District I troubles

Among the many City Council races that have descended into runoff elections, District I has arguably received the least press of any contest, certainly the least of the open races. The Houston Chronicle recently ran two pieces, one on who former candidates in District D were endorsing in the runoff, and the other on ongoing legal dispute in At-large 3. Coverage of District I seems few and far between.

That is not to say nothing has been happening in this race; in fact, far from it. Recently, former candidate Ben Mendez endorsed Robert Gallegos in the runoff. Additionally, the Harris County Young Democrats, originally Mendez supporters, endorsed Gallegos. While it is certainly helpful to have the assistance of any former candidates, Mendez has a long history of doing especially strange things, including allegedly making low personal attacks against another candidate and defending child-rapists. Gallegos should tread lightly in receiving his support.

Additionally, the remaining candidate in the runoff election, Graciana Garces, has penned published a confrontational letter against Gallegos. In [T]he letter (which is reprinted in its entirety at the link),  she accuses Gallegos of intentionally misrepresenting himself as a family member and favorite son of Mario Gallegos, the former State Senator for the region.

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2013 results and analysis

We’re working on trying to abridge the hours and hours of livestreamed Texpatriate election return coverage into about 20 minutes of the top hits. Yesterday, our all-time view record was demolished as thousands of people appeared to come to our website to read up on candidates before they voted. Additionally, Richard Nguyen, the victor in District F, had little impact on the internet besides his interview with Texpatriate.

First and foremost, Mayor Annise Parker was decisively re-elected to a third and final term as Mayor of Houston. She cruised to over 57% of the vote, far outpacing the amount of the vote she received in 2011. Meanwhile, Controller Ronald Green also was re-elected, albeit by a much smaller margin. The only surprises amongst City Council races were in At-large 3 and District F, respectively. Otherwise, most incumbents cruised to re-election.

All nine Statewide propositions passed, as did Harris County Proposition 1 (the joint processing center/jail). The Astrodome referendum, however, did not pass, as the iconic 8th Wonder of the World now looks condemned to demolition.

Click here to see full results and read more!

Final Chronicle endorsements

The Houston Chronicle has made its picks in the final four City Council races, as well as for the Constitutional Amendments. All the amendments were endorsed, and the Chronicle backed two incumbents (C.O. Bradford & Jack Christie), as well as made two selections in open seats (Graciana Garces & Rogene Calvert).

First, in this editorial, the Chronicle’s board summarizes the nine constitutional amendment, offering up absolutely no commentary on the matter besides “the Chronicle endorses all nine [amendments].” If you want a little more discussion on the matter, though agree with the editorial line of the Chronicle in this specific instance, I recommend consulting Texpatriate’s endorsements on the amendments (1-5;7-9 and 6). Burnt Orange Report also announced its endorsements in Constitutional amendments yesterday, though it is relevant to mention that they disagreed with both Texpatriate and the Chronicle in opposing Proposition 3 and Proposition 7.

First up, the Chronicle endorsed C.O. Bradford for a third and final term at At-large position #4. The editorial board goes out of its way to compliment Bradford’s recent commitment to changing the City Charter on certain items such as giving At-large Councilmember specific portfolios. He was also lauded for drainage issues, as well as providing an acceptable response on the Chronicle’s pathological obsession with pensions (specifically, “meet and confer”).

Click here to read more about the other endorsements!

Texpatriate endorses in District I

This board has long been impressed by Councilmember James Rodriguez’s tenure on the City Council, representing District I. In our opinion, he has served both his community and the greater City quite exceptionally. Now, after three successful terms on the City Council, the time has come for his successor to be chosen.

The race consists of four candidates: Leticia Ablaza, Robert Gallegos, Graciana Garces and Ben Mendez. Each candidate represents a different facet of the community, and deserves special recognition for such representation. Serendipitously, these associations perfectly mirror a recent State Senate election in District 6, a largely overlapping constituency.

First, this board has admired the honesty and bravery of Leticia Ablaza’s campaign. While we largely disagree with the political positions of Ms Ablaza, and believe they would be antithetical to the success of the district, this board is impressed by how well she has stuck to her guns, in spite of unyielding criticism and unpopularity. Simply put, we believe that Ms Ablaza would become a second Helena Brown if elected to the Houston City Council, making symbolic no votes at every opportunity, something this City absolutely cannot afford.

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Unspeakably offensive

The Houston Chronicle reports that Ben Mendez, a candidate for the City Council District I, has lost a key backer in his campaign for the City Council. This occurred in response to two serious issues that have arisen over Mendez’s candidacy.

Much like the frontrunner in the open election of District D, Dwight Boykins, Ben Mendez (a self-proclaimed frontrunner himself) has seen a plethora of attacks in the heavily Democratic district for either not being Democratic enough or for being a closet Republican. Among the many aversions cast upon Mendez is that he voted for John McCain, a partisan attack reminiscent of this debunked mailer against Dwight Boykins.

