatriate have more.

Hall’s five point crimefighting plan

From the inbox:

Ben Hall

Ben Hall

Houstonians do not feel safe in their homes and their communities. Houston’s crime numbers remain dangerously high and criminals are victimizing us daily. The only thing we hear from the Mayor’s office on this issue is silence. It is unacceptable.

“As Mayor, I will make sure that criminals know this City belongs to the law-abiding, and not to criminals. Criminals are not welcome in this city! I intend to send a clear message that we will no longer sit by and allow criminals to hurt, kill and maim the innocent. Your time is up in Houston!” said mayoral candidate Ben Hall. “The current mayor has announced no effective plan to address the problem, instead believing this to be a designated function of just the police. Leadership is needed to set a tone of intolerance for criminal conduct in this city. The consequences of crime are too high for a mayor to remain silent.”

Houston has witnessed too much horror at the hands of criminals. A few days ago, armed robbers opened fire in a Denny’s fatally shooting a grandfather who was shielding children from flying bullets. Shortly thereafter, burglars broke into Sheriff Adrian Garcia’s home and stole his weapon. This must stop!

Contrary to what Ms. Parker claimed earlier this year, Houston has a growing problem with crime. According to FBI crime numbers, Houston murders, robberies, and theft went up between 2011 and 2012. In 2012, Houston experienced 26,630 burglaries, the highest number in the entire country. “It seems that the truth just does not matter to Mayor Parker,” continued Hall. “Crime is too important an issue to play politics with.”

As mayor, Hall is committed to making public safety a top priority and has set forth a five-point plan to tackle this epidemic. His plan includes:

  1. Increasing collaboration between all local law enforcement authorities and upgrading radio communications;
  2. Increasing crime deterrence initiatives in neighborhoods with the use of camera technology;
  3. Stabilizing pension challenges for law enforcement and first-responders and increasing the number of officers;
  4. Having non-violent criminals pay off their sentences by performing community services; and
  5. Expanding job creation programs for first-time offenders to prevent re-imprisonment.

This five-point policy proposal will be further detailed at

I’ve been critical of Hall’s largely details-free campaign so far, and while this isn’t exactly a dissertation it is something specific to examine and critique. Kudos for that, and I hope that promise about further detailing is kept. Now let’s take a look at what is there.

Item 1 is something we’ve seen before. It was a campaign issue in 2009. In fact, Annise Parker, Gene Locke, and Peter Brown all made promises about better coordination with other agencies and upgraded communications equipment. It would be totally fair to examine Mayor Parker’s record and point out wherever she has fallen short.

Item 2 is also something we’ve seen before. The city of Houston already has an extensive network of surveillance cameras, in places like downtown, Westchase, the Medical Center, and on Metro buses and trains. There may be an argument for putting them in other parts of town. There’s also an argument that surveillance cameras generally have no effect on crime and raise legitimate concerns about privacy and government overreach (*cough* *cough* NSA *cough* *cough*). As with item 1, just having it as a bullet point on a campaign platform is not enough to tell us what your intentions are.

I have no idea what “stabilizing pension challenges” has to do with crimefighting, but then Hall has been deliberately vague about his pension plans all along. Unlike the firefighters’ pension plan, the police pension fund is already subject to meet and confer, and it has made numerous concessions to the city in recent years. As for hiring more officers, again this is something everyone promised in 2009. Mayor Parker also promised to shield the public safety budget from the axe in 2010. Far as I know, she kept that promise, as no police officers or firefighters were laid off, but again it would be totally fair to examine that in more detail.

It’s not clear what exactly a Mayor can do about Item Four. At the very least, one would need to have a conversation with the Harris County District Attorney, the various criminal court judges, and possibly the Legislature to make this happen. I favor the idea, but as always, it’s a question of how Hall plans to achieve it. One thing the Mayor could do is direct HPD to issue citations instead of arresting traffic violators and low level drug offenders, as that would help keep the jails from getting too crowded and would allow the cops to stay on the streets more instead of spending hours hauling these non-violent and mostly non-scary people downtown and processing them. Unlike some of these other issues, no one was proposing that back in 2009, and it would likely cause a fair amount of pushback from HPD, which would require spending some political capital to implement it.

Finally, on Item 5, a similar proposal was offered as an amendment to this year’s city budget. The amendment, made by CM Larry Green and backed by CM C.O. Bradford, was to allocate $3 million for a summer jobs program for youth. That’s not exactly the same thing, but it has the same goal.

That also highlights a point that is implicit in these proposals but is otherwise unmentioned, and that’s that most of them will cost money. Upgrading communications equipment costs money. So do surveillance cameras. Houston bought some of the latter with federal Homeland Security grants, and I believe they got some grants for the former as well, but those grants may be harder to come by in this day and age of sequestration and general Republican nihilism. (Good luck calling on either of our Senators to do some budget mojo on our behalf.) Public safety is already the single biggest piece of the budget, and hiring more officers would add to that. I generally support most of Hall’s proposals, and in the case of those that have been around for a few years I’ve supported them all along, but each of these things starts with the question of how Hall, or any Mayor, would pay for them. Not to keep beating a dead horse, but this is why the details matter. Having worthwhile goals is nice. Having worthwhile goals and a clear path to achieving them is necessary. We can’t properly evaluate Hall’s plan without knowing his plan to fund it.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story, which includes a point I hadn’t considered.

