This board was severely displeased by Mayor Annise Parker’s first term in office. Misplaced priorities and painful austerity measures led us to believe that Houston was without exemplary leadership and that, perhaps, we could do better. Accordingly, after Mayor Parker won re-election to a second term in 2011, we looked with anticipation as high-profile candidates were discussed to challenge the Mayor in the 2013 election, as she would battle for her third and final term as Mayor. Eventually, after better suited candidates such as Councilmember C.O. Bradford ruled out a Mayoral run, former City Attorney Ben Hall decided to challenge the Mayor.
But a funny thing happened in Mayor Parker’s second term. Houston starting booming, and good things started happening, both on Bagby Street and Main Street. While it would be easy to to attribute this success to an economy largely out of City Government’s hands, this board believes that, in at least some small part, Houston’s recent successes have been the result of a different, more successful, leadership style from the Mayor. Whereas in her first term, Mayor Parker attempted to extend the consensus-building, moderate stances of her predecessor, Bill White, she has become more comfortable with not trying to please everyone in the last biennial.
That being said, this board was still excited to see the entrance of Ben Hall into the Mayor’s election. Mr Hall is an intelligent, hard-working public servant. We hoped that his entrance in the Mayor’s election would foster a real discussion between candidates on pertinent issues. We hoped the election would serve as a quintessential referendum on an incumbent, featuring a fearless, principled challenger.
Unfortunately, this board is still waiting on that fearless, principled challenger to show up, because Mr Hall is not him. Ostensibly a Democrat, Mr Hall has taken convoluted and contradictory political positions in a thinly-veiled effort to appeal to Republican voters. While we do not object to political mavericks or diverse point-of-views, the endless flip-flopping on the part of Mr Hall is somewhat distinct, somewhat reminiscent of the equivocation seen from Mr Romney in last year’s presidential election.
Mr Hall has bucked both his own party and common sense on taxes, on gay rights and on pensions, all in a desperate attempt to outflank Mayor Parker from the right. He has talked vaguely of corruption from the Mayor, without providing any specific examples.
There are a plethora of issues Mr Hall could –and should– have raised in his campaign. This board was seriously disappointed to see Mayor Parker push an ordinance that criminalized giving food to homeless people on public land. We were equally opposed to serious agenda items, such as a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT people and an ordinance prohibiting texting-while-driving, being put on the back burner by Mayor Parker.
Similarly, we believe that Mr Hall raised some good issues and points, though only in the abstract. Mr Hall highlighted the problem of the “revolving door” in Houston, where former city officials immediately become lobbyists in a form of legalized insider trading. He also reminded Houstonians that our city has a burglary rate that is too high. However, rather than providing constructive commentary and perspective on these issues, Mr Hall moved away from any concrete opinion on the topic. He provided no specific solutions for the issues, simply wanting to expose the problem. In fact, on his commercial on the topic of crime, Mr Hall’s only specific was a vague promise to implement surveillance cameras and to nearly inflict cruel and unusual punishment on criminals. This board finds such actions unfit for an aspiring public servant.
On the same token, Mayor Parker has redeemed many of her past mistakes. Many, if not most, of the city employees furloughed and laid off during austerity have been rehired by the City. The problematic homeless feeding ordinance has been toned down, and the Mayor even spearheaded an effort to decriminalize dumpster diving. And while this board has been disappointed to see Mayor Parker putting items such as a non-discrimination ordinance on the back burner, we are quick to note that Mr Hall has never unequivocally supported such an ordinance.
We have also been pleased to see Mayor Parker taking a more active role in bigger issues throughout both the State and the Country. During Wendy Davis’ recent filibuster, Mayor Parker’s campaign hosted a viewing party for all those standing in solidarity with Senator Davis. When the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, Mayor Parker was the first City official to speak out, as she was the next day when the high court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.
This board is also aware of the other candidates in this race, including Mr Eric Dick. We find that all of these candidates lack the clarity and political experience to be the Mayor of the fourth largest city in the country. This position requires serious commitment and a high level of competence. While we are confident many of these candidates posses those values, the lack of public office removes any vetting process and gives us cause for concern.
As Mr Hall is so fond of saying, in the upcoming biennial, the City will face some major issues that require leadership and vision. Simply put, this board believes Mayor Parker is the only candidate who possesses both. She sees the invaluable need that Government fills in our society, but understands its limits, especially on spending. We believe she has, and will continue to, provide decent leadership in solving the City’s pension problems. Further, the passage of a new “Density chapter,” colloquially known as Chapter 42, by the City Council earlier this year, shows us that Mayor Parker is invested in the serious challenges the city will faces well down the road, long after she will be out of municipal politics.
Mayor Parker has held municipal office for nearly 14 years, a soundbite Mr Hall enjoys raising. He believes that, in an effort to counter perpetual politicians, we must repudiate Mayor Parker at the ballot boxes. However, Houston’s tough term limits prevent lifetime politicians in the first place. Mayor Parker, if she is re-elected this year, will be ineligible to run for any other Municipal post–ever. Mr Hall presents a false choice of “change or the same Mayor for the foreseeable future.”
Instead, this board presents an alternative choice. Support a challenger with no defined issues, or continue the course for two more years. We strongly recommend the latter, a vote for Annise Parker for Mayor of Houston.
The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey & Noah M. Horwitz of Boston and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans.