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Election 1999

Where are the women?

I have several things to say about this.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The slate running to replace Mayor Annise Parker features a globetrotting sailor, a triathlete grandfather, a millionaire minister and no women.

Despite the most-crowded pack of mayoral contenders in decades, no female candidates are expected to announce bids this spring, a reality that all but guarantees women will have fewer positions of power at City Hall next year than they had during the last six.

“You are sending a message,” said Kathryn McNeil, a longtime fundraiser who helped elect Parker. “My niece is now 16. For the last six years, she’s seen a strong woman running the city. There’s no question in her mind that a woman could be mayor.”

Though more than 10 candidates likely will appear on November’s ballot, few women even seriously considered the race, which some call a reminder of how much more work Houston’s women must do to achieve political equality.

Some say it creates a less compassionate and less personal, even if equally qualified, field of candidates. It also affects the strength of the democratic process, limiting the diversity of the candidates that voters can choose from when they imagine whom they would like as their next mayor.

“Regardless of who actually wins the race, not having a viable woman candidate can be a disservice for everyone,” said Dee Dee Grays, the incoming president of Women Professionals in Government in Houston.

For the record, in the eleven city elections post-Kathy Whitmire (i.e., since 1993), there has been at least one female Mayoral candidate not named Annise Parker in eight of them:

2013 – Charyl Drab, Keryl Douglas, Victoria Lane
2011 – Amanda Ulman
2009 – Amanda Ulman
2007 – Amanda Ulman
2005 – Gladys House
2003 – Veronique Gregory
2001 – None
1999 – None
1997 – Helen Huey, Gracie Saenz
1995 – Elizabeth Spates
1993 – None

Now, most of these were fringe candidacies – only term-limited Council members Helen Huey and Gracie Saenz in 1997 could have been considered viable, and they were both crushed in the wake of the Lee Brown/Rob Mosbacher/George Greanias campaigns. But for what it’s worth, history does suggest there will be at least one female name on the ballot this year.

Research shows that women nationally need to be recruited to run for office much more than men. That especially is true for executive positions, such as governor or mayor.

Amber Mostyn, the former chair of Annie’s List, a statewide organization that recruits and backs Democratic female candidates, said there is a need for local versions of the organization that would encourage qualified women to make bids for mayor.

“You’ll see men throwing their hat in the ring when they’ve never done the job before and say, ‘I’ll figure it out,’ ” said Mostyn, a Houston lawyer and prominent donor. “Women are very reluctant to do that.”

I’m well aware of the research regarding the recruitment of female candidates. It’s definitely an issue, though I wonder if it will turn out to be a generational one. Perhaps today’s girls and younger women won’t need the same kind of encouragement that their elders currently require. Be that as it may, if there was ever a bad year for that dynamic in the Mayor’s race, it’s this year. I mean, nearly the entire field, not to mention Adrian Garcia, has been known to be planning to run for a long time now. With that many candidates already at the starting line, and presumably working to collect commitments and financial support and campaign advisers, it would undoubtedly be that much harder to make a case for someone else to gear up now and thrown her hat in the ring. As I’ve said many times already, there’s only so much room for viable candidates in this race.

Cindy Clifford, a public relations executive and City Hall lobbyist, said the key to electing a female mayor is to first focus on recruiting women for lower-level elected office and to serve on boards and commissions. That requires a commitment by the city’s leaders to tapping individual women and showing them that they have support.

“If we’re not doing it, no one’s going to come and look for us,” Clifford said. “I always think the cream rises once they’re in the process.”

Council members Brenda Stardig and Ellen Cohen could be joined next year by several top-tier female candidates in council elections this fall, but some worry that the political “pipeline” of female candidates is thin, with few who conceivably could have run for mayor this year. One, Laura Murillo, the head of Houston’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, did publicly explore a mayoral bid last summer before deciding against it.

I would point out that one of the top tier candidates for Mayor this year is someone whose entire political career has been in the Legislature, and that the three main candidates currently running for Mayor in San Antonio include two former legislators and one former County Commissioner. One doesn’t have to be a city officeholder to be a viable Mayoral candidate, is what I’m saying. Hell, none of the three Mayors before Annise Parker had been elected to anything before running for the top job, let alone running for Council. The size of the “pipeline” is as much a matter of framing as anything else. Note also that several women who were once elected to city offices now hold office elsewhere – I’m thinking specifically of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Sen. Sylvia Garcia, Rep. Carol Alvarado, and HISD Trustee Wanda Adams. Pipelines can flow in both directions.

