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!

It’s 2014, not 2015…

…but that has not stopped pundits from prognosticating as if it were.

The Houston Chronicle reports that posturing for the 2015 Mayoral election has already begun. Among the candidates mentioned are State Representative Sylvester Turner (who previously ran in both 1991 and 2003) and former Congressman Chris Bell (who ran in 2001). The article insinuates both have declared intentions to run, though this is the first I have heard of any of it. The article also mentions Councilmembers Stephen Costello (who evidently has announced intentions himself), Ed Gonzalez and Oliver Pennington as all looking at the race.

Names the Chronicle left off include former Councilmember Sue Lovell, Sheriff Adrian Garcia and Eric Dick. The last one in particular has the capacity to play the role of a major spoiler in the election and could ultimately determine whether someone such as Costello could even get into the runoff in the first place. There are also those who will probably not be running, such as Ben Hall or now-former City Councilmember James Rodriguez, City Controller Ronald Green and Councilmember C.O. Bradford.

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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!

From the mail…

For those readers of this blog who are not also Facebook friends with me, one may not know that I am in Houston this weekend. Among other reasons, I wanted to do a little bit of campaigning for my father (James Horwitz) as well as attend the Johnson-Richards-Rayburn dinner.

I have seen a variety of familiar faces at the early voting locations, including (but not limited to) Roland Chavez, Eric Dick, Michael Kubosh and Assata Richards. Also, as I was walking out of the polling place yesterday (after voting), I literally walked into Ted Cruz. But that is another story for another day.

When I got home today, I found some campaign literature by the front door (most of which, my dogs did not eat/destroy). Among these were fairly unexciting mailers from the “Save the Dome” people and the Ronald Green campaign. The “Texas Conservative Review” came in the mail as well. Again, somewhat unexciting. The only surprise was the endorsement of Ben Hall for Mayor, and that is simply because of the sheer ubiquity of Eric Dick advertisements throughout the booklet.

Click here to read about the vicious mailer attacking a Councilmember!

Texpatriate endorses for Mayor of Houston

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.

To find out who <em>Texpatriate</em> endorses, please click here!

Mayoral debate recap

A couples of months ago, Annise Parker demanded that there be only one Mayoral debate, and it be open to all candidates. Because you can’t have a debate without the incumbent, she ultimately got her way. That debate, hosted by the League of Women Voters and the Public Television station, was held last night. In a word, it was a disaster. But that is exactly what Annise Parker wanted, so she was truly the big winner last night, whether the viewers knew it or not.

The debate was two hours long, divided amongst the six candidates who showed up: Parker, Ben Hall, Eric Dick, Keryl Douglas, Don Cook and Michael Fitzsimmons. Yes, THAT Fitzsimmons, the de Blassio style communist. The result was that, factoring in the time it takes for questions and other formalities, each candidate only received a little more than 15 minutes of speaking time. I reckon that none of the candidates, including the Mayor, used the time efficiently or effectively. But again, perhaps that was the Mayor’s strategy.

One by one, I will examine how the candidates performed in reverse-order of their performance. First, Fitzsimmons surprised me by actually showing up. I had a recurring joke with my friends about how many times he would say something like “solidarity” or “revolution,” and, needless to say, we were not disappointed. As an open member of the Socialist Workers Party, Fitzsimmons is about as left wing as they get in Houston. It is clear that his campaign is symbolic in nature, as he dodged direct answers of most of the policy questions, instead focusing on broad themes about “working people” or “capitalism.”

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KHOU releases Mayoral poll

KHOU has released a poll on the Mayoral election, the first of the season. The date of the poll, before the end of September, is earlier than any equivalent municipal poll from 2009.

The results of the poll have yet to be released in longform, Accordingly, I do not have much raw data to analyze along the lines of the racial, demographic or partisan trends of the voters questioned, now how likely they were to vote. The poll surveyed exactly 424, however, and the margin of error was 4.76%.

