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.

Mayor’s race goes national

CNN has a video clip that discusses the Houston mayoral election.

The report by John King begins by discussing how Democrats can win nationwide despite winning only a tiny fraction of counties, and winning huge in the big cities. The discussion then moves to Texas, and if Democrats can win by just taking the cities. King lists the cities: El Paso, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and the pauses before noting “the biggest of them all,” Houston.

Annise Parker is then interviewed by CNN, and discusses the changing demographics and diversity of Houston, followed by why she thinks Texas can be won by the Democratic Party in the future.

Then, in my favorite part of the video, the shot cuts to a gym where the Mayor and First Lady Kahty Hubbard are exercising. Hubbard is wearing the famous orange “Stand with Texas women” shirt, a nice touch for the Mayor’s liberal credentials. Parker then discusses her support of gay marriage, and her desire to get married in Houston.

CNN then interviews Jared Woodfill, the Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, who doubles down on bigotry and his opposition to any form of recognition for gay couples. Perhaps the most noteworthy part of the all-too-brief yet all-too-long interview with Woodfill is that gigantic portraits of George W. Bush and Rick Perry are erected on the wall  behind him.

Only at that point, over 3 minutes into the 4 minute video, does CNN even mention the Mayoral election. The coverage begins with “But Republicans don’t even have a top tier candidate…it is fellow Democrat Ben Hall who says he will deny Mayor Parker a third term.” Interesting to note the media outlets, such as Channel 13, who gave the distinction of “top tier” to Eric Dick, while the big national institutions do not.

King gives Hall a few seconds of air time, and closes with a teaser about where Parker’s political career will go next, discussing the possibility of Parker running for Governor.

I, for one, have no earthly idea what CNN was trying to do with this report. The title of the video was “Houston mayoral race a sign of a political shift?,” but the video barely even touched upon the election. Instead, the video seemed much more like a friendly interview for Parker than anything else. Still, I have no doubt the video will bring greater exposure to the election.

Parker goes on the offensive

I got a number of press releases from Parker’s campaign today, including one I found especially interesting on education. Some may remember that, just a few days ago, Ben Hall floated the idea of the Mayor’s office taking over HISD. Today, I received the official response:

On the first day of school, local education leaders have come together to call out Houston Mayoral Candidate Ben Hall for hypocrisy on the issue of education.

Debra Kerner is a leader of the Board of Trustees of the Harris County Department of Education.  Speaking as an individual, she said, “I was really taken aback when I heard that Mr. Hall was bragging about what he would do for education, when he couldn’t do the most basic thing – pay his school taxes. He doesn’t pay his taxes on time, but he wants to be mayor?”

Educator Alma Lara, retired after 35 years as a teacher and principal at HISD, said, “Ben Hall clearly thinks he is above the law when it comes to paying his school taxes and now he wants to be mayor? That’s a terrible example to set for our kids.”

Blake Ellis, Ph.D., Community College Professor, said, “Hall clearly hasn’t done his homework when it comes to education. He hasn’t offered one, single, solitary idea that would improve education. Worse, he claims that state law would give him the power as mayor to take over HISD schools. That’s not just wacky, it’s dangerous.”

Normally, I’ve liked Debra Kerner as an Education Trustee, but I was somewhat disappointed that she played so cautious with these comments. While Ben Hall’s tax problems are absolutely endemic of a larger problem –and I have certainly criticized him for it before– this does not automatically poison any ideas he has about schools.

Further, Ellis’ comments about Hall’s plans being “dangerous,” offer absolutely no substance to prove such an assertion. While I do agree that the City of Houston taking over HISD is not a very good idea (& Off the Kuff has a more ambivalent take on the matter), the Parker campaign must explain why in order to be taken seriously.

Parker, for her part, has explained in some detail what she has done on the topic of education. The page, which is part of her campaign website, is an overall positive post that reflects on the Mayor’s experience and trackrecord in office. Basically, exactly what she should have been doing all along.

In addition to the education comments, Parker’s campaign went the more discourteous route in publishing a new attack website, “www.AlltheFactsonHall.com

The website is a hodgepodge of all the (mainly Parker campaign-perpetuated) negative press against Ben Hall. Mainly the whole Tax Cheat issue, in addition to the residency issue, Parker’s commercial, and the refusal to show tax returns. All of this is expected from a negative website, but what I did not expect was what I found under the “Worth a Look” page.