As for the four open Council slots, the seat most likely to be won by a female candidate as things stand right now is At Large #4, where two of the three announced candidates so far are women. Jenifer Pool is running in At Large #1, but if I were forced to make a prediction about it now, I’d say that a Lane Lewis/Chris Oliver runoff is the single most likely outcome. Two of the three candidates that I know of in District H are male – Roland Chavez and Jason Cisneroz – and the third candidate, former HISD Trustee Diana Davila, is ethically challenged. One’s commitment to diversity does not include supporting someone one doesn’t trust. I have no idea at this time who may be running in District G, which is the other term-limited seat. Beyond those races, any additional women will have to get there by knocking off an incumbent.

One last thing: There may not be room for another viable candidate for Mayor, but that isn’t the case for City Controller. There are three known candidates at this time, with two more thinking about it, all men. A Controller campaign would take less time and money, and would therefore likely be fairly ripe for recruitment, especially given that a female candidate in that race would have immediate prominence. As Mayor Parker, and for that matter former Mayor Whitmire, can attest, that office can be a pretty good stepping stone. Just a thought.

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that HCC Trustee Sandie Mullins is planning to run in District G. That not only adds another female candidate for Council, it also indicates that an HCC seat will be open this fall.

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.

Elections from a bygone era

All through the Early Voting period, I’ve been comparing turnout this year to elections from 2005 through 2009. It’s not like we didn’t have elections in this city before then, of course. Obviously, the city now is different than it was before, and as such I don’t know how much there is to learn from turnout levels in the 1990s. But given the concerns about poor turnout that some folks have expressed, I thought I’d take a look and see what’s there.

Year: 1993

Total votes cast: 214,306. No turnout figure is cited.

Mayoral votes cast: 186,944, or 87.2% of the citywide total. Bob Lanier, running for his first re-election against a squad of no-names, set the standard by which all future Mayors will be measured by garnering 90.10% of the vote.

Controller votes cast: 178,411, or 83.3% of the citywide total. George Greanias topped the field of four with 54.43% .

At Large votes cast: Ranged from 167,057 in the 12-candidate At Large #2 race (78.0% of citywide) to 157,974 in the 14-candidate (!) At Large #3 race (73.7%). Eleanor Tinsley led the former with 47.64%, while Lloyd Kelley at 18.26% and Cynthia Canales Gorczynski at 16.97% made it to the runoff in the latter. For those of you keeping score at home, a mere 26,822 votes were enough to make it into the finals in At Large #3. The top votegetter among all Council candidates, second only to MayorBob himself overall, was none other than Sheila Jackson Lee in At Large #4, with 103,866. How do you like that? She would defeat Craig Washington in the Democratic primary for CD18 in March, 1994, so this was her last Council election.

Familiar name: Orlando Sanchez finished fifth in a field of seven for the open District C seat, with 10.36% of the vote. He’d do better in his next election.

Special circumstances: Kids! You know that Houston is world-famous for being a city with no zoning, right? Well, did you know that we actually once voted on whether or not to impose some form of zoning on ourselves? It’s true! On the ballot in 1993 was a city proposition to allow for zoning ordinances. It failed, but by less than 7000 votes out of 168,009 ballots cast. It’s too long ago for me to remember the details, and I wasn’t paying much attention to it then. But it sure is a shame that there wasn’t an Internet back then to record everyone’s breathless utterance about it, so we could see what crazytimes it was, isn’t it? (Yes, I know there actually was an Internet back then. It was a lot smaller, and most of what was there isn’t easy to find nowadays. You know what I mean.)

Year: 1995

Total votes cast: 142,117, which is given as 13.88% turnout. It’s the only turnout figure on these result pages. This implies there were 1,023,898 registered voters in Houston at the time of this election. Let’s keep that number in mind for when the turnout figures are given for this year.

Mayoral votes cast: 126,081, or 88.7% of the citywide total. MayorBob dropped to a mere 82.66%, ahead of our old friend Dave Wilson in second place with 9.05%

Controller votes cast: 108,798, or 76.6% of the citywide total. Lloyd Kelley succeeded Greanias by winning a three-way race with 53.35% of the vote.

