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Helena Brown

Change to term limits may be on the November ballot as well

Here we go again.


Mayor Annise Parker’s proposal would wait until 2020 to lengthen City Council members, the mayor and and controller’s terms; while Councilman Jerry Davis is proposing a staggered roll-out starting in 2016. Supporters say the 2020 plan would be the easiest sell to voters, with no current elected officials standing to benefit.

Though Parker has said the presence of the equal rights ordinance on the November ballot will distract from a “good government” campaign for term limits, she said Wednesday she plans to vote in favor of the 2020 proposal.

“It’s easier for everybody to be able to stand here and say it wouldn’t happen until people were sworn into office in January 2020 than it would happen when people are sworn into office in 2016,” Parker said. “‘And, oh by the way, you’re voting for mayoral candidates and you don’t know if that person is going to serve two years or four years.’ That’s a heavy lift.”

Davis’ proposal would affect only those council members who already have one or two more terms of eligibility left:

Any council member or elected official who is currently in their final term would not be eligible to serve an additional term — Parker, for example.
Any council member or elected official who is in midst of their second term currently would be eligible for one four-year term — Davis is in this category.
Any council member or elected official who is still in their first term currently would be eligible for two four-year terms.

“There’s always going to be a problem with the transition,” Davis said. “And I think with a new mayor coming in, it’s actually a good time. In the essence of good government, it’s a good time.”

I don’t have an opinion on this, because I still believe that the “two four-year terms” plan is not an improvement on the “three two-year terms” status quo. I understand why incumbents don’t want to have to run for re-election every two years – I don’t blame them, but given that Helena Brown and Andrew Burks would still be on Council right now if we were under that plan, my sympathy has its limits – but I don’t care for the alternative. Either increase the number of terms a Council member can serve – six terms has always seemed like a good number to me if we must have term limits – get rid of them altogether, or don’t bother. I don’t see myself voting for this proposal regardless of when it would begin to take effect.

January campaign finance reports – Council

CM Jerry Davis

CM Jerry Davis

Mayoral reports
Controller reports

Four Council members are term limited this year. Two, CMs Stephen Costello and Oliver Pennington, are running for Mayor. The other two, CMs CO Bradford and Ed Gonzales, do not have any announced plans at this time, though both were on the list of Mayoral possibilities at one time or another. While there are some known candidates for these offices, there are many more to come. No one who isn’t or wasn’t a candidate before this year has a finance report, and no one has any contributions to report, so the data we have is somewhat limited.

Brenda Stardig (SPAC)
Jerry Davis
Ellen Cohen
Dwight Boykins
Dave Martin
Richard Nguyen
Robert Gallegos
Mike Laster
Larry Green

David Robinson
Michael Kubosh

Name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ==================================================== Stardig 0 21,191 0 59,517 Davis 0 6,091 0 97,563 Cohen 0 23,304 0 63,769 Boykins 0 5,845 0 1,129 Martin 0 20,345 0 34,339 Nguyen 0 20,120 0 15,020 Gallegos 0 7,326 0 45,021 Laster 0 5,791 0 78,216 Green 0 45,671 0 55,983 Gonzales 0 35,987 0 29,603 Brown 0 3,858 0 34,900 Robinson 0 1,565 0 48,334 Kubosh 0 17,403 10,000 0 Bradford 0 12,282 0 20,088

I’ve included the totals for Helena Brown above, since rumor has it that she’s aiming for a rubber match against Brenda Stardig in A. Beyond that, the two numbers that stand out to me are Boykins’ and Nguyen’s. Boykins was the big dog in 2013, nearly winning a first round majority in a very crowded field. I presume he emptied his coffers in the runoff, I haven’t gone back to look at his last reports from 2013 and his January 2014 report to confirm that. He burned some bridges with his vote against the HERO last year, so it will be interesting to see how things develop from here. As for Nguyen, he came out of nowhere to knock off Al Hoang in F. He then made a courageous vote for the HERO and announced that he was a Democrat. All of these things would put a target on his back even if he had a big cash on hand balance. As for Kubosh, he did a lot of self-funding in 2013, and I’d expect at least some more of the same. It will be interesting to see how much of the usual suspect PAC money he gets. We’ll have to wait till July to find out.

January campaign finance reports for Houston officeholders

One more set of finance reports to document, from city of Houston officeholders and candidates. I’m not going to link to the individual reports this time, since the city’s system automatically downloads the PDFs and I don’t feel like uploading these all to my Google drive. Here are the basic summaries, with my comments afterwards

Officeholder Office Raised Spent Loan Cash ========================================================== Parker Mayor 121,165 574,185 0 461,089 Green Controller 6,575 39,253 0 14,585 Costello AL1 81,200 62,410 15,000 144,753 Robinson AL2 26,246 33,265 0 32,918 Kubosh AL3 83,691 84,157 15,000 11,452 Bradford AL4 8,050 30,257 0 33,485 Christie AL5 15,275 11,606 0 10,548 Stardig A 5,250 30,393 0 24,238 Davis B 19,300 28,798 0 84,551 Cohen C 47,982 76,405 0 93,364 Boykins D 16,375 49,004 0 6,727 Martin E 45,650 27,968 0 43,423 Nguyen F 21,269 5,795 0 8,750 Pennington G 13,550 30,046 0 192,142 Gonzales H 40,375 33,623 0 90,782 Gallegos I 38,882 18,279 0 22,940 Laster J 3,500 8,081 0 77,408 Green K 10,150 15,455 0 77,366 Hale SD15 0 472 0 0 Noriega HCDE 0 8,690 1,000 9,335 Chavez AL3 3,150 6,652 160 15,716 Calvert AL3 1,600 65,031 10,000 2,654 Brown A 21,969 22,121 0 25,729 Peck A 0 2,811 0 0 Knox A 1,220 17,271 0 931 Richards D 2,000 16,043 0 2,727 Jones, J D 0 0 0 3,203 Provost D 7,960 9,033 0 15 Edwards D 3,745 4,415 0 0 Rodriguez I 0 3,581 0 6,731 Garces I 32,950 49,802 0 0 Ablaza I 380 10,288 0 673 Mendez I 2,050 19,120 0 0

Mayor Parker has a decent amount on hand, not as much as she had after some other elections, but then she won’t be on any ballot until 2018, so there’s no rush. I know she has at least one fundraiser happening, and I’m sure she’ll have a solid start on fundraising for whatever office she might have her eye on in four years’ time.

And speaking of being prepared for the next election, CM Costello is in pretty good shape, too. It’ll take a lot more money than that to mount a successful campaign for Mayor in 2015, and there are likely to be several strong candidates competing for the usual pots of cash, but every little bit helps.

The other At Large incumbents are in reasonable shape. Both Kubosh and Christie have done some degree of self-funding, so their totals aren’t worrisome. While I believe there will be some competitive At Large races in 2015, and not just in the two open seats, I don’t think anyone will be caught short in this department the way Andrew Burks was.

I continue to marvel at the totals in the district seats. Many of those incumbents have been helped by not having well-financed opponents. CMs Gonzales and Pennington are well placed if they have their eyes on another race. Personally, I think CM Gonzales ought to consider running for City Controller. If nothing else, that will likely be less crowded than the Mayor’s race in 2015.

CM Richard Nguyen, who was nicely profiled by Mustafa Tameez recently, received nearly half of his total – $9,500, to be exact – from various PACs after the election; this is called “late train” money. As far as the money he received from individuals, every one of them had a Vietnamese name. That’s some good networking there.

Of the others listed, two of them – Ron Hale and Melissa Noriega – are running for something in 2014. The rest, with one exception, was either an unsuccessful candidate in 2013 or a term-limited Council member. The exception is former CM Jolanda Jones, whose eligibility to run for something else remains disputed. The one notable thing in this bunch is the $25K that now-former CM Helena Brown had on hand. Given that CM Brenda Stardig left a lot of money unspent in 2011 when Brown knocked her off, there’s a certain irony to that. Beyond that, no one left themselves very much for a subsequent campaign if they have one in mind. I won’t be surprised if one or more people on this list runs for something again, perhaps in 2015, but if so they’ll be starting out as they did in 2013.

Why not three?

Greg suggests a couple of tweaks to term limits.

Jolanda Jones

Jolanda Jones

» Fix the JoJo exclusion. The statute, as written, is amazingly short and simple:

Section 6a. – Limitation of terms.
No person, who has already served two full terms, shall be eligible to file for that same office.

The statute is also amazingly unequal in how it applies a qualification for office. So much so, that I’m curious if this inequality provides an opening for a legal challenge. Basically, the law says that some folks get to serve three full terms and some only get to serve two full terms. If a candidate loses re-election to their second term (ala Brenda Stardig and Helena Brown), you have an entirely different qualification for office than someone who lost re-election to their third term (ala Jolanda Jones and Al Hoang).

There haven’t been many parties aggrieved by this statute, so it seems to me that there might be improved odds of that happening now that we have two such individuals. I would think that there might be ground to make this application more equal by substituting equally simple language that limits any officeholder to no more than three full terms … period.

