Bob Lanier, 1925-2014

On Saturday evening, former Mayor Bob Lanier passed away. He was 89. In his lengthy career of public service, Lanier served as the Chairman of the Texas Highway Commission, Chairman of METRO and the Mayor of Houston for three terms from 1992 to 1998.

Born to humble beginnings, the brilliant Lanier earned a degree from the prestigious University of Texas Law School and went into private practice in Houston. Soon thereafter, he shifted his sights to real estate and development, and amassed a small fortune. But Lanier’s central priority was never to earn money, and he made a point of shifting toward public service later in his career.

Serving on both the Highway Commission and at the helm of METRO, Lanier tirelessly worked to improve traffic and congestion around town. Perhaps most notably, Lanier butted heads with the mayor at the time, Kathy Whitmire, over an ambitious and pricey proposal to build a massive monorail system throughout Houston. Lanier decried the idea as a naive boondoggle, and — among other reasons — used it as an impetus to run for mayor and win. One of his first goals was nixing the monorail proposal; a decision that is still divisive within Houston political circles.

Over the next six years, Lanier worked hand-in-hand with business leaders and political establishment figures. He did a lot to improve traffic, namely by investing more into roads. He also increased the number of police officers in the city, a driving factor in a huge plunge in the crime rate (which was also attributed to a nationwide trend).

But, Lanier — always a card-carrying Democrat — also accomplished many progressive goals. He dedicated the bulk of his last term in office to saving/expanding affirmative action in Houston, namely reserving a share of city contracts to minority & women owned businesses. In a time when the national sentiment moved against the use of racial preferences in places as liberal as California, Houston bucked the trend in 1997 when they approved Lanier’s affirmative action program. The New York Times ran a headline on the topic, because of just how unexpected the voter support was. Lanier fastidiously worked to accrue corporate backing for affirmative action, and touted the program as a way to ensure diversity within Houston.

Lanier was also an important union backer, insisting upon their inclusion in big public sector developments such as the downtown Hilton Hotel at the convention center. Perhaps most importantly, Lanier worked to ensure diversity in this city within politics as well as business. He appointed both Ben Hall and Gene Locke as City Attorney, propelling both men’s political careers, and he was also invaluable in electing Lee Brown, the first African-American Mayor, as his successor.

I only met Lanier a few times in passing, but I am close with few people who knew him very well. What they all told me was that the casual, cheerful, “grandfatherly” demeanor he emitted in public did not change one bit behind closed doors. Even ideological opponents of Lanier conceded that he was a righteous man who tried his hardest to do what he thought was right for this city.

Lanier was the mayor when I was born and, unlike any succeeding mayors, I do not personally remember any of his term. But what I’ve read and what I’ve been told suggest, better than I could ever recall, that he was a truly inimitable figure within local politics. Among others reasons, Lanier’s endorsement of Locke was one of the reasons my family supported him in 2009, the first mayoral election I intently followed.

Houston has truly lost a giant. My deepest sympathies and condolences are extended to his widow, Elyse Lanier, as well as his other family.

Advertisements

2015 Mayoral election

Since the beginning of the year, I have been intermittently trying to sit down with the prospective candidates for Mayor in 2015. Mayor Annise Parker, of course, is term-limited at that time, meaning that the election will be an open race. At this time, there is only one candidate openly running for Mayor, complete with signs and social media presence, and that is City Councilmember Oliver Pennington (R-District G). However, there are typically about nine other names that keep coming up as likely Mayoral candidates. These individuals range from being completely ready to go, to simply intently looking into the situation. Additionally, there are about two or three other people I have heard mentioned in passing as possible candidates, but never by anyone willing to go on the record. I will only be discussing the former category.

The eight other candidates, in addition to Pennington, are former Congressman Chris Bell (D-TX), City Councilmember Jack Christie (R-At Large 5), Eric Dick (R), City Councilmember Stephen Costello (R-AL1), METRO Chairman Gilbert Garcia (D), City Councilmember Ed Gonzalez (D-District H), former City Attorney Ben Hall (D), City Councilmember Michael Kubosh (R-At Large 3) and State Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Harris County). Among those I have heard passing on the race are Sheriff Adrian Garcia (D), City Controller Ronald Green (D), Laura Murillo and County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez (R).

CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL FEATURED ARTICLE!

Sylvester Turner will run for Mayor

KRIV reports that Sylvester Turner, a longtime State Representative, will run for Mayor of Houston in 2015. Turner has run for Mayor twice before, in 1991 and 2003. While he finished in a distant third place in 2003, he proceeded into a very close runoff election during his first run. In that race, he lost in a squeaker to Bob Lanier after Wayne Dolcefino ran a slimy expose based on utter falsehoods. Turner later sued Dolcefino for libel, but that is neither here nor there. My point is that if you think of Sylvester Turner with preconceived notions of alleged wrongdoing, you are totally incorrect.

