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District A

Looking ahead to 2019

Yes, yes, I know. We’ve barely begun the 2018 cycle. Who in their right mind is thinking about 2019? I plead guilty to political insanity, but the beginning of the year is always the best time to look forward, and just as 2018 will be unlike any election year we’ve seen before, I think 2019 will be unusual, too. Let’s just take a moment to contemplate what lies ahead.

I’ve posted this list before, but just to review here are the Council members who are term-limited going into 2019:

Brenda Stardig – District A
Jerry Davis – District B
Ellen Cohen – District C
Mike Laster – District J
Larry Green – District K
Jack Christie – At Large #5

There is an opportunity for progressives to elect a candidate more favorable to them with CM Christie’s departure, and his At Large colleagues Mike Knox and Michael Kubosh will also draw attention. Against that, I would remind everyone that Bill King carried Districts C and J in 2015, so we’re going to have to play defense, too.

It is too early to start speculating about who might run where, but keep two things in mind. One is that there’s likely some pent-up demand for city offices, since there won’t have been an election since 2015, and two is that some number of people who are currently running for something in 2018 will find themselves on the sidelines by March or May, and some of them may decide to shift their focus to a more local race. The point I’m making here is expect there to be a lot of candidates, and not just for the term-limited offices. I don’t expect Mayor Turner to be seriously challenged, but I do expect the firefighters to find someone to support against him. Finally, I expect Pasadena to be a hotbed of action again for their May elections, as Democrats missed by seven votes in District B winning a majority on Pasadena City Council.

The following HISD Trustees are up for election in 2019:

Rhonda Skillern-Jones – District II
Sergio Lira – District III
Jolanda Jones – District IV
Diana Davila – District VIII

Skillern-Jones was forced into a runoff in 2015, but she then won that easily. Lira was elected this year to finish Manuel Rodriguez’s term. Jolanda is Jolanda, and no election that includes her will ever be boring. Davila sued to get on the Democratic primary ballot for Justice of the Peace, but was not successful. I have to assume whoever runs against her will make an issue of the fact that she was job-hopping in the interim.

The following HCC Trustees are up for election in 2019:

Zeph Capo – District 1
Dave Wilson – District 2
Neeta Sane – District 7

It is too early to think about who might be running for what in Houston and HISD. It is very much NOT too early to find and begin building support for a good candidate to run against Dave Wilson and kick his homophobic ass out of office. That is all.

Precinct analysis: At Large #1

This week I’m going to look at the five At Large Council races, beginning with At Large #1. Before I get into the district breakdown, here’s a number to consider: In Harris County, there were 76,675 undervotes in this race. The combined vote total for top two finishers Mike Knox (47,456) and Georgia Provost (28,402) was 75,858. In a very real sense, “none of the above” was the winner in At Large #1.

So with that out of the way, here’s what the vote looked like:


Dist  Griff   McCas    Pool  Provost  Oliver    Knox   Lewis  PGalv
====================================================================
A     2,465   1,415   1,138    1,303   1,113   5,560   1,300     575
B     1,314     927   1,799    5,861   3,183     919   1,817     568
C     5,201   7,154   2,530    1,758   1,863   7,375   6,170     799
D     1,509   1,395   1,623    8,152   4,425   1,657   1,867     606
E     3,040   2,346   1,770    1,395   1,774  10,861   1,247     868
F     1,144     959   1,194    1,093   1,114   2,051     699     472
G     5,242   4,910   1,610    1,287   2,002  12,040   1,748     400
H     1,287   1,463   1,414    1,606   1,472   1,451   1,654   1,739
I     1,250     889   1,113    1,619   1,476   1,258   1,176   1,644
J       719     797     682      750     717   1,601     613     318
K     1,555   1,922   1,536    3,573   2,775   2,678   1,773     553
								
A    16.58%   9.52%   7.65%    8.76%   7.49%  37.39%   8.74%   3.87%
B     8.02%   5.66%  10.98%   35.76%  19.42%   5.61%  11.09%   3.47%
C    15.83%  21.78%   7.70%    5.35%   5.67%  22.45%  18.78%   2.43%
D     7.11%   6.57%   7.64%   38.39%  20.84%   7.80%   8.79%   2.85%
E    13.05%  10.07%   7.60%    5.99%   7.61%  46.61%   5.35%   3.73%
F    13.11%  10.99%  13.68%   12.53%  12.77%  23.50%   8.01%   5.41%
G    17.93%  16.79%   5.51%    4.40%   6.85%  41.18%   5.98%   1.37%
H    10.65%  12.10%  11.70%   13.29%  12.18%  12.01%  13.69%  14.39%
I    11.99%   8.53%  10.68%   15.53%  14.16%  12.07%  11.28%  15.77%
J    11.60%  12.86%  11.01%   12.10%  11.57%  25.84%   9.89%   5.13%
K     9.50%  11.74%   9.39%   21.83%  16.96%  16.36%  10.83%   3.38%
Georgia Provost

Georgia Provost

I’ve previously discussed how if Lane Lewis, Tom McCasland, and Jenifer Pool had been a single candidate instead of three candidates splitting a subset of voters evenly, that candidate would have led the pack. In a slightly different universe, we could be saying the same thing about Georgia Provost and Chris Oliver. In this universe, Provost did sufficiently better than Oliver among their African-American base of voters to break free from the pack and make it to the December election. That gives her a path to build on for the runoff, and with the formal endorsement of the HCDP (sent out on Friday), she stands to inherit the Lewis/McCasland/Pool voters as well. She will need them to win – her base isn’t big enough if Anglo Dems skip this race next month. I didn’t do an interview with Provost for At Large #1 because it never looked like she was running much of a campaign – you can find the interview I did with her in 2013 for District D here – but since Election Day I’ve seen numerous people rallying around her candidacy on Facebook. I’ll be interested to see what her eight day runoff finance report looks like.

It should be noted that if Georgia Provost had split the vote more evenly with Chris Oliver in places like B and D, the immediate beneficiary would have been Griff Griffin. I know a lot of people who were disillusioned by some of the runoff choices they would be facing immediately after the election. Imagine how much worse that would be if the race here were between Griffin and Mike Knox. I have no idea why anyone would vote for Griff, but in a city this size where only a small minority of voters have any idea who the At Large candidates are, let alone have a chance to meet them and get to know them, it’s not surprising that a name the voters have seen every two years since Bill Clinton was President would draw some support. Along those same lines, note that James Partsch-Galvan was the leading vote-getter in Districts H and I. If you don’t know who you’re voting for, vote for a name that sounds familiar. There was a bit of chatter awhile back about eliminating the at large Council seats in favor of an all-district Council. I like the idea of having Council members that represent the whole city, but the data in At Large #1 is as strong an argument in favor of scrapping the at large system that you’ll see.

As for Mike Knox (whose 2013 interview for District A is here), his task is basically that of Bill King, Bill Frazer, and Jack Christie: Run up the score in the Republican boxes, and not do too badly everywhere else. He collected the most endorsements among the late-entry anti-HERO candidates, he had the best overall performance, and he’s run a Council campaign before. I doubt he’ll have much crossover appeal, but his floor is high enough to win if Provost can’t put it together.

Endorsement watch: Stardig

I’m too lazy to think of a clever title for this one.

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig is on the verge of completing her nonconsecutive second term as district councilwoman, and she has earned a third.

Stardig, 53, came into office with a resume impressive in its breadth and depth of civic involvement. She served on her neighborhood civic club, was head of a superneighborhood, sat on a tax increment reinvestment zone, a chamber of commerce and the Houston-Galveston Area Council. However, she was booted after her first term in a low-turnout election and replaced by Helena Brown. Rather than a constructive member of council, District A found itself with a ineffective rabble-rouser representative. Two years later, voters put Stardig back on council and she started to put important infrastructure projects back on track.

[…]

Stardig said she opposed the Houston equal rights ordinance because she believed there were other ways to address discrimination. While we believe that Stardig was wrong in her vote, she fares much better than her opponent. Iesheia K. Ayers-Wilson, a 35-year-old tax preparer, told the editorial board that she thinks businesses should be allowed to discriminate against people based on religion.

I got this one right, though it’s not like there was anything to it. I suppose we all owe Ms. Ayers-Wilson a bit of gratitude for demonstrating so succinctly that it’s always possible to coarsen the debate on a matter of public policy. Do you think it ever occurs to people like that that they could be discriminated against, or is it just the case that they think they already are by not being allowed to discriminate freely against others? And yes, I know I’m saying that about a candidate in the district that once elected Helena Brown. It can always get worse.

Is CM-elect Stardig term limited or not?

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

I brought this up yesterday in my wrapup of the city and HCC runoffs, and I’m asking it again here in the hope that someone who can provide a definitive answer will offer one. The question I have is whether or not CM Brenda Stardig is eligible to run for re-election in 2015. As I noted in that post, CM Stardig’s position is similar to that of former CM Jolanda Jones, who flirted with the idea of running in District D this year, thus igniting a stir over whether or not the term limits law allowed for her to run. The law says “No person, who has already served two full terms, shall be eligible to file for that same office.” City Attorney David Feldman interpreted that to mean that Jones could not run again, since she has served two full terms. My initial reaction was that Stardig was in the same kind of boat, but thinking about it again now, she’s not. If Stardig were to run for a third term, she would file for that election prior to serving out her second term, thus meeting the requirements of the term limits ordinance. A Houston Politics post from 2012 that includes a copy of Feldman’s position supports that view. In practical terms, that means that if you’re an incumbent Council member and you must lose an election, better it to be after your first term than after your second. You can win one, lose one, then win two more, but if you win two and then lose one, you’re out of luck. In other words, Helena Brown and Andrew Burks could come back and wind up serving three terms on Council just as Stardig could, but Jolanda Jones and Al Hoang are finished as Council members, though they could still run for Controller or Mayor.

All that assumes you accept Feldman’s interpretation, which Jones at least said she didn’t. I have to say, while this may be technically correct, it feels wrong to me. The clear intent of the term limits law was to restrict Council members, Controllers, and Mayors to three terms. It’s possible there was some discussion at the time of whether or not those terms had to be consecutive or not – it’s been a long time, I sure don’t remember – but even if there were I’m willing to bet that the prevailing opinion among city voters would overwhelmingly favor the simple “three terms and you’re done” perspective”. I presume that sooner or later this is going to need to be settled by a judge, or by a fix to the ordinance being passed by the voters. Be that as it may, I feel confident that the subject will come up again, any time the subject turns to Stardig and her possible re-election effort in two years.

One reason why this may matter, beyond the simple effect on folks like Stardig and Jones, was vocalized by Texpatriate, who wondered “if Brenda 2.0 becomes super conservative just to placate some of her angry, right-wing constituents”. Maybe the odds of that are greater if she has the option to run for re-election – she might emulate some of CM Brown’s positions in order to protect herself against a third matchup with Brown, for example. No guarantee she’s behave this way – Stardig might well conclude that there are limits to the crazy in District A, and her successful comeback is proof of that. Regardless, it’s not unreasonable to think that a term-limited Stardig could be a different Council member than a Stardig who has one more campaign to go.

So that’s my question. Writing this has led me to what I think is the technically correct answer, but I’m not convinced that the matter is settled. What do you think?

Runoff results: Rough day for incumbents

I have no complaint about the results.

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

With all precincts reporting, controversial first-term council incumbents Helena Brown, in northwest Houston’s District A, and Andrew C. Burks Jr., in At-Large Position 2, fell to their challengers, as did HCC trustees Yolanda Navarro Flores and Herlinda Garcia.

Brown lost her rematch with Brenda Stardig, the incumbent she defeated to gain the seat two years ago.

“We’re very proud of the work we’ve done on our campaign and we wanted to get back out there and support our community,” Stardig said. “We’ve had the support of police and fire and so many in our community.”

[…]

Burks fell to challenger David W. Robinson, a civic leader and former city planning commissioner. Robinson raised far more campaign cash than did Burks, who had run unsuccessfully numerous times before winning his seat two years ago. Both men were among the 10 candidates who sought the post when it was an open seat two years ago.

[…]

In the At-Large 3 runoff, bail bondsman and civic activist Michael Kubosh, best known for leading the charge against Houston’s red-light cameras, topped former Harris County Department of Education trustee and former mayoral candidate Roy Morales.