That may not address any deeper concerns about the Clymer Wright-era limitations. But it does offer an incremental cleanup. And if it were to go through a charter amendment vote, it might be an easy enough one that it opens the door for public perception to see that elected officials aren’t trying to change the rules they have to abide by in the middle of the game. If you’re not sure about the public appetite for altering term limits, this modification would be a good test run.

» Why not three? – Many Texas towns have three year terms. Why is there such an immediate impetus for four-year terms when there is already a more common model already being utilized throughout Texas? You could leave the term-limit language as-is or make the tweak above. Doing so would create a nine-year window of service for people.

More importantly, it would also open Houston City Council to the whims of bigger electorates. If you really wanted to see a different City Council, the easiest place to start has always been to hold the election on even-numbered years. District A would be quite a bit more Dem-friendly, as would District F. My own District J, as it turns out, is as close to 50-50 in terms of partisanship among city year voters. That tilt would be eviscerated with an even-year electorate and the district would be reliably Dem-leaning. The rotating cycle of seats would lead to a seat being up for a vote in two odd-numbered election years for each six-year cycle. So there is some moderation to those swings that might be appealing.

It would seem practical, under this scenario, to stagger the elections so that each individual year would see one-third of city seats up for a votes. I’m not sure who that may appeal to or be unappealing to, frankly. One positive that I can see from this is that it might lead to an increase in competition for seats. If an elected thought to run for Mayor one year after being elected to a council seat, they could. In short, there would no longer be an incentive to sit out six years when terms are the same – as they currently are for the office of Mayor and Controller.

I completely agree with the first point, and also think it would have a decent shot of being passed. I think everyone already thinks of the term limits law as being “three terms max” and not “three terms unless you leave after your second term, in which case only two terms”. I’d add that there’s a third former Council member affected by the current interpretation – Peter Brown, who resigned a few days early in 2009 in an attempt to circumvent this; City Attorney David Feldman opined against it. In any event, I think this minor change is very doable. It’s straightforward enough that the plain wording of the amended ordinance would be easy enough for voters to understand and hard to argue against. Heck, I don’t even know what the case against it would be. If we want to go small, as a first step or as an end unto itself, this is a good way to do it.

The second suggestion would be much more contentious. I’m not sure if it’s meant as a switch from three two-year terms to two three-year terms, or if it’s also intended to increase the overall allowable length of service while also addressing the concern about two year election cycles being too short, as the two four-year terms proposal was intended. If we were to go this route, I’d prefer the latter, but that may be a bridge too far. Here are the pros and cons of three-year terms as I see them.


  • Higher turnout in at least half of city elections. Presidential years would exceed 50%, gubernatorial years would likely exceed 35%. Both are much higher than even high-turnout city elections have been.
  • As Greg notes, this would almost surely make city government more representative of the city’s demographics. In particular, I’d expect this to be a boon for Latino candidates, at least in the even-numbered years.
  • If you believe that two-year terms force Council members back into campaign mode too quickly, then having three-year terms should help alleviate that.
  • You may consider this a pro or a con, but having three-year terms would likely force some ambitious Council members to rethink their strategy for seeking other office, since the Texas constitution would require them to resign if they run for office with more than one year remaining on their current term. That’s just not an issue now with two-year terms, but it would be an issue at least some of the time with three-year terms.


  • That higher turnout will come entirely from people who otherwise would never vote in city elections. To put it gently, that could have an unpredictable effect on lower-profile and multi-candidate races.
  • Having city elections in partisan election years will necessarily make city elections more partisan. Sure, there are partisan elements to city elections now, with some races being more overt than others, but the non-partisan nature of our races now basically ensures that the vast majority of candidates run as inclusive/consensus types. I expect you’d see much harder D and R lines being taken in even years. Again, one may consider that to be more pro than con, but it would be a change.
  • Perhaps of greater concern is the likelihood that city races could get drowned out in a high-profile even year election. Imagine what city elections might look like this year, where we’re sure to get wall-to-wall ads in the Governor’s race for at least the entire month of October.
  • Large disparities in turnout between even and odd years could make for more turnover on Council, as a candidate that got elected under one scenario might well get swept out under the other, in each case with candidate quality not being a major factor.

I’m doing a lot of speculating here, and I could easily be wrong about some of these points, but I think they’re worth considering. Three-year terms would be a big change, some likely good and some maybe not so good. I still think a better answer is to get rid of term limits (which Greg also suggests) and to at least consider some form of public financing for campaigns. At the very least, I’d like to see a real conversation about what we think we’re getting out of imposing these particular limits on this one type of office. It’s been long enough now that I’m confident that “we’ve always done it this way” is the prevailing sentiment. Surely we can come up with something better than that.

Payday lending ordinance passes

In the end, it wasn’t close.

The Houston City Council overwhelmingly passed restrictions on payday and auto title lenders Wednesday, avoiding rumored parliamentary maneuvers to delay the vote and calling on the state Legislature to follow suit.

The vote was 15-2, with Councilwoman Helena Brown and Councilman James Rodriguez opposed. Rodriguez did not seek to delay the measure as had been speculated.


“Something must be done; something should be done,” Councilman Andrew Burks said. “Our Legislature, they had the ball and dropped it. I don’t like this, but I have to vote for it because … this is the only thing on the table, and it does do something.”

Councilwoman Wanda Adams, who said her office has helped seniors get back cars that had been repossessed after they defaulted on title loans, praised the outcome.

“I’m so proud to know we are taking a stand in protecting our constituents throughout our community,” Adams said. “I think this is something right.”

The measure will take effect July 1, with the city’s new budget year.

The Chron story from yesterday morning about the vote that was scheduled to take place made it sound like it would be closer, though it didn’t quote any member of Council that claimed to be undecided. The two that did vote against it were not a surprise. It’s what CM Brown does, and CM Rodriguez, the subject of a scathing column by Lisa Falkenberg that made Campos see red, was known to not object to payday lenders. The only question was whether CM Rodriguez would tag the ordinance – he was absent at the Council meeting last week and thus eligible to apply a tag, though that is usually not done – which would have the effect of pushing it onto the new Council. As it turns out, that likely would not have made any difference.

But I’m glad they didn’t wait. This was important, it needed to get done, and now there’s that much more time next year to do other things. Even with the head start, there are still plenty of items on Mayor Parker’s third term agenda. So far, so good. Statements praising the ordinance have been sent out by Sens. Rodney Ellis and Sylvia Garcia, as well as the AARP, who like Sen. Ellis calls the ordinance a message to the Lege to get its act together. PDiddie, Stace, Texas Leftist, Texpatriate, and the Observer have more.

Yes, Council is short on women

It is what it is.

CM Ellen Cohen

CM Ellen Cohen

The Houston City Council will have its fewest women in 15 years this January, which political observers called a troublesome regression for one of the most diverse cities in the U.S.

Just two women will remain on the 16-member council. And for the first time in about 25 years, a minority woman will not hold a seat.

“It’s more a step back rather than a step forward for the city of Houston,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. “Women represent slightly over 50 percent of population but will account for less than a fifth of the City Council.”

There are currently four women on the council. Except for 1999, when there were also just two, the council has had at least three females in each of the last 25 years. It peaked at eight in 2005, according to data compiled by Rice University political scientist Bob Stein. Also, from 1989 until 1999, there were at least three women on council.

Political analysts say the makeup, likely a result of chance, is not an optimal mix.


Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

Stein said a persistent finding in social science research shows that a higher proportion of women on governing bodies means less gridlock and more efficiency. He said some believe this is a genetic trait in women and also because women have different experiences than men.

Stein said this election season saw a diverse group of candidates in the mix, including women, but the turnout was extremely low. He predicted it would be a challenging year for Mayor Annise Parker, who is heading into her final term with her sights on statewide office. In part, this will be because women may be more sympathetic to some of her issues, such as discrimination.

Rice University’s Jones said because Parker will be at the helm of city government, the policy impact will not be dramatic, but that the new council makeup could draw attention to the under-representation of women in governing bodies.

He said these election results were due to bad luck and he does not believe there is any broader anti-woman trends in Houston, noting several races where women were contenders. He also pointed out this low representation of women could persist because incumbents have such an advantage in future elections.

I noted this last week. Took about as long as I figured it might for the Chron to write a story about it. As I said at the time, I think it’s a temporary aberration and not indicative of any trends. If the ball bounced a little differently in the first round of At Large #3, we might not be having this conversation at all. Or maybe we’d be talking about another missed opportunity, who knows. Be that as it may, I don’t quite understand the comment about turnout. Turnout this year was roughly the same as it was in 2009, and it was much higher than it was in 2011 or 2007. It’s not clear to me what effect turnout is supposed to have had on the outcomes. It’s not clear to me that a higher level of turnout would have benefited Graci Garces in the runoff – given the margin of victory in District D, I don’t think any level of turnout could have helped Georgia Provost – or one of Jenifer Pool and Rogene Gee Calvert in November. As for the effect on Mayor Parker and her agenda, I look at it this way: Mayor Parker swapped out two troublemakers in CMs Brown and Burks, and got back only one potential troublemaker in CM-elect Kubosh in return. I’m thinking she’ll take that deal.