As for Hall’s plan to have inmates work off their sentences instead of sitting in their cells, Parker campaign spokeswoman Sue Davis said city inmates stay an average of 24 hours before being released or transferred to the county lockup, making it impractical to put them to work.

Hall said it is the same taxpayers footing the bill, regardless of the jail. He said he is interested in finding a way to put county or city inmates to work on behalf of the public.

“While we’d always want to work with the city to maximize that resource, there’s not a lot of room for expansion,” said Alan Bernstein, spokesman for Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who runs the county jail.

All low-level, nonviolent county jail inmates willing and eligible to participate in outside work already do so, Bernstein said. As of Monday, 196 inmates were approved for outside work, performing graffiti abatement, tree planting and beautification along bayous and other public rights of way, Bernstein said. That number is difficult to increase because more inmates – 793, on Monday – are needed inside the jail for chores the county otherwise would have to pay for, he said.

I was thinking about the legalities of the proposal, but the practicalities need to be considered as well.

What would Ben Hall do for schools?

Ben Hall made his official filing for Mayor on Wednesday, and had a campaign rally after ward. This story is about that and about a new video his campaign released, and it contains three ways in which Hall says he is different than Mayor Parker. One of them is worth highlighting here:

2. Education: “We need to educate and train our kids with the best possible education that any school district or human history can provide. The present mayor believes that’s not her responsibility because she ‘has no statutory authority.’ It’s not about statute, it’s about leadership.” During this comment, the words “Mayor Parker will ignore education. Mayor Hall will expand education” show on the screen.

[Parker campaign spokesperson Sue] Davis responded: ”While Mr. Hall wants to run the schools, Mayor Parker has made sure that city resources are working to strengthen schools and help schoolchildren. She just distributed 25,000 backpacks full of school supplies to children in need. She’s worked to coordinate infrastructure projects near schools and keep our kids safe when they go to school. She’s building new libraries and funding after-school programs. And she’s working with partner organizations to help children stay in school and gain the necessary skills to find good jobs when they graduate.”

Ben Hall

Ben Hall

As with the other two points Hall noted, having to do with economic opportunity and crime prevention, this is what I find so frustrating about Hall’s candidacy. There’s absolutely no detail in this suggestion – I can hardly call it an “idea” with so little substance to it. There’s nothing to indicate what Hall would do as Mayor to this goal of providing the “best possible education that any school district or human history can provide”. Hall brushes aside the Mayor’s point about lacking any statutory authority, but the fact remains that unlike some cities, the Mayor of Houston doesn’t appoint a school chancellor or superintendent, and we have multiple independent school districts with independently elected school boards that have taxing authority and set their own budgets. Some of these school districts are quite large – HISD, Alief, Spring Branch, Kingwood, Cy-Fair – some are small, they cover turf that includes Houston and not-Houston, and they all have their own identity and governing philosophy. While I’m sure that most of them would be willing to work with the city on certain items, I’m equally sure none of them will cede any of their legal rights and responsibilities without a fight that the city would lose because it has no grounds to assert any authority over them. I truly have no clue what Hall has in mind when he says stuff like this. While it’s possible that he’s such a visionary that I can’t even see the box he thinking outside of, it’s also possible that he’s completely unclear about what office it is he’s running for and what that job entails. In the absence of further information, I have to lean towards the latter interpretation.

With all that said, there are some things that a Mayor can do to abet public education in Houston. Mayor Parker herself discussed some of those things, as well as some of the limitations, back in 2009. If you follow those links, you’ll see a number of those themes echoed in Sue Davis’ comments. It would make for a genuinely interesting conversation if Ben Hall had taken Parker’s words from back then and offered an in depth critique of how she’s done on them. Maybe he can bring it up at one of the candidate-forums-that-aren’t-debates that the two of them will be attending.

Or Hall could take a different path and propose something along the lines of Peter Brown’s “urban school district” idea, which would involve putting statutory authority for education under the Mayor. Needless to say, that conversation would have to begin with the Legislature, and I’d bet a considerable fraction of Hall’s bank account that it would go absolutely nowhere, since every school district, superintendent, and school board trustee in the state would line up to oppose it. But it is an idea that’s consistent with what Hall is saying here, and whatever else it is, it would be bold and visionary. But we’d need for him to say that he has something like this in mind first. And that gets back to my complaint about details.

A third act for Jolanda?


CM Jolanda Jones

Jolanda Jones, who lost her at-large position 5 seat in last December’s runoff election, may run in next year’s elections to win a third term on Council — but this time it would be representing District D.

The seat will be open next year because Councilwoman Wanda Adams is termed out.

“I’m keeping my options open,” Jones said Friday when asked if she is running for District D, which extends south of downtown. She lives in the district and her family goes way back in the district, she said.

Jones would have one more obstacle than any other candidate who files for District D: The city attorney says she can’t do it.

Term limits call for a maximum of three two-year terms on Council. However, city law also states: “No person, who has already served two full terms, shall be eligible to file for that same office.”

City Attorney David Feldman opined last year that this precludes people from a non-consecutive third term. Peter Brown resigned in 2009 just days before the end of his second term in attempt to circumvent the prohibition and remain eligible for a third term. It didn’t pass muster with Feldman.

Nor would Jones moving from At-Large 5 to District D, Feldman said in an email Friday, “since a council member is a council member is a council member.”

Jones said simply, “Feldman’s been wrong before.”

