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August 2nd, 2014:

Saturday video break: Come Down In Time

Not one of Elton John’s biggest hits, but a lovely tune nonetheless:

And a very good cover of it by Sting, from the “Two Rooms” tribute to Sir Elton and Bernie Taupin:

Sting’s voice just works on that song, doesn’t it? That naturally led to the two of them performing it together:

And there you have it, the circle of musical life.

Hassan drops out of County Judge race

I’m okay with this.

Ahmad Hassan

Ahmad Hassan

Democrat Ahmad Hassan has ended his campaign for Harris County judge, saying incumbent Republican Ed Emmett should be given another four-year term to finish projects vital to the community.

Hassan, owner of the Katy-based Alexandria Realty and Mortgage, said he decided to withdraw after a recent meeting with Emmett, the county’s top administrator since 2007.

“It was not an easy decision,” Hassan said. “I am a leader. I’ve never withdrawn from anything.”

[…]

With Hassan’s withdrawal, Emmett will run unopposed in November.

Emmett said he met with Hassan earlier this week.

“I do have things I’m trying to accomplish – the mental health pilot program at the jail, regional governance, the Astrodome,” Emmett said. “I thanked him. I thought it was an honorable thing to do. He is a successful person, and he truly wants to give back. I can appreciate that.”

I agree that Ahmad Hassan is a well-meaning person who wants to do good. Having interviewed him in 2010, however, he is not qualified for the office of County Judge. He had no grasp of the issues and no idea what he would do if he were elected. This would have been his third run for County Judge – he lost in the Democratic primary in 2008 to David Mincberg and in 2010 to Gordon Quan – and he has also run for Congress in 2006 as a Republican, and for Commissioners Court in 2012, again losing in the Democratic primary. I appreciate how difficult it is to run for office and what a huge burden it can be on a candidate and his or her family. I believe it’s best for all candidates to have to earn the job they seek by defeating one or more qualified opponents, and as a Democrat I hate seeing Republicans go unchallenged. But Ahmad Hassan was nothing more than a name on a ballot. He’d raised no money this year, which was typical for him, he had no campaign website or Facebook page that I could find, and the only campaign activity I can recall him engaging in was some emails plus reaching out to me for an interview in 2010. There are candidates like him all over the ballot, but he actually had a non-zero chance of winning, given the partisan splits in Harris County. Remember when Dallas accidentally elected a candidate like that to be their County Judge in 2006? However unlikely that would have been here, I didn’t want it to happen. Someone has to be a counterweight to the rest of Commissioners Court, and whether you like him or planned to vote for him or not, Judge Emmett does that. Ahmad Hassan would not have been able to do that.

Ideally, there would have been a much stronger candidate on the ballot to oppose Emmett, someone like Mincberg or Quan, but it’s not hard to understand why no one of that caliber stepped in. Even in a good Democratic year, you’d be an underdog against Emmett, who has a sizable campaign treasury and demonstrated crossover appeal. He’s also made it clear that this will be his final term, so why risk going down in flames when you can take a shot an an open seat in 2018? Finally, not to put too fine a point on it, but Emmett’s been a pretty good County Judge, and unlike a few other Republicans I could name he’s put the job ahead of partisan interests – he supports Medicaid expansion, he has been a big advocate for mental health treatment over incarceration, and so on. I have plenty of policy disagreements with him and would rather have someone closer to my own perspective in that office, but we could do an awful lot worse than Ed Emmett.

It should be noted that Emmett is not actually unopposed, despite what the story says. There is a Green Party candidate on the ballot – David Collins, who was the GP candidate for US Senate in 2012 – so if you really can’t stand the idea of voting for Ed Emmett, you do still have a choice. PDiddie and Texpatriate have more.

LVdP will not be a candidate for Mayor of San Antonio in 2015

I never really thought there was anything to this, but in case you needed an official denial, here you go.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Democrat Leticia Van de Putte wants to put rumors to rest: she has absolutely no intention of running for mayor of San Antonio come next year.

Van de Putte, a long-time state senator from San Antonio, attempted again on Tuesday to put to bed any chatter that she’s eyeing a run for mayor as a backup plan if her long-shot bid for lieutenant governor against Republican Dan Patrick doesn’t pan out.

“Under no circumstance will I be running for mayor of San Antonio,” she said in a short interview. “I will be in the Senate come January 2015.”

[…]

San Antonio Express-News columnist Brian Chasnoff first fanned the flames of a potential Van de Putte run for mayor in a piece last month highlighting how the senator’s name was being tossed around by local politicos. The column also carried a firm dismissal from Van de Putte.

But that apparently did little to persuade some gossip hounds, Van de Putte said, specifically noting that she’s heard murmurs out of San Antonio occasionally and also has had folks mention to her informally that “lobbyists in Austin” have broached the subject.

Rick Casey has also mentioned this possibility, citing Chasnoff in doing so. I noted it as well but didn’t give it much thought, figuring it was something that someone may have said once that was now being remembered and speculated about by someone else. It’s often wise to take a “you never know” posture with this sort of thing, but that’s as clear a denial as you’re likely to see. So let’s put this to rest and move along.

