The Sunday Chron has an expansive profile of Mayor Parker.
In a system where term limits cap elected officials at six years, City Hall veterans joke that new council members spend their first year finding the bathrooms and their sixth getting ignored by bureaucrats happy to wait them out.
Parker, however, spent six years on the City Council, then six as city controller, Houston’s elected financial watchdog. After nearly four years as mayor, she is Houston’s longest-tenured elected official since voters approved term limits in 1991. She is seeking a final two-year term on Nov. 5.
Institutional knowledge is particularly useful for someone with Parker’s technocratic leanings. The introverted former bookstore owner acknowledges she is excited by tweaks to internal city operations no citizen will ever see.
“I just love the minutiae of running the city. There are hundreds of things that we could do better, and I’m just popping them off one after another as soon as we can find them,” she said. “For the first time, in this year’s budget, we created a line item for maintenance, renewal and replacement of our facilities. You can’t say that’s a legacy item, but 10 years from now, 20 years from now, it’s going to be impossible, I think, for a future mayor to say, ‘We’re not going to line-item this again.’ And, hopefully, we won’t be in the condition that I was when I came in and we had all these facilities that you had years of deferred maintenance, falling apart. Those are the kind of things – that’s why I came to government.”
Her top challenger, former City Attorney Ben Hall, criticizes that approach, calling Parker a manager, not a leader. Parker spends too much time tinkering with pet projects, he said, while failing to plan for looming financial problems or to craft visionary policies to ensure the city’s continued growth.
Even if Hall’s criticism is true, Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said, Parker’s results at the ballot box speak for themselves. “It’s a credit to her that she has been able to have such success while clearly positioning herself much more as a technocrat than as a charismatic leader,” Jones said.
They will have a similar story about Ben Hall this Sunday, which ought to be interesting given the drama of the endorsement screening. Overall, I thought this was a fair article about Mayor Parker. She is a technocrat, she has gotten a lot done in an environment that hasn’t always been friendly or in her control, she has pushed for things that needed to be done even if they weren’t popular, and she has the city and county working together in ways we haven’t seen in many years. She also appointed a Metro board that rescued it from catastrophe with the FTA and has gotten it back on sound footing and in better graces with the public, which wasn’t mentioned in the story. Frankly, I think that’s one of her best accomplishments, and it’s largely gone unremarked on. On the flip side, she is not awash in charisma, she does sometimes come across as someone who thinks she’s smarter than everyone around her – speaking as someone who also attended Rice, as a grad student in my case, this is a not-terribly-uncommon affliction among its alumni – and she has been very loyal to some longtime staffers that haven’t always been up to challenges of the office. Rebuild Houston is a great idea and a needed program that continues to be a work in progress. As for the vision thing, like I’ve said before I care more about results, and the results look pretty good overall. In any event, if you were new to the city or the state and didn’t know much about Mayor Parker, I thought this story would give you a reasonable first look. I look forward to the upcoming profile of Ben Hall.