“I appreciate all the people who have supported me and all of my staff that’s worked so hard through the last few months,” Kubosh said. “I’m looking very forward to working on City Council and getting things done.”

[…]

In south Houston’s District D, lobbyist Dwight Boykins bested businesswoman Georgia D. Provost. Boykins had thumped the 11 other candidates in fundraising heading into November. Term-limited District D Councilwoman Wanda Adams was elected to the Houston ISD board.

In a very low-turnout race in the East End’s District I, Harris County jailer and civic activist Robert Gallegos beat Graci Garcés, who is chief of staff for the term-limited James Rodriguez.

So I was three for four in my prognostications. I can’t say I’m unhappy to have been wrong about District A. I am curious about one thing, however, and that’s whether or not Brenda Stardig is eligible under the term limits amendment to run for election again in 2015. If you consider her situation to be analogous to that of former CM Jolanda Jones, and you go by the interpretation given by City Attorney David Feldman, the answer would seem to be No. I made an inquiry about this with the City Attorney’s office several weeks ago, but they have never gotten back to me. Guess I need to try again. Anyway, congratulations to CMs-elect Stardig, Boykins, Gallegos, Robinson, and Kubosh.

The results I’m really happy about are these:

In the Houston Community College contests, District 1 incumbent Flores lost to challenger Zeph Capo, a vice president of the Houston Federation of Teachers. In District 3, Adriana Tamez, an education consultant, beat incumbent Garcia, who was appointed to the post after the resignation of the prior trustee. In the runoff for the open District 5 seat, businessman Robert Glaser topped commercial real estate agent Phil Kunetka.

Capo over Flores is a huge step up, and Tamez is an upgrade as well. Both Flores and Herlinda Garcia were palling around with Dave Wilson, so having them both lose makes the HCC Board of Trustees a better place. Major congrats to Zeph Capo, Adriana Tamez, and Robert Glaser.

Here are the unofficial Harris County results. There were an additional 308 votes cast in Fort Bend, so the final turnout is right at 37,000. Here’s an update to that table I published Friday:

Year Absent Early E-Day Total Absent% Early% E-Day% ============================================================ 2005 5,350 8,722 24,215 38,287 13.97% 22.78% 62.25% 2007s 5,464 7,420 11,981 24,865 21.97% 29.84% 48.18% 2007 4,456 6,921 13,313 24,690 18.05% 28.03% 53.92% 2011 8,700 15,698 31,688 56,086 15.51% 27.99% 56.50% 2013 9,883 10,143 13,517 36,123 27.36% 28.08% 37.42%

See, that’s the kind of pattern I was expecting for the November election. I guess the turnout was too high for it. Gotta tip your hat to whichever candidate’s mail program generated all those votes. It’s good to be surprised sometimes.

Runoff 8 Day Finance Reports

I did not get to looking at the 8 day finance reports for the November election – too many candidates, not enough time. But there was no reason I couldn’t take a gander at the 8 day reports for the runoff. Here’s the summary:

Candidate Office Raised Spent Loan On Hand ===================================================== Burks AL2 27,150 14,933 0 21,563 Robinson AL2 93,720 71,771 0 73,536 Kubosh AL3 60,045 59,221 15,000 13,192 Morales AL3 50,030 31,540 3,300 22,274 Brown Dist A 38,928 29,875 0 30,272 Stardig Dist A 35,909 15,102 0 45,321 Boykins Dist D 81,175 65,667 0 25,974 Provost Dist D 24,600 19,047 18,535 2,258 Garces Dist I 53,355 42,056 0 20,071 Gallegos Dist I 35,196 12,348 1,252 18,518

My comments, with links to the reports, is below.

BagOfMoney

Andrew Burks – Received $8,000 from Houston Fire Fighters Political Action Fund, $3,500 from Across The Track PAC, $1,000 from HAA Better Government Fund. He also got $375 from CM Bradford’s campaign, $250 from Justice of the Peace Zinetta Burney, and $250 from Jeri Brooks, who was the manager of Mayor Parker’s 2009 campaign and who is now working on behalf of the payday lenders. Burks’ wife Lillie contributed $1,500.

David Robinson – As has been the case all along, Robinson’s finance report reads as if he is the incumbent. He got $8,500 from TREPAC, $5,000 from Houston Council of Engineering Companies, $2,500 from HOME PAC, $2,500 from Houston Associated General Contractors PAC, $2,000 from HOME PAC, $1,500 from Allen Boone Humphries Robinson LLC, $1,000 from LAN PAC, $1,000 from Pipefitters’ Local Union No. 211 COPE Account, $500 from Bracewell & Giuliani Committee, $500 from Cobb Fendley PAC, $500 from HOUCON PAC, $500 from Houstonians For Responsible Growth-PAC, $500 from Amegy Bank of Texas PAC, and $250 each from Associated Builders & Contractors PAC, CDM Smith Inc. PAC Account, Houston Westside PAC, and Huitt Zollars Inc. Texas PAC. He also got $5,000 from Peter Brown, $1,000 from Locke Lord, which is Robert Miller’s firm, and $500 from Marcie Zlotnick, who I believe is CM Ellen Cohen’s daughter.

Michael Kubosh – $47,000 of the amount raised was his own contributions. He got $2,500 from the HPOU PAC, $1,000 from the IEC TX Gulf Coast PAC, $500 from the BOMA PAC, $1,000 from the Baker Botts Amicus Fund, and $1,000 from lobbyist/attorney/blogger Robert Miller, who is also currently working on behalf of the payday lenders.

Roy Morales – $5,000 from Houston Council of Engineering Companies Inc PAC, $1,000 from HVJ PAC, $2,300 from HOME PAC, $250 from Associated Builders & Contractors PAC, and $1,000 from himself. I did not see any contributions from Democratic-aligned PACs or prominent progressives on either his report or Kubosh’s. I’ll be very interested to see what the undervote rate is like in this race.

Helena Brown – $1,000 from IEC Texas Gulf Coast PAC, $500 from BAC-PAC, $250 from Seafarers PAC, $500 from Greater Houston Mobility PAC, $1,000 from Group 1 Automotive, Inc. PAC, $500 each from Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson LLP and Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP (Robert Miller’s firm), and $1,000 from TREPAC, which remember is the realtors. She also got $500 from Toni Lawrence’s campaign and $100 from Bruce Tatro, meaning that her predecessors that backed her in 2011 are backing her again after sitting out the regular election cycle. Finally, she too received $250 from Jeri Brooks. I think it’s fair to say the payday lenders are choosing sides in these races.

Brenda Stardig – $10,000 from HPOU PAC, $5,000 from Houston Fire Fighters Political Action Fund, $2,000 from Houston Council of Engineering Companies PAC, $500 from Houston Westside PAC, $500 from Amegy Bank of Texas PAC, $250 from Arcadis G&M, Inc. Texas PAC, $500 from Associated Builders & Contractors of Greater Houston PAC, $250 from CDM Smith, Inc PAC, and $250 from Huitt-Zollars, Inc. Texas PAC. She has about $2,800 listed as expenses for postcards plus $200 from radio ads, but I don’t see much else that looks like voter outreach. Once again I wonder why she’s sitting on so much cash.

Dwight Boykins – Another report that looks like it belongs to an incumbent. Boykins raked in (deep breath) $5,000 from Houston Council of Engineering Companies Inc. – PAC, $5,000 from TREPAC, $2,750 from HOME PAC, $2,000 from BEPC LLC, $1,500 from HOUCONPAC, $2,000 from HAA Better Government Fund, $500 from Fulbright & Jaworski LLP Texas Committee, $500 from Andrews & Kurth Texas PAC, $1,000 from Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, $250 from Houston Westside PAC, $1,000 from Pipefitters’ Local Union No. 211, $500 from Greenberg Taurig LLP Texas PAC, $250 from Cobb Fendley PAC, $500 from Bracewell & Giuliani Committee, $250 from CDM Smith Inc. PAC Account, $500 from LAN-PAC, $1,000 from Plumbers Local Union No. 68, $500 from Arcadis G & M, Inc. Texas PAC, $500 from Locke Lord (Robert Miller’s firm), $1,500 from Allen Boone Humphries Robinson, $1,000 from I.L.A. Local 26 P.A.C. Fund, $1,000 from Baker Botts Amicus Fund, $250 from Huitt-Zollars, Inc Texas PAC, $1,000 from HVJ Political Action Committee, $1,000 from Southwest Laborers District Council PAC, and $2,500 from HPCP Investments LLC. Whew! He also received $1,000 from CM Stephen Costello, and $500 from Anthony Robinson, who I guess did ultimately endorse in the runoff.

Georgia Provost – $1,000 from Woodpest Inc PAC was her only PAC contribution. She got $4,000 each from Alan and Renee Helfman; Alan Helfman is her campaign treasurer. She also received $1,500 from Peter Brown, and $250 from Anthony Robinson. Maybe Robinson didn’t pick a side in the runoff after all.

Graci Garces – $8,000 from TREPAC, $2,000 from Texas Taxi PAC, $500 from Seafarers PAC, $1,000 from Wolpert Inc PAC, $500 from Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, $5,000 from Houston Fire Fighters Political Action Fund, $2,000 from HAA Better Government Fund, $2,500 from HPOU PAC, $2,000 from Across The Track PAC, and $2,500 from HOME PAC. She also got $500 from the James Rodriguez campaign – no surprise there – and $250 from One World Strategy, which is Jeri Brooks’ firm. In other business-pending-before-Council news, in addition to the Texas Taxi PAC money, Garces got $2,000 from Roman Martinez, the President of Texas Taxis, $1,000 from his wife Diana Davila Martinez (also Garces’ treasurer), and $1,000 each from Rick Barrett (VP of Texas Taxis), Duane Kamins (owner of Yellow Cab), and Ricky Kamins (owner of Liberty Cab). I’m thinking she might be a No vote on Uber.

Robert Gallegos – $4,539.72 in kind from TOP PAC, $1,500 from Teamsters Local $988, $1,000 from Plumbers Local Union No 68, $500 from LAN-PAC, $500 from Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, $1,000 from Pipefitters Local 211, $2,500 from HPCP Investments LLC, and $1,500 from Houston Dock and Marine Council PAC Fund. He also received $4,400 from Peter Brown, and $225 in kind from Sen. Sylvia Garcia.

You may be wondering why I highlighted donations from people associated with the payday lenders. Isn’t that supposed to come up for a vote with this Council? Well, maybe and maybe not. And maybe the votes on Council will be according to the contributions, and maybe not. But at least now you know.

Runoff voting is underway

So early voting is underway for the City of Houston and HCC runoffs. Day One totals are here, and Campos ponders their locations. I’ll take a crack at projecting turnout once the EV totals are in, but if you don’t want to wait that long, here’s a quick and dirty shortcut. In three of the last four runoffs that didn’t involve a Mayoral race – the 2005, 2007 AL3 special, and 2007 runoffs – turnout was between 25,000 and 40,000 votes. In the 2011 runoff, which was boosted by the Jolanda Jones/Jack Christie race, turnout was about 57,000. I don’t think any race in this year’s runoff will be as high interest as that one, so my seat of the pants guess is “between 25,000 and 40,000”. I reserve the right to revise that once I see the EV numbers.

Here’s the Chron story on the runoffs, in case you missed it. They also reiterated their endorsements if you care about that sort of thing, as did the Houston Association of Realtors.

If you want more information, I collected all my first round interviews here, and you saw my Q&A with Roy Morales yesterday. I’m still hoping to receive Michael Kubosh’s responses. Other recommendations come from Rey Guerra, PDiddie, Stace, John Coby, and Texpatriate.

Early voting begins today for Council and HCC runoffs

EarlyVoting

Here’s the map. Note that only City of Houston locations are open, since the only runoffs are for City Council and HCC Trustee. Early voting runs from today through next Tuesday, December 10, from 7 AM to 7 PM each day except for Sunday the 8th, when it is from 1 to 6 PM. Odds are pretty good you won’t encounter any lines whenever you go to vote. Remember that precinct locations are likely to be heavily consolidated on Runoff Day itself, December 14, so voting early will avoid confusion for you.

All City of Houston voters will have at least two races on their ballot, the two At Large runoffs. There are also runoffs in Districts A, D, and I, plus the three HCC Trustee runoffs, in HCC 1, 3, and 5. I will say again, if you live in HCC 1 I strongly urge you to vote for Zeph Capo. Let’s limit the number of friends Dave Wilson has on the board.

