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That Press story on CM Brown

CM Helena Brown

So I’ve thought about that Houston Press story on CM Helena Brown and her relationship with William Park. There’s much to contemplate here, but I’m going to focus on three things.

1. What were they thinking?

I’m not talking about the voters, I’m talking about the three people who served as Council Member in District A prior to Brenda Stardig.

Almost no one the Press spoke to recently in District A had heard of Brown, and the few who had didn’t know much, if anything, about her. “Is she that libertarian?” one man near Brown’s home asked, then thought for a moment. “I’d heard the name.” Another neighbor, Glen Smith, said: “I don’t know anyone who knows her and I’ve lived here since 1957.”

There was concern among constituents who were more familiar with her. They worried their community would atrophy under her austerity politics. “How are we going to get anything?” asked Cecil Wahrenberger, who said she voted for Brown because past councilwoman Toni Lawrence endorsed her. “The work’s not gonna get done.”

I get that the genesis of the Helena Brown story is that Toni Lawrence had a falling out with Brenda Stardig after Stardig was elected in 2009, and this drove her to support Brown. I don’t know, and the story doesn’t say, if Lawrence helped recruit Brown as a candidate or if she just hitched her wagon to Brown once she filed. But it wasn’t just Lawrence who turned on Stardig: If you look at Brown’s 8 day finance report for the runoff, one of her contributors is Bruce Tatro, who was the Council Member in District A before Lawrence. I could swear I saw Helen Huey, Tatro’s predecessor, on one of Brown’s reports, but I can’t find it now. Be that as it may, someone should ask Lawrence and Tatro why they supported Helena Brown, what they know about her relationship with William Park, and what they think about her performance in office so far. Do they still think she’s the best choice to represent District A? Why or why not?

2. Who would run against Brown in 2013?

Whatever the answer to the questions I’ve posed above may be, I don’t doubt that a fair number of District A voters are happy with what they’ve gotten.

One aspect of Spring Branch, however, hasn’t changed: Who votes, and who does not. Bob Stein, the well-known Rice University political scientist who has studied District A’s voting behavior, says the area’s voters are overwhelmingly older, white, conservative and subscribe to Tea Party orthodoxy.

That was partly why Brown β€” who despises taxation β€” got voter support over incumbent Brenda Stardig, who fell into disfavor with the area’s political elite for her support of the so-called “rain tax.” Passed in 2010, it will raise $8 billion in drainage fees over 20 years to revitalize Houston’s infrastructure. But it also taxed churches, incensing conservatives in Spring Branch.

Around this time was when Helena Brown emerged. The political unknown had up until then operated on the fringes, the far-right campaigns, the online discussion groups, the Ron Paul movement. By every telling, she was utterly disconnected from the mainstream constituents of Spring Branch, moving in similar-minded groups like the “Friends of Freedom,” where she theorized communists had infiltrated both the United Nations and the Catholic Church, according to e-mails. After ascending to public office, Brown said she had stopped participating in the radical forum.

So with Stardig’s unpopularity, combined with her ineffectual re-election campaign, Brown won a runoff election with 3,042 votes last December β€” less than 2 percent of District A’s total population of 200,000 people.

Pardon me while I grind my teeth for a minute: The drainage fee does not “tax” churches because it’s a fee, not a tax. Gah.

It’s certainly possible CM Brown could be in electoral danger next year. There’s this story and there’s the time card story and now there’s the amazing campaign contributions story.

In an attempted violation of city law, and in yet another puzzling move by embattled City Council member Helena Brown, the District A representative solicited money from local Korean businessmen late last month for a trip she took this week to Seoul — though she had already paid for it with public money.

According to chapter 18 of the City Charter, Brown cannot receive direct contributions unless it’s during city-sanctioned campaigning months — February before an election until March afterward. During “blackout” periods, if a candidate or council member gets direct money, said City Press Secretary Jessica Michan, it’s a violation of city law. Whether Brown actually got money is unclear — but she sure did ask for it.

In a recent e-mail, which the Houston Press obtained, Brown said: “The trip to Korea is a costly trip. … Please make checks out to Helena Brown who will personally be offsetting the costs.”

But that wasn’t true. Brown paid for airline tickets to South Korea with public money — $11,000 — according to her expense report. Enrique Reyes, her director of communication, said last week hotel costs hadn’t been charged yet, but declined all questions. Brown’s office said the council member returned to Houston today.

Asking for direct contributions under such circumstances appears to break both city law and Harris county policy. Brown not only solicited money during a period when it wasn’t allowed, but in her e-mail she also asked all contributors to pay her at a June 28 gathering held at a Harris County building in Spring Branch, a violation of County policy. Meeting organizers are informed before forums that fundraising isn’t allowed. “If solicitation for money was happening, that’s not right,” said Ricardo Guinea, director of the Sosa Community Center, which housed the gathering.

