Garcia looks to run for Mayor

The Houston Chronicle reports that Sheriff Adrian Garcia, the highest ranking Democrat in Harris County (and arguably the state), is taking decisive steps toward running for mayor. Garcia, who previously served as a member of the Houston City Council from 2004 to 2008, has been the Sheriff for two-terms. Under state law, the instant he announces his intention to run, Garcia will be compelled to resign. This would have the effect empowering the Harris County Commissioner’s Court, which sways 4-1 Republican, with the ability to appoint his successor.

Garcia has been mentioned as a possible mayoral candidate before, but only recently have his advisers become more frank with reporters about his probable intentions. With sky-high name ID, at least compared to some of the other pretenders to the throne, Garcia would have the ability to immediately become one of the top candidates.

In other mayoral news, former Congressman Chris Bell has officially announced his run (via Facebook). A more formal event will occur somewhere in Houston this weekend. Among others in the definite column are State Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Harris County), former Mayor of Kemah Bill King, City Councilmembers Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1), Oliver Pennington (R-District G), former City Attorney Ben Hall and Marty McVey. There are quite a few others who are still maybes.

Garcia has some baggage that would accompany the run, to say the least. Last fall, the Sheriff’s office received some indescribably bad press around the world when an inmate was kept in subhuman conditions. In the rough and tumble world of municipal politics, I expect this issue to come up more than once.

I like Garcia a lot (I happily voted for him 2012) and think he would do great in some higher offices, namely County Judge. But resigning his position like this for a long-shot mayoral race is not the correct course of action, especially when his replacement as sheriff will likely be significantly more conservative and could easily rescind some of the valuable progress made in the Sheriff’s office recently. In my opinion, to do so is rather selfish.

The addition of Garcia to the list also does not change my prediction of the most-likely runoff participants; it is still Turner and Pennington. Unfortunately, the Hispanic community in Houston, which would likely be Garcia’s main base, just does not vote with any strength whatsoever in municipal elections. Given the plethora of other candidates who will be competing for every inch of the electorate, I just do not see a plausible pathway to victory for Garcia. But that’s why we have elections, I suppose.

Brains & Eggs, Dos Centavos and Off the Kuff have more.

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Hall 2.0

I will preface all my remarks with a full confession that, once upon a time, I greatly respected Ben Hall, the former City Attorney, as a politician of honor and integrity. In fact, about two years ago, when he first announced his candidacy in the 2013 Mayoral election and made his first appearance on this publication, I noted that “in an open election, I probably would have supported Ben Hall.”

Over the next year, Hall ran what could generously be called the worst campaign I have ever bared witness to in municipal politics. He was scattered, dishonest and unnecessarily abrasive. I strongly urge you to read through some of my archives tagged under “Ben Hall,” and you will find someone whose patience grows thinner and thinner as time went on. Hall spent a 12 month campaign without bringing up any concrete issues. He merely spoke in broad platitudes, or with unsubstantiated claims about his opponent, Mayor Annise Parker. The few times that he did open his mouth, Hall sometimes contradicted himself, such as his hypocrisy on a proposed non-discrimination ordinance.

Hall’s campaign was also marred by myriad controversies involving his integrity. The Parker camp honed in on Hall’s nasty little problem with not paying his taxes, while Sophia Arena and I published a lengthy exposé on some other conflicts of interest in the past. Simply put, when Hall announced today that he would run for Mayor again next year in the open election, and would immediately begin running radio ads (as reported by the Houston Chronicle), I was not pleased, to say the least.

Hall joins an already crowded list of prospective mayoral candidates, including but not limited to State Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Harris County), former Congressman Chris Bell, Sheriff Adrian Garcia, METRO Chairman Gilbert Garcia, former Kemah Mayor Bill King and City Councilmembers Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1), Jack Christie (R-At Large 5), Oliver Pennington (R-District G) and Ed Gonzalez (D-District H).

In Hall’s 60-second radio spot, triumphant music plays as he narrates. “Last year I promised to have a conversation with you about the things we needed to do to improve our city,” he says. “Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”

Hall’s ad appears to glance past the fact that he chose to ignore those important issues, and he spends about the next 50 seconds speaking once again in broad platitudes. The one exception, however, is getting in a cheap shot about “Subpoena-gate,” when the mayor’s office made a bone-headed decision to go after the sermons of pastors who railed against the non-discrimination ordinance. As I referenced above, Hall has — at one time — both supported and opposed that ordinance. Ambiguous banalities aren’t doing much to clear up the confusion.