At Large votes cast: Ranged from 87,066 (61.3% of citywide) in At Large #1, where Gracie Saenz ran unopposed, to 114,036 (80.2%) in At Large #2, where Joe Roach easily cruised past two challengers with 73.35% of the vote. And proving that more candidates does not mean more votes, the 11-candidate pileup in At Large #3 drew only 97,961 votes. Among its other contenders were Chris Bell, who finished third with 14.17%, and Griff Griffin, who came in fourth with 10.31%. Like Orlando Sanchez, the eventual winner of this seat, Bell would do better in his next election. Unlike Orlando Sanchez, Griff would not.

Familiar name: Andrew Burks eked into a runoff in a seven-candidate District E race, finishing exactly eleven votes ahead of the third place contestant, and 20 votes ahead of fourth place. This is what they’re talking about when they say every vote matters, kids. He then got skunked in the runoff, losing to Rob Todd by a 63-37 spread.

Special circumstances: None. Total dullsville. Basically, 1995 was the 2007 of the 90s.

Year: 1997

Total votes cast: 348,680, in a wild eight-way open seat Mayoral free-for-all. Here we begin to get Harris County precinct data appended to the City Secretary reports, which includes turnout for the Houston portion of Harris County. For this election, it is given as 28.20%.

Mayoral votes cast: 313,123, or 89.8% of the citywide total. I think it’s safe to say we won’t match that total this year, though it would not shock me if the Mayoral share of total turnout is comparable. In the race, Lee Brown led the way with 132,324 votes, with Rob Mosbacher joining him in the runoff with 90,320. Round One also included former Controller George Greanias, who got squeezed between constituencies and finished third, and former Council members Gracie Saenz and Helen Huey.

Controller votes cast: 259,418, or 74.4% of the citywide total. Sylvia Garcia scored a clean win over Lloyd Kelley, 55.40% to 33.50% (there were three other candidates), becoming the first of so far only two challengers to defeat a sitting incumbent since term limits were adopted in 1994. (Jean Kelley, who inherited District G from her husband John in this election, would become the other such incumbent in 1999, losing to Bert Keller.)

At Large votes cast: Ranged from 226,382 (64.9%) in the nine-person At Large #5 race, eventually won by future HCC Trustee candidate Carroll Robinson, to 250,933 (72.0%) in At Large #2, where the late Joe Roach cruised past a single opponent and collected the high vote score for the cycle, with 190,841.

Familiar name: Annise Parker, who finished second in a seven-candidate race for At Large #1, then won in the runoff.

Special circumstances: The only open seat Mayor’s race of the 90s, as Bob Lanier had ousted incumbent Kathy Whitmire in 1991, and the genesis of the term “the Greanias line” for city election wonks. And if that wasn’t enough, a charter referendum to end affirmative action, which lost 55-45, and a bunch of bond referenda. Yeah, there were a few things pushing people to the polls that year.

Year: 1999

Total votes cast: 268,109. Turnout for the Houston portion of Harris County is given as 21.57%.

Mayoral votes cast: 206,778, or 77.1% of the citywide total. This was the infamous election in which one-term incumbent Mayor Lee Brown received only 67.29% of the vote against two no-chance opponents, Jack Terence (23.16%) and Outlaw Josey Wales, IV (9.55%, and no, I’m not kidding about the name), thus setting up the narrative that he was vulnerable to a challenge for 2001, and giving too many political pundits with too much time on their hands something to point to a decade hence.

Controller votes cast: 150,385, or 56.1% of the citywide total. Sylvia Garcia, having established herself as the first challenger to defeat an incumbent in the term limits era, established the tradiion of uncontested Controller races after that.

At Large votes cast: Two uncontested seats (#s 4 and 5, Chris Bell and Carroll Robinson), received 141,489 and 142,022 votes, respectively, each less than 53% of the citywide total. Three contested races had totals ranging from 174,774 (65.2%) in the 11-candidate At Large #2 race, in which Gordon Quan would go on to defeat Dwight Boykins in the runoff to 179,095 (66.8%) in At Large #3, where Orlando Sanchez won a 54-46 re-election against Andrew Burks, which somehow did not create a narrative that he too was electorally vulnerable.