From the preliminary information, we see that the results go something like this:

Annise Parker 34%
Ben Hall 14%

Eric Dick 2%
Derek Jenkins 1%
Michael Fitzsimmons 1%
Keryl Douglas <1%
Charyl Drab <1%

Don Cook <1%
Victoria Lane <1%
Undecided 48%

For what it is worth, my gut tells me most of the “undecided” voters won’t bother to vote at all. If one were to, say, assume 3/4 of those roughly 204 people stay home, the results are somewhat different:

Annise Parker 53%
Ben Hall 22%
Eric Dick 3%
Derek Jenkins 1%
Michael Fitzsimmons 1%

Keryl Douglas 1%
Charyl Drab <1%
Don Cook <1%
Victoria Lane <1%
Undecided 19%

The Houston Chronicle has significantly more info on this topic, including an interview with Mark Jones at Rice. Both the Parker campaign and the Hall campaign released statements on the polls, wherein both declared victory. Sue Davis, representing Parker, declared:

“As the voters learn more about Mr. Hall, I think his numbers are not going to improve that much. Annise Parker is well-liked by Houstonians and voters believe the city is moving in the right direction under her leadership. We are confident she will beat Mr. Hall handily.”

Julia Smekalina, representing Hall’s campaign, wasted no time in responding to the poll herself. They declared victory, saying in no uncertain terms that the campaign believed that Parker had been harshly repudiated by the voters:

“These numbers show what we hear every day – Ms. Parker’s tenure has been repudiated by the people of Houston and she will not be reelected as the next Mayor. The slim margin that got her elected last cycle has evaporated and it is clear that Houstonians are searching for new leadership to set the city on track.

As Houstonians are beginning to see the vision Ben Hall has set forth, they are rallying behind his ideas for the city’s future. The grassroots momentum that we see supporting Ben’s candidacy is growing and will secure his election as Mayor.”

Unfortunately for Hall’s team, the record does not support this view. While one could certainly make the argument that Parker herself was tepidly received by voters in the poll, her Mayoralty itself received high marks throughout the city. 56% of voters believed “Houston’s economy will get better in the next 2-3 years,” 57% approved of Parker’s job as Mayor and a huge 62% believed Houston is “on the right track.”

One of the things that REALLY stood out to me was Dick’s nonperformance. Even Roy Morales, another notable token Republican candidate in a field full of Democrats trying to attract the conservative vote, received 20% of the vote in 2009. Many of those undecided voters are Republicans still choosing between Hall & Dick. In fact, the tiny insights into the poll’s demographic background showed that more Republicans were undecided than the average, whereas fewer African-Americans were undecided.

I still think Parker’s 20 point lead is much more of an advantage to her than the incredibly high “undecided” rate is to Hall. A runoff is certainly possible, and I think there is a greater-than-50% probability of one at the end of the day, but there is still an absolutely likely scenario that Parker can wrap everything up on November 5th.

Lastly, for what it is worth, if 2009 is any indication, KHOU has a history with some untrustworthy polls. That year, the channel showed Peter Brown with a plurality approximately one week before Election Day, ten points ahead of being disqualified from the runoff. That, of course, did not happen.

Equality in Houston

The Houston Chronicle reports that Mayor Parker has doubled down on her calls to institute a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT people in Houston.

When Mayor Lee Brown took office in 1998, he issued an executive order forbidding municipal employees from discrimination because of sexual orientation. In 2010, Mayor Parker took office, she expanded this to also include gender identity. The San Antonio ordinance, by comparison, prohibits employment discrimination in all forms and bans all city-condoned discrimination, including in public housing.

Gay rights has a somewhat long and tumultuous history in this city. In 1984, the City Council, under the leadership of Mayor Kathy Whitmire, passed an ordinance protecting municipal employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The next year, voters strongly disavowed the ordinance, in an epic moment of homophobia that climaxed with Louie Welch saying the solution to the AIDS epidemic was to “shoot the queers.”

Mayor Brown restored the protections in 1998, and attempted to push through a domestic partnership package near the end of his career, in 2001. At that point, a charter amendment was approved —with a mere 52% of the vote— to ban any “plus-one” benefits for municipal employees. If 2001, the height of the culture wars and homophobia, could only muster 52% in support of discrimination, a repeal effort would surely cruise to victory today.

While I do not see why charter language prohibiting partnerships would preempt a non-discrimination ordinance, the City Attorney, David Feldman, thinks it is a somewhat substantial roadblock. “We would have to either accommodate the prohibitions in the charter or, to effectuate it as San Antonio did, we would have to put an amendment on the ballot. The cleanest thing would be to take it the voters,” Feldman told the Chronicle.