In other news, HCC Trustee Carroll Robinson officially announced his candidacy for City Controller. Robinson, a former member of the City Council, already has a great deal of community support. His likely competitors will be Dwight Jefferson (current METRO Board member and former District Judge) and Bill Frazer (an unsuccessful 2013 candidate).

Dewhurst for Mayor?

The Houston Chronicle reports that Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who leaves office this January after a dozen years in office, is thinking about running for Mayor of Houston next year.

“I ain’t riding off into the sunset, ever,” Dewhurst told the Chronicle. “I’m a real believer in the Lord’s will, and He’s got something else He wants me to do, and so I’m pursuing what I think is good for me and good for the state.”

Dewhurst, who was defeated for re-election by Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick earlier this year, must think the third time is the charm. Before being defeated for re-election, he ran for the US Senate in 2012 when Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison retired. Despite being the odds-on favorite for most of the campaign, Ted Cruz won an unexpected, grassroots-based victory over him and succeeded Hutchison in the Senate.

Speaking of next year’s mayoral candidates, another name has popped up since I last profiled the plethora of pretenders to the throne, so to speak. Bill King, the former Mayor of Kemah and a longtime columnist for the Houston Chronicle, is now telling people behind the scenes that he will toss his hat in the ring. King has always been a nice guy with noble ambitions, but many of his Chronicle columns were sometimes just silly. Every single week he would repeat the same trite points about how it was absolutely necessary to gleefully crush public sector pensions or else Houston would turn into Detroit. I tend to agree that something needs to be done in the budgetary department, but the points lose their ripeness the fourth time they are iterated in a month. Additionally, being the Mayor of multiple cities (when they do not merge) just makes me uncomfortable, similar to Scott Brown’s ill-fated run for the Senate in New Hampshire this year.

Back to Dewhurst, I’m not sure how much financial support he could muster, though he is independently wealthy enough to self-finance. Moderate Republicans already have a gaggle of affluent White men competing for their support, and I’m not really convinced that Dewhurst fills any unfilled niche.

And, to bring up the obvious point, Republicans will not likely win the Mayor’s office this next election. Houston is and continues to be a ferociously liberal city. It has not elected a Republican Mayor since the 1970s, and 2015 certainly does not look to be the exception to the rule.

Additionally, though Dewhurst deep down is rather moderate and likely doesn’t care much for social issues, that side of him has been all but eviscerated in two statewide Republican primaries dominated by the Tea Party. The Republicans running for Mayor this year either openly disagree with their party on issues such as gay marriage and abortion, such as City Councilmember Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1), or prioritize other issues, such as City Councilmember Oliver Pennington (R-District G). If Houston doesn’t elect Republicans, we most definitely do not elect socially conservative Republicans. Not in 1985, not today.

A few more Mayoral names

Theodore Schleifer, the new political reporter at the Houston Chronicle (welcome, fellow millennial, to the addicting world of Houston politics), wrote a front-page article yesterday about the huge fundraising advantage in the upcoming Mayoral election held by former State Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Harris County). It is a good piece of journalism, and I highly recommend reading it all the way through. However, what I found most interesting about the article was the new names put in print on who would be running for Mayor. I had heard most of the names, but never with anyone willing to go on-the-record.

Bill King, the former Mayor of Kemah, was listed as “waiting to assess the field.” This is notable, as King is a biweekly columnist for the Chronicle, and thus works a few doors down from Schleifer. Accordingly, there must be some truth to that allegation. The concept of being the Mayor of different cities has always struck me as rather improper, though. The connection to the city can’t help but look superficial.

Another name mentioned was City Councilmember C.O. Bradford (D-At Large 4). As astute followers of this publication will likely know, I am a big fan of Bradford, and would be very happy to see him run for Mayor. He has a unique ability to cut through the bull in politics, and is without a doubt one of the smartest people sitting at the horseshoe. If there is anyone excited about him running, it would be me. But, as I have understood it, Bradford decided against a Mayoral bid about a year ago. Maybe he changed his mind?

Finally, the name Marty McVey was included. The Chronicle article describes him as a “private equity executive.” He also serves on the Board for International Food & Agricultural Development (BIFAD) for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Politically connected both locally and in Washington, McVey is the wealthy businessman this race has been waiting for. A Democrat, cursory research will show that he donated about $100,000 to progressive political causes in recent cycles.