However, what caused the endorsement withdrawal in Mendez’s case was a far less venial issue. The backer, William Lawson, is a legend in both the City’s history of Civil Rights as well as its African-American community. While District I does not have a very high black population, the turnout among the community in Houston during municipal elections is remarkably high. Accordingly, Mendez has been begging for Lawson’s support throughout his campaign. Mendez does not have a “Supporters” page on his website, but if he did, I would imagine it would place Lawson’s name front and center.

In response to alleged issues with Mendez’s integrity, his campaign’s tactics and alleged comments of his, Lawson withdrew his support of Mendez in a strongly worded open letter. I have reprinted the letter below (emphasis added):

Mr. Mendez:

I have been unable to reach your campaign office by phone, and nothing in your literature gives me an e-mail address, or even the physical address of your campaign office beyond a P. 0. Box, so I have to return to the old tradition of mailed letters.

This is written with some sadness.  I am withdrawing my public support of your campaign, and will ask that you no longer use my name.  I have some serious problems regarding your position on the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl.  I am naïve, and not very sophisticated in political positions, but I am a serious advocate of the weak.  You sounded insensitive to the predicament of that child.  I don’t know the particulars of the Graci Garces issue, but I likewise have problems with negative campaigning.

I admire you as a civic leader, as a businessman, and as a friend.  I think you will make a good Councilman for District I.  I simply cannot continue to take a stand for underclasses and give public endorse-ment for someone who would ignore them.

It may be better that I could not reach you electronically.  This way you have it in writing.

With some pain,
[/s] William “Bill” Lawson

The “Graci Garces issue” that Lawson references is an item first dug up back in May, when Ben Mendez allegedly spread around an unflattering photograph of his opponent. At the time, Mendez’s campaign vehemently denied that they had spread around the photo and the issue eventually went away.

The other issue that Lawson reference is what, as the title of this post suggests, is unspeakably offensive. The reference of the unspeakable crimes committed against an 11-year old girl, of course, are relating to the infamous Cleveland Gang Rape case that took place in 2010, and was largely prosecuted in 2012 (with all of the accused being found guilty and given lengthy sentences, including life in prison). Many in the community accused the media and many in the community of painting too sympathetic a picture of the eighteen men who simultaneously raped a child. The most famous of which was Quannel X, a local community activist, who suggested that it was somehow the young child’s fault for being gang raped. Other common calumnies in this case were that child “looked older,” “dressed older” and was a seductress who attempted to trick men into raping her. If Mendez indeed made an insensitive unspeakably offensive comment about this issue, it would have probably been along those lines of faulty reasoning.

Mendez’s campaign, for its part, has vehemently denied this association. Joaquin Martinez, Mendez’s campaign manager, provided the following statement:

Regarding the Chronicle blog on Ben Mendez, as a father he finds such suggestions abhorrent and reprehensible. As a front-runner in District I Ben Mendez remains committed to running a positive campaign based upon the issues and the needs of the district. It is unfortunate when opponents respond to the heat of competition by circulating false statements and negative attacks.

Leticia Ablaza’s campaign could not be reached for comment, while Robert Gallegos and Graci Garces’ campaigns, respectively, declined to comment.

As livid as these comments made me, and as much as I want to tear into Mendez for holding such unspeakably offensive views, we all must exercise some restraint on this issue until more information can come out. Given the dirty tactics being used thus far in the campaign, it would not surprise me if the allegations against Mendez turned out to be false. However, I will be keeping up on the issue, and if the allegations turn out to be true, I will show no mercy in my treatment of the campaign.

Harris County Young Democrats endorse

Yesterday, the Harris County Young Democrats met for their endorsement meeting. I must say that it was the closest I have ever followed a breaking political event exclusively on Twitter.

The organization’s executive board recommended a slate of candidates, which a lot of opts to not endorse, many of which were overruled by the general body of the organization. The body began by endorsing Annise Parker for Mayor, followed by supporting the unopposed Democrats on the council: Ellen Cohen, Ed Gonzalez, Mike Laster and Larry Green. They went on to support some more Democrats in races where they were the only Democrat, specifically Ronald Green and C.O. Bradford.

The organization decided not to offer up endorsements in all seats where only Republicans were running, At-large 1, District A, District E, District F & District G. They then, after contentious fights, decided not to field endorsements in half the races involving multiple Democrats, namely in At-large 2, At-large 3 & District D. Although, in District, Dwight Boykins received plurality support, though still shy of the threshold to receive the endorsement. Similarly, David Robinson and Rogene Calvert received the pluralities, respectively, in AL2 and AL3.

The HCYD did, however, make some endorsements in races with competitive Democratic presences, specifically endorsing James S. Horwitz in At-large 5, as well as Jerry Davis in District B and Ben Mendez in District I.

The endorsements are somewhat noteworthy, as the group has taken a far-less cozy relationship with the Conservative members of the City Council, unlike, for example, the LGBT Caucus (I do know the caucus is officially non-partisan, but I also know its members are overwhelmingly Democratic) or the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats.

Further, the lack of an endorsement in AL2, AL3 or District D is somewhat surprising, given they could make up their mind on AL5, District B & District I. Plenty of liberal groups have supported Assata Richards in the past, so it is somewhat surprising to not even see her in the plurality there. Similarly, the straight-up endorsement of Ben Mendez turned a lot of heads, including Stace Medellin of Dos Centavos.