I am, of course, Not A Lawyer. So, I’d like for someone who is a lawyer to explain to me the difference between Jolanda Jones and former Council Member Mark Ellis. Ellis was elected as Council Member in District F in 1999, re-elected in 2001, then after serving two full terms ran for and was elected to At Large #1 in 2003. The ordinance in question doesn’t have anything more to it than what was quoted, so I don’t know what else to say. Why Ellis and not Jones or Brown? I welcome your feedback on this.

What would you do with 136 acres near downtown?

Something urban, mixed-use, and transit-oriented, one hopes.

A rare opportunity lies in 136 acres just east of downtown Houston.

The Buffalo Bayou-front parcel, a longtime industrial and office complex, went on the market earlier this summer – a move bayou enthusiasts, East End residents and real estate developers had been anticipating for years.

Some of them say the expansive property – even larger than the former AstroWorld site off the South Loop – offers a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to create a multiuse development incorporating the cultural influences of downtown, the East End and other surrounding historic neighborhoods.

Architect and urban planner Peter Brown envisions a “town center” where a mix of housing types, offices, shops and cultural attractions encircle a central green space.

Those most familiar with the area cite a lengthy wish list, from groceries to book stores to new recreational facilities. City Councilman James Rodriguez, who represents that part of town, would like to see “shops, rooftops and various other amenities for our East End community.”

And he is hardly alone in taking note of the nearly mile-long stretch of bayou frontage. That combination of proximity to water, combined with skyline views, ups the ante.

“People are drawn to cities that offer urban vitality in a natural setting – New York and its harbor, Chicago and its lakefront, Denver and its mountains, Austin and Lady Bird Lake,” said Guy Hagstette, project manager of Buffalo Bayou Park and ex-director of Discovery Green.

I can’t tell exactly where this is, as no street information is given in the story, but give the description, the photo above, and the suggestion made later in the article by Christof Spieler of a streetcar connection to the EaDo/Stadium light rail station, I can sort of guess; I’d say it’s more or less north of that station, looking at the East Line rail map. It’s clear that a development like this, when it happens, will have a transformative effect on the area. Whether that’s good or bad will depend entirely on what ultimately gets built. The Chron solicited a lot of good feedback from a variety of people – former CM Peter Brown had so much to say they wrote a separate article to capture it all – but in the end I don’t know how much effect anything but what the people who buy the land want to do with it will have. We better hope they get it right.

Couple things to add. One, don’t underestimate the value of abutting the Buffalo Bayou. It’s a great natural resource, and many of Houston’s best neighborhoods are built around bayous. If my estimate of where this is and my reading of this Houston Bikeways map is correct, there’s already a bike trail along the bayou in place for the future residents, employees, and shoppers of this location. That would be a nice, convenient way to get into downtown without having to pay to park. Similarly, a streetcar connection to the Harrisburg and Southeast light rail lines would be an excellent addition and would make the development much more transit-accessible. A short streetcar line could be put in for a fairly small amount of money – the 3-mile-long line that Fort Worth eventually decided not to install had a price tag of $88 million. A line from this development to the EaDo/Stadium station would be not nearly that long and would probably only require one car. It could be paid for by the city, Metro, and the developer – I can’t think of a better use of a 380 agreement than that.

Finally, something I’ve said before but cannot be said too often is that Houston has a lot of empty spaces and underpopulated areas in it that can and really should be pushed for development as residential or mixed-used properties. Many of them can use existing infrastructure, though improvements will need to be made. Many already have access or proximity to transit, which would allow for denser development. There are a lot of places that can be developed that are close in to downtown or other employment hubs like the Medical Center or Greenspoint. The city has advantages that the increasingly far-flung reaches of unincorporated Harris County do not, and it really needs to prioritize making affordable housing available inside its boundaries for people who would prefer to live closer in, and to make it an attractive alternative to those who might not have thought about it otherwise. Population is power, and if the city isn’t growing it’s going to be losing out. There’s plenty going on for the high-end buyer and that’s good, but it’s a small piece of the market. The KBR site is a great opportunity, but it’s far from the only one. The city needs to find ways to get as many of those other opportunities going as it can.

On getting to walkable urbanism

This story about neighborhood opposition to the Kroger 380 agreement doesn’t quite get at what I think are the key issues that need to be discussed.

[O]pponents of both the Wal-Mart and Kroger deals say suburban-style big-box stores don’t fit a widely-held urban vision for Washington Avenue Corridor. They’d like to see more incentives offered for development by small businesses or in more needy neighborhoods.

“It’s a lost opportunity for how we should be developing our urban space,” said Tom Dornbusch, who lives in Woodcrest. “Why don’t we incentivize something appropriate for these sites rather than just servicing the frontage roads on I-10?”

That five members of Houston City Council opposed the Kroger deal at least shows that neighborhood activists have “raised the consciousness” of some council members since the Ainbinder agreement was approved, Dornbusch said.

Dornbusch is an officer in the Washington Avenue Coalition/Memorial Park Super Neighborhood Council, a coalition of homeowner groups well-versed on planning and quality of life issues in this redeveloping area west of downtown. These groups helped raise matching funds for a Liveable Centers Study of the Washington Avenue Corridor.

Former City Councilman Peter Brown, an architect and urban planner with nonprofit Better Houston, has aided their planning efforts.

Like Dornbusch, he thinks the area is well-suited to become a teeming urban landscape that accommodates both pedestrians and transit, either rail or streetcar, which the neighborhoods have embraced.

But right now, economic development favors “the lands, Pearland, Sugar Land and the Woodlands,” Brown said, and that brings big-box stores to the fore.