Here are the interviews I conducted with the various runoff candidates:

At Large #2
CM Andrew Burks
David Robinson

At Large #3
Michael Kubosh
Roy Morales

District A
CM Helena Brown
Brenda Stardig

District D
Dwight Boykins
Georgia Provost

District I
Robert Gallegos
Graci Garces

HCC 1
Zeph Capo

Get out there and vote, y’all. A press release from the Harris County Clerk is beneath the fold, and Hair Balls has more.

(more…)

Re-endorsement watch: Three Council repeats

The Chron reiterates its endorsement in three Council races.

David Robinson:

In the run-off for At-large Council Position 2, there is an especially clear choice facing city voters. Architect David Robinson has the professional skills and lengthy experience as a civic leader to make significant contributions at the council table from Day One.

We endorse Robinson for the Position 2 seat.

Brenda Stardig:

Brenda Stardig has the experience to get things done and deserves voters’ support in the runoff. Stardig has worked her way up the community government ladder, serving as civic club president, head of a superneighborhood, member of the Memorial City TIRZ and the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Transportation Policy Council. That transportation policy experience will come in handy for her commuter-heavy constituents. For all her sound and fury, incumbent Helena Brown accomplishes little at City Hall. She has not pushed hard for her district, nor has she been an effective force for fiscal responsibility. In our strong mayor form of city government, a single renegade council member cannot hurt the mayor. She can only hurt her constituents.

Graci Garces:

District I promises to encompass some of Houston’s greatest growth over the next six years. Extending from downtown into the East End, the skyscrapers, landmarks and booming neighborhoods of District I make this city council race one of the most important of the election season. Graci Garces will be able to hit the ground running for both the district’s Hispanic families and its Fortune 500 corporations.

These were the easy ones, since the Chron had already endorsed Robinson, Stardig, and Garces in Round One. There are two more Council runoffs, and in those the Chron will need to pick someone else, as they had endorsed Anthony Robinson in D and Rogene Calvert in At Large #3, but neither made the runoff. I have no idea what they might do in these last two races.

Three questions for the runoffs

There are eight runoff elections on the ballot in Houston – two At Large Council races, three District Council races, and three HCC Trustee races. As we transition into runoff mode, there are three questions on my mind for the races that will conclude in December.

1. Where will the vote come from?

November turnout is driven by Mayoral races. December turnout is also driven by Mayoral races. In runoffs where there isn’t a Mayoral race, turnout is driven by the district Council races, but at a much more modest level. You can go door to door in a District race as opposed to an At Large race, you don’t need as much money to get your message out, and people tend to think about district Council members as “their” Council member in a way they generally don’t about At Large members. District runoffs are in A, D, and I, with the bulk of the turnout likely to come from A and D. Turnout in D will benefit Michael Kubosh and CM Andrew Burks; turnout in A probably won’t strongly favor one candidate over another in either race; turnout in I will probably benefit Roy Morales. David Robinson’s base is deepest in District C – I’ll have the precinct analysis for the At Large races tomorrow – and it’s not clear where Morales will want to go to find his voters. I have a thought on that, which I will explore in item 2. I don’t expect the HCC runoffs to play a significant role in any of the Council races.

But the key is that runoff turnout will be lower, a lot lower than what we just saw. Turnout for the 2011 runoffs, which exceeded 50,000 thanks to the unusually high profile of the At Large #5 runoff. Thirty thousand votes would not be out of line for this year’s runoffs, so all of these races can be won with a very small number. Getting your voters out, whether or not there’s another race that might motivate them, is the goal.

2. Does Mayor Parker get involved?

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

With five Council runoffs, the December races could have a significant effect on the makeup of Council, and therefore of Mayor Parker’s third term ambitions. Incumbent officeholders are often reluctant to involve themselves in these races – not always, but often – and for good reason, since no one wants to voluntarily add to one’s enemies list. But Mayor Parker has a stake in the outcome of at least two races, arguably three races, and she will never appear on a City of Houston ballot again, though perhaps she will run for something else someday. Given the scope of her ambitions and the need for a Council that will work with her, I’d argue she can’t afford to sit out the runoffs. Let’s look more closely at the races she might want to get involved in.

– District A. This is practically a no-brainer. Mayor Parker helped out then-CM Brenda Stardig in the 2011 runoff, though it was too little too late, so there’s no argument that neutrality is the default position. Stardig would be an ally on Council. CM Helena Brown is not, and unless there are some detente talks going on that I haven’t heard of, she will continue to not be an ally whether Parker meddles in this race or not. Brown is one of Parker’s main problems on Council, and this is an opportunity to solve that problem. I don’t know why she wouldn’t try.

– At Large #2. CM Burks isn’t an antagonist like CM Brown is, but he’s not a reliable vote for the Mayor. He opposes her food trucks ordinance and while he stated support for a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance in his Texas Leftist candidate questionnaire, he was non-committal about repealing the 2001 charter amendment that forbids the city from offering domestic partner benefits in the interview he did with me. I don’t know where he would stand on new regulatory items like the wage theft or payday lending ordinances. Even if he is on board with these other parts of the Mayor’s agenda, David Robinson unquestionably would be an ally, and would not need to be worked for a vote. Robinson is an upgrade from Parker’s perspective, but the decision here is not as clear because Burks does vote with the Mayor more often than not, and if he survives the runoff he likely would become a stronger opponent of hers if she works against his re-election. It’s a calculated risk, and I could see going either way. For sure, unlike in A, the safe choice is to stay out of it.

– At Large #3. At first glance, it would not appear that there’s anything to be done here, as the runoff is between two Republicans, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Clearly, Michael Kubosh would stand in opposition to Mayor Parker. He’s been a vocal and active critic, fighting against the red light cameras and the homeless feeding ordinance. He endorsed Ben Hall this year, and has contributed financially to Helena Brown. Like CM Brown, I don’t think anything would change in his behavior or their relationship if Mayor Parker actively opposed him in December. Roy Morales ran against Parker in 2009, but then Peter Brown ran against her in 2009 and he was a supporter of hers this year. I certainly don’t see Morales as an ally, but there’s nothing to suggest he’s be an all-out opponent, either. He came across as a fairly mainstream right-of-center type in the interview I did with him. He would almost certainly be an upgrade over Kubosh from the Mayor’s perspective, perhaps a significant one. It can’t hurt for the Mayor to send an envoy to him and see what possibilities for cooperation might exist.

What it comes down to is this: Kubosh has campaigned as an opponent of the Mayor. His voters will have a reason to come out in December. Morales has a smaller base than Kubosh, and there’s not an obvious catalyst that would push his voters to the polls. That’s where Mayor Parker, who just won an election with 57% of the vote, can help him. Let her tell her supporters that a vote for Morales means a vote for supporting the Mayor, and this runoff gets a lot more interesting. There are no guarantees here – Parker would be trying to sell a guy that has held office and run for other offices as a Republican to a mostly Democratic group of voters, and they will have every reason to be skeptical of that – but a message that Morales would be better for the Mayor (assuming, of course, that he would be agreeable to this) than Kubosh is clear enough. This is all my thinking, I have no idea what the Mayor might make of this. But that’s how I see it.

Again, there are no guarantees. If the Mayor gets involved in any of these races and her candidates lose, that will start her third term off with a negative story line, that her support was unhelpful, possibly even hurtful. Some people, especially other officeholders, believe strongly that incumbents should avoid butting in on races like this, so even if she picks winners there will be some blowback. Surely CMs Brown and Burks have friends on Council, and they may not like the Mayor going after them. Playing in these races is a risk. It’s just a question of how the risk stacks up against the potential reward.

3. Will the HCC races finally get some attention?

As far as I can tell, the HCC Trustee races were not covered at all by the Chronicle before the election. No stories, not even a cursory one-paragraphs-about-each-candidate overview story of the five slots that were on the ballot, which is two more than usual thanks to the departures of Rep. Mary Ann Perez and Richard Schechter. Even after the election, with three runoffs and the victory by hatemonger Dave Wilson, there’s not much out there about these races. All things considered, I’m not that hopeful that we’ll get a more complete picture of the candidates that are running for these six-year-term offices.

As noted in item 2, one can make a case for Mayor Parker to get involved in some of the Council runoffs. I think there’s an even more compelling case for her to get involved with at least one of the HCC runoffs as well. Sure, they don’t directly intersect with city business, but this isn’t about that. It’s about Dave Wilson, who has been an opponent of equality in general, and of Annise Parker in particular, for many years now. We can’t do anything about Wilson’s election now, but something can be done to prevent him from having allies on the HCC Board of Trustees. We know he supported Yolanda Navarro Flores. There are now reports that Wilson supported Herlinda Garcia in HCC 3 as well. Given that, I can’t think of any good reason for Mayor Parker to sit on the sidelines. She needs to directly support the efforts of Zeph Capo, and if the reports in HCC 3 are true, of Adriana Tamez. The risks are the same as in the Council runoffs, but the case for action couldn’t be clearer. Let’s shine a nice, bright spotlight on these races and these candidates and who supports what, because letting these races go on under cover of darkness does us all no good.

Endorsement watch: Our first twofer

The Chron has two endorsements today, one that was easy and one that was likely more challenging. First, the easy one.

CM Stephen Costello

CM Stephen Costello

In four years as an at-large city councilman, Stephen Costello has gradually become a “go to” guy on two major issues facing the city of Houston: drainage; and finance and pensions.

Costello, a civil engineer, richly deserves a third term at the council table. We endorse his re-election to At-large Council Position 1.

[…]

Costello acknowledges that he prioritized [ReBuild Houston] projects based on engineering needs, overlooking the need to also address political priorities. That situation is being addressed, he said.

The councilman says he learned a lesson they don’t teach in engineering school. “You have to pay attention to political metrics, too,” he said.

To his credit, Costello has taken a leadership role on council working to solve the employee pension problem, which threatens the city with bankruptcy not too far down the road if left untended.

“We’re in the ‘numb stage'” on pensions, Costello says. To move beyond it, the councilman is working on a matrix showing the alternatives of increasing revenues, reducing benefits and reducing services that should offer a guide to council, taxpayers and the city’s workers to resolve the crisis.

Costello readily acknowledges he plans to run for mayor following his council service. We would recommend that the best way for someone in his position to reach the big office on the third floor at City Hall is to be the best at-large councilman he can be if elected to a third two-year term.

Costello’s Mayoral ambitions are an open secret – I myself noted them earlier this year – but this is the first public acknowledgement of them I’ve seen to date. In any event, Costello is an effective, productive, and well-regarded Council member, and he’s running against the perennialest of perennial candidates, Griff Griffin. It is for situations like this that the word “no-brainer” was coined.

The far more complicated decision was in District A, where the Chron wants to turn back the clock.

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig is the most qualified candidate for that job.

Stardig, a 55-year-old real estate broker, served one term as council member for District A but lost her first re-election race in 2011. Blame that result on extremely low turnout, poor campaigning or anti-government sentiment across the board, but we still believe that Stardig is the right representative for the district.

[…]

“Good schools, good churches, good housing inventory, good infrastructure, good grocery.”

That was Stardig’s mantra when she met with the Houston Chronicle editorial board. It is an agenda that voters should send back to City Hall.

Mike Knox, a former police officer, also stands out as an experienced candidate who would serve district A well. However, we question his disagreement with meet-and-confer for the firefighters pension and his opposition to extending council member terms.

After two years of Helena Brown, it is clear that District A needs a new representative on council. From day one, Brown has prioritized bizarre grandstanding over serving her constituents. She’s accused Republicans of supporting communism, altered staff time sheets, had a questionable relationship with her volunteer chief adviser William Park and requested city reimbursement for a private trip to Asia. And the list goes on. But Brown hit rock bottom when she supported selling a plot of land near an elementary school that the community had been trying for years to turn into a park. While on council, Stardig had successfully blocked the sale. Under Brown, it became a parking lot.

The choice is clear. Vote for Stardig.