Overall, I thought the endorsement process was very open to the group, though many Democrats are probably disappointed by the lack of recommendations in the hard, crowded races. The Texpatriate Editorial Board has yet to begin discussing endorsements, but given our rules requiring 3/4 of the members to agree, I would not be surprised if we decline to formally endorse in some of the races.

I don’t know about my colleagues, but speaking for just myself, I know that, if any such situations arise, I will write an individual endorsement in that race.

Texpatriate’s Questions for Ben Mendez

Editorial note: This is the twelfth in our series of electronic interviews with City Council, City Controller and Mayoral candidates. We have sent 10 questions based on seven different templates: (1) incumbent City Council, (2) challenger City Council, (3) open seat City Council, (4) challenger Controller, (5) incumbent Controller, (6) challenger Mayoral and (7) incumbent Mayoral. The following are verbatim copies of the questions sent out and the answers received.


Ben Mendez, Candidate for Houston City Council District I

Texpatriate: What is your name?BM: My name is Ben Mendez.

T: What is your current occupation?
BM: I am President and Founder of PMG Project Management Group, LLC. PMG was recently awarded by ICIC at Harvard University as the 41st fastest growing inner-city business in the country.

T: Have you run for or held public office before?
BM: I was a Democratic candidate for State Representative, District 145 in 1992 and 1998.

T: What is your political affiliation? We understand that City Council elections are nonpartisan, but this is a point many voters find important. If you are not comfortable currently identifying with a political party, what was the last Political Party’s primary election you voted in (a matter of public record)?
BM: I am a Democrat, and I have consistently voted in Democratic Primaries for the last 25 years.

T: Open seats typically attract countless candidates. Why are you specifically running for this seat?
BM: I am running for Houston City Council. District I.  As a former City Council Aide, I always knew I would one day run for City Council. I have a passion to provide safe, affordable housing for seniors, improve infrastructure and uplift the quality of life for the district.

I have lived, worked and raised my family in the District for over 18 years, and I am aware of some of the disparities in resources & services which have not been addressed. Since my early years as a teacher at Austin High School in the heart of the district, I have found ways to seed into the success of families and young people.  I will continue to do so as a Councilmember.

T: Are you in contact with the incumbent Councilmember for this position? Would the two of you have a good relationship for a possible transition?
BM: I am well-acquainted with the incumbent Councilmember, and believe the focus on the needs of the people will result in a smooth transition.

T: What do you hope to get out of serving on the City Council?
BM: Serving on City Council would allow me to apply my skill sets to uplift the community. I have a unique perspective due to my experience as a business owner, educator, and community servant.  I will be able to leverage relationships to bring new resources into the district.

My qualifications/assets I feel earn great consideration are as follows:

Management & Budget Experience with the City of Houston
As former Manager of Building Services Department Capital Improvement Plan, I played a key role in the development of the City of Houston’s 5-year Construction Plan. In addition, I was hired by the Houston Independent School District to develop the district’s 5-year Capital Improvement Plan for the construction and renovation of schools.

Small Business Experience
As the Founder and President of PMG, I offer more than 10 years of experience in the energy, architectural, engineering, and construction industries, with special expertise in managing, budgeting, and program/policy development.

As the Chairman of Texas Association of Mexican-American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC), I have proven experience in promoting strategic to enhance small business growth in the community.

Community Organizing Experience
As the founder and board member of various community organizations and as a former Union Steward for the Houston Federation of Teachers, I have the community relationships and grass-roots organizing experience to increase civic engagement in our communities.

T: What is an ordinance you would introduce in your next term?
BM: I plan to introduce ordinances to strengthen the security of existing property-owners in the district, and green initiatives to promote energy efficiency.

T: Obviously, an officeholder strives to maintain a diverse core constituency and political base, but all candidates have interest groups they have been traditionally strong with and traditionally weak with, respectively. For you, what would be one example of each type of group?
BM: The ethnic breakdown of District I is as follows:
77%      Latino
12%      African-American
9%        Anglo
2%        Asian

I have a strong base in the Latino neighborhoods in the heart of the district due to having lived there for over 18 years, worked there as both an educator and public servant, and a strong advocate for immigration reform.  I have helped hundreds of people gain citizenship over the years in District I through a non-profit I chaired.

Outside of my base, I have solid long-standing relationships with members of all communities. These relationships give me the ability to engage stakeholders outside of my traditional base.  I am a strong believer in collaboration.

T: What has been the most important thing you have learned in your campaign?
BM: This campaign has underscored the importance of commitment and staying grounded in the community.  Working families have dreams and the desire to take part in the decisions affecting their lives and are anxious to have their voices heard. Our campaign has been grass-roots with young and energetic volunteers knocking on doors.

Consequently, I’ve been gratified to earn the support of community organizations such as the Association of Federal State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the International Longshoreman’s Association (ILA), The Teamsters, the Communication Workers of America (CWA), the Flight Attendants Association (AFA), The Afro-American Sheriff’s Deputy League, the Ironworkers, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), who represent scores of families ready for a new day in District I.