Familiar name: Have I not given enough already? All right, Toni Lawrence made the first of two unsuccessful attempts to defeat Bruce Tatro in District A. She didn’t run in the open seat race in 1997 (Tatro defeated our old buddy Dave Wilson in the runoff), and eventually won the seat after Tatro got termed out.

Special circumstances: Four more city referenda, of which the one “relating to residency of elected officers” received the highest vote total of 194,543, which as you can see easily exceeded every city race other than the Mayoral. The other three ranged from 174,654 to 185,971 votes. As with the zoning referendum of 1993, I have no memory of what these were about, but they clearly helped drive turnout.

What do we learn from this? Well, other than the fact that certain characters have been recurring in our elections for a long time, it seems to me that a charter amendment is a pretty good way to drive turnout. Note how great the falloff is from the city vote totals to those of individual races, a factor that I have to believe is related to some people showing up only for the referenda. As such, I think that while we are correct to lament low turnout in city races, we should be careful about comparing our current elections to those of the 1990s, when turnout was superficially pretty high. Perhaps if the red light camera referendum had been on the 2009 ballot, or on this one, we’d be having a very different conversation about the turnout levels. Just something to think about. Hope you enjoyed this trip down somewhat-cloudy-memory lane.

Where the line is

Me, July 17:

I disagree that anyone who might think about challenging the Mayor will wait two years before taking action. They’ll simply wait to see how Parker does in November. Like all three of her predecessors in the term-limits era, Parker is running against non-entities for her first re-election. Two of those prior Mayors, Lanier and Bill White, cruised easily with around 90% of the vote, and had a similarly smooth ride for their second re-election. Brown, on the other hand, received only 67% of the vote against his two no-name foes, and was immediately seen as vulnerable for 2001; serious opposition, from Council Members Orlando Sanchez and Chris Bell, subsequently ensued.

So I believe that Parker’s 2013 opposition will be based, at least in part, on how she is perceived to have done this year by that standard. If the conventional wisdom says that she beat expectations, she’s less likely to face a real opponent in 2013. If not, you can expect someone, quite possibly more than one someone, to start campaigning against her fairly quickly.

What is the threshold she must achieve in order to meet or exceed expectations? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. That will be determined by the local political hive mind after the election. It’s going to be a function of gut reaction more than anything else, so there’s no point trying to assign a number to it.

Robert Miller, August 8:

As of today, Mayor Parker has no politically credible opposition and will be reelected in November. Since the advent of term limits in Houston, every Mayor has served the maximum six years allowed — Bob Lanier (1992 – 97); Lee Brown (1998 – 2003); and Bill White (2004 – 09). Only Mayor Lee Brown was seriously contested after his first election. Mayor Lanier won his second term with 90.80% and his third term with 82.66%. Mayor White won his second term with 91.03% and his third term with 86.48%.

The race Mayor Parker is really running this fall is to be unopposed by credible opposition for her third and final term in the November 2013 election. Mayor Brown only won his second term with 67.29% against two non-credible candidates, Jack Terrence and Outlaw Josey Wales, IV. Brown was then perceived as vulnerable, and in his final election drew two strong opponents — Orlando Sanchez and Chris Bell — and was forced into a runoff squeaking by with 51.67% of the vote.

In my judgment, Mayor Parker needs to break 70% in her reelection on November 8 or the 2013 Mayoral election will immediately begin.

Despite my previous reluctance to assign a number to the threshold Mayor Parker must clear, I don’t have any quarrel with this analysis. I would just add two points. One is that there really isn’t any difference between, say, a 69.81% showing and a 70.23% showing. This is about perception, not metrics. Whatever total the Mayor gets, if enough people say to themselves “Geez, I thought she’d have done better than that”, then she will be seen as vulnerable and the wannabes will start emerging from the woodwork. If that’s not the reaction most people have, they won’t. Maybe assigning a number now will affix it in the consciousness of the arbiters of these things, but I still think we won’t know for sure what the consensus will be until after the election.