While I do think the results of this year’s elections are not predictive of future elections, that doesn’t mean that the current makeup of Council should be accepted without any need to do things differently next time.

Cindy Clifford, who runs a Houston-based public relations company, said she plans to start a group to empower promising women in Houston to consider public office and donate to female candidates. She said women have a harder time raising money and asking for things for themselves. She said she hopes to inspire confidence in promising female leaders.

“It’s important for women to have a seat at the table,” she said. “Women see things differently; there will be a different dialogue and discussion.”

Having good candidates run and ensuring they get the support they need is always a fine idea. If you find the lack of women on the new Council troublesome, now is an excellent time to start working on a solution for 2015.

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.


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.

District A runoff overview

It’s the same old story, just a little louder this time.

CM Helena Brown

CM Helena Brown

Three years ago, when city voters narrowly approved what would become a controversial monthly drainage fee to fund $8 billion of street and flood projects in the next two decades, City Council District A stood out as an exception.

While the charter amendment that created the dedicated account to fund the Rebuild Houston program passed by a slim 2 percent, voters in the conservative-leaning swath on the northwest side rejected it 55 to 45 percent. That was despite the fact that residents name flooding as one of the district’s biggest problems.

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

“This is a district that doesn’t like any spending at all, even when they’re the beneficiaries of it,” said Rice University political scientist Bob Stein.

Stein discovered a negative correlation between votes for and against the drainage fee in 2010 and votes for or against Mayor Annise Parker and some incumbent City Council members in 2011, including District A’s then-council member Brenda Stardig.

Despite her district’s position, Stardig voted in favor of an ordinance implementing the drainage fee, saying she pressed the mayor to exempt schools and churches from having to pay it. Later that year, the real estate broker and long-time neighborhood activist was ousted after one term by tea party favorite Helena Brown.

Brown had seized on the drainage fee vote and other issues – including an admitted lack of constituent response – to force Stardig into a runoff, which Brown won by 12 points. Two years later, the 36-year-old former civic club president again finds herself in a runoff with Stardig, 51.

The story recaps the issues and themes of this extended campaign, with which we are all familiar. I really have no idea how this election will go. On the one hand, a 38% showing in November for an incumbent usually spells doom. On the other hand, CM Brown has done better than I thought she might in fundraising and endorsements, and like it or not her slash-and-burn philosophy isn’t particularly out of step with the district. She probably has less to fear from a low-turnout race than Stardig does, though for what it’s worth the early vote numbers are heavier in District A than just about anywhere else. I don’t know if the Chron reporter reached out to any of the other three District A candidates, but as far as I can tell none of them has made an endorsement in the runoff. One thing I noted while interviewing Mike Knox, Amy Peck, and Ron Hale is that all three seemed to be running not just against Brown, but also against Stardig. As such, I’m not surprised that they have all gone quiet since the November election, but it’s another suggestion that while many voters may have been willing to make another change in District A, Stardig wasn’t necessarily the change they were looking for. What’s your view on this runoff?

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.

Where things stand going into early voting

A few impressions of the state of the races as we head into early voting.

Mayor – The thing that I will be looking for as initial results get posted at 7 PM on November 5 is how the gaggle of non-competitive candidates is doing. The thing about having nine candidates in a race, even if only two of them have any realistic hope of winning, is that it doesn’t take much support for the long tail to make a runoff a near-certainty. Basically, the amount that the seven stragglers get is the amount Mayor Parker must lead Ben Hall by in order to win the election in November. If the group of seven gets 10%, then Parker needs to lead Hall by at least ten points – 50 to 40 to 10 – in order to win outright. If they collect 20%, Parker needs to lead by 20 – 50 to 30 to 20.

There are no good parallels to this year’s race, but for what it’s worth the three bit players in 2009 got 1.01% of the vote; in 2003 six no-names for 0.65%; in 2001 there were four minor candidates collecting 0.45%; and in 1997, the bottom five candidates got 11.94%. That last one, which may be the closest analogue to this year, comes with an asterisk since two of those five candidates were term-limited Council members, Gracie Saenz and Helen Huey, and they combined for 10.46% of that total. One reason why the past doesn’t offer a good guide for this year is that in all of these races there were at least three viable candidates. Everyone else, save for Saenz and Huey in 1997, was truly marginal. None of Eric Dick, Keryl Douglass, or Don Cook can be considered viable, but they all ought to have a slightly larger base than the perennials and no-names in these earlier races. How much larger is the key question, because however large it is, that’s how big Mayor Parker’s lead over Ben Hall will need to be for her to avoid overtime.

Controller – This race has been Ronald Green’s to lose from the get go, and it remains so. I don’t think his position is any stronger than it was nine months ago, but at least he hasn’t had any bad publicity recently, either. He’s largely held onto the endorsements he’s gotten in the past, though losing the Chron had to sting a little. He’s still an underwhelming fundraiser, but while Bill Frazer has done well in this department he hasn’t done enough to make himself a recognizable name, and that’s to Green’s advantage. Green probably needs Ben Hall to make a decent showing, because while Green did reasonably well in Republican areas in 2009, he will probably lose some of that support this time, and as such he may need a boost from African-American turnout. If Green loses he can certainly kiss any Mayoral ambitions he may have goodbye. If he squeaks by, I can already envision the postmortem stories that will talk about his close call and how that might affect his Mayoral plans. If he were to run for Mayor in 2015, I guarantee that narrative will follow him closely all the way through, just as Mayor Parker’s close shave in 2011 has followed her in this cycle.

At Large Council – I feel confident saying that CMs Costello, Bradford, and Christie will win, though Christie will have the closest call and could conceivably be forced into a runoff. His two opponents have picked up a decent assortment of endorsements between them given their late entries and fairly low profiles. One wonders how things might have gone if someone had jumped into this race early on, as I suggested many moons ago.

I think CM Andrew Burks could be in trouble. He’s done a reasonable job collecting endorsements, but he hasn’t done as well on that score as a typical incumbent does. Like Ronald Green, he needs Ben Hall to have some coattails in the African-American districts, but remember that Burks has not done as well in those boxes as other African-American candidates. But it’s fundraising where you really see the red flags. Combining his three reports for this year, Burks has hauled in about $57K total. His main challenger, David Robinson, reported raising over $66K just on his 30 Day form. Robinson took in another $82K on the July report. He also has over $73K on hand for the late push, while Burks has just $8K. Money isn’t destiny, but these numbers are the exact reverse of what you’d usually see with an incumbent and a challenger.

As for At Large #3, it is as it has been all along, basically wide open with each of the five viable candidates having a plausible case for making the runoff. Bob Stein pegs Michael Kubosh as basically already having a ticket punched for the runoff, but I’ll wait and see. He probably has the best name ID of the group, but that doesn’t mean he’s terribly well known. I just don’t know enough about this one to hazard a guess.

District Council races – A year ago at this time, I’d have marked first term CM Helena Brown as an underdog for re-election. Now I’m not so sure. She’s done well at fundraising, she’s garnered some endorsements – getting the HAR endorsement was both a finger in the eye for Brenda Stardig and a nice bit of establishment sheen for herself – and she hasn’t generated any embarrassing headlines in months. I believe she’s still going to be in a runoff, most likely with Stardig but not necessarily with her, but I think runoff scenarios that don’t include Brown are unlikely at this time. I might bet a token amount on her being un-elected, but I wouldn’t bet any real money on it.

Brown’s freshman colleague Jerry Davis looks to be in better shape. There’s still resentment to him in some quarters, mostly from former CM Carol Mims Galloway and her supporters, but Davis has good support on his side, and he’s gotten the large majority of campaign contributions. Kathy Daniels is a good candidate and she’ll make some noise – a runoff isn’t out of the question – but I see Davis as the clear favorite.

Districts D and I are anyone’s guess. Dwight Boykins has the edge in D, but it’s a strong field, and if Boykins doesn’t clearly separate himself from the rest of the pack he could be vulnerable in December if the bulk of the runnersup back his opponent. Anything could happen in I, where none of the four candidates seems to have a clear advantage over the others. It won’t shock me if it’s a close finish among the four, with a small number of votes separating the runoff contestants from the other two. Some runoff scenarios are preferable to others, but all scenarios are possible.

HISD and HCC – No surprises in HISD. I believe Anna Eastman gets re-elected, Harvin Moore gets re-elected though Anne Sung will have put herself on the map, and Wanda Adams wins in IX. Zeph Capo has run a strong race in HCC1 – this is one of those times where a string of endorsements will mean something – and I believe he wins there. I think Bruce Austin and Neeta Sane get re-elected, but I don’t know about Herlinda Garcia, and I have no clue who will win in the open District 5 seat.

Everything else – I think the two Harris County propositions, for the Astrodome and for the joint processing center, will pass. I think the constitutional amendments will pass, though one or more may fail for some goofy and unforeseeable reason. I do think Prop 6, the water infrastructure fund, passes. The one non-Houston race I’m keenly interested in is the Pasadena redistricting referendum. I have no idea how that is going, but obviously I’m rooting for it to go down.

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?