Morris then interviews both Ellen Cohen and C.O. Bradford on the matter. Both appear to support it, but Bradford is somewhat more tepid (probably in an attempt to take a shot at the Mayor more than anything pertaining to the issue).

If the issue goes on the ballot, it would hopefully do so in 2014. Next year will most likely be a pretty awful one for Democrats and Democratic values nationwide, but I would predict that in a city as progressive in Houston, considering how far most people have come on the issue, the amendment rescinding the discrimination would probably pass easily.

Perhaps the biggest immediate story on this whole issue is a tidbit at the very end of the article. Morris notes that “A campaign spokeswoman for Parker’s top challenger this fall, Ben Hall, declined comment.” I attempted to contact Hall’s campaign myself, but received no response by press time. However, Morris uses the word “declined,” indicating to me an active rejection. This would appear to me that Morris got in contact with the campaign, and was stonewalled when he brought up the ordinance.

As the astute may recall, Ben Hall’s campaign was at the gay pride parade, where it was prominently featured. I have never gotten a straight answer out of his campaign on any LGBT issues but this is a somewhat pressing inkling. At that time, I had the following words to say about Eric Dick’s campaign (who also participated in the parade but refused to support any gay rights issues):

It is the height of hypocrisy to participate in the gay pride parade yet not stand up when questioned about gay rights, specifically gay marriage. His statement come across, to me, in my humble opinion, as a whimpering sycophant, seeking the approval of the crowd but when directly questioned, equivocates as to his approval on the issue at hand.

Ben Hall would too be a whimpering sycophant if he opposes this proposed charter amendment. For the good of this city and his campaign, I hope he is not.

UPDATE: Ben Hall DOES NOT support gay marriage. Whimpering sycophant, indeed. Hall still has yet to take a position on the issue of the non-discrimination ordinance or domestic partnership benefits, but given his position on gay marriage, I have a bad feeling about the issues now.

Hall’s campaign truly needs to figure out what side of the aisle they occupy. 72% of Democrats, which Ben Hall ostensibly is, support gay marriage, as do over 80% of people under 30. To take such a reactionary position on the issue in such a liberal City is horribly damaging to his brand and his chances as a candidate.

HOPE endorses Parker

Ok, the “phony scandal” is officially dead.

The Houston Chronicle reports that HOPE, the Houston Organization of Public Employees (the municipal employee union covering all those city servants outside of HPD and HFD), has endorsed Annise Parker for re-election. This is a huge endorsement, as her main opponent, Ben Hall, had previously tried to make an issue out of her alleged tepid support for municipal workers.

Longtime followers of Municipal politics will remember that HOPE –which typically endorses exclusively Democratic candidates– supported Annise Parker in 2009. From what I understand, the union declined to endorse anyone in 2011, simply opting to make selections in City Council elections. I have left a message with HOPE to confirm this fact, however.

The union also endorsed other candidates this afternoon, including Ronald Green, Stephen Costello, Andrew Burks, Roland Chavez, C.O. Bradford, Jerry Davis, Ed Gonzalez, Mike Laster and Larry Green. Accordingly, they opted to not make selections in AL5, as well as Districts A, D, F, G and I. Ellen Cohen and Dave Martin were specifically snubbed from getting a nod, despite running unopposed.

The endorsement is –and I will say this multiple times– is a huge blow for Hall’s campaign. Hall had been walking a fine line, attempting to run simultaneously to the left and to the right of Parker. While he espoused many somewhat fiscally conservative ideas that made him a big hit at the Pachyderm Club, the real prize would be going after those on the left –specifically the unions– by cozying up to the Firefighter’s Union, followed by HOPE. That is why Hall’s response to the ‘phony scandal’ could have mattered so much more.

Without the monolithic support of the unions, Hall is left in a delicate, dangerous position. At this point, he is getting perilously close to his core supporters: Establishment Republicans, prominent African-Americans and the Firefighters. That doesn’t really make up more than about a quarter of the electorate, especially once you factor in how many African-Americans will vote for Parker. I tend to believe that number has been underestimated thus far. Any move to go further right (and therefore snatch votes from Dick) would alienate his African-American base even more.

Hall now faces a daunting task, while Parker’s job keeps getting easier. No longer will Hall be able to bring up “the 747” [laid off workers], for the Mayor has atoned, and been forgiven, for the move. The Mayor’s opponent will need to find another card to bring to the table.