The campaign embedded tweets by the fake Ben Hall twitter (@benhall4mayor) account. Historically, the campaign has distanced itself from the account, especially after Eric Dick made the accusation of the two being related. At press time, Parker’s campaign had not responded to my requests for comment on the matter.

UPDATE: The campaign still maintains the account is not run by the campaign, though I still find the cozier attitude somewhat perplexing.

As I have said many times before, the Mayor will always be in the best position by running a positive campaign on her record. Unfortunately, she did not even come close to doing that today.

Texpatriate’s second attempt with Eric Dick

On Tuesday evening, we published an article labeled ‘Texpatriate’s Questions for Eric Dick,’ in our installment of municipal candidate interviews. We received legitimate answers from bona fide representatives of Dick’s campaign. However, these answers consisted of poor grammar and, often times, nonsensical ramblings.

Eric Dick himself contacted one of the other members of this board, Noah M. Horwitz, to announce the answers were not a sincere representation of either himself or his campaign. Allegedly, Dick was never able to review the answers before submission.

Horwitz attempted to assuage the issues brought up by this unfortunate miscommunication by working with Dick to formulate a three-part solution.

First, new answers would be accepted and reprinted if Dick answered a further question explaining how in the world a campaign could have such an error in oversight. Second, the old article would include a disclaimer pointing the reader to this interview. Third, the old article would be preserved.

While I was not personally inclined to support such an arrangement, this board soon deemed it to be in the best interest of all involved parties. Further, we received no negative feedback from both the Hall and Parker campaigns, respectively, for this decision.”

~Olivia Arena, Texpatriate Editorial Board

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Editorial note: This is the fourth 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.

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Eric Dick (left), Candidate for Mayor of Houston

Texpatriate: Your campaign has sent a set of previous answers, which you have since disavowed. Why did you disavow these previous answers, and why did you submit these new answers in their place?
Eric Dick: For various reasons, I didn’t have the chance to review said answers.  Furthermore, I’m not a millionaire nor is my campaign funded by special interests, so we run on tight budget.  Sometimes we make mistakes.  Nonetheless, we are candid as to who we are and what we are about.
T: Would you mind delineating the reasons you did not have the chance to review the answers?
ED: A mixture of the following:
1.  A shoe-string budget
2.  Communicating with the entire city
3.  Fighting insurance companies all over the state
4.  My beloved three-month old daughter
5. Campaign coordinator is out of the country
T: Okay thank you. Let’s start the interview over again.

T: What is your name?
ED: My name is Eric Dick.

T: What is your current occupation?
ED: Insurance lawyer.  Specifically, I sue insurance companies.

T: Have you run for or held public office before?
ED: Yes.

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)?
ED: Proudly a Republican.

T: Typically, this board will defer to incumbents unless we are convinced the incumbent has failed in some way. Do you believe the incumbent has failed at her or his job? If so, why?
ED: Yes

  1. Made it criminal to share food with the poor

  2. Questionable priorities with the city budget as follows:

    1. Has no plans to cover next year’s shortfall in budget of $80 million

    2. Has no plans to deal with Houston’s $14 billion deficit

    3. Has increased the Mayor’s budget four times to that of Bill White

T: Why are you specifically running against this incumbent?
ED: Because I cannot sit and watch as this administration takes away our liberties and puts Houston more in debt.

T: What is an ordinance you would introduce as Mayor?
ED: An ordinance that would repeal the feeding ordinance as I believe it a violation of religious freedoms.

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?
ED: I represent all of Houston and have diversity in constituents.

T: What has been the most important thing you have learned in your campaign?
ED: That Houstonians are passionate about their city, care deeply about their freedoms, and have serious concerns about the Houston’s financial wellbeing.

Texpatriate’s Questions for Eric Dick

PLEASE SEE THIS LINK FOR A NEW INTERVIEW.

Editorial note: This is the fourth 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.

Further note: Dick’s campaign requested we ‘spell check’ the answers they sent us, but out of respect to other candidates who may request similar treatment, we are reprinting the answers they sent us exactly as we received them.