Endorsement watch: SEIU and HAR

This came in on Thursday:

SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Texas, including janitors who clean office buildings, housekeeping workers at GRB and food service workers, have endorsed Mayor Annise Parker for re-election. Houston members have also launched an effort to outreach to Latino and African American voters in their neighborhoods. Mayor Parker’s commitment to creating quality family-sustaining jobs makes her the best candidate for Houston’s working families.

“We are one of the most diverse cities in the nation and that makes us stronger. Mayor Parker understands this, that’s why she’s fought to build a city economy that works for everyone. When my fellow janitors and I went on strike last summer, her leadership helped bring about a resolution that is helping to build a path out poverty for thousands of Houston’s families, including my own,” said Houston janitor and SEIU Texas member Yesenia Romero.

In her first two terms, Mayor Parker advanced her mission to make Houston a great place to raise a family by supporting janitors’ efforts to raise wages, creating fair standards for employees who provide city services and holding irresponsible businesses accountable.

“I am proud to stand with Houston’s janitors, housekeeping and food service workers as we join together to make our city a better place to live for all Houstonians,” said Mayor Parker. “Working families helped lift Houston out of the recession – and together, we’re continuing to build a future for Houston’s children with more good jobs, safer neighborhoods and stronger schools. Thank you, SEIU, for your endorsement and support.”

During a press conference attended by Mayor Parker, members committed to turn their support into action in their communities. In the coming weeks, volunteers will generate support from neighbors, family members and fellow members to join Mayor Parker’s mission to build an economy that works for all.

SEIU endorsed a full slate of candidates, and you can see that reflected on my 2013 Election page. I have a continuation of my rant about how hard it is to get this information from some endorsing organizations to make in a bit, but first here’s the slate from the Houston Association of Realtors that I’ve been waiting for. From the press release:

— The Houston Association of REALTORS announced its decision to support the following candidates in the Tuesday, November 5 City of Houston Elections:

Mayor – Annise Parker*

District A – Helena Brown*

District B – Jerry Davis*

District C – Ellen Cohen*

District D – Dwight Boykins

District E – Dave Martin*

District F – Al Hoang*

District G – Oliver Pennington*

District H – Ed Gonzalez*

District J – Mike Laster*

District K – Larry Green*

At-Large 1 – Stephen Costello*

At-Large 4 – C.O. “Brad” Bradford*

At-Large 5 – Jack Christie*

*indicates incumbent

“Houston’s economy is thriving, and the real estate market is at its strongest position in decades. REALTORS and homeowners owe much of this to sound fiscal policy, and a Mayoral administration that promotes responsible commercial and residential growth,” said HAR Political Affairs Advisory Group Chair Nancy Furst of The Furst Group. “HAR is proud to have a very positive working relationship with Houston City Council, and we look forward to working with our supported candidates for the next two years of their service on City Council.”

Of interest is their backing of CM Helena Brown in District A. It’s striking because they could have easily waited till the runoff to pick a side in that multi-candidate race, and of course because former CM Brenda Stardig is herself a realtor who had their support in each of the last two elections. HAR generally sticks with incumbents, so in that sense it’s not too surprising, but still. That’s got to sting a little for Stardig, and it’s a big get for Brown. Both sets of endorsements, along with a set from the Greater Houston Restaurant Association and an updated list from the Harris County Tejano Democrats are on the 2013 Elections page. Ben Hall also picked up endorsements from the Baptist Ministers Association and the Harris County Republicans, which describes itself as “a General Purpose Committee PAC that is dedicated to increasing Republican turnout in Harris County elections”. They will be mailing out their slate of endorsed candidates to Republican voters, but I don’t have that slate at this time, nor do I know if the Baptist Ministers Association has endorsed anyone else, so those are not on the page yet. When and if I get a release or a link with a full list of their endorsed candidates, I will add them.

As for the rant, I was all set to grouse about the HCTJs, as I had heard about their updated list from a couple of the candidates on it but had not gotten it from them before yesterday, then they went and took the wind out of my sails. And good for them for doing so! There are still plenty of others to find fault with. The C Club – I’m interested in Republican-friendly endorsements, too – has one Endorsed Candidates link on their webpage that takes you to a members login screen, and another Endorsed Candidates link that gives their slate for Lone Star College Trustees from May. The last endorsements I can find for the HPOU are from 2010; I even sent an email two weeks ago to asking for their slate, but have not received a response. The HPFFA has endorsed multiple candidates, but the only ones you can find out about on their website are Ben Hall and Roland Chavez. A lot of other endorsing organization are PACs, and you can learn about their preferences via candidate finance reports, but they all have webpages and/or Facebook pages, none of which carry this information. I continue to have no idea why they all make this so difficult. Why bother to endorse candidates if it’s nigh impossible for actual voters to learn who you’ve endorsed? What am I missing here?

Anyway. This is all a reminder that the endorsements I list on my 2013 Elections page are as best I can determine. If you know of a set of endorsements I’ve missed, and can send me a press release or a link to them, please do so. If you can explain why so many endorsed slates are shrouded in secrecy, please do that, too. Thanks.

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 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.

Seniors get a tax cut from Council

Good for them.


Houston City Council voted to provide property tax relief to seniors Wednesday, one of many votes at a marathon meeting at which council unanimously approved a $4.5 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The city’s exemption for homeowners 65 and older will rise from $70,862 to $80,000 thanks to the 14-2 vote, a move that should be codified with a second approval next week, City Attorney David Feldman said.

The roller-coaster 10-hour meeting – all but 45 minutes of which focused on Mayor Annise Parker’s budget and council members’ 60 proposed amendments to it – will require Parker to shuffle about $3.9 million in the $2.2 billion general fund budget. The rest of the city’s spending occurs in enterprise funds fed by fees and not taxes.


Among the successful amendments: A $2 million push to redeploy four ambulances shelved during the cutbacks; a $1.5 million summer jobs program for youth; $250,000 for cameras to monitor illegal dumping; and money to increase the Houston Center for Literacy’s budget from $400,000 to $500,000. Other big-ticket items, including a $3 million summer-jobs program and $1.5 million for after-school programs, were voted down.

Parker said she will cover the ambulance spending with funds that had been set aside to analyze the fire department’s operations and will fund the jobs program with money that had been slated for efficiency reviews of departments. Parker said she will shuffle $250,000 around in the police budget to cover the cameras and must find an offset for the literacy item.

The $3.8 million cost of raising property tax exemptions, which will save the average homeowner $39 to $58, depending on the estimate, won’t require a change to the budget, Parker said. City officials expect revenues to exceed the projected figures, with or without exemption changes.

“We can always say that we have to prepare for tomorrow, but there are senior citizens out there now who, $40, $50 dollars a year would help them pay the drainage fee, help them pay their water bill, maybe medication,” said the amendment’s author, Councilman C.O. Bradford. “Do all of them need it? Perhaps not, but, by God, I can take you to enough neighborhoods in Houston where they are on fixed incomes and to provide relief for them is the proper thing to do.”

I’m sure this will help some people who need it, and raising the exemption is more progressive than cutting the rate, but this is a fairly significant amount of money. It’s a lot less than it could have been, since some Council members proposed raising the exemption to $160,000 to match Harris County. That would have cost a boatload, on the order of $20 million a year. I note that one person who proposed that massive reduction in revenue was CM Helena Brown, who is convinced that the city is on the brink of bankruptcy. You tell me how that makes sense.

If you want to wonk out on the budget, go look at the Fiscal Year 2014 Proposed Budget webpage and the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee webpage, which together have enough PDFs to keep you busy for weeks. The Houston Politics blog had multiple posts over the past couple of weeks covering the individual departments’ budget presentations. Very useful stuff, too bad it wasn’t ever in the print edition or the site.

One more thing:

With an $81 million deficit projected for the next budget cycle, Parker said the most important amendment of the day likely was the first, in which council voted 13-3 to accept Councilman Oliver Pennington’s plan to save any revenue collected over expected levels. That meant no such money could be spent during the fiscal year, including on projects such as those mentioned in the scores of subsequent budget amendments.

That’s not a lot to go on. An email from CM Costello at the start of the budget committee process gives a little bit of information on this:

Finance Director Kelly Dowe followed the Controller with the Administration’s FY 2014 budget overview and General Fund five-year forecast. The FY 2014 budget shows increases in property tax revenue of 4.33 percent and sales tax revenue of 5.8 percent. Total General Fund revenues are projected to grow $70.3 million and General Fund expenditures budgeted to increase $105 million. This will be the tenth year the city has spent more money than it has collected. The majority of expenditure increases ($53.7 million) are tied to personnel: contractual pay increases ($21.5 million); higher health benefit costs ($7.3 million); and increased pension costs ($23 million). Other specifics include $7.5 million for ongoing maintenance of the city’s facilities and fleet, $3.1 million to restore library hours and personnel, $2 million for an analysis aimed at optimizing the city’s fire and emergency services model and $2.7 million in debt service increases. The proposed budget also expands single stream recycling to another 100,000 households.