“These are the kinds of things that city policy needs to consider, and it is evolving. It is evolving toward smaller urban growth. We’re just not there yet,” Brown said.

The issues here, at least as I see them, are whether it’s a good idea for the city to pursue 380 agreements of any kind in areas where development is likely to occur naturally, and whether the developments that are being pursued in these two 380 locations are suitable and desirable from an urbanist perspective. I can’t quite tell from the story whether Dornbusch and Brown are evaluating these deals separately or lumping them together. As I see it, the two sites are fundamentally different. There’s no reason why the Ainbinder/Washington Heights property couldn’t or shouldn’t be connected to and a key part of the walkable urban vision for the Washington corridor. It abuts a neighborhood to the west and apartments to the south – there used to be apartments to the east as well, but they were torn down to make room for more suburban-style development – and is certainly close enough to be reachable from a future Inner Katy rail line stop or streetcar stop at Heights Boulevard. With the West End Multipurpose Center and some townhome development already there, and who knows what to come in where the Center Street recycling center currently is, the Ainbinder location could be an epicenter of a real urban neighborhood. Instead, it’s going to be more like a sinkhole, separating places that should be connected, and that’s just a shame and a wasted opportunity.

The Kroger location, on the other hand, seems to me to be a much better fit for a supermarket or other car-oriented shopping center. Its neighbors are things like Arne’s, the Sawyer Heights Target center, Party Boy, and a truck depot. Where Yale and Heights have sidewalks that can connect the Washington Heights site to either side of I-10 if you ensure there’s a safe pedestrian crossing there, Studemont has no sidewalk from I-10 north to Stude Street, and from Hicks south to Center there’s only a very narrow sidewalk on the east side of the street. The eventual connection of Summer Street ought to be walkable, but Studemont will still serve as a dead end for anyone on foot. Otherwise, it’s basically cut off from Washington to the south and the Heights to the north. Who would ever walk there? With a long-term plan and control of most of the property between I-10 and Center, and Studemont and Sawyer, you could build something urban, but how likely is that to happen on its own? Washington Heights is close to that, or at least it was before Ainbinder screwed it up. Sawyer Heights isn’t.

Because of that, I don’t have any philosophical objections to a grocery store going in at that location, even though I know it’s going to mess up traffic. The question about 380 agreements is going to be more in the forefront – litigation will do that – but I don’t want to lose sight of the suitability question. I think it’s the more important discussion to have.

So will we have a Mayor’s race or not?

We’re now more than a month into the city election fundraising season, and as of this week the only person to file a declaration of Treasurer for the office of Mayor is the incumbent, Annise Parker. As of this time two years ago, all four major candidates had not only filed Treasurer’s reports but had already made formal announcements of their candidacies. Anyone who may be interested in challenging Mayor Parker now has one less month in which to raise money for their campaign.

At this point, I can’t even say there’s much happening in the rumor mill. I’d heard some chatter about two weeks ago that Council Member C.O. Bradford was going to be meeting with “advisors” about a possible entry into the race, but nothing since then. I’ve not heard a peep about Paul Bettencourt since his profile in the Chron was published nearly two months ago. Bradford as we know is not exactly flush with cash, and isn’t known as a prodigious fundraiser. Bettencourt, who likely can raise some bucks but would be starting out at zero, has never run in a non-partisan city election before, and has never really run in a race where his party wasn’t expected to make up a majority of the voters. The clock is ticking, for them and for anyone else out there who might be thinking about it.

It’s still early, and Mayor Parker is neither as popular as Bill White was six years ago nor in as favorable a climate, so it’s still the case that anything can happen. But the longer we go without anyone taking a concrete step towards a candidacy, the less likely it is that anything of consequence will happen.

Gov 2.0

I hope that the new year will bring more of this to Houston.

Welcome to a movement the tech crowd is calling “Gov 2.0” — where mobile technology and GPS apps are helping give citizens like Newmark more of a say in how their local tax money is spent. It’s public service for the digital age.

A host of larger U.S. cities from San Francisco to New York quietly have been releasing treasure troves of public data to Web and mobile application developers.

That may sound dull. But tech geeks transform banal local government spreadsheets about train schedules, complaint systems, potholes, street lamp repairs and city garbage into useful applications for mobile phones and the Web.

The aim is to let citizens report problems to their governments more easily and accurately; and to put public information, which otherwise may be buried in file cabinets and Excel files, at the fingertips of taxpayers.

Peter Brown specifically mentioned using this kind of technology during his Mayoral campaign. I hope that it’s an area where he was able to influence Mayor-Elect Parker while he was supporting her during the runoff. The thing about this is that the main expense the city would incur is in making its own data publicly available in a usable format like XML. Once the data is out there, app developers will jump on it and take it from there. Some thought needs to be given to how to manage users’ expectations – just because you submit a photo of a pothole doesn’t mean it’ll get fixed immediately, for instance – but as long as people understand what this sort of thing is all about, I think it’ll be a big hit. Thanks to Martha, who has some other suggestions for how to leverage these innovations, for the link.

Not-quite-an-endorsement-but-close-enough watch: Roy for Annise

As we know, Peter Brown endorsed Annise Parker for Mayor fairly soon after the November election. That left the question about what, if anything, Roy Morales would do. Via Big Jolly, we now know the answer. Apparently, Roy sent out a short questionnaire to Parker and to Gene Locke. Parker responded, Locke did not. So, Roy sent out this mailer, presumably to his supporters (Big Jolly did not indicate the size of the audience), which speaks for itself. Click and see what I mean. David Ortez has more.