To steal from Casey Stengel, can’t anyone in CM Brown’s office play this game? This is amateur night. Any halfway competent staffer or supporter would have known about the fundraising blackout period, and simple common sense would have suggested that collecting contributions at a government building might be a bad idea. And let’s all keep that $11K in travel expenses in mind the next time CM Brown votes against some routine appropriation in Council, shall we?

I’m sure it’s true that the people who bother to vote in our odd-numbered-year elections skew heavily in favor of people who like Helena Brown, at least in District A, though stories like these could change that. Still, who could make a successful challenge to her? One possibility is someone with strong conservative credentials but who isn’t crazy. One person who fits that bill is Amy Peck, who ran for District A in 2009. That could make for an interesting matchup if the 2013 race in A is essentially another Republican primary, as the 2011 race was, since Peck could garner the support of some heavy hitters in the Republican establishment. The other is to reach for the old “broaden the electorate” playbook and find someone unlike Brown to try to put together a winning coalition. District A was touted as a “Latino opportunity district” after the 2011 redistricting, after all. (Yes, I know, Brown claims some Latino heritage. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t part of her pitch in the 2011 election.) I don’t have a name to toss out here, but I’m sure such a person exists. These are much tougher campaigns to run since you are by definition seeking the support of habitual non-voters, at least in these elections, but it is a strategy.

3. What else is William Park up to?

The story makes the case that William Park is basically a con man, and that he has an inordinate amount of influence over CM Brown. It’s a pretty short leap from there to wondering what other ways he might find to exert that influence, and whether he might try to benefit from it directly. The story doesn’t go there, possibly because there’s no there to go to. It’s worth keeping an eye on, that’s all I’m saying.

What were your reactions to this story?

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13 Comments

  1. John says:

    I work on Council and you are correct- her staffers have no experience and William Park is a creep. No one was willing to work for Brown so she ended up with a lot of young people that do not know how to handle a situation like this. Park is just flat out weird and certainly comes across as a con. So does her Chief of Staff. It will be interesting to see what Council decides to do about this. My bet says they leave it alone unless charges are filed against her.

  2. joshua bullard says:

    when you have liberal mass,a structure built of liberal mortar from top to bottom,from the inside out,its easy to scream “she s violating the law, off with her head”these are long standing out dated left liberal crusted laws that have been sitting idle on the books of the city for years,in houston city,there are some smart democrats that keep conservative republicans on there staff in order to keep their left self grounded.The point is this ,helena brown hasnt violated any law intentially,and from my own perspective when you deal with the law the question does arise”what was the intent?”

    The sad part about charles kuffners story here is this-he is blinded by his liberlism that he might as well paint the picture the helena brown is some type of bank robber or something?if you remove all the new york times out of kuffners story this is what you really have….

    helena brown went on an official trip-she has made request for money but never collected any money’no hand to hand exchange of monies= = == no crime committed-asking for funds is legal,collection is a diffrent story.you know what i think-i think the media lost sales when i pushed jolanda “jo” jones out of office and now their trying to make up the profit with helena brown-doesnt anyone see that this ladie has only been in office for a few months and the media is prematurly attacking her officialy for monetary gains…………

    waiting on kuffner to set “automatic spell check”
    bullard ben joshua

  3. joshua bullard says:

    when you have liberal mass,a structure built of liberal mortar from top to bottom,from the inside out,its easy to scream “she s violating the law, off with her head”these are long standing out dated left liberal crusted laws that have been sitting idle on the books of the city for years,in houston city,there are some smart democrats that keep conservative republicans on there staff in order to keep their left self grounded.The point is this ,helena brown hasnt violated any law intentially,and from my own perspective when you deal with the law the question does arise”what was the intent?”

    The sad part about charles kuffners story here is this-he is blinded by his liberlism that he might as well paint the picture the helena brown is some type of bank robber or something?if you remove all the new york times out of kuffners story this is what you really have.

    helena brown went on an official trip-she has made request for money but never collected any money’no hand to hand exchange of monies= = == no crime committed-asking for funds is legal,collection is a diffrent story.you know what i think-i think the media lost sales when i pushed jolanda “jo” jones out of office and now their trying to make up the profit with helena brown-doesnt anyone see that this ladie has only been in office for a few months and the media is prematurly attacking her officialy for monetary gains…………

    waiting on kuffner to set “automatic spell check”
    bullard ben joshua

  4. landslide says:

    Solicitation is also prohibited:

    From the Texas Penal Code:
    Section 6.08 prohibits a public servant from soliciting or accepting gifts from
    persons over whom the public servant has business, official, regulatory, or
    jurisdictional authority.

