Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Questioning CM Le’s residency

This sort of thing is practically a tradition in District F.

Steve Le

Steve Le

Houston City Councilman Steve Le last month became the fourth man to represent District F in the last seven years, and the third to face questions over whether he actually lives in the Alief-area district.

Houston’s city charter requires district council members to have lived in their districts for at least 12 months immediately preceding Election Day.

Le said he began renting a room from his cousin at her Alief home in January 2014. On his sworn application to appear on the city ballot last fall, Le said that by Election Day he would have lived there 20 months, which would date back to March 2014.

The new councilman, who ousted one-term incumbent Richard Nguyen, has more formal links to an address in Kingwood than to the Alief address on Wildacres Drive, however.

That angers Barbara Quattro, a longtime Alief civic leader who, with a few others, held signs outside Jones Hall questioning the new councilman’s residency when he and the rest of City Council were inaugurated last month.

“A candidate’s not actually being a resident has become so commonplace in District F that it’s turned into an inside joke,” said Quattro, who supported Nguyen’s reelection. “Piney Point? Pearland? Kingwood? Close enough to Alief.”

[…]

Houston political consultant Mustafa Tameez, who did outreach to Asian voters for former mayors Lee Brown and Bill White and has done work for state Rep. Hubert Vo, whose district overlaps District F, said part of the residency accusations stem from the multicultural nature of the district.

Many international communities have strongholds in the area, heavy with apartments and low-cost housing, Tameez said, but the political candidates representing these communities tend to be wealthier and reside outside the area.

“It hasn’t affected the voters or the outcome of elections,” Tameez said. “I also think that the notion of community is different in multicultural communities than traditional neighborhoods. I think in the past people identified as, ‘I live in Sharpstown.’ Today they may say, ‘I’m a Vietnamese-American.’ And so that boundary line as to where you live may not matter to the Vietnamese-American voters.”

Emphasis mine. Pretty good argument for a public finance system for city campaigns, if you ask me. Note that previous CM Richard Nguyen was both a resident of the area and a member of the working class, having been a city employee at the time of his election. We can debate the merits of living in a district one is elected to represent all day, but I doubt anyone would argue that folks in Nguyen’s economic class are over-represented on Council. As for the complaint, I suppose anything can happen, but if Dave Wilson isn’t in violation of our meaningless residency laws, then I don’t know how Steve Le – or anyone – could be.

Related Posts:

4 Comments

  1. Joshua ben bullard says:

    100% of the few people that want to question Steve le’s residence a-worked on Richard Nguyen’s campaign b-never raised this as an issue until after Nguyen lost and c-where receiving grant funding contracts from Richard Nguyen’s office in front of hundreds of non profits that where supposed to receive before them-i hope the county attorney vince Ryan has properly vetted these “concerned citizens” before he keeps “reviewing”, can you imagine 4 people nor a hundred,not a thousand but 4 people who were getting funds from the offices of Richard Nguyen threw grant contracts and now-not then,but now crying foul ,only in district f.to be honest with you,the only folks that should be reviewing these concerned citizens ,is the FBI.

  2. Mainstream says:

    This issue has bothered me for quite a while, but I am not sure there is a workable cure, beyond informing the voters and letting them decide whether they care about residence.

    Robert Kennedy and Hillary Clinton moved to another state to become the US senator there.
    The voters in New York apparently did not mind about how little connection the candidate had with their state. Similarly, the voters in District F don’t seem to mind having representatives with more of an emotional than literal connection to their district.

    I have heard rumors that Nguyen really lives or lived in Missouri City, and several of the other council members have only formal residences.

    Requiring a candidate to vote from the same address at which he claims a homestead exemption might be a small fix; at least he would have to sacrifice tax benefits to run from a fake address.

    A related problem is this: many voters have an official address, but really sleep somewhere else. I saw this recently on jury service, where a member of the Harris County jury panel mentioned driving in from Pearland, but is a voter in Cypress. If you audited a precinct in the Third Ward, you might be surprised how many voters there actually live in South Park or in Fort Bend County. One of the recent city council candidates voted at his church, but lived outside the city limits. Another had only recently moved his voter registration in from Cypress. Rob Mosbacher moved in from West U; Ben Hall moved in from one of the Villages; the list goes on and on.

    Maybe the solution is to do away with residency requirements or districts altogether and allow cumulative voting, where a voter gets 10 votes for state rep or city council, and can give all 10 to one candidate or split them among any number of candidates. Under the misguided interpretations of the Voting Rights Act, a number of low income, inner city black and Hispanic districts have been forced, but some of the successful professionals, businessmen and politicians who want to represent those districts don’t want to actually live in them.

  3. “Requiring a candidate to vote from the same address at which he claims a homestead exemption might be a small fix; at least he would have to sacrifice tax benefits to run from a fake address.”

    I like the general idea, but I don’t think it quite works. The main problem with this is that not everyone does claim a homestead exemption – some people rent instead of buying – and a person who really wanted to skirt the law could transfer home ownership (including the homestead exemption) to a spouse or child. Isn’t that more or less what Dave Wilson did?

    I was thinking the other day that for the city of Houston, we could push for a law that says anyone who has a homestead exemption on a piece of property outside the city is ineligible to run. You still have the potential for spousal shenanigans, and it doesn’t directly address the district issue, but it at least leaves the renters out of it and imposes a price on carpetbagging.

  4. voter_worker says:

    Mainstream points out a phenomenon that is more common than you’d think: registering to vote at an address that is somewhere other than where you live, or even intend to live. Venues for this practice range from downtown office towers to UPS Store mailboxes. The end result is that such voters are unlikely to be voting the ballot related to where they live, which after all is the basis of our system of single-member districts apportioned by population. As for the issues of residency in your district of candidacy, is it too much to expect that entities accepting candidate filings to run for office could exercise a reasonable level of due diligence and vet the candidate’s claims before accepting their paperwork?