Eric Dick, Candidate for Mayor of Houston

Texpatriate: What is your name?
ED: My name is Eric Dick.

T: What is your current occupation?
ED: Threw a small law firm I earn my living as a lawyer.

T: Have you run for or held public office before?
ED: YES.

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)?
ED: Republican.

T: Typically, this board will defer to incumbents unless we are convinced the incumbent has failed in some way. Do you believe the incumbent has failed at her or his job? If so, why?
ED: Yes Candidate annise parker has failed houston and heres why=she out right lied about the fee “tax” amount on the drainage fee,she misled the general public to believe that everybody would have to pay 5$ and she out right lied when she said it would be only used for this specific purpose,when houstonians began to recieve bills up to 14$ to 18$ a month,this was an injustice,the people of Houston deserve a Mayor that will lead with the truth,not a Mayor that acts on “its better to ask for forgiveness than for permission”,when Candidate mayor parker launched an all out collateral attack against our fire fighters pay plans with utter disregard to state law with out first sitting down with   an open mind,she failed houston.When she was notified at council that sidewalks needed to be placed in Blueridge subdivide in Sunnyside,she refused even when she was provided proof that the annexation from 1956 clearly states that sunnyside and blueridge and reedwood should have receieved sidewalks  over 55 years ago,she failed sunnyside as well as all of houston,to date she continues to force blueridge school children to walk to JR reynolds elementary in the city roads, offering her only on record response  “i am not sure i can do anything about  something that was in place before i was born”.She continues to force all taxi drivers  to  wear an over abundance of clothing in the  hot houston heat,dissallowing even a small seasonal reprive so that taxi drivers can wear shorts in the hottest parts of the summer,shes failed houston.When she decided that it would become unlawful and a jail offense  for one houstonian to feed 6 others,even when the hungry searched our city dumpsters,she jailed em,shes failed houston time and time again,and lets never forget the huge bonuses she gave her friends,correction her dept staff,while she kicked 747 of our city workers out the back door,while secretly lining the pockets of her “team”.shes failed houston and Houston deserves better.

T: Why are you specifically running against this incumbent?
ED: I am running against candidate parker because she has lied, to many times ,to way to many people and the people have had to suffer,their familys have suffered and its unjust and its unfair.Her sit down and shut up,my way is the highway style of governing this city must end.

T: What do you hope to get out of serving as the Mayor?
ED: I have run a fair and just campaign,a camp i am very proud of,giving the deserving position of campaign manager to one of Houstons most  active in the community joshua ben bullard,to see this individual rise from houstons homeless community 15 years ago to become an elite political strategist,is beyond amazing for our camp staff,as mayor, i wish to help all houstonians achieve their dreams threw a smaller sized local goverment  but at the same time allow the private sector more involvement  with the comminity,together we can grow in a positive direction.

T: What is an ordinance you would introduce as Mayor?
ED: As Mayor i would first introduce an ordinance to dissolve the feeding ordinance so that houstonians that wish and have the desire to help their fellow man with a meal can do so with out the threat of parkers police jailing them.

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?
ED: I will not stand for any level of discrimination with in my administration,nor will i stand for anyone to engage in such acts,i am a human and i love  houston,and i do not put my self in a box ,nor my campaign,People in houston deserve and have a right to  local goverment services that they fund,when elected officials start moving the money out the back door,then i eric dick have a problem with that.

T: What has been the most important thing you have learned in your campaign?
ED: I learned that candidate parker hasnt really fixed these roads since shes been elected,i learned that shes lied to most of southpark and sunnyside and blueridge for the last 3 years, since she said she would have sidewalks put in,ive learned that people in houston can still fight with their vote even when she tried to discount their vote when she turned the red light cameras back on when mike kubosh had  fought so very hard for all houstonians freedoms,, after they voted to have the cameras removed,parker turned them right back on,ive learned that people still have a voice and a right to say who will lead them in their city,and that years ago annise parker forgot what got her elected 16 years ago”the people are the city”..I am Eric Dick and would like to work for you,for each and every one of you,I may make some mistakes,but unlike parker ill never lie to you and when the times get tough,I will be right there with you every step of the way,I am the candiate for mayor that wants to work for everybody,all the time #charge the mound,Eric Dick for Mayor 2013…….