Third poll shows Parker leading

And we have our first poll from a source other than one of the campaigns, but like those two before it, this one shows Annise Parker in the lead.

The poll consisted of 500 telephone interviews with registered Houston voters who consider themselves likely to vote in the December 12 runoff election. Early voting begins November 30 and ends December 8. The Center for Civic Engagement at Rice University and the University of Houston Center for Public Policy Survey Research Institute conducted the poll for KHOU-TV and KUHF Radio.

According to the poll, 37 percent of likely voters plan to cast a ballot for Parker. Thirty-four percent say they will vote for Locke. Because the margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 percent, the poll is a statistical tie. Twenty-one percent of likely voters still have not decided, and eight percent would not disclose their choice in our survey.

You already know how I feel about a poll in a race like this using self-identification as the criteria for voter likelihood. The previous KHOU poll, as well as the Chron poll, clearly illustrate the danger. The question as always is how many of these people really are likely to vote. My guess is that most if not all of the “don’t know” respondents are at best long shots to show up.

“We see this race as very much a toss-up,” said Rice University professor Bob Stein, who conducted the poll. “The good news for Gene Locke is that we see some room for improvement for him. He needs to get more familiar with African-American voters, and he needs to turn out more of them. When they do vote, they vote decidedly for Locke. The good news for Annise Parker is that her vote is solid.”

The poll showed that 97 percent of the people who voted for Parker in the November 3 general election plan to vote for her again on December 12. For Locke, the figure was 87 percent.

“It appears this is race is one in which Gene Locke is still not very well known to voters,” Stein said. “Our numbers show that if this is a low-turnout runoff, then Parker wins it by five points. But if turnout is higher, then we find it is almost dead even.”

That conforms to the conventional wisdom as I’ve been hearing it. I don’t know how KHOU modeled that, though I presume it involves a higher relative level of African-American turnout. There are no crosstabs that I can see, but there is some demographic breakdown given, some of which you can see in pictures. Note to whoever created those slides: The margin of error for a subsample is larger than the MOE for the sample as a whole. Just FYI.

One more thing:

Among voters who say they supported Peter Brown in the general election, 38 percent say they will vote for Locke in the runoff, and 46 percent plan to vote for Parker. Brown has endorsed Parker in the runoff, and is actively campaigning for her. Among people who say they voted for Roy Morales, 31 percent say they will vote for Locke, and 16 percent will support Parker. Forty-nine percent of Morales voters told pollsters they have not decided who, if anyone, to support.

Well, Locke is certainly working for the Roy vote. We’ll see how that goes from here.

As the story notes, this poll was a joint venture with KUHF. The main thing we learn from the KUHF story is that other races were polled as well.

Councilmembers Ronald Green and MJ Khan are in the run-off to become Houston’s next controller, essentially the chief financial officer for the city. The KUHF-11News survey shows Green has a slight lead with 25 percent of people saying they’ll vote for him, compared to Khan’s 22 percent.

But Rice University Political Scientist Bob Stein, who authored the survey, says 46 percent of respondents don’t even know who they’ll vote for on December 12th.


According to our survey, two incumbents, Sue Lovell and Jolanda Jones, hold slim leads over their challengers. And the race between Stephen Costello and Karen Derr, which Costello leads by four points, is practically unheard of outside political circles. As many as 65 percent of likely voters say they’re undecided in those races.

My qualms about the voter likelihood screen aside, it sure would be nice to see these results in more detail.

UPDATE: Martha brings the snark.

UPDATE: Oh, and speaking of Locke’s pursuit of Roy’s voters.

Allen Blakemore thinks he knows where the finger lands. The Republican campaign consultant says that if you voted for Morales in October, you’re going to love – sorry, strike that – you’re going to vote for Gene Locke in December.

“It’s not an easy sell for Gene, and it’s not an easy decision for those voters to come to,” Blakemore told me. In the end, though, Locke has two things going for him when you, the right-of-center voter, step into the voting booth: 1) He doesn’t have a voting record and Annise Parker does, particularly on taxes; 2) Parker’s “lifestyle” still gives you pause.

A Locke-Morales pas de deux in the works? More to come shortly.

I for one cannot wait to hear more about this. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the man, here are two prime examples of Blakemore’s work. Fills you up with a warm feeling inside, doesn’t it?

Precinct analysis: The top 50

Martha has a nice look at the 50 precincts inside the city of Houston in which the most votes were cast, and how each of the four contenders for Mayor did in them. I’ve copied the data into this Google spreadsheet so that I could add in total and percentages. Here’s how that breaks down:

Candidate Votes Pct ======================== Parker 17,162 36.93 Morales 12,322 26.52 Brown 10,139 21.82 Locke 5,633 12.12

So in these 50 precincts, which make up about 25% of the total vote, Parker led Locke by a 3-1 margin. You have to be a little careful about drawing any broad conclusions here, since this is a heterogeneous set of precincts, in which Parker or Morales were the top votegetters in all but two, but that looks like an impressive performance to me.

