Texpatriate: Why Ben Hall lost

Note: The following Editorial was written wholly by Noah M. Horwitz.

Longtime readers of this blog will remember that I was no fan of Annise Parker’s first term. The Mayor tried to continue in her predecessor’s style of moderation and consensus-building. However, for whatever reason, Parker was not very successful down this path. Whether one attributes this to her leadership style or outside variables such as the economy, Parker was only able to cobble together a bare coalition of the middle that garnered her a mere 50.8% in her 2011 re-election.

Accordingly, Parker was very vulnerable as the clock ticked towards the 2013 election. While her shift to the left in her second term carried favor with individuals such as myself, it decimated her support amongst Republicans/Conservatives. Continued policies of limited austerity, as well as an asinine ordinance criminalizing giving food to the homeless, caused many Democrats/Liberals to lend only unenthusiastic support.

City Councilmember C.O. Bradford, an unabashed critic of the Mayor in recent years, was seen as an ideal opponent who would have brought a real chance of defeat to Parker. Instead of Bradford, Parker’s main opponent ended up being Ben Hall, a former City Attorney in the 90s. Hall briefly flirted with the idea of running for Mayor in 2009, but ultimately dropped out and supported Gene Locke (Locke, like Hall, was a City Attorney under Mayor Bob Lanier).

On paper, Hall was the perfect candidate; the kind that would cause Mayor Parker to shake in her shoes. Experienced both at City Hall and in the private sector, Hall had unique perspective as neither a career politician nor a political novice. A moderate, African-American Democrat, Hall was in a unique position to attract the constituencies needed to defeat Parker. Also, Hall is excessively wealthy and articulate. So how did Hall barely win under 30% of the vote? The answer, simply put, is that he ran one of the worse campaigns I have ever seen.

Hall should have focused on the failed austerity measures enacted by the Mayor. Between, the homeless feeding ordinance, the red-light cameras and the drainage tax, there were plenty of real issues that Hall could have –and should have– dogged the Mayor on without taking a partisan stance.

It still floods badly when it rains, burglaries are still excessive throughout the City, revolving door corruption still reigns supreme in many parts of City Hall and our roads are falling apart. When Ben Hall started talking about “vision,” I got excited about what comprehensive solutions he could come up with. A Harvard-trained lawyer, Hall is incredibly intelligent. But as the weeks went on, throughout the Spring, Hall did little to campaign. His Facebook & Twitter pages had seldom followers and he offered absolutely no specifics.

The first time his campaign even appeared in the news was a full five months after declaring his candidacy, when KHOU reported that he was not paying his taxes. Hall nonchalantly brushed the issue aside–something that would later come to haunt him. The tidbit became the crux of Parker’s attacks on him later in the campaign. When Hall finally responded, he attributed the failure to “hating taxes.”

Throughout the summer, Hall kept avoiding any specifics on how he would accomplish his “vision.” However, this did not stop his campaign from engaging in progressively more bizarre tactics. In June, he made broad, unsubstantiated accusations of corruption towards the Mayor. In July, he expanded his following on his social media accounts by appealing to nativists, racists and neo-Nazis.

As the autumn began, Hall still refused to clarify specifics on any issue. He hired the tag team of John Weaver and Julia Smekalina out of California, who forced far more aggressive confrontations against the Mayor’s campaign. Hall also continued pandering to the right-wing more and more. First, he endorsed the privatization of Municipal employees’ pensions. Then he made an odd request to significantly lower the City’s property tax rates.

The final straw was when Hall announced his opposition to a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance that would protect LGBT people. When he did so, he both contradicted previous statements of his and engaged in horrendously homophobic tactics.

HALL lost, simply put, because he lacked any real constituency. Like water falling on a landscape, he simply took the form of any opening he could find. While many Republicans supported Hall despite his insincere pandering, many did not, as the actual Republican in the race (Eric Dick) took in over 11% of the vote. Many African-Americans, upset over Hall’s more conservative positions, took to backing Parker.