“Mantra” is a good word for that quoted phrase. Stardig said it often in the interview I did with her. The way I see it, there are three types of voters in District A: Those who like Helena, those who liked and still like Brenda, and those who want someone else. You can’t say you don’t know what you’re getting with either of the first two. Personally, I thought Mike Knox and Amy Peck both made strong cases for themselves, if one is inclined for there to be a change in A. I also thought Knox had one of the more well-informed answers to my question about pensions and meet-and-confer for the firefighters’ pension fund. He was one of only a few candidates to note that part of the problem we face now is due to the city underpaying into the police and municipal employees’ pension funds in years past. I consider this to be a more nuanced issue than the Chron’s obsessive fixation on meet-and-confer makes it out to be, but hey, it’s their endorsement. In light of that, I’ll go out on a limb and predict that retired firefighter Roland Chavez, who also opposed meet-and-confer when I interviewed him, will not be the endorsed candidate in At Large #3. We’ll see how I do with that. What do you think about the Chron going with Stardig?

Chron overview of District A

It must be getting close to the start of Election Season, because the first of the Chronicle’s local race overviews has been published.

CM Helena Brown

CM Helena Brown

Since winning a seat on the Houston City Council two years ago, Helena Brown has become known for regularly voting “no” on what many would consider routine spending items.

The 36-year-old tea party- inspired political activist says her voting record is a direct product of constituent will in her conservative-leaning District A, home to Spring Branch.

After all, District A was the first to oust a sitting incumbent in the nearly 20 years since the city implemented term limits, in part because Brown’s predecessor, Brenda Stardig, had cast a vote to set up a controversial, voter-approved drainage fee.

And yet, the list of District A candidates on this November’s ballot will be the longest it has been in years.

In addition to Brown and Stardig, 51, who is attempting to win back the seat she lost two years ago, the field includes Amy Peck, 28, district director for state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston; 55-year-old Houston Police Department officer-turned-author and consultant Mike Knox; and 32-year-old Ronald “Ray” Hale, who helps run his family’s residential and commercial security business.

[…]

Speaking earlier this month at a well-attended candidate forum hosted by one of the district’s many civic clubs, Knox told attendees, “If your City Council person votes ‘no’ all alone, then your voice is not being heard at City Hall.”

Peck, whose platform includes tighter budget controls, accused Brown of political grandstanding and said her approach has “definitely affected the district because she’s not working with other council members in a way where other council members, in turn, want to help her district.”

Stardig agrees: “We miss out on opportunities because if you don’t work with the administration, you don’t get your projects on the agenda.”

Brown, though, said her approach of “breaking the rubber stamp” has been highly effective, resulting in mutual respect among her council colleagues rather than alienation and loss.

“Those who feel that that’s ineffective are detached from reality because the reality is, if you become a rubber stamp on City Council, why even be there?” she said, pointing out that she votes “no” on up to 20 percent of items on any given agenda. “You’re not there to hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’ or anything like that. You’re there to go and be that representative and that will of the people, and it’s a very blessed opportunity.”

First of all, the claim that Stardig was the first sitting incumbent to be ousted under term limits is incorrect. The late Jean Kelley, elected in 1997 to succeed her husband John, was defeated in 1999 by Mark Ellis Bert Keller after serving one term. As for this year, I interviewed all five candidates for District A – you can find the interviews here – and I think the voters have some good choices. Mike Knox and Amy Peck are thoughtful and well-informed. Stardig is Stardig, and for what it’s worth I always thought she was a decent Council member. She had issues staying connected to her constituents, but she was always knowledgeable on the issues and made good votes. As for CM Brown, she came across better in her interview than I expected. I admittedly didn’t have very high expectations, but then I also viewed her as more of a caricature than a real person. I don’t agree with her philosophy, and I think her habitual No votes – which she downplayed somewhat in the interview – are pointless and harmful to her own interests, but she clearly believes in what she’s doing, and she makes a better case for herself than I thought she could. A year ago at this time, I’d have bet money that she’d lose re-election. I still think there’s a decent chance she’ll be a one-term Council member, even a non-zero chance she’ll fail to make a runoff. But she has grown as a public official, and can hold her own among some well-qualified opponents. I expected this race to be more entertaining than anything else, but it’s much more serious than I thought it would be, and as such it’s a much more interesting race.

Interview with Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

My last candidate interview for District A is a fitting bookend for the first one. Brenda Stardig was elected to District A in 2009, leading the pack in November and cruising in the subsequent runoff. It’s fair to say that her two years in office were tumultuous. Some people didn’t like the political choices she made, such as supporting the Renew Houston proposition, others didn’t think she was sufficiently engaged in the district and with her constituents. Previous Council Member Toni Lawrence, who had backed Stardig in 2009, switched her allegiance to challenger Helena Brown in 2011. It all added up to her defeat at the hands of CM Brown in the 2011 runoffs. It is also fair to say that CM Brown’s time in office has been tumultuous, and so Stardig, a realtor and former Super Neighborhood president, is back to try to get a second chance in office. Here’s the interview I did with Stardig in 2009, and here’s the interview for this year:

Brenda Stardig interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

Interview with Ronald Hale

Ronald Hale

Ronald Hale

The third challenger to CM Helena Brown in District A is Ronald Hale. Hale is a private security consultant, currently the Director at NZ Control Specialists. His biography page says that he has maintained a blog since last year, though I couldn’t find a link to its index page. Please note that this interview was conducted at a restaurant in which there was a significant amount of background noise, so I apologize if the conversation is a little hard to hear. Here’s what we talked about:

Ronald Hale interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

Interview with Amy Peck

Amy Peck

Amy Peck

Two of the candidates that are running against CM Helena Brown in District A have run for this seat before. One of them is Amy Peck, who ran for District A when it was last open in 2009; here’s the interview I did with her for that race. Peck has been in public service for some time now, working as the District Director for Senator Dan Patrick for the past six years, and for Senator Jon Lindsay before that. She volunteers at Texas Children’s Hospital and at the VA hospital in Houston. She’s also a blogger, which you know is something I respect. Here’s the interview:

Amy Peck interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

Interview with Mike Knox

Mike Knox

Mike Knox

There are four candidates seeking to oust first term CM Helena Brown in District A. The first one I spoke to is Mike Knox. Knox is a former HPD officer who helped create HPD’s first divisional gang unit. He later wrote a book about gang culture and is now a nationally recognized expert on the subject. He left HPD after the publication of his book to form a consulting business and still consults with HPD on this issue. He has served as a Board Member of the Houston Police Patrolmen’s Union, as a board member of the Spring Branch Education Foundation, and as the Director of Community Service for the Spring Branch Management District. Here’s what we talked about:

Mike Knox interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

Interview with CM Helena Brown

CM Helena Brown

CM Helena Brown

We now enter the realm of district Council races, where in addition to two open seats there are two incumbents that face credible challenges. One of those incumbents is first term District A Council Member Helena Brown. If you’ve been a reader here for the last year or so you’re probably familiar with CM Brown, about whom I have written frequently. Obviously, she and I are not on the same page politically, but she represents a conservative district and is philosophically in line with many of its voters. She is a frequent critic of city spending, and often votes against ordinances that she believes are not good priorities for the city, though in the interview you’re about to listen to she points out that she votes Yes a lot more than she votes No. I had not met CM Brown before we sat down for this interview, and all I knew about her was what I had read and heard from others, so I was glad to have this opportunity to talk with her. Here’s the interview:

Helena Brown interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

July 2013 finance reports for district Council candidates

We move now to the remaining Council races, which are the district races. Here are the July finance reports for candidates in District Council races. Please note that all reports now appear on my newly-published Election 2013 page. Refer to that page for future updates, candidate interviews, and so forth.

Dist Candidate Raised Spent On Hand Loan ------------------------------------------------------- A Brown 67,446 29,633 46,674 0 A Stardig * 56,650 21,206 60,439 0 A Knox 41,666 13,139 35,624 12,500 A Peck 4,481 3,526 9,163 5,000 A Hale 2,670 3,438 137 0 B Davis 52,600 7,990 104,820 0 B B-Daniels 5,000 2,564 5,000 5,000 C Cohen 128,064 33,716 106,696 0 C Sosa D Boykins 150,155 52,262 100,592 0 D Richards 37,108 10,318 18,294 0 D Provost 20,916 17,618 2,378 9,000 D McGee 4,560 4,570 1,369 0 D White 780 780 780 0 D Caldwell 2,725 2,234 490 0 E Martin 53,950 6,225 23,710 5,000 F Hoang 13,480 2,100 11,399 0 G Pennington 185,500 44,455 249,059 0 G Taef 150 755 150 0 H Gonzalez 79,639 20,524 73,364 0 I Mendez 94,632 43,092 12,048 0 I Ablaza 27,230 4,574 16,582 0 I Gallegos 16,945 7,649 9,295 4,379 I Garces 18,917 13,195 4,272 0 J Laster 66,403 12,916 80,858 0 K Green

For reasons unclear, CMs Cohen and Green do not have finance reports posted as yet. I’m sure they will show up eventually. I was able to inquire with CM Cohen’s staff and get a copy of her report, which they had submitted on time; I did not get to do that with CM Green. There are several other candidates in District D, including Lana Edwards, wife of At Large #3 candidate and former State Rep. Al Edwards, and perennial candidate Larry McKinzie; I’ve just listed the candidates whose reports I could find. Let’s go through these in some more detail.

District A

Brown report
Stardig report
Stardig SPAC report
Knox report
Peck report
Hale report

Note that former District A CM Brenda Stardig filed two reports, one of which is for a special purpose PAC. That one had all the contributions and a portion of her expenditures, while the other one, which is the same basic form everyone else submitted, had the bulk of her expenditures. She’s clearly spending more on actual campaign outreach, which stands in contrast to her July 2011 report. Stardig took in $6,500 in PAC money, and also received $1,000 from Peter Brown, $1,000 from Rusty Hardin, and $20 from Orlando Sanchez.

I may have to recalibrate my estimate of CM Helena Brown and her odds of winning, because that’s a pretty decent haul she’s got. Only $4,750 of it was PAC money, which is less than what former CM Stardig got. You can look at that as the establishment being unwilling to back her, or as evidence of her ability to connect with individual supporters. She got no money from incumbent officeholders, but did get donations from activist types like Steven Hotze, Don Sumners, and Dave Wilson. Unlike last time, when she filed at the last minute and came out of nowhere based on pure disgruntlement and dissatisfaction with the incumbent, Brown has to run a “real” campaign this time around. Towards that end, she spent $9,600 on consulting services, mostly to an outfit called Colonnade. I don’t recall seeing that name on other forms, so we’ll see if this is their breakout moment, or their fleeting moment of fame.

Mike Knox also had a good report. Among his contributions were several with oddly specific amounts, which showed up more than once, including such figures as $92.25, $471.25, and six donations of $47.13 each. I have no idea what that’s about. $2,100 of his contributions were in kind. Most of his expenditures, including $2,900 for consulting services, were made from personal funds with the intent to seek reimbursement.

I’m puzzled by Amy Peck’s lack of fundraising success. You’d think the District Director for Sen. Dan Patrick would have more connections to utilize. She did receive $500 from SBOE Member Donna Bahorich, but there was nothing and no one of interest beyond that. In what may be a sign of a newer-generation approach to campaigning, she spent $463.05 on Facebook ads, and $438.90 on T-shirts. Make of that what you will.

Ron Hale contributed $730 to his campaign, and spent a bit more than $900 from personal funds.

District B

Davis report
Blueford-Daniels report

While at least two other district Council members have opponents so far (Cohen in C and Pennington in G), I consider first term CM Jerry Davis’ situation to be more like Brown’s than like theirs, since Davis won as an outsider in 2011, and there are members of the establishment in B that don’t like him. He has a credible opponent in Kathy Blueford-Daniels, who didn’t make the runoff in 2011 but was the Chron’s endorsed candidate in November. He’s definitely taking his task seriously, judging by his report. Of his contributions, $21,000 came from PACs, including $250 from Planned Parenthood PAC. I note that mostly because I don’t recall seeing anyone else receive money from them as yet. He also received $750 from Peter Brown. No major expenditures – mostly event sponsorships and other related expenses. The only entry I saw that had anything related to consulting in it was $8 for a birthday cake for his consultant. Awww.

Kathy Blueford-Daniels had nothing particularly notable on her report. She had $5K in pledges in addition to her contributions. She hasn’t been campaigning for long – I got a note to like her campaign Facebook page on June 25 – so perhaps her 30 day report will tell a different story.