Now of course, with a finite data set like this, for Parker to do better than her overall performance here she must have done not as well as her overall performance elsewhere, with the same being true in reverse for Locke. Here’s how it looks for the remaining 700+ precincts:

Candidate Votes Pct ======================== Locke 38,341 29.98 Parker 36,757 28.74 Brown 29,317 22.92 Morales 23,480 18.36

Locke edges ahead here, as Parker’s margin over him in the other precincts was larger than her total margin over him. There’s a lot more voters here than there are in the top 50, so he doesn’t have to do as well percentage-wise to move ahead. By my calculation, if you redistribute the votes in these precincts so Locke got 35% and Parker 24%, he’d have finished ahead of her. Having said that, I’d rather depend on a smaller number of big boxes than a larger number of small ones to hit my target. That just seems like the simpler task to me.

Brown for Parker, Holm for Khan

As expected, Peter Brown endorsed Annise Parker for Mayor in the runoff.

In a news conference on the steps of City Hall, Brown today announced that he would be casting his vote for Parker in the runoff election December 12 and he asked all his supporters, friends and family to do the same.

Brown said: “One candidate stands out with a 12-year proven track record of public service, particularly in terms of efficient, transparent government, the quality of life in our neighborhoods, and fiscal responsibility, especially important in these difficult economic times.“

Brown also encouraged all of his “supporters, friends, and all who believe in the enormous potential of our great city” to join Parker’s campaign.

“I am proud to accept this endorsement from Peter Brown,” said Parker. “Councilmember Brown has dedicated his life to improving the quality of life in Houston. I know his service to his community will continue and I look forward to working with him as Mayor.”

If I hadn’t known this was coming, I’d have gotten a pretty good hint after receiving two press releases from the Gene Locke campaign, one touting the endorsement of Bishop James Dixon (Community of Faith), Pastor D.Z. Cofield (Good Hope Baptist Church) and Pastor Emeritus William Lawson (Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church), all of whom had been Brown supporters in the first round, and one rapping Parker for accepting the endorsement of someone she’d been criticizing not long ago. I know, hard to believe such things happen in politics; I trust you can fetch your own smelling salts as needed. Had the shoe been on the other foot, I’m sure Locke would have happily accepted the endorsement of someone who had been busily trashing him in the closing weeks of the campaign, and Parker would have sent out a similar release pointing it out. It’s the circle of life, you know? Miya has more.

Also as expected, Pam Holm gave her endorsement to MJ Khan in the runoff for Controller. From his press release:

“M.J. Khan has shown that he has the knowledge and dedication to really be a strong voice for the taxpayers of Houston, as the next City Controller,” stated Pam Holm. “I have endorsed M.J. today because I know that he will lead the City in a fiscally responsible manner and help the City through these challenging times. I will support M.J. throughout this runoff election and let my supporters know that he is the candidate who can effectively serve the citizens of Houston as the watchdog of the city’s finances.”

Councilmember Holm is currently serving her third term on Houston City Council, representing District G. As a candidate for City Controller she campaigned for a clear path toward fiscal responsibility, emphasizing the need for increased transparency with the city’s finances

“I am both humbled and honored to receive the endorsement of Councilmember Holm. Her endorsement is a great boost to my campaign. Along the campaign trail she championed for transparency, smarter government and sound fiscal leadership. I plan to continue to carry that torch for her during this runoff election,” M.J. Khan stated. “As the campaign moves forward we are garnering more and more support and with the endorsement of Councilmember Holm we are building an even stronger base of support.”

Khan’s presser followed Parker and Brown’s, and was followed by Locke’s all in front of the reflection pool. If the city charged rent for using the steps to City Hall for this sort of thing, we’d have this budget shortfall solved already.

Peter Brown has an announcement, too

We are about to find out who Peter Brown is backing in the Mayor’s race. From the press release he sent out last night at 10:30:


Peter Brown will host a press conference, joined by family, friends and supporters, announcing his endorsement in the mayoral runoff.

WHO: Houston City Council Member and former Candidate for Mayor Peter Brown
WHAT: Peter Brown makes an official endorsement in the mayoral runoff
WHEN: Tuesday, November 10th at 1:30 PM
WHERE: Steps of City Hall, 901 Bagby St., facing the reflection pool

This is immediately after MJ Khan’s press conference, in the same location. Speculate away in the comments who you think he’s got in mind.

UPDATE: KHOU’s Alex Sanz says on Twitter “Reports are circulating that Houston councilman Peter Brown will endorse former opponent Annise Parker in the race for Houston mayor.”

UPDATE: Mary Benton says Brown is endorsing Parker, too.

Precinct analysis: The Mayorals by Council district

I’ve got some preliminary precinct data from the County Clerk’s office, and have been doing my usual spreadsheet action on it to get a handle of how the vote went this past Tuesday. What follows below is a look at the Mayoral vote by City Council district. If you want a more visual analysis of the data, go see Greg‘s maps.

Dist Parker Locke Brown Morales ======================================= A 7,450 2,601 4,937 6,312 B 1,537 8,774 2,931 681 C 10,439 4,522 5,224 4,156 D 6,185 11,928 4,642 1,007 E 5,741 3,147 5,734 8,084 F 2,714 2,079 3,026 1,935 G 11,183 4,985 7,643 9,881 H 6,011 3,119 3,082 2,143 I 2,650 2,815 2,215 1,582

Breaking it down one candidate at a time:

Annise Parker turned in a solid performance pretty much everywhere. She finished first in Districts A, C, G, and H, came in second in D, E, F, and I, and third in B, which was her only poor showing. Whatever we might have believed about Locke’s pincer strategy or Peter Brown’s supposed Republican appeal, it was Parker who ran the best overall in the Republican districts. Now, there are still plenty of Democratic voters in those places, and I suspect Parker cleaned up with them to post these results. If so, and if she can entice some former Brown backers to come to her side next month, she’ll be in a very strong position to win.