Susan Delgado, a political gadfly, also announced via her Facebook that she would run for Mayor. She ran in the Democratic primary against State Representative Carol Alvarado (D-Harris County) earlier this year, as well as in the special election for the State Senate District 6 last year. A one-time mistress of the late State Senator Mario Gallegos (D-Harris County), she first entered the limelight about ten years ago.

The Chronicle article also very heavily assumed that Sheriff Adrian Garcia would run for Mayor. Obviously, the Sheriff, as a county officer, must resign his office in order to run for Mayor. I am still skeptical he will end up running, but you all know I’ve definitely been wrong before. To see my previous overview of the field, please click this link.

What do you make of this all?

In re Pensions

An editorial by the Houston Chronicle published over the weekend touched upon this topic, and a Mike Morris article on the front page of the Chronicle‘s City & State section on Sunday expanded upon the topic. Municipal pensions.

The argument is somewhat straight-forward. Our liabilities on the Municipal, Police & Fire (all distinct) pension funds all drastically outweigh our funds to cover them. However, there are some straight-forward goals that are easily attainable to solve these issues. All too often, though, the term “pension reform” is a clever euphemism for giving the shaft to public employers. Yet another way to pull a massive scam over the heads of the working person in the name of fiscal responsibility.

Parker’s ideas, which I mostly agree with, are to end the generous cost-of-living adjustments for the workers, as well as give the option to for employees convert to a “defined contribution” plan, which is a fancy euphemism for privatization, since George W. Bush ruined the reputation of that word vis-a-vis retirees. The “defined benefit” plan, or the status quo (actual) pension, would continue for all those who want it, albeit in less generous amounts, under Parker’s plan.

Hall, meanwhile, wants to force all employees hired after 2008 off the road and into the privatized 401k plans. What all this means for Hall’s cozy relationship with the Firefighter’s is somewhat unclear. The Fire pension is the best funded because of special State control that mandates extremely generous contributions from the City of Houston. It is the small bites of Parker’s that led to the exceedingly acrimonious relationship in the first place.

When asked about Hall’s plans, Todd Clark, representative of the Fire fund, dodged the question, but took immediate aim at the lesser demands of the Mayor. Clark went on to disparage both the end of cost-of-living-adjustments (COLA) and the mere option of the 401k plans. From the Chronicle article, Clark’s quote:

“Working as a Houston firefighter is a long-term career. We strongly believe (defined contribution) plans do not provide an adequate retirement after serving three-plus decades protecting the citizens of Houston. The defined benefit that is in place is in the best interest of the Houston firefighters.”

Parker seemed somewhat confident that the COLA could pass through the City Council, but was more ambivalent on the question of the partial privatizations.

Finally, Chalres Kuffner at Off the Kuff has some brilliant commentary on this topic. We largely agree on this issue, believing that pension reform is often a thinly-veiled euphemism for disparaging working people. Oh, and that’s the position of the Texas Observer as well. Back to Kuffner for the close:

Thank God, Bill King finally has a Mayoral candidate he can support. I just wonder if this is what the firefighters thought they were getting when they endorsed Hall. But like Mayor Parker, this is where I get off. Because let’s be clear on something, pension plans generate vastly superior returns than 401K plans. High income workers in the private sector may do better with 401Ks than they would with pension plans, but lower income workers and public employees do better with defined benefit plans. Employers may do better under 401Ks, but that’s because they get to contribute less. Of course, that comes out of the hides of the employees. Not a bad deal for the Bill Kings of the world, who somehow never call upon themselves to make sacrifices for the greater good, but not so good for the affected employees.

Finally, the conflation of the police and firefighters’ pension funds just serves to muddle what the issues actually are. The city’s complaint about the firefighters’ pension fund is that they don’t have any say over how much they have to contribute to it each year. (Perhaps not coincidentally, the firefighters’ pension fund is also one of the best funded in the state.) The city would also like to negotiate over and try to wring some concessions on things like the deferred retirement option (DROP) and automatic cost of living adjustments (COLAs). The city has already gotten most if not all of the concession it sought from the police and municipal employees’ pensions, and if you listen to my interview with CM Costello, you’ll hear him say that the city has largely solved its long-term problems with these pension funds. There are issues in the short to medium term, resulting in no small part from the city’s underpayments to those funds in recent years, but once we’re past that the system is sustainable. Mayor Parker will tell you that if the city can negotiate changes to DROP and get some discretion on COLAs, it will have a handle on the firefighter’ pension fund. Whether you agree with that or you agree with the firefighters, the point is that replacing pensions with 401Ks is hardly necessary. Making bogus comparisons to Oakland or Detroit isn’t helpful.