District D

Boykins report
Richards report
Provost report
McGee report
White report
Caldwell report

This is Dwight Boykins’ fourth run for Council, and first time vying for a district seat. He finished third in At Large #5 in 1997, lost in the runoff to Gordon Quan in 1999, and lost to Michael Berry in At Large #5 in 2003. He’s clearly separated himself from the pack here, however. Of his astonishingly large haul, $14K of it is PAC money, with another $8,375 in business donations. He spent $20,051 on consulting fees, some of which were “field operations” and “printing expenses”. He probably doesn’t have to raise another dime the rest of the way, but what he can do is aim for 50% in the first round by flooding the district with name recognition-boosting ads.

Assata Richards’ total would have been a standout in some other years. As it was, she did receive $3,500 from Peter Brown, $1,500 from David Mincberg, plus another $324 in kind, $100 from Sue Lovell, and $50 from Sue Davis, who is one of the key members of Team Annise Parker. She spent most of her money on advertising – website design, push cards, yard signs, and the like.

Georgia Provost had the distinction of receiving a $1,000 donation from Ben Hall. She also put a lot of her money into advertising, but she was a bit more old school than Richards, with ads on radio station KCOH and in the Forward Times, in addition to push cards, yard signs, and robocalls. She also donated $25 to Battleground Texas, which bumps her up a notch in my estimation. The loan she received was from Justin Jordan.

District I

Mendez report
Abalaza report
Gallegos report
Garces report

Ben Mendez had the most complicated non-Mayoral report so far. Of his generally impressive total, $37,100 was in kind, most of which appears to be items for a fundraising auction. That includes items such as $100 for a yoga mat and $150 for an hourlong massage, both of which strike me as overvalued, though that doesn’t really make much difference to the bottom line. There were also in kind donations of $5K for website design and $3500 for campaign advertising/digital marketing, the former of which also strikes me as high. Most of the other reports had website design figures in the $1000 to $2000 range. Mendez also received contributions of $500 from State Rep. Ron Reynolds, and $100 from HCDE Trustee Erica Lee. He spent $19,500 for consultants.

Leticia Ablaza is back for a second try at District I, with a solid if not terribly interesting report. $7,660 of her contributions were in kind, and she received a $100 donation from At Large #3 candidate Chris Carmona. Not much of interest beyond that.

Neither Robert Gallegos nor Graci Garces did anything spectacular. Gallegos, a former staffer for now-Sen. Sylvia Garcia, received $500 from her and from Peter Brown, plus a few bucks from some current Garcia staffers. $2K of the loan he reported is from James Dinkins. Garces got $500 from Drayton McLane and spent $6,800 on consulting fees.

Other districts

Cohen report
Martin report
Hoang report
Pennington report
Gonzalez report
Laster report

The lobby made newest CM Dave Martin feel welcome, with $30,200 in contributions to him from PACS. He spent $1,500 on consultants.

I don’t quite understand why CM Al Hoang doesn’t have more campaign cash. Be that as it may, he got $7,500 from the PACs, and also spent $1,500 on the same consultants as CM Martin, Blakemore and Associates.

CM Oliver Pennington continues to be a fundraising machine. He got $30,900 in PAC and business donations, and many, many four-figure contributions from individuals, among them $1000 each from Patricia Dewhurst and Bob McNair. I just scanned his expenses since his form was so long, and spotted recurring fees of $3K to Sarah Tropoli (his daughter) and $2K to Richard Cron for consulting; $2500 and $500 to Walden and Associates for fundraising and office rent, respectively. Clearly, the fundraising fees are money well spent.

Also a prodigious fundraiser is CM Ellen Cohen, and she keeps that up here. In addition to $24,900 from PACs, she got $100 each from Kathryn McNeil, the campaign consultant for CM Stephen Costello; Sallie Alcorn, CM Costello’s chief of staff; and Sue Davis. She also got $100 from Ann Johnson, the 2012 Democratic nominee for HD134, Cohen’s former legislative seat, $500 from Peter Brown, and $20 from Stuart Rosenberg, Mayor Parker’s campaign manager.

CM Ed Gonzalez, my Council member, had another one of those solid reports that didn’t have anything terribly interesting to blog about. He took in- $28,500 from PACs and $20 from Stuart Rosenberg. He spent $8,321 on consulting fees.

Last but not least is CM Mike Laster, another solid performer. He received $250 from Peter Brown, $100 from Sue Lovell, $100 Rodrigo Canedo, who was one of his opponents in 2011, and the customary $20 from Stuart Rosenberg. He also got $31,750 in PAC money, and spent $4,644 in consulting fees.

And that’s all I’ve got for this report. Still to come are a look at the reports filed by people not running in 2013, a closer look at the Mayoral reports, and looks at the reports filed by officeholders and candidates in HISD, HCC, Harris County, and the Legislature. Did I mention that July was a busy time of year? As always, any questions or requests, leave ’em in the comments.

Midyear 2013 election update

Back in January, I took an early look at the 2013 elections in Houston. At the request of the folks at the Burnt Orange Report, who also printed my initial overview, here’s an update on the races in the city of Houston in 2013.

Mayor

Back in January, Mayor Parker had no declared opponents, though everyone expected former City Attorney Ben Hall to jump in, and there were whispers of other potential entrants. Hall made his candidacy official about two weeks after my initial report, and formally launched his campaign in March, though things have been fairly low key so far. Mayor Parker, who just kicked off her own campaign a couple of weeks ago, has been busy touting her achievements, of which there have been many in recent months, and pointing out all the glowing praise Houston is getting in the national media for its food scene, arts, employment opportunities, and affordable housing. Hall has been introducing himself to voters – he was the featured speaker at a recent event at HCDP headquarters; Mayor Parker will get her turn for that later in June – though thus far he has stuck to general themes and not presented much in the way of specific policy initiatives. He suffered some bad press a month ago when news of his frequent delinquency when paying property taxes surfaced. That subject, and the fact that Hall lived outside Houston in the tony suburb of Piney Point until last year – he was ineligible to vote in the 2009 city election – will likely come up again as the campaigns begin to engage with each other.

Two other candidates have joined the race as well. One is Green Party perennial Don Cook, who ran for an At Large Council seat in 2009 and 2011, for County Clerk in 2010, and for CD22 in 2012. The other is 2011 At Large #2 candidate Eric Dick, and you can keep the jokes to yourself, he’s way ahead of you on that. Besides his name, Dick is best known for covering the city with bandit campaign signs two years ago; the signs and the controversy that accompanied them did wonders for his name recognition and no doubt his law firm’s bottom line. It’s not clear if he intends to run a more serious campaign this time or if it’s just going to be another round of nailing things to utility poles and denying all knowledge of how they got there, but Dick’s emphasizing that he’s the “Republican” candidate in this nominally non-partisan race suggests that at least one person is thinking about the old pincer strategy.

We’ll have a better idea of where things stand when the campaign finance reports come out in six weeks. Hall has made much noise about his willingness to self-finance his campaign, but nothing says “broad-based support”, or the lack of it, than one’s list of small-dollar donors. It will also be interesting to see where the establishment goes, and if there are any defections from Parker 09 to Hall or Gene Locke 09 to Parker. Finally, on the subject of Republicans, it’s well known among insiders but not at all outside that circle that Hall has a couple of Republican operatives on his campaign payroll. I feel confident saying that fact will gain prominence after the July 15 reports begin to emerge. Until then, there’s the parody Ben Hall Twitter feed to keep those of you who are into that sort of thing amused.

City Controller

Incumbent Ronald Green, who like Mayor Parker is running for a third term, also now has an opponent, a Republican accountant by the name of Bill Frazer. Frazer now has a Facebook page for his campaign, but still no webpage that I can find. As noted before, Green has had some bad press, and he has never been a dynamic fundraiser or campaigner. He didn’t have a lot of cash on hand in January, and I don’t recall much activity there since then. He could conceivably be vulnerable to the right candidate and some bad luck. I don’t think Frazer is that candidate, and as far as luck goes all Green really needs is no more dirt to come out about him before November. Outside of open seat years, we really don’t have a history of Controller races in Houston. The office tends to get a lot less attention than Council does.

City Council At Large

I took an early look at At Large #3, the one open At Large seat, back in April, and nothing much has changed since then. It’s an interesting field, to say the least, with three candidates that have run citywide in the past, and the three that haven’t can credibly claim to have a base of support. There is no clear frontrunner, though the lack of a prominent African American candidate in the race is a factor that could ultimately affect its trajectory. I continue to believe that’s a void that will eventually be filled. Again, the campaign finance reports will bring a bit of focus to the picture, but most likely there will be not that much to see just yet. Generally speaking, the usual powers that be steer clear of these multi-candidate pileups until the runoff.

I noted before that there might be more opportunity in a head-to-head matchup against one of the two freshmen At Large Council members than in the wide open At Large #3 scramble. David Robinson, who finished fourth in the open At Large #2 race in 2011, has apparently taken that to heart and is challenging CM Andrew Burks for that seat. Burks has not particularly distinguished himself in his first term, but he is generally well liked and remains well known due to his many previous candidacies. So far, no one has emerged to take on Burks’ fellow freshman, CM Jack Christie, and the two members running for their third terms, CMs Stephen Costello and Brad Bradford, are also unopposed. Both Costello and Bradford are known to have future Mayoral ambitions, so the tea leaf readers will have some material to work with after the election. Actually, they’ll have some before it as well, since Bradford is listed as a Hall supporter, while Costello, along with CMs Ed Gonzalez and Al Hoang, are Parker supporters.

District City Council

There are only two open district Council seats thanks to the resignation of now-Harris County Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan, who was succeeded by CM Dave Martin last November. Martin will likely draw a challenger or two as the newbie on Council, but so far all of the action is elsewhere. I am aware of four candidates for the District D seat now held by CM Wanda Adams: businessman and former ReBuild Houston oversight board member Dwight Boykins, who had previously run for At Large #5 in 2003, losing to Michael Berry; Houston Housing Authority board member Assata Richards; photojournalist and businesswoman Georgia Provost; and community advocate Keith Caldwell, who ran for D in 2007 and finished fifth in the field of seven. There had been some buzz about former At Large #5 CM Jolanda Jones throwing her hat in and forcing a legal decision to clarify Houston’s term limits ordinance, but I haven’t heard anything about that in months and have no idea if it is still a possibility.

District I has proven to be the liveliest race so far, as candidates Graci Garces and Ben Mendez have already gotten into the kind of spat that one only sees in election years. Garces is the Chief of Staff to current District I member James Rodriguez, who in turn was Chief of Staff to State Rep. Carol Alvarado when she held that seat; Garces was also on Alvarado’s staff. Mendez is a businessman. They are joined in the race by community activist and Sheriff’s Department employee Robert Gallegos, and Leticia Ablaza. Ablaza is the former Chief of Staff to District A CM Helena Brown, who resigned from that position along with Deputy Chief of Staff RW Bray after less than five months on the job, and she challenged CM Rodriguez in 2011, finishing with 35% of the vote. To say the least, her presence in this race makes it one to watch.

Speaking of CM Helena Brown, the field for District A is big enough to make you think it was an open seat as well. In addition to the incumbent, candidates include former CM Brenda Stardig, who assured me on the phone a few weeks ago that she’s going to run a much more organized and focused campaign than she did in 2011 when Brown ousted her; Amy Peck, the District Director for Sen. Dan Patrick who finished third in District A in 2009; and Mike Knox, who has been an HPD officer, Board Member of the Houston Police Patrolmen’s Union, and Director of Community Service for the Spring Branch Management District. All three have good establishment Republican credentials, and I suspect the strategy for all three is to get into a runoff with Brown and hope to consolidate enough support against her to win. As always, the July finance report will tell an interesting tale, and this is one time where I think the usual suspects will not be on the sidelines early but will already be backing one horse or another.

HISD and HCC

There is one update to report on HISD races. District I Board Member and current Board President Anna Eastman is now opposed by community activist Hugo Mojica, who ran in the special election for City Council District H in May 2009 to succeed Sheriff Adrian Garcia and finished eighth in the field of nine. District I is my district, and while I think Hugo is a perfectly nice person, I think Anna Eastman is an outstanding Trustee, and I’ll be voting for her in the fall. There are no other active races I’m aware of, but the impending takeover of North Forest ISD will necessitate a redraw of Trustee districts that could force a special election in Districts II and VIII, where Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Juliet Stipeche now serve. Neither would be on the ballot in 2013 otherwise. I don’t know what all of the ramifications of this will be, but that’s a possibility to watch out for. Finally, while no one has yet announced a campaign against him, District IX Trustee Larry Marshall continues to provide ammunition for whoever does take the plunge.