Beyond the obvious fact that he did indeed make it to the runoff, I have to figure that Gene Locke isn’t too happy with his performance last week. He finished last in as many districts (three – A, E, and G) as he did first (B, D, and I, just barely), and finished third in two others (C and F; he finished second in H). It’s less obvious what his path to victory in the runoff is, though clearly he will need to get the Brown voters from B and D into his column, and to try to convince African-American voters who sat it out in the first round to come out next month. I guess he can try to appeal to Republican voters, but given his dismal showing with them plus the possibility of pushing more Anglo Dems into Parker’s camp, I have my doubts about that. Maybe he can make some headway with Latinos for Locke, but they didn’t exactly turn out in droves last week, and Parker did pretty well with them besides. There are possibilities for him, I’m just not sure he can make enough of them work for him. But we’ll see.

Peter Brown was Mister Consistency. Outside of D (-3.12%) and F (+5.87%), he finished within three points of his overall 22.55% total in every district. He finished first in F, second in B and C, and third everywhere else. I have to assume his 21% showing in B damaged Locke, though it’s unclear to me how much his attacks on Locke actually helped him. Whoever his voters are, they can have a huge effect in the runoff if they come back out.

Ah, Roy Morales. What can you say? He did do well in the Republican areas, finishing first in E by carrying Clear Lake and Kingwood, and second in A and G. Everywhere else, he finished last. If that’s what the full force of the Harris County GOP can do for you, I would expect more of the same for Roy if and when he runs again citywide. Greg noted that Roy did reasonably well in some Hispanic boxes. All I can add to that is that it’s not apparent from his overall performance in H and I.

Finally, for the morbidly curious, the three fringe candidates had their best combined showing in District F, garnering a total of 1.95% of the total. Amada Ulman received 1.16% in F, which was the only time any of them broke the one percent barrier. Their worst combined showing was in D, where they finished with 0.55% of the vote. I know you’re glad to know that.

Here’s the Chron analysis of the race. I’ll be taking a look at the City Controller and City Council races next. Let me know what you think about this.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that this is Harris County data only, so the small pieces of Districts D and F that are in Fort Bend, and the even smaller piece of E that is in Montgomery are not included.

It’s all about Roy

This article is supposedly about how Annise Parker and Gene Locke have started to get their campaigns back on track for the runoff, but the vast majority of it is about Roy Morales, who is apparently the most famous fourth-place finisher ever.

Annise Parker and Gene Locke, contenders in a Dec. 12 runoff, were favorites from the beginning, while Roy Morales, the only Republican in the race, had little money, minuscule name recognition and single-digit poll numbers just a few days before the election. In the end, though, the retired Air Force lieutenant colonel placed only a few percentage points behind Peter Brown, a city councilman who blanketed the airwaves with his “blueprint” for Houston and poured nearly $4 million of his family fortune into the race. The Morales surge probably knocked Brown out of the runoff.

“I didn’t take votes from Brown,” Morales said in an interview Wednesday. “I recaptured my votes from him. Mr. Brown was trying to portray himself as a conservative. Peter is a liberal.”

Analysts said Morales took advantage of media opportunities that put him on the same stage as his opponents to send a clear message.

In every campaign appearance — and there were more than 40 with all four major candidates — Morales beat the drum of Republican Party orthodoxy. His message was a one-note sonata: I’m conservative, these other people aren’t. I’ll cut your taxes, these other people won’t.

I’ll stipulate that this was Roy’s vote-maximizing strategy, and that he got a good bang for his buck. And in the end, that strategy was good for 20% of the vote and a fourth-place finish. Doesn’t seem like a productive path towards actually winning an election and doing all that tax-cutting you want to do, but maybe I just don’t understand the nature of conservative victory.

Putting this another way, this strategy netted Roy 35,802 votes. In 2007, with an electorate that was 2/3 the size of this one, Roy got 34,235 votes. At this rate, he’ll be poised to break through in 2035 or so. Run, Roy, run!

Anyway. Martha deals with the extremely spurious claim that GOP volunteers made 200,000 calls on Roy’s behalf on Election Day. (Did anyone get one of these? Seems to me if they did do all that dialing, a fair number of my readers were probably on the receiving end. Leave a comment and let me know.) Let’s take them at their word for a minute, and assume that had there not been this massive GOTV effort on Roy’s part, he’d have done as well on Election Day as he had in early voting. He got 15.37% of the early vote, compared to 22.86% on Tuesday. Plug the numbers in, and he’d have gotten 17,499 votes instead of the 26,030 he did get, for a difference of 8,531. That’s actually a pretty decent return – in fact, if you add another 8,531 votes to Roy’s final total, he’d have edged past Gene Locke and would be in the runoff with Annise Parker. Kind of makes you wonder why they weren’t doing all this for him from the beginning, doesn’t it? If you believe they really did it for him in the end, that is.

Where was I? Oh, yes, what the headline of this story says it’s about, which is the restart of the Parker and Locke campaigns.

Parker and Locke jumped right back into campaign mode Wednesday. After an early TV appearance, Parker went to City Hall to present her monthly financial report to City Council. Locke also was on early-morning TV.

Both worked the phones to woo potential newcomers to their campaigns, thank supporters and raise money for what many expect will be a hard-fought contest.