That’s based on the five year forecast that Finance Director Kelly Dowe makes. You can see the rest of Dowe’s materials here. I’ll simply note that while any projection of a deficit is concerning, the revenue projections for each of the past three years undershot the actual totals. Things could be better than we think, or if the economy goes to hell again they could be worse. We just don’t know. Predicting the future is hard, y’all. Stace has more.

Budget time in Houston

Houston City Council has begun the process of debating Mayor Parker’s budget for the next fiscal year by proposing 60 amendments to it.


Parker’s budget would spend $4.5 billion, including fee-supported enterprise funds such as the aviation department and utility systems, and is a 6.4 percent increase over the current fiscal year. The proposed general fund budget, supported chiefly by property and sales taxes, is $2.2 billion, an increase of 4.9 percent over the current budget, but just 2.4 percent over projected spending for the current year.

The council is expected to begin hashing out the budget next week.

The big-ticket proposals related to property tax relief for seniors, with council members Andrew Burks, C.O. Bradford and Helena Brown each offering at least one idea on the topic. Most of their amendments sought to raise Houston’s $70,862 residential property tax exemption to match Harris County’s $160,000. Affected homeowners would save $569 annually under Bradford’s most aggressive proposal, and up to $58 under his most modest.

Brown’s proposal, which would hike the city exemption in steps to match the county’s by 2019, would cost $5.7 million next year and $102 million cumulatively by 2019, City Finance Department director Kelly Dowe estimated. Those numbers likely are understated, he said, because they are based on 2012 tax data and assume no growth in appraised values.

CM Brown’s proposal would therefore cost the city an average of $16 million per year through 2019 under current appraisals. The single year total would be higher than that in 2019, probably $22 or $23 million, and would be at least that much going forward. That’s a lot of money, and though it isn’t “spending” in the way that a new program or an expansion of services is, it’s still millions of dollars being diverted from the budget. Maybe it’s a good idea, and maybe it’s something the city should do, but if you’re one of those people that likes to focus on the city’s financial situation, implementing this kind of tax cut would have a significant effect on the bottom line. I just want to make sure we’re all clear on that. By way of contrast, the most expensive new spending proposal was $3 million per year, for a summer jobs program for youth.

For a lot more detail on the budget, in particular the details of various city departments’ budgets, see the recent coverage in Houston Politics here, here, here, and here. Can anyone explain to me why none of this stuff made it into the print version of the paper, or even the website, as far as I can tell? This is what you really need to know if you want to understand the budget.

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.


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.


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.

Mayor Parker kicks off her campaign

It’s the time of the season for Mayor Parker, who has a serious challenger this time, but also a stronger hand to play.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

In her tenure, Parker has given teeth to the city’s historic preservation rules, broken a deadlock with Harris County to help build the Dynamo stadium, gave scandal-ridden Metro new leaders and revised key city codes governing parking and development, the latter of which had languished for six years.

She gave priority in city contracting to local firms, moved to make the troubled city crime lab independent from Houston Police Department, opened a facility to divert drunks from city jails and saw passage of a plan to erase a decades-long backlog of untested rape kits.

Parker oversaw a successful $410 million bond election last fall, and in 2010 welcomed voters’ approval of Rebuild Houston, an ambitious infrastructure renewal program.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said all signs favor Parker, whose only fear should be a low turnout that could see a small group swing the results. Jones said Parker lately has been able to focus on her own plans instead of inherited ills, such as replacing the Metro regime, scrambling to defer pension costs and dealing with legal wrangling over an inflexible red-light camera contract after voters banned the cameras in 2010.

“Bill White left her with a lot of messes to clean up. That, combined with a very tight budget as a result of the recession, led to a difficult first two years,” Jones said. “The second term has been much smoother sailing. The voter mood is going to be much more positive as people go to the polls this fall, and there’s going to be less of a tendency to want to cast a protest vote against the mayor than there was in 2011.”

Perhaps easing the incumbent’s road is the mood of the 16-member City Council, which lately has been more amenable than in recent years. A new convention center hotel, in which the city will invest $138 million, a rewrite of the city’s affirmative action policy and a law allowing motorists to be cited for failing to give cyclists and joggers a wide enough berth all passed without even a “tag,” the one-week delay typical on complex, controversial or high-profile topics.

The difference between the Mayor’s first term and the second is night and day. The first term was all about defense, which is to say all about things she had to deal with rather than things she wanted to deal with. That’s what her second term has been all about, and while she got a lot done in each term it’s much easier to build a campaign around offense. I’ve thought all along that she’d be in better shape this time around, and I still think that. A stronger opponent in 2011 and she’d have been in a runoff. She could still have a tough race this year, but at least the wind isn’t in her face.

The bit about Council is worth noting as well. Part of this is good luck on her part. Two of her biggest antagonists, Jolanda Jones and Mike Sullivan, are no longer on Council. The third, CO Bradford, was appointed Vice Mayor Pro Tem and has largely been a team player ever since. Her main thorn in the side is Helena Brown, and it’s hard to say that’s been a bad development for her since it’s a lot easier to look reasonable and accomplished opposite the likes of CM Brown. Basically, not only has the Mayor had the money to restore or enhance city services, the ability to move her own agenda forward, and a Council that has worked with her a lot more than it has worked against her. If she doesn’t feel better about this campaign than the last one, she ought to.

She entered the 2011 election with an approval rating of 47 percent, the lowest of any mayor in decades, narrowly avoiding a runoff despite spending $2.3 million and facing five poorly-funded unknowns. Political observers had said Parker needed a decisive win to prevent a challenge this year, and 50.8 percent of the vote was not it.

Enter Ben Hall, a wealthy lawyer capable of financing his own campaign who served as City Attorney from 1992 to 1994. Hall says city taxes and fees are driving residents to the suburbs. He says Parker lacks vision and wastes time tinkering with smartphone apps and food trucks while Houston misses opportunities for international business growth.

“A mayor must do more than simply balance a budget,” Hall has said. “We need more than just a manager, we need a leader.”

University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said there may be some truth in Hall’s statements, but he said these are not significant enough to ignite anti-incumbent passions, adding that Hall’s message has lacked the specificity voters need to choose him over Parker.

“Motivations for mayoral elections are more about tremendous things that have gone wrong as opposed to more or less a tweak to what’s going right,” Rottinghaus said. “He’s got to make a really compelling case as to why things need to be changed, and as of yet, I’m not sure we’ve seen that.”

Hall has made criticism of Parker’s vision, or lack of it, a main point of his campaign. That’s certainly a valid line of attack, but as I’ve said before, Hall’s own vision isn’t apparent. Rottinghaus makes a good point as well, in that generally speaking when trying to knock off an incumbent, you have to give people a reason to fire that incumbent before you can convince them that you’re a viable alternative. The case to fire the Mayor is harder to make when times are good and things are getting done. Plus, I think people generally like the Mayor. She has her share of opponents to be sure, but it’s not like we’re inundated with anti-Parker chatter. Her biggest challenge is going to be making sure that the people who do like her get out to vote. If I were her, I’d want turnout to exceed 2011’s anemic levels. Complacency is her enemy. Work that ground game and don’t settle for a small voter universe. In the meantime, I’ll be very interested to see what the June campaign finance reports look like, not just for how much each candidate raises but also for who is giving to whom. Parker has always had a broad fundraising base, and she starts out with a fair amount of cash. Hall can write his own check, but having his own broad base and getting support from sources that have given to Parker before would be a strong statement on his part. We’ll see how that goes.

Revamped Chapter 42 ordinance finally passes

Strangely enough, in the end it was not very contentious.

Houston City Council on Wednesday voted 14-3 to allow greater single-family home density outside Loop 610, while also strengthening the proposal’s already robust protections for neighborhoods concerned about unwelcome development.

Council voted to drop the threshold of support needed to impose a minimum lot size in an area – preventing the subdividing of lots for townhomes – from 60 percent to 55 percent, and agreed to phase in the new rules, keeping new development out of residential areas for two years.

Mayor Annise Parker, who has said the changes will spur redevelopment of blighted areas and lower housing prices in the city, praised the first fundamental changes to the city’s development rules in 14 years.

“It’s about time,” Parker said. “The city of Houston has to grow, and we have to have a more flexible development tool. ”

Parker said she will engage a group of home-builders and civic leaders to continue the dialogue that allowed the package to come to a vote as related reforms move forward. Neighborhood support largely was won through city promises to improve standards in regulations outside the development code, known as Chapter 42.

In the ordinance itself, the Super Neighborhood Alliance got its phase-in of the new rules. The alliance raised concerns about eyesore Dumpsters at townhome developments; developers now must show where large garbage bins will sit when seeking permits. The alliance also worried about structures being built on property lines, leaving inches between homes; builders now must get written agreement from neighbors to come inside 3 feet.

There are still more things that the neighborhoods wanted, having to do with things like stricter drainage requirements and Complete Streets. Houston Politics goes into some detail on that.

On drainage, Councilman Stephen Costello has worked with engineering colleagues to draft reforms. Today, developers are not required to add detention when developing tracts of less than 15,000 square feet as long as they do not make more than 75 percent of the site impervious.

