Former Houston City Attorney Ben Hall formally launched his mayoral campaign against incumbent Annise Parker Wednesday night, decrying the burden of taxes and fees he said are driving city residents to the suburbs, and saying Houston’s mayor must have a grander vision.
Parker, also on Wednesday, accepted the endorsement of the Houston Police Officers Union and a $10,000 check from its political action committee, as Hall welcomed the endorsement of the African American Police Officers League.
Hall, who served as city attorney from 1992 to 1994, emphasized the need to incentivize business growth, particularly from international markets. He derided Parker’s focus on issues such as red light cameras and a proposal to allow food trucks downtown, saying, “This city is grander and bigger than those kind of trivial items.”
“A mayor must do more than simply balance a budget,” he said. “A mayor must do more than simply dream of ways to tax and penalize residents. We need more than just a manager, we need a leader. And we need more than just a leader, we need a leader with vision, someone who sees a way out of this morass. You can continue the strangulation hold on the taxpayers and residents, or we can choose a different way forward … by opening up the city to the international marketplace.”
My reaction to this is pretty much what it’s been all along, which is to say that so far there’s no real suggestion of what a Mayor Ben Hall would be like, and in what way he would be different than Mayor Annise Parker other than simply not being her. There’s precious little in this story to say what Hall’s vision is or how he would lead. That may of course be a function of limited story space in the Chronicle, but neither Hall’s campaign webpage nor his campaign Facebook page sheds any light on this; in particular, neither contains a copy of his prepared remarks or a video of what he said. The campaign agenda page is almost pitifully skimpy. It’s early days and I don’t expect detailed position papers just yet, but some basic statement of what Hall would do would be nice. Here’s what he says about transportation, for example:
Houston’s transportation issues can only be fully addressed through a combination of transit options. Automotive travel is here to stay, but we must promote shared transit ridership in as many ways as possible. High-occupancy vehicle lanes, bus travel and rail are but a few of the options. Shared transit ridership will not only cut down on traffic congestion, but also assist with improving air quality.
Did he favor or oppose the Metro referendum? Does he think Metro has been doing a good job? Will he pursue more funding sources to help boost shared transit ridership? You get the idea. What is his vision for transit? I don’t think I’m asking for too much here.
As for what Hall did say, I’m curious why he singled out “a proposal to allow food trucks downtown” as a trivial item. Does that mean he would oppose allowing food trucks downtown? There is a grassroots effort to make this happen, being led by small business owners who want the city to loosen or undo regulations that prevent them from expanding their businesses into downtown. It’s not something Mayor Parker picked out of the blue. There is a somewhat disingenuous case against allowing food trucks downtown, though of course we don’t know yet if Hall buys into that or if he has some other rationale. One hopes at least that terrorists and drugs don’t figure into his reasoning. Of all the things Hall could have chosen to criticize Parker about, this one just puzzles me. Among other things, it’s far from clear that being anti-downtown-food-truck is a winner. I mean, the MFU Houston Facebook page currently has more likes than Hall’s campaign webpage.
As for red light cameras, obviously this is fair game for criticism of the Mayor. It’s just that it feels dated. The red light camera referendum was in 2010. The cameras are all gone. The only question at this point is whether the city will be able to pay off the settlement with money collected from fines or if it will have to dip into general revenue. Again, there’s certainly fodder for criticism here, but isn’t having a vision about looking forward?
Finally, and maybe this is just my own personal axe to grind, Ben Hall himself is not a resident and taxpayer in the city of Houston. Yes, he is now registered to vote here, but everyone knows the “residence” one lists for voter registration purposes is just a polite fiction. The house Ben Hall has lived in for the past 20 or so years is in Piney Point. He doesn’t pay city of Houston property taxes. Maybe no one else cares about this, but it bugs me. You want to have a say in the governance of our city, you need to be an actual resident of our city. Sorry, but I’m not going to let this go any time soon.
Anyway. Other than the food truck thing, Hall hasn’t added much to his own Mayoral vision since his first announcement in January, which I discussed here. When he has more to say, I’ll have more to say about what he says. Campos, Greg, and Texpatriate have more.
UPDATE: PDiddie adds on.