And two, there’s another factor that could make this line move around a bit, and that’s the credibility of Parker’s opposition. I’m not talking about a late entry from one of the campaign peacocks that have been flitting about, I’m talking about whether or not the local GOP decides to get behind Fernando Herrera the way they belatedly got behind Roy Morales in 2009. Right now, Herrera’s a no-name, with no obvious means of support, who can fairly be compared to Lee Brown’s 1999 opposition. But if the HCRP and maybe the Texas Conservative Review get behind him, that changes. He still wouldn’t be anything remotely formidable, but he’ll be taken much more seriously, by the Parker campaign and by those who cover the Parker campaign. If the perception of the race changes from “Parker versus nobody” to “Parker versus somebody with real institutional backing”, then the perception of the result changes, too. Now getting 70%, against a somebody who isn’t a nobody, looks much more impressive. Getting 60% looks pretty good, in fact. She might still be seen as vulnerable after that, but if so it won’t be because she couldn’t run up the score against an overmatched opponent. It will be because she didn’t have an overmatched opponent in the first place.

Finance reports and the Mayor’s race

Finance report updates: David Robinson has filed his corrected report, which includes the $53,095.57 cash on hand total that was omitted in the original. There were no other changes made. Mayoral candidate Kevin Simms has now filed his report. He lists $4,033.83 in contributions, $2,873.79 in expenses, and $1,160.04 on hand. Interestingly, he also lists those same contribution and expense totals in the “contribs/expenses of less than $50” spaces, even though 15 of his 45 contributions were for $100 or more, and every single one of his expenses was $60 or more. I guess the purpose of those spaces wasn’t clear to him.

At this point, the candidates of whom I am aware that have not filed finance reports yet are:

Scott Boates, At Large #1
Michael Williams, At Large #2
Griff Griffin, At Large #2
Joe Edmonds, At Large #5
Alvin Byrd, District B
Kenneth Perkins, District B
Bryan Smart, District B
Randy Locke, District C
Otis Jordan, District K

I should note that there actually is a filing listed for Byrd on the city’s CFR website. It is signed by someone named Hubert Hines, and is otherwise completely blank. (Go here, click the first Search button with all fields blank – you will then see all filings for 2011. Go to page 6 to see Byrd’s.) I will continue to monitor for late filings.

Meanwhile, the Chron writes about the Mayor’s fundraising and the status of her race.

By this time two years ago, the four major candidates in the race to succeed the termed-out Bill White were months into their campaigns and had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars each. The only announced challenger to Parker this year who filed a finance report by Friday, Deputy Fire Chief Fernando Herrera, has $3,334 in his account.

Anyone considering a run against Parker also has to reckon with a history that indicates she still can raise more money if she needs to. In 2009, without the advantage of incumbency or even perceived front-runner status for most of the campaign, Parker collected more than $3 million from contributors.

“I think everyone knows if she wants to raise more money, she can,” said political strategist Dan McClung.

[…]

About the only way a serious challenger could emerge at this point, [political consultant Marc Campos] said, is with his or her own money.

But [Craig Varoga, a Washington, D.C.-based political consultant who ran the campaigns of former mayors Bob Lanier and Lee Brown] doubted that even a self-funded challenger could gain much on Parker.

“No one can raise $2 million in the next three months. Anyone who is not a self-funder will wait two years and see how the mayor looks at that time. A self-funder would run the risk of reminding voters that he or she has buckets of dough while everyone else in the world is struggling,” Varoga said.

I agree with most of this, but I disagree that anyone who might think about challenging the Mayor will wait two years before taking action. They’ll simply wait to see how Parker does in November. Like all three of her predecessors in the term-limits era, Parker is running against non-entities for her first re-election. Two of those prior Mayors, Lanier and Bill White, cruised easily with around 90% of the vote, and had a similarly smooth ride for their second re-election. Brown, on the other hand, received only 67% of the vote against his two no-name foes, and was immediately seen as vulnerable for 2001; serious opposition, from Council Members Orlando Sanchez and Chris Bell, subsequently ensued.

So I believe that Parker’s 2013 opposition will be based, at least in part, on how she is perceived to have done this year by that standard. If the conventional wisdom says that she beat expectations, she’s less likely to face a real opponent in 2013. If not, you can expect someone, quite possibly more than one someone, to start campaigning against her fairly quickly.