Costello’s proposal would drop that to 50 percent, a number he said is supported by data collected as part of the Rebuild Houston program. His proposal also would make developers add detention when they redevelop a dormant site in a way that makes water run off more quickly, something current rules do not address.

“I’m pretty pleased with what we have,” he said. “I’m always a little concerned about what happens after the development is done and how we manage the existing infrastructure in place. As areas start to redevelop, we need to make sure the city is there with Rebuild Houston to take care of any existing infrastructure that needs to be replaced.”


On drainage, Councilman Stephen Costello has worked with engineering colleagues to draft reforms. Today, developers are not required to add detention when developing tracts of less than 15,000 square feet as long as they do not make more than 75 percent of the site impervious.

Costello’s proposal would drop that to 50 percent, a number he said is supported by data collected as part of the Rebuild Houston program. His proposal also would make developers add detention when they redevelop a dormant site in a way that makes water run off more quickly, something current rules do not address.

“I’m pretty pleased with what we have,” he said. “I’m always a little concerned about what happens after the development is done and how we manage the existing infrastructure in place. As areas start to redevelop, we need to make sure the city is there with Rebuild Houston to take care of any existing infrastructure that needs to be replaced.”

The references letter is here. Jane Cahill West was quoted at the end of the story saying that “overall, we’re happy” and that working together on this was beneficial for all. The three No votes were CMs Jerry Davis, Andrew Burks, and of course Helena Brown, who tried but failed to pass an amendment that would have exempted District A from the new Chapter 42 rules. Texas Leftist has more.

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.

There’s gold in them thar pawn shops

This is a police story and a Helena Brown story, because everything is better when it’s a Helena Brown story.

CM Helena Brown

Houston City Council on Wednesday passed new rules on precious metals dealers despite a lengthy attempt to water down the ordinance by Councilwoman Helena Brown, who called it “safety theater” that would burden businesses and invade jewelry sellers’ privacy.

Officers in the Houston Police Department’s precious metals unit said reputable dealers already implement many of the new rules but said the ordinance – which requires a photograph and thumbprint of each seller and mandates dealers enter transactions into an online database – will help them catch crooks and recover stolen goods.

Brown sought to remove criminal penalties for violating the ordinance, to allow dealers more flexibility in when and how to report transactions and to scrap the rule requiring sellers to have a photo and thumbprint taken. Each amendment was easily defeated.

“Why even ask the legal, law-abiding people to submit to this? It’s not going to prevent crime and it’s not going to solve any crimes,” Brown said. “It’s ludicrous. We’ve gone way beyond what our Founding Fathers envisioned for this nation.”

She paraphrased a quotation, which she attributed to Thomas Jefferson, saying those who would give up liberty for safety deserve neither.

It’s always easy to make fun of Helena Brown, and Lord knows I indulge in it. Even when she may have a valid point, her long history of fruity paranoia and millimeter-deep understanding of things like history, government, and jurisprudence make her impossible to take seriously. (As Mayor Parker noted later in the story, her quote about liberty and security originated with Benjamin Franklin.) Having said that, it is reasonable to ask if these measures are likely to be effective, or if they’ll be more intrusive bother than anything else. HPD obviously thinks this is a good idea, and they said they did extensive outreach with the community and with precious metal dealers, but the story doesn’t have reactions from anyone who would be on the hook for these new procedures, so you can’t really judge from it. Fortunately, there was an earlier story on the subject, and in it a few dealers did offer their opinions.

Brad Schweiss, owner of Houston Gold Exchange since 1979, said he supports the reasons behind the proposals but said the rules amount to burdensome “overkill” and are coming well after the industry’s fever pitch during the national recession.

“Some of the things they’re implementing right now would have been really great about four or five years ago. They’re cleaning up the mess after the cattle are already out of the barn,” Schweiss said. “It may do a little bit of a good, but I think the net effect is next to zero.”

Schweiss added that reputable dealers have implemented many of the proposed restrictions voluntarily for years.

Aaron Davis, general manager of We Buy Gold Center, which has been in Houston for four years, said the proposed rules would exceed regulations on pawn shops, giving his competitors an advantage.

“The only thing we’re against is taking their mug shot and their fingerprints. Our customers have the right to their privacy,” he said. “They might be able to catch a few more people, but it’s too much.”

Schweiss and Davis said that if the new rules are approved, prolific thieves likely will sell stolen goods outside of Houston or will sell to an unscrupulous, unlicensed dealer.

So there was some pushback, and though it was framed in less apocalyptic rhetoric, these words are similar to CM Brown’s. I wouldn’t make too much of it – there’s only two people quoted, and their rhetoric is pretty standard issue business-speak for whenever a new regulation of some kind is proposed. If there was any actual, organized opposition to this, it sure did a good job of staying beneath the radar. In other words, it sounds like no big deal, and had it not been for another performance by CM Brown, it might not have even been a story. And if it had been someone other than CM Brown bringing these items up, it might have had an effect.

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.

January finance reports for Houston offices

Previously, I gave the July campaign finance numbers for Houston elected officials who are eligible for the ballot this fall. Here now are the cash on hand figures from the January reports, with all incumbents and a few assorted extras thrown in:

Dist Name Cash on hand ================================= Myr Parker 1,043,827 Ctrl R Green 35,753 AL 1 Costello 51,135 AL 2 Burks 2,378 AL3 Noriega 4,317 AL 4 Bradford AL 5 Christie A Brown 2,010 B Davis 57,983 C Cohen 29,881 D Adams E Martin 1,486 F Hoang 4,749 G Pennington 112,275 H Gonzalez 18,769 I Rodriguez 13,642 J Laster 27,254 K L Green 6,504 A Knox 0 A Stardig 23,605 D Jolanda Jones 3,203 D Boykins 0

CMs Adams, Bradford, and Christie did not have reports available as of Monday afternoon. There’s no fundraising allowed for city officials during this time, so everyone will have a smaller cash on hand total since all they could do was spend. Mayor Parker easily spent the most, a bit over $200K, with much of it going to her campaign operations but also sizable contributions to the Metro referendum campaign ($25K), the Harris County Democratic Party ($10K), and to help retire the debt of former Judge Steve Kirkland ($4,900). Ben Hall had not filed a report as of this deadline; I don’t think he had filed his designation of treasurer until after the 15th, so he wasn’t required to do so.

As I suspected before, the cash on hand figure Ronald Green reported in July was erroneous. This one makes much more sense.

Helena Brown spent down nearly all of her stash, with $5,753 going to Premier IMS for direct mail, $4,165 to Terry Yates and $850 to Kevin Colbert for legal services, $4,000 to Institute of Hispanic Culture for “community outreach” (event), $2,990 to the city as reimbursement for the magnets, and $1,050 to Media Masters for “media consulting”. So much for parity with Brenda Stardig. Like the magnets, she had tried to bill the attorney fees to the city but was denied the reimbursement by City Attorney David Feldman. William “Mike” Knox, who spent $500 on consultant Jessica Colon, is a declared candidate against her.

Dwight Boykins in District D spent $749 on flyers and magnets. I list Jolanda Jones as District D, but her finance report left the “office sought” field blank, so take that with a large grain of salt. No other non-officeholders who might be running for something filed a report.

Most other incumbents spent only modest amounts, since there wasn’t necessarily anything to spend it on. Besides Mayor Parker and CM Brown, Ed Gonzalez was an exception, dropping $40K from July. He made a lot of donations and contributions, including $5K to CrimeStoppers for a benefit dinner, $3,500 to the HCDP, $1,500 to Resurrection Catholic School, and $1,020 to Planned Parenthood.

There are no reports posted as yet for HISD and HCC candidates. I will check back later for them.

Not much else to see at this time. Fundraising season begins in a couple of weeks, and the trickle of candidate news should pick up then as well. As always, if you have any intel please leave a comment and clue us all in.

A first look at the 2013 elections

It is 2013, right? So while we have the SD06 special election and the new legislative session to worry about, it’s not too early to start talking about the 2013 elections. Let’s start with a peek at the campaign finance reports from last July of the Houston officeholders who will be on the ballot this November:

Dist Name Cash on hand ================================= Myr Parker 1,281,657 Ctrl R Green 9,983 AL 1 Costello 57,345 AL 2 Burks 3,160 AL 4 Bradford 20,590 AL 5 Christie 14,535 A Brown 22,641 B Davis 64,211 C Cohen 45,597 F Hoang 6,429 G Pennington 119,951 H Gonzalez 57,899 J Laster 31,816 K L Green 9,107

I omitted the three Council members who are term-limited out (Melissa Noriega, Wanda Adams, and James Rodriguez), as well as newly-elected Dave Martin, since his July report would not be relevant. Normally there would have been five open seats this year, but with Mike Sullivan stepping down due to his successful candidacy for Tax Assessor and Jolanda Jones losing in 2011, there are only three vacancies, and as such there will likely be a stampede for those seats. But we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s take a closer look at where the non-term limited incumbents are.