Lastly, there are two developments in HCC. There is now a second special election on the ballot, as former Board President Richard Schechter stepped down in January after successfully leading the push for HCC’s bond referendum in November. The board appointed attorney and former General Counsel for HCC Leila Feldman to succeed Schechter. Feldman is also the daughter-in-law of Houston City Attorney David Feldman and is married to Cris Feldman, whom aficionados of all things Tom DeLay will recognize as a key player in bringing about his demise. In any event, she will be on the ballot in November along with appointee Herlinda Garcia, who succeeded State Rep. Mary Perez, and incumbents Bruce Austin, Neeta Sane, and Yolanda Navarro Flores. In the second development, Navarro has drawn two opponents, Zeph Capo, the vice-president and legislative director for the Houston Federation of Teachers, and community and Democratic activist Kevin Hoffman, who lost to Navarro Flores in 2007. HCC Trustee races never get much attention, but this one will be as high profile as these races get.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll be taking a close look at the finance reports when they come out.

UPDATE: Whenever I write one of these posts, I’m going by what I’ve seen and heard. Until the July finance reports come out, there’s no easy way to compile a list of candidate names, unless you drop in on the City Secretary and ask to see the dead tree document of people who have filed designation of campaign treasurer forms. As such, I’m going to miss some people, and I inevitably hear about them after I publish.

Three such names have come to my attention since I posted this. One is former State Rep. Al Edwards, who apparently is actively campaigning for At Large #3. The second is Clyde Lemon, who according to Burt Levine is going to run against HISD Trustee Larry Marshall. Neither has a webpage or a campaign Facebook page that I can find, and Google told me nothing about their efforts, so make of that what you will.

The third candidate I’ve heard of since posting is Ron Hale, who is running in the increasingly large District A field. Hale left a bizarre comment on Levine’s Facebook page, saying that I’m “another blogger trying to keep [his] name out of the article as if it hurts my campaign” and “one person in the district A race is a contributor to off the cuff (sic)”. I have no idea what he’s talking about – I am of course the only “contributor” to Off the Kuff – but whatever. Ron Hale is also running for District A, and now you know.

Amy Peck announces for A

From the Inbox:

Amy Peck

Amy Peck Announces Candidacy for Houston City Council District A

I am very excited to announce my candidacy for Houston City Council, District A. Over the last few years, I have been asked to run again by many people in the district, and I am honored to accept the responsibility that comes with representing others.

Unfortunately, District A has suffered too long with a lack of real leadership. Instead, we have seen both apathy and political grandstanding that have both led to an absence of trust and progress in our community.

Real representation doesn’t mean voting yes every time, and it doesn’t mean voting no every time. It means listening to the community before each vote and evaluating each proposal based on its merits. I have dedicated the last seven years to working in government, and I know what it means to truly represent and help people.

I am running to:

  • Restore trust by improving constituent services
  • Responsibly care for your tax dollars
  • Strengthen HPD and HFD
  • Protect your homes from flooding

I appreciate your interest in my campaign, and I look forward to answering any questions you may have for me. It is time for real representation in District A.

Her website is here, and she runs a blog that she says she will continue to update during the campaign here. Peck ran in 2009 – my interview with her from then is here – and if she can get some Republican establishment backing, she could win. She joins Brenda Stardig in an already-crowded and interesting field going up against CM Helena Brown.

Brenda’s back

But will Helena Brown be in trouble?

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig will launch her campaign Saturday to retake the District A Houston City Council seat that she lost two years ago to Helena Brown. The announcement came Sunday in the form of an invitation to a family “campaign kickoff” barbecue from 4-7 p.m. at the American Legion Hall, 3105 Campbell Road.

Stardig, a Realtor who headed her civic club for nearly a decade, then her Super Neighborhood Council, served one term before being knocked out by the Tea Party-backed Brown in 2011.

Brown’s tenure on council has been controversial, and it’s unlikely Stardig will have a clear shot against the incumbent. Amy Peck, district director for State Sen. Dan Patrick, has also indicated an interest in the seat, which represents the Memorial area to the northwest, including a narrow slice of Leader neighborhoods west of T.C. Jester Park.

Start stocking up on popcorn now, y’all. I know it seems unlikely to those of us on Planet Earth that Helena Brown could be re-elected, but in a low-turnout scenario it’s the people who care enough to bother showing up that matter. The people who cared the most last time were the ones who wanted to vote Stardig out. Can she turn that around? If not, can Amy Peck or someone else harness whatever it is that motivates Brown’s detractors? By all rights, Brown should be one and done, but there really isn’t a precedent for this kind of race in Houston. I don’t know what to expect out of this one.

One year of Helena

The Observer‘s Emily dePrang takes a look at CM Helena Brown, one year after her upset win in District A.

CM Helena Brown

When she took office, Brown made waves for her nearly satirical level of budget hawkery. She made simplistic government-bad, free-market-good speeches that evoked The Colbert Report to justify voting against funding meals for the elderly, storm sewers, and fire trucks. Then people started to get wind of the weirdness. Brown, 34, still lives with her parents. She proposed fixing the city budget deficit by defaulting on the city’s pensions and tax bonds, and by outsourcing emergency services. And she allegedly tried to get a staff member to take medical leave because Brown was worried she’d be liable for complications with the staffer’s pregnancy.

In this way, Brown’s story is a corrective to the perennial Hollywood myth of the everyman candidate, the Mr.-Smith-Goes-to-Washington type, the underdog who beats the odds and refuses to cave to the establishment, thus changing the game forever. What that fantasy looks like in reality, playing out week after week in Houston City Council meetings, is agenda items passing 16 to 1, with Brown’s vote the lonely, irrelevant “no.”

But Brown’s is also a mystery story. The more attention you pay, the murkier it gets. The smidgen of professional history available about her turns out to be less than true. She’s been involved with radical Catholic groups whose beliefs fall between esoteric and fringe. And then there was her trip to Korea—a trip she paid for with public funds, though it’s not clear whether she was conducting city business or why she went in the first place. Back in Houston, much of her staff quit a few months into her term, and her volunteer “chief advisor” is a disgraced financier whom some believe secretly directs her council votes. Explanations for these mysteries haven’t been forthcoming; Brown never answers media questions after City Council meetings, and rarely grants interviews.

In a state full of wingnut politicians, Helena Brown stands out. It’s not that she’s the most extreme or conservative or outspoken, or even the most incompetent yahoo in public office. It’s that, unlike her confederates, there’s no apparent method to her madness. She’s not following the money, building coalitions to help her climb some ladder, or even adhering to a particular party. She’s fumbling forward, drawn on by a voice only she can hear.

As someone who has never understood the appeal of “I’m not a professional politician!” campaigns, dePrang’s characterization of Brown as a “corrective to the perennial Hollywood myth of the everyman candidate” resonates with me. Politics is a collaborative business, and as much as it may need to be shaken up at times no one person can change things if they can’t relate to and communicate with those other people who were elected and feel like they have a mandate from their voters, too. DePrang covers a lot of familiar turf in her story but also uncovers some new things (new to me, certainly) about CM Brown, reminding me in the process that I do still have the capacity to be amazed. Check it out.

Two for I

Yeah, we’re still two weeks out from the start of early voting for 2012. But that hasn’t stopped two people from announcing their candidacies for City Council District I next year.

Leticia Ablaza

Graciana ”Graci” Garces, chief of staff for District I Councilman James Rodriguez, is running to succeed him next year when he’s termed out.

If Garces wins, she would continue an intra-office line of succession. Rodriguez had been the chief of staff for his predecessor, Carol Alvarado, who is now a state representative.

Leticia Ablaza, who challenged Rodriguez last year, is also running, she confirmed. Ablaza served as chief of staff for District A Councilwoman Helena Brown for four months before resigning to work on the campaign of Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina. Ablaza, 39, lives in Glenbrook Valley and has lived in District I for 37 years.

Garces doesn’t live in District I yet, but she will next week, when she moves from Humble into a loft on the edge of Glenbrook Valley. That’s just in time to give her the year’s residency requirement to run for the seat.

Ablaza got less than 30% of the vote in her challenge to CM Rodriguez last year, but she was a first-time candidate and filed late. She certainly has room to grow, and I daresay she’ll be better funded this time around. Garces’ experience in the office and her connections to CMs Rodriguez and Alvarado is the sort of thing that’s usually a big asset, except in those times when the people are in a mood for a fresh face, in which case it’s not. We’ll see how it goes. Other open Council seats will be in At Large #3 and District D; District E would have been open, but CM Sullivan is resigning effective January 2, so his replacement will be elected this year. Finally, as we know, there is already chatter about a challenge in District A. Any other candidate scuttlebutt out there that you’re hearing? Leave a comment and let us know. Campos, who will be working with Garces, has more.

Gearing up in District A

And they’re off.

Amy Peck

It appears unlikely that former District A Councilwoman Brenda Stardig will get a one-on-one shot at a comeback from her 2011 loss to current Councilwoman Helena Brown.

“It is my plan to run for District A,” Amy Peck, district director for state Sen. Dan Patrick, told me Monday.

Stardig has said it is “highly possible” that she will try to gain the seat back next year. Brown and At-Large Position 5 Councilman Jack Christie were the first challengers in 12 years to knock off incumbent Council members when they won run-off elections in December 2011.

Peck has worked for Patrick for five years. She also writes the Peckblog about City Hall issues. She came in third in a seven-candidate field for the District A seat in 2009. She notes on her website that she “spent the lowest amount of money per vote out of the top contenders” and that she ran on a platform of budget reform, increasing tourism and businesses, flooding and drainage improvements and support for the police and fire departments.

Peck 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 strong candidate. My guess would be that if either she or former CM Stardig could get CM Brown into a runoff, she could succeed in knocking the incumbent out. One thing to watch for will be who (if anyone) the usual establishment types line up behind. I note with interest that on CM Brown’s July 2012 report quite a few of them make their first appearances, including the Texas Association of Realtors, who gave $3000 to Brown’s coffers. Stardig is a realtor, and they were her among her biggest backers in 2009 and 2011. Incumbency does have its privileges. Brown also wrote a couple of checks to Walden and Associates, so it’s probably safe to say that her re-election campaign will not bear a great deal of resemblance to her initial campaign. This will be fun to watch. Stace has more.

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 — who despises taxation — 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 — 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?

Stardig v Brown II?

It’s not too early to start stocking up on popcorn.

Brenda Stardig

A rematch between District A Councilwoman Helena Brown and former Councilwoman Brenda Stardig next year is looking increasingly likely.

Stardig attended Wednesday’s Council meeting, so I asked her about her plans. She said, “It’s highly possible” that she’ll try to win the seat back next year.

[…]

Stardig stopped short of a declaration that she’s in, saying, “I just want to make sure it’s the right thing for the district.”

[…]

The knock on Stardig among insiders was that she did not campaign hard enough. In fact, she left nearly $37,000 in campaign money unspent, which could now serve as the seed money for a comeback.

In fact, her 30 Day report for the November election showed she had spent no money and had basically run no campaign up till that point. By the time she realized she was in a race, it was almost too late for the money she had to do her much good. One presumes she has learned from this. On the flip side, Brown’s January 2012 report shows a balance of $1467. Nobody who wasn’t already a supporter hopped on her late train, as far as I could tell.

Two things: One, redistricting did Stardig no favors. District A is more Republican now, and if this rematch boils down to another Republican primary as the runoff did, Stardig is going to need to rebrand herself at least somewhat. It’s far from clear that being closely associated with Mayor Parker will be an asset. On the other hand, even these voters may prefer to be represented by someone who can get stuff done. Can Brown win as a known quantity with an actual record to defend? How will she do with fundraising? Will the usual establishment players support her as they do nearly all incumbents, or will they prefer to go back to Stardig? Will anyone else jump in? This is already shaping up to be the most interesting race of 2013. Assuming it happens, of course.

Don’t draw broad conclusions from muddled evidence

I have a number of issues with the analysis presented in this Chron story about what happened in the runoffs and What It All Means.

The results illustrate a continuation of a national trend of anger and frustration toward government during the worst economic stretch since the Great Depression, political observers said.