One thing we can move along to is the one person we know for sure that is running for SA Mayor next year, and that’s State Rep. Mike Villarreal. Since the election will be in May and that’s towards the end of the legislative session, he would likely be too busy campaigning to spend much time doing his legislative job. So, he plans to resign after the 2014 election in order to concentrate on his next campaign.

State Rep. Mike Villarreal will stay on the Nov. 4 ballot in order to avoid a party appointment and allow district voters to choose a new representative.

Villarreal, who is running uncontested, will step down before the 84th Legislature begins in January 2015, prompting a special election for House District 123, according to a news release. Villarreal will run for the San Antonio mayoral spot in May 2015.

“I believe that the most democratic and transparent process is to allow all of the voters of District 123 to choose the person to represent them in the Texas Capitol,” Villarreal said.

If he resigned by Aug. 21, the Texas democrat precinct chairs in his district would appoint a candidate for the November election.

His full statement is here. That seems like as good a way as any to approach this. He’ll be missed in the Legislature. Best of luck with the Mayoral race, Rep. Villarreal.

The Astrodome isn’t officially a historic landmark just yet

The decision has been delayed until there can be a meeting to discuss it in Houston.

Not historic but still standing

Honoring a request by Harris County officials to table the vote and meet much closer to Houston, the Texas Historical Commission voted Wednesday at a meeting in far West Texas to postpone designating the iconic Astrodome a so-called “state antiquities landmark.”

The designation would not outright save the world’s first domed stadium from demolition, but would make the possibility of it more difficult. That’s because the county would have to get permission from the state before tearing it down or making any other substantial changes to the long-vacant stadium’s exterior.

After nearly 45 minutes of public testimony, and a motion made to approve the designation application, Chairman Matthew Kreisle said he was concerned that designation could make it more difficult for the county to strike a deal with a developer to renovate the structure.

But Kreisle, an architect, said he wanted to see local officials make a concerted effort to do so, and also try to make use of a new historic state tax credit as leverage.

Kreisle described the 25 percent tax credit, approved last year by the Legislature, as a “deal changer,” and said it poses “an opportunity to possibly look at this deal in a new light.”

“I am concerned, in my mind, if we get the designation put on it today that we may possibly make that deal harder to happen at this time,” he said before making a motion to table the item, which was seconded and approved by the commission.

[…]

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who has opposed designation for the same reasons the chairman moved to table it, said the move will create more time for him to devise yet another redevelopment plan.

“It does continue the protection but it doesn’t lock in a decision at this point,” he said.

Kreisle said he planned to reach out to Emmett to arrange some kind of meeting in Houston “where we can hear from the judge” and others.

See here, here, and here for the background. The Dome is also on the National Register of Historic Places, which is a nice honor but not much more from a practical perspective. I’m basically ambivalent about historic designation – it feels more like a gesture than anything else to me – but I will say that it would be greatly ironic if such a designation made it less likely that the Dome could be repurposed by a private investor, as that would surely increase its odds of being demolished. Finding a private investor to Do Something with the Dome is clearly Judge Emmett’s preferred outcome, so one would think he and the Commission will have some incentive to work out the kinks on this. The Commission’s website is here and their calendar of events is here, and I figure we’ll hear about the planned Houston meeting soon enough. CultureMap has more.

Council approves funds for Harrisburg Line overpass

Progress!

The City Council is set to decide Wednesday whether to give Metro $10 million to accommodate traffic as well as trains on a controversial overpass the transit agency plans to build along its Green Line light rail route.

The council delayed action on the matter for 30 days last month at Mayor Annise Parker’s suggestion when Councilman Robert Gallegos raised concerns. Gallegos and some other neighborhood leaders long have lobbied against an overpass and sought more time to confirm Metro’s claims that worse-than-expected soil contamination would prevent a previously planned underpass where freight tracks cross the path of the Green Line along Harrisburg.

After months of delay when the environmental concerns were discovered, the extra 30 days caused consternation for some neighborhood leaders, and for Metro officials.

Metro board chairman Gilbert Garcia fired off a letter saying the council’s delay had forced him “to reverse course and to proceed with a plain rail-only overpass.” This week, however, Garcia said those thoughts were premature.

“Looking back in time, we all could have communicated better. And I really think any miscommunication is really a result of everybody trying to do the right thing,” he said. “We’re going to look back and I think we’re all going to be very proud of this project, so I think some of the angst today will be a distant memory when the line is successful and businesses are thriving.”

And indeed, Council approved the funding on Wednesday. The best news is that this overpass will include vehicular traffic as well, and the current design specs appear to be more palatable to East End residents. Current estimates for construction are 32 months, which would put the opening in 2017, but Metro Chair Garcia is optimistic they can beat that. The Harrisburg Line up to the future overpass will be completed by the end of this year, just barely. It will be very nice when that is all done.