As we know, Mayor Parker will probably by challenged by former City Attorney Ben Hall, will possibly be challenged by her former Housing Director James Noteware, may possibly be challenged by some yet unknown candidate or candidates, and will certainly have a few fringe challengers as well. It could be quite the crowded race at the top of the ticket. While Hall would certainly be a more serious opponent in terms of money, resume, and presumed base of support than the 2011 hopefuls were, with Noteware and the others also possibly having more juice, I have believed for some time now that Parker starts out in a stronger position this year than she was in two years ago. The much-improved economy and real estate market mean that the city’s budget is far healthier than it was, which means the Mayor can do positive things rather than negative things like layoffs and service reductions. Distractions like red light cameras and Renew Houston are in the past, while the overwhelming passage of the city’s bond referenda gives the Mayor some wind at her back and a nice accomplishment with which to begin the year. Anything can happen, and we’ll see who if anyone else emerges to run against her, but I believe we will look back and say that 2011 was the better chance to beat her.

How would one go about defeating Mayor Parker if one were inclined to do so? The conventional wisdom is to aim to replicate the 1991 campaign, in which State Rep. Sylvester Turner and eventual winner Bob Lanier squeezed then-Mayor Kathy Whitmire into a third place finish. This is the vaunted “pincer strategy”, combining African-Americans and Republicans to shrink the remaining voter pool for the white Democratic lady Mayor. I’m skeptical of this. For one thing, Whitmire – who garnered an incredibly low 20% of the vote in that election – was running for her sixth term in those pre-term limits days, at a time when the term limits movement was gaining steam. There was a strong case for change, or at least there was a more restless electorate that was going through an economic downturn that year. Whitmire was also coming off a bruising defeat, as her $1.2 billion monorail proposal was killed by Metro’s board chairman, who was none other than Bob Lanier. Lanier promised to spend that money on roads, which was much more popular. There isn’t an issue right now that could be used as a cudgel against Parker, which makes the argument to fire her that much more challenging.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t issues to be used against Parker, but they’re not issues that I think are likely to be used effectively by an establishment insider like Hall, or any Republican who may file. Given that Hall is who he is, I think a more potent strategy would be to pair him with an outspoken liberal, who can compete with Parker’s base voters in District C by attacking her for things like the homeless feeding ordinance, the lack of any effort to advance equality in Houston, and the Metro referendum if one believes the University Line is mortally wounded. Quantifying the irony of Whitmire losing for promoting a rail plan, and Parker losing for being perceived as insufficiently supportive of rail, is left as an exercise for the reader.

And as long as I’m giving out advice, my suggestion to Team Annise is to work on building its ground game and seeking to increase turnout. There were 160K ballots cast in the 2009 runoff, but only 123K in 2011. Neither of these are particularly high totals for a city election – indeed, the 2011 total failed to reach the puny 125K ballots cast in the sleepy 2007 election. There are plenty of people who have voted in city elections, certainly as recently as 2003, but haven’t done so in the past few cycles. I rather doubt that Parker versus Hall et al is likely on its own to draw any more voters than Parker/Locke/Brown/Morales did in 2009 (181K, in case you’re curious), but there’s no reason Parker shouldn’t be working to identify and bring out voters who have a less consistent history of voting in city elections. I think that offers a better path to 50% plus one than another dreary exercise in talking to only the same old hardcore voters. You know, like me. She has plenty of money, she’ll have plenty more after the curtain comes up on fundraising season. Target a bigger universe, I say.


I’m wondering if Ronald Green has a typo in his finance report. He reported $46K on hand last January, then his July report showed that he raised $26K and spent $13K, so I have no idea he could have had only $9,983 on hand. I guess we’ll see what this January’s report says. Beyond that, not much to see here. He’s still not a big fundraiser, and he still has no credible announced opposition despite his recent negative press.

Council At Large

Is it just me, or are those some anemic cash on hand totals? Six out of eight district Council members have larger campaign treasuries than three of the four At Large members. Bradford often reports a lot of in kind contributions – he has listed some things we might normally think of as expenditures as in kind contributions – which tends to reduce his COH figure. Burks, who raised $35K but had $34K in expenses, paid off a number of debts, including the $10K loan from his wife and two items dating from the 2009 campaign that totaled $4650. Christie also spent nearly as much as he raised – $66K raised, $63K in expenditures. This included $45K for “printing”, which I presume was a deferred expense from his runoff campaign.

As was the case in 2011, there’s only one open At Large seat, At Large #3, so once again I expect a cattle call in that race. I know Jenifer Pool, who ran in At Large #2 in 2011, is in for AL3 this year, and other names will surely emerge in the next few weeks. I have to think that it would be worthwhile for a Council wannabe who might be concerned about getting lost in that shuffle to consider taking on one of the incumbents instead, specifically Burks or Christie. Burks’ winning campaign in 2011 after however many previous tries was, to put it gently, atypical. The only policy item I can recall that he originated last year was a proposal to revamp Houston’s term limits ordinance, which never made it out of committee. He also drew scorn for suggesting that the propane tanks used by food trucks might potentially be used as weapons by terrorists. He doesn’t have much money, doesn’t have a history of fundraising, has generally run do-it-yourself campaigns, and his main asset is the name recognition that a dozen or more previous campaigns has earned him. You can make a similar case for Christie, who made an interesting proposal relating to shelters for homeless people that as far as I know went nowhere and who also said silly things during the food truck debate. Unlike Burks, Christie has been and should continue to be a good fundraiser, but also unlike Burks he has no natural constituency – he’s a moderate Republican who isn’t beloved by county GOP insiders. His win in 2011 could also reasonably be described as out of the ordinary. I’m not saying either would be easy to beat this year, I’m not even saying someone should run against them. I’m just suggesting that a multi-candidate open seat race where getting to the runoff is more crapshoot than anything else doesn’t necessarily offer the best odds of being sworn in next January.

District Council

Just so you know, former Council Member Brenda Stardig reported $26,574 on hand in July. If she aims for a rematch with Helena Brown, she starts out at parity in the money department. I’m not sure what’s up with CMs Hoang and Green, but I don’t expect either of them to have much difficulty this year. Everyone will be watching District A, probably even more than the two open seats, but I’d keep an eye on Jerry Davis in District B as well. Davis has worked hard, but doesn’t appear to have won over the insiders in the district, being a new resident of B himself. It would not shock me if he gets a serious opponent. Beyond that, Dwight Boykins appears to be in for the open seat in District D, and while other names will soon emerge we may have to get a judge’s opinion about whether Jolanda Jones can be among them. There are already two candidates for District I; if history holds, there likely won’t be too many more.


It’s a bit confusing because the County Clerk webpage doesn’t track uncontested Trustee races, but I’m pretty sure that the following people are up for election:

For HISD Trustee: Mike Lunceford, Anna Eastman, Greg Meyers, Lawrence Marshall, and Harvin Moore. Lunceford and Eastman are finishing their first terms; Moore and Meyers were unopposed in 2009; Marshall won in a runoff. I have not heard anything so far to indicate that any of them are not running for re-election. If Anna Eastman runs for and wins re-election she will be the first Trustee in District I to do so since at least 1997 – I can’t check any farther back than that. Gabe Vasquez was elected that year, followed by Karla Cisneros in 2001, Natasha Kamrani in 2005, and Eastman in 2009.

For HCC Trustee: Mary Ann Perez’s election to the Lege in HD144 means there will be a vacancy in HCC Trustee District III. The Board has appointed former Trustee Herlinda Garcia to replace her. Garcia, about whom you can learn more here, will need to run in a special election to be able to serve the remainder of Perez’s term, which expires in 2015. The three Trustees whose terms are up this year are Bruce Austin, Neeta Sane, whose district includes a piece of Fort Bend County, and Yolanda Navarro Flores. It’s fair to say that Trustee Navarro Flores’ current term in office has been rather eventful. She won a close race last time, and if she runs again I would expect her to get a strong challenger. Sane is completing her first term, while Austin, the longest-serving Trustee, was first elected in 1989. I am pleased to note that this year the Trustee candidates’ campaign finance statements are now available online. Sometimes, a little bitching and moaning goes a long way.

That’s all I’ve got for now. January finance reports are due next week, and a few will probably trickle in early. I’ll keep an eye out and will post a report when they’re all up, or at least at some point after they’re all supposed to be when I’ve run out of patience waiting for them. I’ll throw in the reports for County officeholders who are up in 2014 as well, just because. Please add your own speculation and rumormongering about who is or isn’t running for what in the comments.

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.

CM Brown reimburses the city for her magnets

Score one for David Feldman.

Houston City Councilwoman Helena Brown has repaid the city nearly $3,000 in taxpayer money she spent on refrigerator magnets that the Texas Ethics Commission says amount to campaign swag.

City Attorney David Feldman, who had asked Brown to reimburse the city before the commission issued its opinion Thursday, said Brown cut the city a check for $2,989.96 on Friday, the full amount at issue.

Feldman and Brown each said they had sought an opinion from the commission on what invoices show are roughly 13,000 magnets bearing a photograph of Brown and her office phone number, email address and postal address.


The ethics commission sided with Feldman.

“In our opinion, the refrigerator magnet is a self-promotion of a public officer because the name and photograph of the public officer appear in an unduly conspicuous way and the three-item list promotes the public officer’s priorities,” the opinion stated. “The refrigerator magnet at issue constitutes ‘political advertising.'”