In short: Voters want change.

“A lot of people are angry at virtually all institutions and the government is high on their list,” said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “And these are the people in a low-turnout election that are most likely to show up because they are angry. They’re agitated.”

[…]

The results show clear opposition to the status quo, particularly following a general election in which Mayor Annise Parker and several council members narrowly avoided runoff elections, said Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University.

“It’s a strong repudiation of this administration – not just the mayor, but the council,” Stein said.

First of all, I believe that voters who are angry and agitated vote. I don’t see how that’s consistent with an election with six percent turnout. I refer you to the 2010 election, and the historically high Republican turnout, for a canonical example. Maybe it’s just me, but the words I use to describe an electorate that fails to show up like this are “disengaged” and “apathetic”. Your mileage may vary.

But maybe turnout was disproportionately high in District A, which is the one election out of the four where I will agree there were angry voters sending a message to someone. To see if that was the case, I checked the ratio of turnout in districts to the Harris County portion of the citywide turnout for runoffs in the past five elections. This is what I found:

Year Dist Turnout Overall Ratio =================================== 2011 A 8.28 6.08 1.36 2011 B 6.76 6.08 1.11 2009 A 18.82 16.48 1.14 2009 F 13.41 16.48 0.81 2007 D 6.29 2.70 2.33 2007 E 5.05 2.70 1.87 2005 B 4.92 4.02 1.22 2005 C 9.38 4.02 2.33 2003 F 18.98 22.71 0.84 2003 G 29.53 22.71 1.30 2003 H 20.57 22.71 0.91

I only went back as far as 2003 because that’s as far back as the County Clerk has runoff data. The ratio of District A turnout to overall is higher than average, but by no means historic. To be fair, the higher level of turnout overall compared to the 2007 and 2005 runoffs may be masking the effect. There’s just not enough data points for me to say, and we’re still talking about eight percent turnout in A. I have a hard time assigning any special meaning to that.

Further, I strongly disagree with taking the result in District A and extrapolating it to the rest of the city. With all due respect to Professor Stein, if the voters intended to repudiate the Mayor a month after re-electing her, Jolanda Jones is the last Council member they should be kicking to the curb. CM Jones was arguably the Mayor’s most vocal and visible critic on Council. I feel pretty confident that they’re not losing any sleep in the Mayor’s office over this result. We may not know exactly what we’ll get with CM-Elect Jack Christie, but we do know that he’s a supporter of Rebuild Houston and that he voted to keep the red light cameras.

Perhaps there was an anti-incumbent message in these results. For sure, CMs Jones and Stardig are the first sitting Council members to be unelected since Jean Kelly in 1999, and only the third and fourth incumbents of any kind to lose since term limits were established. I would argue that there are unique circumstances to each of their losses. To put it mildly, CM Jones had some baggage, and was very nearly ousted in 2009. I’ve been saying all along that a runoff would be a crapshoot for her, and indeed she rolled snake eyes. With the help of Gene Locke’s mayoral campaign she was able to win the turnout fight two years ago, but not this time. I suspect as well that her performance deteriorated in Anglo and Hispanic Democratic areas – I’m sure the Bill White endorsement of Christie had some effect on that – though that’s a question that will have to wait for the precinct data.

As for District A itself, those voters did mostly vote against incumbents last time around, so it’s probably not much of a surprise that they did it to their incumbent District member in the runoff. That said, CM Stardig clearly had her own set of baggage. If anyone can think of another situation offhand in which the three prior incumbents of a given Council district were supporting the opponent of the current incumbent, let me know about it, because I doubt it’s happened any time recently. Far as I can tell, she didn’t have much of a campaign going into the November election – her eight day report showed expenditures on signs, some ads in neighborhood newspapers, and a $6K ad in the Texas Conservative Review that I’m guessing wasn’t well-received; her 30 day report had practically nothing. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered, but let this be Exhibit A for future incumbents: Unless you’re unopposed, run hard. You never know. Hell, run hard even if you are unopposed. Never hurts to get people into the habit of voting for you – your name ID probably isn’t as good as you think it is.

Putting this another way, Stardig was primaried, and she was not prepared for it. Redistricting did her no favors on that score, either. It will be interesting to see how CM-Elect Helena Brown reconciles her professed political beliefs with the sort of things that constituents tend to expect to get done. Maybe there is such a thing as a Republican pothole.

There’s still two other races to consider. The result in District B could be considered an anti-incumbent vote, but when you consider that the outgoing incumbent is CM Jarvis Johnson, is it really that surprising? As for Prof. Stein’s thesis, here’s what CM-Elect Jerry Davis had to say for himself:

Davis, 38, said he hoped to begin working with the administration as quickly as possible to cut down his learning curve as he gets set to start his first job as a public representative. He said his main goal as a council member would be to represent the priorities of District B constituents.

“My job is to represent the people and do what the people want me to do and that’s going to be the number one step,” Davis said.

I mentioned before that of the five candidates I interviewed, only Davis said he supported Renew Houston prior to the referendum passing. If you listen to the interview I did with him, you will also note that Davis supported the red light cameras, again being the only candidate in the district to do so. Way to repudiate the Parker Administration, District B voters!

As for Burks v Thibaut, good luck making sense out of that one. Again, I’ll wait till I see precinct data, but it seems to me that the vaunted “pincer strategy” of African-Americans plus Republicans finally worked. Why Republican voters fell into line behind an Obama delegate at the 2008 DNC convention who once ran for HCDP Chair is a bit puzzling to me, but I suppose stranger things have happened. It’s not like Burks is well-known for policy positions, so he’s a pretty blank slate onto which one can project whatever one wants, and then there is that Hotze embrace to whet the appetite. I don’t think this result would have happened in an election where the votes were distributed more proportionally. Perhaps someone will test that hypothesis in two years’ time. Like I said, we’ll see what the precinct data tells us. Oh, and for what it’s worth, the one elected official who endorsed CM-Elect Andrew Burks was CM Brad Bradford. If you want a guide for how Burks is likely to vote, I’d say to start there. Greg and Stace have more.

Eight day runoff finance reports

Seven of the eight campaign finance reports for the runoff have been posted; all but Jack Christie’s were available online as of last night. Let’s have a look at them. First up, District A:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans Cash on Hand ==================================================== Stardig 74,103 42,308 0 81,023 Brown 13,840 13,340 0 4,409

Helena Brown may have finished ahead of CM Brenda Stardig in November, but the establishment is still backing the incumbent. Brown got $1000 each from Paul Bettencourt’s campaign fund (what’s the deadline on using leftover campaign funds like his?) and the Texas Latino GOP PAC, $750 from Don Sumners, $500 from Norman Adams, and $100 from Bruce Tatro. Stardig got $2500 in kind from Mayor Parker’s campaign, $500 from CM Stephen Costello, and a boatload of PAC money, including $10K from the Council of Engineering Companies and $9500 from the Texas Association of Realtors PAC; they contributed in at least two of the other races as well. I still don’t know why Stardig had spent so little before now; if she manages to survive she’ll at least have a nice nest egg for 2013.

District B:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans Cash on Hand ==================================================== Byrd 23,700 17,672 0 6,027 Davis 37,350 16,480 0 29,435

As noted before, Alvin Byrd received a fair amount of support from elected officials for the runoff. Jerry Davis didn’t get any donations from electeds that I saw, but he did collect $200 from former Congressional candidate Michael Skelley. Roland Garcia, who was Mayor Parker’s finance chair in 2009, and Kent Friedman of the Sports Authority were both in for $500, Rusty Hardin gave $2000, and Jeff Caynon of the Firefighter’s union went for $5000. Both received PAC money, but just eyeballing it I’d say Davis had more.

At Large #2:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans Cash on Hand ==================================================== Burks 13,750 15,698 0 10,455 Thibaut 68,818 53,115 10,000 29,083

Andrew Burks‘ report is just a mess. Each contribution is listed twice. The $9500 he got from the Realtors was credited to Constable May Walker, which would be illegal if it were true; in reality, either Walker was listed erroneously or the total he cited does match the individual dollar amounts listed. I don’t recall seeing that the $10K loan he made himself in the regular cycle was paid off; no balance for that loan is given here. As with Griff, you’d think a guy who runs for Council as a matter of habit every two years would have some idea what he’s doing by now, but you’d be wrong. As for Kristi Thibaut, there’s no question she’s the establishment candidate. She got a ton of PAC money. Her former colleagues State Reps. Borris Miles and Garnet Coleman gave her $1000 and $2500, respectively. Port Commissioner Janiece Longoria gave $1000, Kent Friedman another $500. Former Council Member Peter Brown chipped in $1000 (his Smart PAC kicked in another $1500) and Council Member-Elect Larry Green gave $200. Usually the big money bets correctly, but between this race and the Stardig-Brown runoff, there’s a better than usual chance that it will be wrong.

As for At Large #5, the only action to report is on CM Jolanda Jones, who had another stellar report. She took in $70,217, spent $68,576, and had $24,400 left on hand. She got $2500 from Rep. Garnet Coleman, $1000 each from Rep. Borris Miles, Sen. John Whitmire, Ben Hall, $500 from Roland Garcia and District Court Judge Kyle Carter, $250 from Sylvia Garcia and Chris Bell, $200 from the Rev. William Lawson, $150 from CM-Elect Larry Green, and $100 each from Constable Ruben Davis and JP Zinetta Burney. She had less PAC money than you might expect. No report yet from Jack Christie – I know he’s sent out at least three mail pieces, so I’d guess he’s spent upward of $50K. Whether he’s financing that himself as he did last time or he’s got it covered I couldn’t say. When I see the report, I’ll update this post and let you know.

UPDATE: There was indeed a Jack Christie finance report uploaded. It was from a day earlier than the others, and was amid some amended reports from candidates not in the runoff, so I just missed seeing it. The Christie campaign pointed this out to me, and I apologize to them for the error. Here’s the Jones/Christie comparison:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans Cash on Hand ==================================================== Jones 70,217 68,576 0 24,400 Christie 71,580 43,147 500 33,094

Nearly identical amount raised – inded, roughly $70K is more or less the standard for the At Large runoffs, with three of the four candidates in that vicinity. Christie received $10K from Anne Clutterbuck’s campaign, and $1000 each from Beverley Woolley’s campaign and Peter Brown, whose SmartPAC also chipped in $1500. As with CM Jones, not a whole lot of PAC money on his report.

Runoff early voting totals, Day One

Early voting for the city of Houston runoffs began yesterday, and you can see the Day One totals here. I don’t have a daily EV record from the 2007 runoffs, but I note that the total early vote from the 2007 runoff was 11,374, and the total absentee and in person votes yesterday was 4,519, so I’d say we’re well ahead of the pace from that year. The busiest single location was in District A, not too surprisingly. We’ll see if any patterns emerge for this year. In the meantime, I’ll be looking for 8 Day finance reports to post, and we’re all still waiting for a runoff endorsement in District B from the Chron. When do you plan to vote?

Early voting for city runoffs begins today

You remember that we have runoff elections for four Houston City Council positions, right? Well, early voting starts today and runs through next Tuesday, December 6. Here are the early voting locations that will be open for the runoff. Early voting will run from 7 AM to 7 PM each day except Sunday the 4th, when it will be 1 to 6 PM. You can go any time you want, as I expect you will be the only person voting whenever it is you show up. The over/under for turnout in this runoff is 25,000, which is to say about what it was for the 2007 runoff. Districts A and B, and At Large #2 and #5 are up.

Eight day finance reports are due Friday, so I’ll be checking for those and posting them along with anything interesting I find in them. The one remaining question is who the Chron will endorse in the District B runoff. They had endorsed Kathy Daniels for the November election, but she finished third. In the other races, they went with CM Brenda Stardig in A, CM Jolanda Jones in At Large #5, and Kristi Thibaut in At Large #2. You can debate how much endorsements mean, but whatever it is it’s surely more so in a low-profile, low-turnout race.

And low turnout it will be. Look at it this way: your vote never counts more than it does when there aren’t that many votes cast. This is your last chance to vote in 2011, so go make it count.

Runoff overview: District A

I don’t remember there being a Chron overview story for the District A regular election, but now that it’s in overtime we get an overview story about the race between CM Brenda Stardig and challenger Helen Brown. Better late than never, right?