In the 22 years since then (30 years total, in the House), Turner has truly become a force to be reckoned with on the State Legislature. He currently serves as the Vice-Chair of the House Appropriations Committee (the ranking Democrat) and is one of the biggest leaders among the minority party in the Capitol. Instrumental in the passage of a massive water-infrastructure constitutional amendment this past session, he earned a spot on Texpatriate’s list of Best LegislatorsTexas Monthly also noted his massive contribution to the session by naming him the Bull of the Brazos.

Click here to read Turner’s announcement!

Ben Hall’s TV ad

Here it is, 60 seconds in all. Hall starts out by introducing himself before descending into a more portentous conclusion by broadly describing the woes of the City and giving a chilling ultimatum to Mayor Parker of “we’ll talk soon.” But don’t take my word for it, watch video or just read the transcript below:

“I’m Ben Hall. a poor country boy who is surprised and fascinated by the gifts God has given me, because I clearly don’t deserve them. I finished college in three years because I thought I’d run out of money. I finished the seminary and Ph.D. program at Duke University and then I got my law degree at Harvard — oh and $130,000 in debt. Then I came to Oz: Houston. I’d never seen a more beautiful city. I practiced law here at Vinson & Elinks, then Mayor Bob Lanier made me Houston City Attorney, and that’s when I saw the real opportunities we had to keep this a robust and magical place to live. But we have some serious economic challenges coming, and we need to prepare for them. But we can’t get there by hiding the truth, Mayor Parker. We’ll talk soon.”

First of all, I don’t like the whole “I don’t deserve them” line. Dr Hall is a lot of things, but humble is not one of them. This isn’t a fault in and of itself, as most politicians tend to have large egos. But do not pretend you are something you’re not, it rubs me the wrong way. Next, the Oz line was painfully corny.

All of these errors in the advertisement, though, are venial offenses. It is a good quality video that will be sure to give him some much needed publicity, something he desperately needs.

However, if I were in Dr Hall’s campaign, I would have done things a little bit different. He made a mistake by refusing to choose what type of advertisement he wanted to play: an introduction or an attack ad. The introductory segment of his video was stellar. As I have noted before, Ben Hall’s origins and story as possibly his greatest asset in a campaign. At first, I thought the entire video would just be a friendly introduction, like Gene Locke’s first video from 2009. However, as I noted above, Hall becomes quite confrontational near the end of the video.

Hall made a huge mistake in simply foreshadowing the possible debate in the future. Especially in a low interest election like a non-open Mayoral election, far fewer people will specifically go out of their ways to watch a debate (even a televised one), than simply find one’s self stumbling across a Ben Hall for Mayor ad either on television or YouTube.

The Houston Chronicle also reported some further details on the development. Mike Morris specifically asked Hall’s campaign what she is allegedly concealing, while also asking Parker’s campaign for comment. He got two answers:

Hall campaign spokesman Mark Sanders responded with the following list: “1. Parker has no forward looking vision for closing Houston’s budget gaps; 2. We cannot continue to balance city budgets by forcing higher fees on Houston’s businesses; 3. New business requires new infrastructure. We can’t keep putting Band-Aids on an aging and outdated system; 4. Our looming pension liabilities are real. What is Parker doing to address them before it is too late?”

Parker campaign spokeswoman Sue Davis adding her own parting shot, referencing Hall’s previous residency in Piney Point Village: “Mr. Hall has not lived or voted in Houston for 11 years. When Houston was hurting in the recession, Hall offered no vision, no ideas and no leadership. When things got tough, Mayor Parker changed the way our city does business, and now we’re creating more jobs than anywhere in America. So now that things are good, Ben Hall says he wants to be mayor of our city. He just didn’t want to live in it.”

Both very broad comments with few-to-no specific statements. For what it is worth, this video just hit YouTube a few hours ago with the title of “TV AD,” and I have not exactly seen it on the airwaves, nor heard of anyone who has. I will update when I can confirm that. Further, I wonder when this means Parker will go on television?

UPDATE: Per a comment from the esteemed Noel Freeman, I have heard that the commercial is indeed makes rounds on the airwaves.

Parker endorsed by AFL-CIO

From another one of those Press Releases that somehow doesn’t find its way into my inbox:

Annise Parker has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO. The labor organization lauded Parker for not being too austere with city services and for helping the Middle Class. With the disappearance of labor support, the paths to victory for Hall keep getting smaller and smaller.

I believe the time has come and gone for a competent Republican to run for this office. Any GOP candidate that would enter over the summer would probably only put up token opposition (a TJ Huntley of sorts). Accordingly, we are going to have to start discussing the reality of an election with only two major candidates. Such an election could easily be solved in November if the fringe candidates don’t take away too many votes. Hall still has a chance, but he would have to do quite a few things first.