What is the threshold she must achieve in order to meet or exceed expectations? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. That will be determined by the local political hive mind after the election. It’s going to be a function of gut reaction more than anything else, so there’s no point trying to assign a number to it. Assuming that nobody else does join the race – there’s still several weeks till the filing deadline, after all – Parker will be graded by a standard that won’t be determined until after she takes the test. That’s just the way it is.

Mayor Parker officially kicks off her re-election campaign

We were out of town over the weekend, so I missed this.

An Easter weekend campaign event replete with rousing speeches, dogs of both the hot and four-legged variety and a kids’ Easter egg “scramble” kicked off Mayor Annise Parker’s re-election bid Saturday at Discovery Green.

With no announced opposition so far, Parker’s bid to retain what she called “the best job in the world” would seem to be a cakewalk — if not an Easter egg roll — compared with 2009.

In her first run for the office that year, the former neighborhood activist, city councilwoman and city controller nosed out the candidate anointed for the open seat by the downtown establishment, attorney Gene Locke, as well as two other candidates, to become the first lesbian mayor of a major American city.

This year, the establishment seems to be satisfied with the mayor’s job performance, as evidenced by her endorsement by erstwhile opponent Locke and by former mayor (and still political paterfamilias) Bob Lanier. Parker also has raised more than $1 million in campaign funds with two more major fundraisers still this week.

As I’ve noted before, by this point in 2009 we were over two months into a full-fledged four-way race. I still hear the occasional rumor about Paul Bettencourt and Benjamin Hall, and we were recently informed about some dude that no one knew was thinking about running for Mayor but apparently isn’t, but it’s hard to see how anyone makes anything more than a token attempt at it at this point. Hell, the only person quoted in the piece with negative things to say was Jared Woodfill, the silly Chair of the local GOP. How can there be an opponent if there’s no one saying oppositional things in a story like this? I agree with Keir Murray – barring someone who can massively self-fund, there just isn’t the room or the time for someone to mount a serious challenge.

I also agree with Murray about this:

Despite the campaign cakewalk to the November election, the mayor would face major challenges during her second two-year term, Murray said.

“The first term was the easiest,” he said. “The budget crisis is a continuing problem for anyone in office. Layoffs are coming, including HPD layoffs. There will be unhappiness. There’s no getting around it.”

The good news for the Mayor is that she most likely will have nothing but fringe opponents for re-election. The danger is that anything short of a Soviet-style margin of victory could be seen as electoral weakness, and may open the door for one or more serious opponents in 2013. Call this the Terence-Wales Effect, if you will. Now compare Lee Brown’s vote totals over five contested elections to Parker’s 2009 numbers and note that there’s an awful lot of people in this town who are not yet in the habit of voting to elect a Mayor Parker. Add that to the issues Murray identifies, and you can see what could happen. Given all that, expect the Mayor to run as vigorous a campaign this year as she did in 2009. She’s not just running for her second term, she’s already running for her third.

Council turnover

One underappreciated aspect of this year’s election is that we may wind up with more than two new At Large City Council members. We started with two open seats, and with incumbents Sue Lovell and Jolanda Jones in runoffs, the possibility exists that we could have as many as four freshman members in January. This would be a first for Houston, at least in the term limits era. Since 1997, here are all of the newly-elected Council members for that year:

1997 – Annise Parker (1), Carroll Robinson (5)
1999 – Gordon Quan (2)
2001 – Shelley Sekula Rodriguez/Gibbs (3), Michael Berry (4)
2003 – Mark Ellis (1), Ronald Green (4)
2005 – Peter Brown (1), Sue Lovell (2)
2007 – Melissa Noriega (3), Jolanda Jones (5)

There actually was a third new Council member in 1997, but not in November. John Peavy won a special election in January of 1995 to replace Sheila Jackson Lee in At Large #4 after she was elected to Congress. After he won re-election that November, he announced in 1996 that he was stepping down. Chris Bell then won a special election in January, and won election to a full term that November. His seat came open in 2001 when he ran for Mayor (Orlando Sanchez, who had been the incumbent in At Large #3, was first elected in 1995 and thus was term limited out that year.) Michael Berry, who won #4 in 2001, briefly ran for Mayor in 2003, and when he pulled back from that he filed instead for At Large #5; I forget what the reasoning behind that was. As such, there were technically three open seats in 2003, but only because of Berry’s seat shifting. Besides, Mark Ellis had been a two-term incumbent in District F before winning a final term in Council as the At Large #1 member, so even if one of Berry or Shelley Sekula now-Gibbs, who nipped Peter Brown in a runoff for her first re-election, had been beaten, there still would have been only two truly new At Large members.