See here for the background. I’d link to the TEC’s opinion so you could read it yourself, but it doesn’t appear to be posted yet – a search on their opinion search page (which says “Last revision: November 8”) comes up empty, and the advisory opinions page was last updated in April. At the time I thought this wasn’t that big a deal, but looking at the image of the magnet again now, I think the TEC got it right. You might have thought that CM Brown, of all people, would have wanted to pay for something like this herself rather than let the taxpayers cover the cost, but that’s the way it goes. This is the end of the matter, since there was no complaint filed and the money has been paid back.

Helena’s magnets

It’s been awhile since my last Helena Brown post, hasn’t it?

Houston City Attorney David Feldman has asked Councilwoman Helena Brown to reimburse the city nearly $3,000 in taxpayer money she spent on refrigerator magnets that he contends amount to re-election swag.

Brown’s office has declined to pay the money back, and both sides have asked the Texas Ethics Commission for an advisory opinion on who is right.

The first-term councilwoman is distributing thousands of the refrigerator magnets to her District A constituents.

Brown has hired her own attorney, who wrote to Feldman that the purpose of the magnets is to make her office more accessible to her constituents, “most of whom spend a majority of their time at the home, so that they might have her office information handy for speedy constituent response resolution.”

“The thousands of magnets will be included in a mailout to the constituents of District A when we announce the District A Civic Convention to be held later this year, ” Brown said in an email last month. “The purpose of the magnets is to facilitate constituent communication and, therefore, timely response to community needs.”

Feldman, in documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle through a Texas Public Information Act request, has asked Brown to pay back the money, alleging the magnets constitute political advertising. That would be a misdemeanor violation of the Texas Election Code.

“The Council Member has been in communication with the Ethics Commission prior to the City Attorney’s request for an opinion from them. The Council Member also has requested an opinion from the Ethics Commission,” John Griffing, Brown’s communications director, stated in an email.

Feldman didn’t file a complaint, he just asked for an opinion. The TEC’s next meeting is November 29, and we won’t hear anything until then. I have to say, of all the things CM Brown has done while in office, I find this to be one pretty innocuous. I worked in customer service for a long time, and the slogans on those magnets sound like the sort of things that would come out of a “Mission, Vision, and Values” meeting. Yeah, it’s probably better to use campaign funds on this sort of thing, especially for one who likes to be apocalyptic about city spending, but in the grand scheme of things I don’t think it’s a great sin to charge it to one’s Council budget. We’ll see what the TEC thinks about it. Campos has more.

City says No to some of CM Brown’s expense reports

It’s always something.

CM Helena Brown

Councilwoman Helena Brown hired a private attorney to sit in on meetings with her publicly paid attorney, then tried to bill taxpayers for it.

Records obtained by the Houston Chronicle reveal that Brown sought reimbursement for $850 she paid lawyer Kevin Colbert for meetings she had with the mayor and City Attorney David Feldman, whose job it is to give council members legal advice. The fee also covered Colbert’s attendance at a budget meeting.

Feldman denied the reimbursement request because the city only pays for outside lawyers for council members when it would be a conflict of interest for his office to handle the case. Brown declined to comment on why she hired Colbert.

Brown also sought $2,108 in gas money for William Park, a volunteer adviser to the councilwoman on fiscal issues. The request was denied. Feldman said such a reimbursement would violate city policy on expenses for non-employees.


Brown asked the city to reimburse mileage expenses for Park. The $2,000 request exceeds what most full-time paid council staffers accrued in mileage during the same period. The city does not reimburse its volunteers – including more than 1,200 people who sit on boards and commissions – for expenses related to their service, though the mayor or her designee can approve travel-related expenses in individual cases for what city policy calls “unpaid persons.”

“The very essence of being a volunteer is you’re doing it as a free public service,” Feldman said.

Brown said, via email, “Mileage or gasoline use for city purposes should be a reimbursable expense indiscriminate of who actually incurred the expense; the mileage reimbursement request denial was not disputed due to our focus on more pressing matters.”

There are other things in the story, but this is the main item. One can certainly make the case that the city should reimburse volunteers for expenses related to their service. If you’re giving your time and expertise to the city, it’s perfectly reasonable to say that you shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege. But city policy is to not do so, which is also perfectly reasonable given the likely expense and the effort needed to verify the requests made by all these people. Given that, I don’t see what Brown’s beef is. Park is a volunteer, volunteers aren’t eligible for reimbursement, end of story. Either hire him as an employee, or don’t submit his expenses for reimbursement. Putting forward a proposal to change the city’s policy rather than trying to get an exception made for this one person is also a viable option.

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.

As Helena Brown turns

The soap opera continues.

CM Helena Brown

Houston City Councilwoman Helena Brown tried to coerce a staffer to go on medical leave because of her pregnancy, according to a memo the employee filed with the council’s administrative office.

Sandra Kim, Brown’s constituent liaison, wrote an April 23 memorandum quoting Brown as saying in front of several staff members that there was a “need to let Sandra go due to her pregnancy. Sandra, you need to go to your doctor to get medical leave, and I need to make arrangements for your absence.” Brown then “forced us to sign a document stating that I will need to go to a doctor to get medical absence or else we could not leave the office,” Kim wrote.

The memo did not ask for a remedy from the administrative office nor the city attorney’s office.

Brown did not respond to requests for comment.

Leticia Ablaza resigned as Brown’s chief of staff four days after the incident.

“I will back whatever Sandra Kim says. I am certain that it’s true,” Ablaza said.

Ablaza would not say specifically whether her departure was linked to Kim’s allegations, but she said, “I was not going to stand by while things were being done that I didn’t agree with.”

Chris Kuczynski, assistant legal counsel for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, would not comment specifically on the Kim case, but said, “Requiring someone to take leave when they’re able to work is a form of discrimination.”

Most of this we already knew from that Houston Press cover story from a few weeks ago. Ablaza’s comment is the main new detail. Ablaza has largely been quiet, at least publicly, about her time in CM Brown’s office and her reasons for leaving. If she’s about to start talking more, that will make things a whole lot more interesting.

According to the story, Kim declined to say whether or not she had filed an EEOC complaint, so we don’t yet know whether there will be more to this or not. But there was one other little detail at the end, relating to the matter of Brown’s staff all being part time and ineligible for benefits such as health insurance:

In an interview this week, though, Kim said, “I was OK with the part-time, but who wouldn’t want benefits?” Kim said she would have accepted city-subsidized health insurance if it had been offered. She said she currently is on her father’s health insurance plan.

This directly contradicts the claim that everyone voluntarily declined health benefits when offered to them. I have no idea whether Brown’s staffers share her ideology or not, but at least Ms. Kim recognizes a raw deal when she sees one.

There was more stuff from yesterday, but it’s just too weird. Go here, here, and here to see it all. If I were writing a novel and I included a character like Helena Brown, I’m sure my editor would tell me to ease up on the crazy stuff because no one will find her to be believable otherwise.

How do you say “J’accuse!” in Korean?

Here we go again with the Korea kerfuffle.

CM Helena Brown

City Councilwoman Helena Brown on Tuesday accused Mayor Annise Parker of sabotaging her recent taxpayer-funded trip to Asia to promote direct air service between Seoul and Houston.

Brown joined Houston Airport Director Mario Diaz in visits to Beijing and Taipei early this month but did not meet with Korean airline officials. The itinerary originally included meetings in Seoul, but those were canceled shortly before the trip because Korean airline executives would not be available, according to a spokeswoman for the mayor.

According to a statement issued by Brown’s office on Tuesday, “the mayor did everything possible to undermine and sabotage the planned trip. Mayor Parker had no intention to cooperate in any capacity with CM Brown’s efforts to serve the constituents, as Mayor Parker continues to place political expediency above the responsibilities of public office to the great disservice of the Asian community and the Houston community as a whole.”

Parker spokeswoman Janice Evans responded, “Council Member Brown’s trip to Asia was handled the same as any other trip. The mayor’s assistant for international trade and development was assigned to help and provide support. The mayor even offered to help the council member in rescheduling the trip once Asiana Airlines sent notice it would be unable to accommodate a meeting.”

Emails obtained by the Chronicle indicate that members of the mayor’s administration provided Brown with an itinerary, assisted her with a visa application, selected and wrapped gifts to present to Asian dignitaries, made travel arrangements and prepared a briefing binder. The mayor also personally approved Brown’s travel authorization that estimated more than $16,000 for expenses.

Here’s the full statement from CM Brown. I have not seen any further response from the Mayor to this, nor have I seen any statement from others singled out by CM Brown, namely Andy Icken and Mario Diaz, so you’ll have to judge the allegations by your own evaluation of Brown’s veracity and reliability. (Turns out Mayor Parker is out of town, so well played on the timing.) One could attempt to be charitable to all involved and chalk this up as a series of miscommunications, but then one would have to note the irony of CM Brown, who dodges meetings with Mayor Parker and whose preferred means of expression is the written statement, complaining about other people not adequately communicating with her.