Today, half a week after Election Day, I still have no idea what the hell Ben Hall stood for the in the election, or how he would have pursued his goals/vision. You have to have an actual platform –and an actual constituency– to legitimately run for office. Hall had neither. While Annise Parker’s second term has been largely successful and praiseworthy, Ben Hall never even put her in a position to defend it.

The Texpatriate Editorial is comprised of Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey & Noah M. Horwitz of Boston and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans.

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9 thoughts on “Texpatriate: Why Ben Hall lost

  1. I agree with many of the points Noah made above but consider that Hall came into this election with some serious baggage. His foibles as City Attorney alone put him in the hot seat, most reasonable people believing he feathered his nest and jumped ship by steering contracts. The tax dispute was not new when it hit the waves either, it had been developing for several years as he underpaid his taxes. And while it is not the biggest issue for many, his $3 million mansion in Piney Point was clearly his homestead and residence no matter what spin anyone put on it.

    That he lacked any specific vision or plan for office finished him off. Every time he spoke in front of a crowd, he’d tailor his comments so specifically to them that he had to know it would spread when contradicting previous comments. He was said to promise HFD firemen to leave their pensions alone to gain their support yet when pressed elsewhere, started backtracking to through their members under the bus too. His comments labeling over 65% of city homeowners as not paying enough in taxes to support their use of city services sure didn’t help, nor did his follow up about bringing industry into neighborhoods by cutting their taxes at the rest of our expense.

    To go further than Noah, I’m largely convinced that Hall shot himself in the foot so badly that even a future run is out of the question. Despite the glowing praise by ultra right wing nuts like “Big Jolly” who endlessly overlooked Hall’s flaws while amplifying Parker’s, no one really believed Hall was anything more than a pot shot at Parker to prevent her from running for higher office after a successful three terms as Mayor. Had she even squeaked out a marginal win, it would have hurt her chances (such as the 2011 campaign) but this props her up considerably.

    Had Bradford run, he might have made a runoff but only to lose. Remember, this was the police chief that was tried for perjury while in office, the one so many republicans attacked as incompetent for all the scandals that took place under his regime (crime lab, Pedro Oregon, children being shot, trying to get a huge boost in his pension just before leaving office, and a whole host of others) as well as his extremely pro-pension stances that sound admirable to some but kill his chances for gaining much right wing support.

    There are several respectable candidates lining up to run in two years. Some are too far to the right to gain enough votes and some are too far to the left, but now is the time when all of them best be straightening out their potential problems and earning name recognition. Last minute attempts such as Hall’s aren’t going to work.

  2. C o Brad Bradford has been an inspiration to all of us in Houston,houstonians allow everyone to make some mistakes along the way,just so long as they learn from them and get it right down the road,Looking at his % in this election he won with over 80% of the vote,=that speaks for itself…..

    Joshua ben bullard

    ps=noah=the editor is not actually supposed to comment in the comment sec=its for the readers=not the editor.

    • Joshua, Bradford has not been “an inspiration to all of us in Houston” and categorizing his huge errors in handling the crime lab, rape kits, K-Mart Raid, and many other issues as “some mistakes along the way” is crazy. How long did he deny that evidence in his crime lab was being contaminated due to improper storage? (years) How long did he deny the crime lab technicians were not properly trained? (years)
      How many rape kits went untested during his reign as police chief? (many thousands)
      When did he step up to the plate, as chief of police, and admit his own culpability rather than point fingers? (never)
      When he ran for countywide office in 2008, you might remember it as the year of the huge Democratic sweep, how much did he win by for office of District Attorney? (he lost, one of the only Democrats to do so)

      Just because no credible candidate has run against him for City Council does not equate to him being an inspirational leader. His getting a bit over 100k votes in a city of nearly a million registered voters shows why he is vulnerable for any higher office, including that of Mayor where he’d likely face a seasoned opponent without as much baggage.

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