This year, we will have new At Large members CO Bradford and the winner of the Stephen Costello/Karen Derr runoff. I think Sue Lovell will win easily enough in #2, but Jolanda Jones has a tough race on her hands, and may well lose. If either one does lose, then we’ll have the unprecedented situation of three or more new At Large members, and in a year with a new Mayor and a new Controller. I’m thinking the first few Council meetings would be a lot of fun under those conditions.

One other thing to consider in the event we do have three or four new At Large members is that there would not be an open seat until 2013, when Melissa Noriega gets term limited. I would think that a Council Member Andrew Burks or a Council Member Jack Christie would be wise to prepare for a strong challenge from somebody in 2011, for two reasons. One is that those with ambitions for Council aren’t going to want to wait that long. The pent-up demand for an open Council seat by then would surely lead to a ginormous field, in which even a good candidate’s chances would be a pure crapshoot. Seems to me you’d get better odds taking on a freshman incumbent in 2011, in what could be a straight up two-person race. And two, the political establishment might well view Burks and/or Christie as flukes whose victories said more about their opponents than themselves. I believe the likelihood of that is greater if the turnout for the runoff is low. The same could happen to Bradford or Costello/Derr, of course, but I’d expect Burks or Christie to be a more inviting target.

Anyway. Just something I’ve been thinking about. What do you think?

UPDATE: Forgot to include Jolanda Jones as a new Member in 2007. Whether she wins or loses, the only seat that would be open in 2011 is Sue Lovell’s seat, assuming Lovell wins. If Lovell wins and Jones loses, we have one open seat in 2011 and one in 2013, then three in 2015. If Lovell loses and Jones wins, we have no open seats in 2011, two in 2013, and three in 2015. If both lose, no open seats in 2011, one in 2013, and four in 2015. I should have been more clear about that. Also, as noted by Jennifer in the comments, we will have two new District Council seats in 2011, which may provide an outlet for some of those who would otherwise run At Large if there’s a paucity of those seats available.

Comparing Controller’s races

In 2009, we have a Controller’s race that features an At Large Council member, a Council member from a high-turnout, mostly white district, and Council member from a low-turnout, mostly non-white district. In 2003, we had a Controller’s race that featured an At Large Council member, a Council member from a high-turnout, mostly white district, and Council member from a low-turnout, mostly non-white district. I thought it might be interesting, if not necessarily instructive, to compare the races and see if we can learn anything. Here’s the data:

Year Candidate Votes Pct ================================= 1997 Tatro 6,449 23.19 1997 Parker 47,841 20.25 97 Runoff Tatro 15,739 56.25 97 Runoff Parker 139,787 57.45 1999 Tatro 12,349 57.64 1999 Parker 112,470 63.23 1999 Vasquez 5,418 36.70 99 Runoff Vasquez 4,055 60.59 2001 Tatro 15,811 56.52 2001 Parker 112,153 50.66 2001 Vasquez 11,248 100.00 2003 Tatro 52,258 20.40 2003 Parker 106,441 41.54 2003 Vasquez 30,319 11.83 2003 Holm 11,172 35.37 2003 Khan 4,096 37.55 2003 Green 53,163 31.20 03 Runoff Holm 18,411 50.04 03 Runoff Khan 6,889 53.31 03 Runoff Green 98,464 52.21 2005 Holm 22,500 100.00 2005 Khan 7,019 69.22 2005 Green 123,254 100.00 2007 Holm 14,733 100.00 2007 Khan 4,662 100.00 2007 Green 82,417 100.00

Couple points of interest. The 2009 Controller’s race has just the three term-limited Council members in it. The 2003 race had three other candidates – Gabe Vasquez, who as you can see was not term-limited that year, actually finished fourth, behind Mark Lee. Both Ronald Green and Annise Parker finished second in their initial races, then went on to win in the runoff. Parker had two opponents in 2001.