 

Mayoral update

I’ve been saying it for a while that Bill King, the former Mayor of Kemah, would run for Mayor of Houston this year, against Mayor Parker. Hell, I even listed him among my Mayoral candidates. But I think I was wrong, very wrong, about Mr King’s candidacy.

You see, recently, King started writing op-ed pieces for the Chronicle. I expressed my doubt that an opinion writer could have a political future in this city last December, and I still stand by that statement. In fact, it looks like King has doubled down on this position recently. I believe as of late, King has become an official columnist with the paper, and has advertised quite prominently as such on his facebook page. Accordingly, it looks like Bill King WILL NOT be running for Mayor.

I will be taking down his name from the Mayoral election tab soon enough. This is just one of those illusions I keep having, despite most of the facts rooting against me. To be fair, most bloggers have these delusions. Kuff has an ongoing “figment of his imagination,” as he calls it, about thinking Henry Cisneros will be running for Governor. But enough about how I, yet again, failed at predicting the future. This newfound reality gives us the opportunity to examine an odd new political map.

The Mayoral election now consists of two heavyweights, Parker and Hall, who are headed for an epic showdown of showdowns this November. Then there are the two lightweights: James Noteware, a Republican nobody, and; Don Cook, the perennial Green candidate. Amanda Ulman or one of her fellow comrades will probably also throw their red hat in the ring. But that leaves two major questions left unanswered. First, who will the Republican be? Second, will there be a Hispanic candidate, and, if there is, who?

A million years ago, Campos mentioned some anonymous Hispanic politician who was thinking of running for Mayor. Kuff had no idea what he was talking about. If you believe that, in light of that, I would still know anything about it, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you. As for the Republican, I have no inklings about any candidates other than King. For some reason, back in my December post, I mentioned the prospect of conservatives nominating someone like Paul Bettencourt. I have no idea where I got this from. Absolutely no idea. Essentially, the there is a huge opening for a Conservative to run for Mayor at this point. Just probably not big enough for a conservative candidate to win.

The state of the Mayoral election

A few days after the general election, Dr Ben Hall went and ruined everyone’s post-election fun by making a “big announcement” about the next election cycle. He said he was considering a run for Mayor and would be making a final decision “very soon.” Trouble is, about five weeks have gone by and I still don’t see any announcement or any announcements about Hall whatsoever. So, without further delay, let me personally pontificate my views about the state of the race. Parker is obviously running for re-election, and she might even have made a formal announcement. Hall is MIA about his intentions, and Bill King is quiet, but that is expected.

Parker is, in my opinion, significantly more popular today than she was in 2011. This is because there is no longer as much talk on furloughs and painful austerity in the budget. Parker has really solidified the “intelligentsia left,” with only a few options for defeat. Ben Hall would usurp a chunk of the African-American left’s vote, whereas Bill King could take the smaller, but still formidable, Republican vote. But there are quite a few problems with this. First, the Houston Democratic establishment should realize that a difference in skin colour is not a reason to challenge a candidate, especially if it could cause a candidate of a different party or ideology to take the office. Sylvester Turner and Chris Bell should not be role models for Dr Hall.

This leaves the Republican, Bill King. Houston has not had a Republican Mayor since 1982. We haven’t had a Republican Mayor for so long that none of the former ones are even still living. So this would be quite a hurdle for King to accomplish. I have a few problems with King’s possible candidacy, and he has a few other ones as well. First, I don’t like the idea of someone being Mayor of two different cities, unless one had annexed or merged with the other, and last I checked, Kemah was still its own town. Second, King has made a habit of writing op-eds for the Chronicle. Bad idea. The conventional wisdom is that politicians should never open their mouths more than they have to. Mainly because he has attempted to cast himself as a pragmatic moderate. This does not ring well with the far-right that now dominates the GOP, especially in Texas. I remember, in particular, that he took a stand against Voter IDs. This opinion piece prompted livid, bitter responses from the Tea Party, with the most common denominator in the comment section being, “I won’t vote for you,” though usually with more obscenity.

Bill King may end up not being the candidate of the right. If the right nominates someone more extreme like, say, Paul Bettencourt, they will be resigned to do about as well as Roy Morales. Ben Hall might not even run. If there is one thing this previous year has taught me, it is that elections are unpredictable. I went into election night thinking Romney would win, and we all know what happened (and by how much). Parker could get elected by a landslide, she could lose. To quote Plato, “I know that I know nothing.”