    From the City of Houston Code of Ordinances:
    Sec. 18-35. – Restricted period for solicitations and contributions.
    A candidate for city office at a city general election may neither solicit nor receive contributions except during a period commencing on the 1st day of February prior to the day of the election, and ending on the 4th day of March following the election date for the race that the candidate has entered. In the event that the candidate should be in a run-off election, the final date to receive or solicit contributions shall be the 4th day of April following the election date.

  5. M@ says:

    Joshua Bullard;
    My guess is you never got high marks for objectivity and introspection. Do you feel the same way when liberals flout “conservative” laws? As a lawyer, I don’t think you can excuse your conduct by claiming the law is just conservative or liberal nonsense. Nice try though–high marks for creativity.

  6. Houstonian says:

    Joshua:
    And low marks for punctuation, spelling, and stringing coherent sentences. Your humbleness astounds. The media lost sales because “you” pushed Jolanda Jones out of office. You must be very powerful. CM Brown makes a lot of odd decisions. She’s a public servant, and there are rules she must abide by. If she doesn’t, she faces the same consequences any other public servant faces.

  7. Joseph Houston says:

    I get that Brown is trying to grandstand and draw attention to her beliefs (as well as herself). I also get that Brown thinks she is morally superior to the rest of Council and the Mayor. What I don’t get is how completely clueless she is to play the games of “but I meant well” or “they’re out to get me”.

    Council is the small potatoes of elected politics but most of the same rules apply. If you want something, you have to work with others. Cruz will find this out should he defeat Dewhurst just as Patrick found out when he went in all puff and bluster (but got nothing of consequence done). When you attack sizable constituencies, you have to expect that they will look out for their own interests. As it stands, a great many of Brown’s supporters are clearly living outside the city limits and know what a buffoon she is but love the way she irritates her colleagues.

    Brown is extremely lucky that her peers on Council do not follow through on what she keeps pushing them to do; stop almost all spending of city funds inside District A, withdraw many of the firemen and police to replenish in other parts of the city, close the libraries, and halt all work on the Long Point expansion to leave it in shambles. This would provide others a showcase of what impact her desire to cut spending would look like after a short while were it followed through. The small amount of money it would save in the form of lower taxes would not cover the losses in property values or the lack of services.

    PS: If Joshua thinks he was personally responsible for removing Jones from office, he might want to look up a good shrink. Ultimately it was the voters that wised up and there were a lot of folks publicizing her exploits to open their eyes.

  8. peter says:

    Is it just me or is this about as creepy as it gets? An elected city official being controlled by a sleezy con artist in the fourth largest city in America. How embarrassing is this going to be for our city when the national media picks this up and I assure you it’s just a matter of time before they do.

  9. Patricia Williams says:

    My husband and I were among Distric A residents who allowed
    ourselves to be duped into voting for Brown. We even gave
    her very generous space on residential and commercial properties
    we own…..LARGE space with boulevard exposure. We were thoroughly disgusted with Brenda Stardig’s indifference. Now
    we find ourselves wishing we had tolerated thatindifference rather than submitting ourselves to the regular rants of a sorely misguided (and at sometimes seemingly de-ranged) know-nothing wannabee.

    She is totally immune to positive suggestions for improving her
    image much less giving any impression of a willingness to work
    productively with other council members. Her barrages against
    Mayor Parker are ludicrous. Either she is totally ignorant of or
    chooses to ignore the Mayor’s keen awareness of the issues of pensions and the city budget and the remedies she has been developing since her tenure as City Comptroller ended.

    She tightly surrounds herself with a staff she has somehow
    managed to lure into her web but dismisses them in a heartbeat
    if they dare to suggest anything she doesn’t want to hear. The
    turnover in staff is a new record even for City Hall. Her resume is
    highly questionable and might bear a bit more scrutiny from
    experienced fact checkers. Our only consolation is that she only
    has another seventeen months to go….at best.

    Like another writer, it would be amazing to sit back and observe the results if all of her heart’s desires for District A were magically implemented. Just imagine: all of her followers who had eagerly
    lapped up the pudding she has been serving them clutching
    themselves in agony from the poison in the recipe.

    Frankly, I don’t how the rest of Council even tolerates her.
    Our only consolation is that there are only seventeen months
    remaining until we can stand on the sidewalk and wave bye-bye.

  10. […] made her displeasure with CM Brown clear in a post that followed the Press cover story and the Chron story on timecard alterations. As I suggested before, I think she’d make a […]

  11. Shawn says:

    Wow, someone told me to do some research on William park before givi g him any money, OWES The IRS shy of 400k and that press release….creepy glad we passed on associating with this group of scammers

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