The Mayoral election of 1991 brought the idea that Mayors would have to be “moderate” in order to win the election. This was allegedly evident by Bob Lanier’s defeat of Kathy Whitmire after so many years in office. Throughout the 90s and most of the 00s, Houston retained an identity as a broadly centre-left city, which would still elect some real conservatives to citywide positions (Michael Berry and Shelly Sekula-Gibbs, to name a few). Accordingly, Lee Brown faced some excruciatingly tough and close elections, and Bill White retained the identity of Lanier’s moderation.

I posted a while back about why Parker seemed to be imitating Brown, but I think I was a tad mistaken in that assertion. The demographics and politics of Houston have significantly changed then. Conservatives can only win citywide in three very distinct possibilities:

The first is that they are such a RINO that nobody even knows or can tell they are Conservative. This was my experience with Stephen Costello. I wasn’t very in 2009 because of his political affiliation, but by 2011, I didn’t really care what letter he chose to put next to his name.

The second is that the candidate’s opponent is either incompetent or horribly unpopular (or both). Jack Christie is the perfect example of this.

Last but not least, if the Republican/Conservative is just so then there is still a chance of victory. This is what I call the “Kubosh Coalition.” Michael Kubosh has a very god chance in November, mainly because of all of the support he may garner from the African-American community. Now, the vast majority of Houston Conservatives can’t say the same, so this is a very special occurrence.

Hall isn’t a Conservative by any means, but the consensus is that he will have to masquerade as one if he wants to win. White Progressives aren’t going to vote for him when they like the incumbent. With Labor now out of the question, Hall has to become a “Kubosh Conservative” if he wants to win.

Hall lists his supporters

Perhaps I missed this, but it is news to me that Ben Hall now has a gigantic list of his supporters on his website. Many of these names stood out to me. I have taken the liberty of creating a Wikipedia page for this year’s mayoral election, which lists most of this info, but I would like to go over some of the more surprising supporters.

It is no surprise that Dr. Hall would receive the bulk of his politician endorsements from the African-American community, but it did catch me off guard how pervasive his support was. There were rank-and-file politicos like Jarvis Johnson and Carol Mims Galloway who were listed, which is almost expected. However, the three African-American politicians who were on the list, and three who were off the list, which I would like to talk about a little bit. C.O. Bradford, Lee Brown and Al Green were all listed as supporters of Dr. Hall’s candidacy. However, Dwight Boykins, Ronald Green and Sheila Jackson Lee are all conspicuously absent.

Now, Bradford did support Parker in 2009, but got into a somewhat high profile feud with her before the 2011 elections, during which rumors actually floated about him challenging the Mayor in the election. I cannot remember if he ever came around to Parker’s candidacy in 2011 after nobody feasible ran against her, but it makes some sense that he would immediately jump on the bandwagon to endorse Parker’s opponent. Ronald Green, on the other hand, never really had a rocky spell with Parker, and, by all accounts, the two still get along pretty well. However, Ronald Green and Bradford have something in common: they both have higher ambitions. Personally, the first time I met both of them, I felt a very strong inkling that they wanted to be the Mayor, sort of like when one meets the Castro brothers, you know they want to be Governor/Senator/President. Accordingly, I find it interesting that Bradford would endorse Hall, who will probably lose, if he might be interested in running in 2015.

Second, I find it very intriguing that Dwight Boykins,who is running for the City Council with some very high profile support, is not listed among Hall’s supporters, but his honorary campaign treasurer, Lee Brown, is. For that matter, some of Boykin’s supporters, like Borris Miles, have also stayed out of the race. I am going to assume it has something with the fact that as someone who is probably getting elected, Boykins won’t want to be on the Mayor’s bad side.

Third, Al Green is a public supporter, while Sheila Jackson Lee is not. Green, if you might remember, was the one who made Hall stand down and endorse Locke back in 2009. I guess Green felt obligated to help Hall this time around. I suppose that Jackson Lee is more tepid to support Hall as some of her former political opponents (e.g., Jarvis Johnson and Craig Washington) are in Hall’s column.

Another point I would like to make is that Bob Lanier is quoted and prominently featured on Hall’s website, as providing a testimonial that reads “He is exactly what Houston needs at this time.” However, Lanier is not mentioned among Hall’s official list of supporters, and the quote isn’t dated, leading me to think that, maybe, he said this back in 2009.

Finally, I was surprised by how many people in the Jewish community support Hall. Alan Rosen, the recent Constable for Precinct 1, and Alvin Zimmerman, his campaign strategist, aren’t really surprises, but I saw a few names of the parents of people I went to Hebrew School with (PLEASE NOTE: The “Hurwitz”s that endorsed Hall are not related to me, I have an “o” in my last name).

Just as an aside and a blast from the past, Rod Paige, Bush’s 1st term Secretary of Education, is listed as a supporters. Also, someone is listed with the name “Drayton McClane,” which may or may not be a typo for Drayton McLane, as in the former Astros owner.

Parker doesn’t have a supporters page, but I assume it will be a priority now. Can’t wait to see who I find on her list!