In an e-mail to supporters, Parker was blunt about her financial requirements.

“I need to raise more than one million dollars in the next four weeks to compete with the projected spending of my opponent,” she said.

As noted, Annie’s List is already beating the drum for Parker, and there’s a fundraiser hosted by Roland Garcia, who resigned from the Sports Authority to back Parker, on Tuesday. I’m sure Locke will have similar stuff going on, though word of it has not hit my Inbox as yet. Much more to come, I’m sure.

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.

Enthusiasm, or lack of same

The Chron provides some decent anecdotal evidence to support the theory that voters aren’t all that engaged in this election.

The deciding factor varied widely for many, according to interviews with more than 40 voters across the city during the last two days of early voting. While the interviews are not statistically significant enough to provide a meaningful idea of how the election will play out Tuesday, they do provide a voter’s view of an unusual mayoral race.

Experience ranked high among those who favored City Controller Annise Parker. Endorsements were cited repeatedly by backers of former city attorney Gene Locke. Supporters — and opponents — of Brown said they had been motivated by his dominance of their television sets and mailboxes, either appreciating his “blueprint” for Houston or feeling put off by a candidate who spent more than $3 million to get his message out.

Those who chose Harris County Board of Education Trustee Roy Morales said they did so because of his conservative bona fides, something the other three candidates — all lifelong Democrats — lacked.

Many expressed lukewarm preferences overall, calling their choice simply the “lesser evil” of the four.

There’s plenty of passion among those who are closest to the campaigns, but that didn’t spill out very far, for reasons we’re all familiar with by now. I don’t quite get the “lesser evil” sentiment, since that’s the sort of thing I associate with candidates that have significant flaws, and that’s not how I see the top three here. Maybe the lack of sharp policy distinction, which leads to more of a focus on personalities, is the cause of that, I don’t know. If that’s what you think now, just wait till the runoff.

More on that KHOU poll

If you say so.

Once considered a front-runner, support for Houston City Council member Peter Brown appears to be slipping in independent polling data released to 11 News.

Rice University professor Bob Stein, who conducted earlier polls for KHOU-TV and KUHF Radio, used an “interactive voice response” system this week to re-interview many of the likely voters who took part in the first rounds of polling, which KHOU and KUHF released this week. Stein also used the IVR system to question new groups of registered Houston voters who described themselves as likely to vote in the mayoral election.

“There is a closing of the gap between all of the candidates,” Stein said. “It’s still very wide open.”

11 News is not releasing specific numbers or candidate rankings based on the IVR poll, because it is not considered part of our official polling package. Stein said the data indicate that support for controller Annise Parker and former city attorney Gene Locke has surged over the last two weeks, often at the expense of Brown, who has spent millions of dollars on a sustained television advertising campaign.

I don’t even know what there is to say about this. The original poll was based on a sample that I find questionable, especially given the low turnout projections. I’m not sure what there is to learn by asking followup questions of people who were – to my mind, anyway – unlikely to vote in the first place. Without being able to see the data itself, I’m even more dubious. I can certainly believe that Brown’s support is soft, I just don’t think this is telling me something I didn’t already know.

Don’t mess with Bill

As everyone expected, Mayor White has stayed the heck out of the race to replace him. So it’s a pretty big deal when he feels compelled to speak up about something that is happening in the race.

Mayor Bill White […] injected himself into the race for the first time to fact-check a mailer City Councilman Peter Brown sent out criticizing his opponents. The mail piece accuses City Controller Annise Parker of missing reporting deadlines for annual audits and “significant deficiencies” that left “Houston’s financial security at risk.”

“The city has not been put at financial risk,” White said in an e-mail released by Parker’s campaign. The mayor, who is term-limited and has not endorsed a candidate, added that the delays in the audits were caused by the implementation of new financial accounting software.

“The Controller is not responsible for these delays and the reasons for delays were discussed openly at City Council meetings with some frequency,” the e-mail says.

You can see the mailer in question here, a copy of Mayor White’s email to Controller Parker here, and Parker’s rebuttal to Brown’s charges here. I have to say, I’ve generally admired the campaign Brown has run, but this was bush league. I find demagoguery about taxes to be tiresome in general, but especially in this election when everyone agrees the city has financial difficulties now and ahead of it, everyone has plans to do stuff that will cost money – things like flood abatement, for instance, which everyone agrees is a big priority – and no one has a plan to pay for any of it besides cutting “waste”, finding efficiencies, and hoping to bring new businesses to town. I find the claim about Houston having a $1.5 billion operating deficit to be mostly crankery, but even if it’s not, it’s not something that just cropped up in the last few months. A two-term member of Council could have been speaking about about that problem for quite some time if it were such a concern. I personally thought the trash pickup fee was an idea worth pursuing. In case it’s not clear, I don’t find much merit in the claims Brown is making in his mailer.

One more thing from the story:

Burt Keller, a former city councilman who supports Locke, said that while some people are quick to criticize negative campaigning, it often is the most efficient way to distinguish between candidates. Voters, he said, are not always as put off as one might think.

“It’s what they expect,” he said. “It’s just like football or boxing. People who watch it like seeing people get tackled, or in boxing, they like watching people get hit in the face.”

If nothing else, attacks force you to really decide whether you like a candidate or not. It’s a lot harder to have vague feelings about a candidate when he or she is under attack, or attacking someone else. Nothing turns a soft supporter into a passionate one faster than a belief that his or her preferred candidate is being unfairly maligned.