As for what it all means, well, the parallels are obvious, but I would not draw too much from them. Parker had a fair amount of money in 2003, more than Green has now, and she had three competitive elections going into her Controller’s race, where Green had only the first one. Tatro had money in 2003, but Holm and Khan have more. They’ve run aggressive campaigns, while Green has, um, not. Green and his tax issues have also presented a large target for his opponents, at which Pam Holm has gleefully aimed, with mailers, press releases, challenges to appear on the radio with her, and so forth. I don’t know who’s behind that robocall that trashes Green over this, but I’ve heard from a lot of people that have received it. And MJ Khan is out there, too, spending over $300K on TV, which is something Gabe Vasquez never did. This is just a very different race. I could try to come up with some mathematical relationship between all the numbers involved, beyond what you can plainly see, but I wouldn’t believe any of it. Consider them for entertainment purposes only.

City Council lineup update

Via Carl Whitmarsh, we have a third potential candidate for the to-be-open Council seat in District A, attorney Alex Wathen. Wathen joins Bob Schoelkopf and Jeffrey Downing in eyeing that seat. Wathen has been a candidate for City Council before – he ran for At Large #2 in 1999, finishing last in a field of 11 that was eventually won by Gordon Quan. He also ran for Justice of the Peace in 2002 against Justice David Patronella, garnering 33.66% of the vote and causing a bit of a stir as a local Republican wingnut put out a robocall urging other Republicans not to vote for Wathen on the grounds that Wathen is gay. (Shocking, I know.) A press release from the Log Cabin Republicans, of which Wathen was a local leader, noted the attack against him while mistakenly stating he’d won the election anyway.

Anyway. Here to the best of my recollection is an up-to-date list of declared and potential candidates for various city elections this year. Please chime in and let me know where I’ve missed something.

Mayor: The lineup is pretty stable at this point, with City Controller Annise Parker, At Large #1 City Council Member Peter Brown, and former City Attorneys Gene Locke and Benjamin Hall in the mix. Former Kemah Mayor Bill King has apparently dropped out, and former Governor Mark White was in there for a minute, but hasn’t been heard from in a few months.

City Controller: Not very much chatter about this one so far, but three of the remaining term-limited City Council members – Ronald Green in At Large #4, MJ Khan in District F, and Pam Holm in District G – have been mentioned as potential candidates.

City Council At Large: For sure, At Large #4 will be open. Noel Freeman is a declared candidate, while Terence Fontaine, the Deputy Chief of Staff to Mayor Bill White, and former candidates for District C George Hittner and Brian Cweren have all expressed interest in the past. More recently, former HPD Chief and District Attorney candidate CO Bradford has said he’s considering a run.

At Large #1 will be open unless Peter Brown makes like Michael Berry in 2003 and decides to run for re-election rather than pursue his Mayoral ambitions. Former State Rep. and Harris County Democratic Party chair Sue Schecter has said she’d be interested in running here. Bill King has apparently turned his attention towards an At Large Council race and may wind up here. HCDE Trustee and former At Large Council candidate Roy Morales has also expressed some interest in another Council run.

Finally, in At Large #5, freshman Member Jolanda Jones has drawn the attention of former State Rep. candidate Carlos Obando. And though I have not heard any names recently, there was definitely talk after the 2007 election that two-term Member Sue Lovell could draw a real challenger in At Large #2 after she won a surprisingly close race against perennial gadfly Griff Griffin. As yet, no word of an opponent for At Large #3 member Melissa Noriega.

District A: Covered above. For purposes of comparison, there were five candidates for the open seat race in 2003, which Toni Lawrence won outright after two unsuccessful attempts to unseat Bruce Tatro.

District F: Mike Laster is the only name I’ve heard so far. There were four candidates for this seat in 2003.

District G: Nada. If anyone is out there looking at this one, I’ve not heard about it yet. There were seven candidates in 2003.

District H: Karen Derr, Maverick Welsh, Ed Gonzalez, and Hugo Mojica are in. Gonzalo Camacho and Rick Rodriguez are reportedly in, while Yolanda Navarro Flores and Diana Davila Martinez are reportedly mulling it over, but I don’t have direct confirmation of their interest. There were six candidates in 2003, including Martinez and Camacho.

So that’s what I know about who is or may be running for a given city office this year. Who am I missing?