Just a few thoughts about the article. First, it’s a little silly to call this runoff a “referendum” on Mayor Parker. Not to put too fine a point on it, but we just had a referendum on the Mayor, and she passed, if just barely. A 5000-vote (if that much) Council runoff in a single district four weeks later isn’t going to tell us anything we didn’t already know. I’ve no doubt the Mayor is an issue in this race, perhaps the key issue, but let’s keep some perspective here.

Some of the other issues in this race are a bit curious.

Brown supports the repeal of Proposition 1, the voter-approved initiative that called for the creation of a monthly drainage fee. Stardig voted in favor of the ordinance that Council passed to implement it. Brown calls for the removal of George Greanias as Metro CEO because of his viewing of pornography at work. Like Parker, Stardig favors leaving that decision to the Metro board “until it impacts the actual function of the business.” Stardig favored the city’s approximately $20 million investment in infrastructure and land to get the Dynamo to build a $60 million soccer stadium downtown that the city and county will own. Brown argues that is an improper public investment in a private business.

I’m pretty sure Council can’t pass an ordinance that overturns a charter amendment that has been adopted by referendum – we do have to respect the will of the voters, right? – but I suppose they could vote to put a repeal referendum on the ballot. That is, if the Mayor gives them a repeal referendum to put on the ballot, which needless to say isn’t going to happen. Or there will be another petiton drive, for which the vote to put it on the ballot is a formality. Greanias isn’t going anywhere unless the Mayor wants him to, and she has shown no inclination of that. As for Dynamo Stadium, last I checked it was about six months from being completed. This Council did vote twice on aspects of the deal – both unanimous, for what it’s worth – but the vote to make the land available for the stadium was taken in 2008, which is to say before Stardig’s time on Council. And ironically, it was Annise Parker who ran an ad that disparaged the deal during the 2009 election. Politics does make strange bedfellows.

Not that there’s anything wrong with examining past issues. I certainly asked plenty of questions about what had gone on before when doing my Council interviews, and knowing how someone would have acted tells you a lot about what they’re likely to do in the future. Long as everyone has a realistic expectation about what a single Council member can do about some of these past issues, I guess.

Finally, I’ll say again that if this election turns out to be little more than a Republican primary, I don’t see how Stardig wins. She’s clearly lost a lot of favor among the activists. She needs the electorate to be bigger than that, which means she needs to convince some Democrats and independents to come out and vote for her. How she does that I don’t know – maybe point out Brown’s history lessons and hope for the best – but with early voting for the runoff set to begin this Wednesday the 30th, she better figure it out quickly.

Looking ahead to the runoffs

The runoff election for the city of Houston will be Saturday, December 10. It’s going to be an extremely low turnout affair – as was the case with the general election, I expect the runoff to have about the same level of turnout as the 2007 runoff, in which 25,382 ballots were cast. Look at it this way: If you bother to vote in the runoff, your vote really counts for a lot.

Some thoughts and questions about the runoff now that we’re two weeks out from the November election and all of the precinct analyses have been done:

– On paper, CM Brenda Stardig has all of the advantages in District A. She had $67K on hand as of the 8 Day reports, while Helena Brown had less than $1500. She swept all of the endorsements of which I’m aware except one, from the odious Steven Hotze. She’s the incumbent, and incumbents generally don’t lose. But the fact remains that she trailed Brown by six points and nearly 500 votes. How does she make that up? Does she try to woo Democratic voters by reminding them that she’s not nearly as bad as Brown, or does she try to out-wingnut her? How much help does she get from groups like the realtors, the police, the firefighters, and so on? Conversely, is Brown able to raise funds now that she’s demonstrated that she can win? Does she get any endorsements from elected officials? This one should be Stardig’s to lose, but then it should have been Stardig’s to win in regulation time. As I said before, I have a bad feeling about this one for her.

– As I said before, a lot of people waited on the sidelines to see who would make the runoff in B before committing to it. Now is the time to get off the fence. Jerry Davis previously announced the support of several former opponents, and Monday it was Alvin Byrd’s turn to make his new supporters known. He now lists former District B candidates Kathy Ballard Blueford-Daniels, Kenneth Perkins, and James Joseph; former Council members Jarvis Johnson, Carol Galloway, Michael Yarborough, and Jewell McGowen (on behalf of Ernest McGowen); and elected officials State Reps. Senfronia Thompson, Sylvester Turner, and Ron Reynolds, plus HISD Trustee-elect Rhonda Skillern-Jones. There are still numerous groups that have not made a choice in this race, including the realtors, the police, the firefighters, HOPE-SEIU, and Planned Parenthood (both Davis and Byrd scored 100% on the PP questionnaire). HBAD and the Chron went with Daniels in the first round, so they’re up for grabs as well. Neither candidate raised much money up till now – Davis has $9,274 on hand, while Byrd has $3,882. There will be another finance report due on December 2, and I’ll be looking to see if some big checks have been coming in. As of this writing, this one looks like a tossup.

– Not much to add to the At Large #2 runoff that I didn’t say before. Kristi Thibaut has the early momentum, and I expect she will collect most of the remaining endorsements in addition to the ones she has already received. I’ll be very curious to see if Andrew Burks reports any major endorsements – off the top of my head, I can’t remember any coming his way in 2009. That was when he was going against an incumbent, however, so this time may be different. Thibaut has $19K on hand, Burks has $12K, most of which is left over from his $20K loan, originally reported as a loan from his wife but later corrected to indicate it was a self-loan. Does anyone write Burks a check? Burks has the advantage of CM Jolanda Jones running, who will turn out voters that will be more inclined to support him than Thibaut, if they bother to vote in his race. What will Burks do to actually try to win? I see this one as being lean Thibaut, with the only thing holding me back from making a stronger statement the low turnout.

– As for At Large #5, what else is there to say? I’ll be curious to see if there’s another big show of support for Jack Christie from some of CM Jones’ colleagues. In retrospect, it’s not clear to me how much that actually helped Christie or hurt Jones, but it sure felt like a big deal at the time. Laurie Robinson picked up a few endorsements, including the police and the firefighters, who I think it’s safe to say will back Christie. If there’s going to be any real money thrown around in the runoff, it’s likely to be in this race. Jones starts out with $40K on hand, while Christie has $23K, but as we saw last time he’s willing and able to write his own check as needed. I feel like there’s another shoe or two to drop in this one, but I have no idea where they may come from or when they may fall. This one is a tossup. Nothing and everything will surprise me.

Early voting for city runoffs begins today

You remember that we have runoff elections for four Houston City Council positions, right? Well, early voting starts today and runs through next Tuesday, December 6. Here are the early voting locations that will be open for the runoff. Early voting will run from 7 AM to 7 PM each day except Sunday the 4th, when it will be 1 to 6 PM. You can go any time you want, as I expect you will be the only person voting whenever it is you show up. The over/under for turnout in this runoff is 25,000, which is to say about what it was for the 2007 runoff. Districts A and B, and At Large #2 and #5 are up.

Eight day finance reports are due Friday, so I’ll be checking for those and posting them along with anything interesting I find in them. One question that remains unanswered is who the Chron will endorse for the District B runoff. For the November election, the Chron endorsed CM Brenda Stardig in A, CM Jolanda Jones in At Large #5, and Kristi Thibaut in At Large #2, but their choice in B was Kathy Daniels, who finished third. As of this morning, they have not updated that recommendation.

Regardless, today begins your last chance to vote in 2011. Your vote never counts more than it does in an extreme low-turnout election, so go take advantage of that.

More thoughts on the Council elections

One district at a time…

– I confess that I did not see the District A result coming. Helena Brown did raise a decent amount of money since entering the race at the filing deadline, about $22K through the end of October, which makes me wonder how she might have fared if she had gotten in the race sooner. For what it’s worth, she’s at a big financial disadvantage in the runoff, as CM Brenda Stardig reported over $67K on hand in her 8 Day report, while Brown listed only $1378 on hers. Maybe Stardig needed to spend more during regulation time. Brown has received donations from the two previous District A members, Bruce Tatro and Toni Lawrence, the latter of whom apparently had a falling out with Stardig a few months back. If Brown wins she will be a big success story for the anti-Renew Houston forces. She would probably like for the runoff to be a low turnout affair in which she can campaign like it’s a Republican primary. Stardig will likely need to persuade some Democrats that she’s worth voting for; I would also expect the Houston Association of Realtors to try to come to her rescue. I have a bad feeling about this one for the incumbent.

– A lot of endorsing organizations avoided choosing a candidate in District B for November. I presume that part of the reason for that was that it was a crowded race with no obvious frontrunner and multiple contenders who might have a shot at making it to the runoff. Now that it’s narrowed down to Alvin Byrd and Jerry Davis, who received the bulk of the endorsements that were made, it’ll be interesting to see who lines up behind whom. Davis had an email out yesterday touting the fact that former competitors Kenneth Perkins, Phillip Paul Bryant, Bryan Smart, and Charles Ingram were all now supporting him. Also up for grabs now are the HBAD and Chronicle endorsements, both of which had gone to third place finisher (and currently unaligned, as far as I know) Kathy Daniels.

– Moving to the non-runoff districts, I’m still not sure if I’m surprised or not that Ellen Cohen won in C without a runoff. I had no doubt that it was possible, but I had no good feel for what the likelihood of it was. I do have a feeling that Cohen’s next two elections will be much easier to prognosticate.

– Given how a few other first-termers did, CM Al Hoang’s 56% win in District F has to be seen as a pretty strong performance, but much like Helena Brown in A, I wonder how Peter Lyn René might have fared if he had entered the race earlier. He missed out on the opportunity to screen for an awful lot of Democrat-friendly endorsements. I’m not saying he would have won, but a swing of less than 300 votes away from Hoang would have put him into a runoff. Surely that was achievable with a few months’ extra time to organize and fundraise.

– I’m just going to point you to what Greg says about District J, because there really isn’t anything I can add to it. I hope CM-elect Mike Laster makes an offer to Criselda Romero to be on his staff so that she can be in a good position to succeed him in 2017.

– Regarding the At Large runoffs, it’s easy to see the AL2 and AL5 races in racial terms, with the fates of the candidates entwined. Here’s Greg again:

As an aside in looking at the At Large runoffs together, I have a hard time seeing the needle threading such that both JoJo and Kristi win, though that’s obviously the outcome I’d most love to see. The more JoJo voters there are, then theoretically, the better the odds are for Andrew Burks. And the better things look for Kristi, the harder they look for JoJo. I really hope I’m wrong on this.

I think it’s a little more complex than that, for the simple reason that Burks isn’t a particularly good candidate. To put it another way, while I would agree that there will be a correlation between the vote totals of Burks and CM Jones, there will also be a lag between their totals. I believe a fair number of people who show up to vote for Jones will not bother to vote for Burks. As evidence, I cite the district returns from the 2009 runoffs, which featured both Burks and Jones as well as Ronald Green and Gene Locke. Take a look at these numbers, which I compiled from these earlier posts:

Candidate B votes D votes ============================ Locke 11,395 15,223 Green 10,017 16,935 Burks 7,773 11,974 Jones 10,673 17,653

Burks received less that 75% of Jones’ vote total in the African-American districts in the 2009 runoff, and he was running against someone who is not nearly as well-liked as Kristi Thibaut. He isn’t anywhere near Jones’ league. Maybe this time it will be different, but I see a lot of room for Jones to win and Burks to lose. And like District B, there are now a bunch of endorsements up for grabs. Thibaut, who had more endorsements by my count than other candidates going into the November election, counted HBAD among her supporters. She has since picked up the support of former candidates Bo Fraga, Jenifer Pool, and David Robinson; a whole host of Democratic elected officials, including numerous African-Americans (Rodney Ellis, Alma Allen, Garnet Coleman, Harold Dutton, Ron Reynolds, and Senfronia Thompson); and the Oak Forest Dems and Democracy for Houston endorsements; both of those groups reaffirmed their support of CM Jones as well. I think that says something, and about Burks’ ability to keep up with Jones.

As far as CM Jones goes, the playbook is the same for her as was two years ago: Run up the score in the friendly precincts, and hope it’s enough. Without a Gene Locke at the top of the ticket to drive turnout, that could be harder to achieve. She does have the benefit of the runoff in B to help her, but that may be canceled out by the action in A. It’s a crapshoot. I wouldn’t bet against her, but boy this is a tough way to go about it.