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Larry Green

District K special election update

From Durrel Douglas:

In a late night Facebook Live video, prominent Houston activist Ashton P. Woods bowed out of the race to replace former City Councilman Larry Green who passed unexpectedly in early March. Woods says he will back a Black woman for the post since he believes there should be another Black woman on City Council.

Woods, founder of Black Lives Matter-Houston, says he still plans for an at-large seat in 2019.

Rumblings of candidates aiming to fill the southwest-Houston district filled rumor mills with long-time Democratic operative Pat Frazier and Larry Blackmon announcing runs so far.

Frazier has a campaign Facebook page; I heard about her candidacy via Erik Manning on Facebook on Monday. She had been a candidate for K in 2011, finishing with 24.88% of the vote against Green and a third person. Blackmon was a candidate for At Large #4 in 2015 – he still has a Facebook page from that campaign, which maybe he’ll repurpose. He also threw his hat in for the precinct chair-selected nomination in HD146 in 2016. Council has now officially set the election for May 5, with a filing deadline of Monday the 26th. I have to assume we will hear from more candidates by then.

January 2018 finance reports: City of Houston

We didn’t have any city of Houston elections in 2017, and while we ought to have some charter amendments on the ballot in 2018 we won’t be voting for people till next year. Still, everyone has to file campaign finance reports. Let’s see how everyone has been doing since last July.

Candidate       Office    Raised      Spent     Loan    On Hand
S Turner         Mayor   308,744    123,288        0  1,901,225

C Brown     Controller     1,400     19,559        0     62,811

M Knox      At Large 1    36,125      8,191        0     51,946
D Robinson  At Large 2    41,575     12,117        0    126,924
M Kubosh    At Large 3     8,575      7,364  276,000     32,267
A Edwards   At Large 4    16,900     24,311        0    140,866
J Christie  At Large 5     1,264      3,892        0     28,711

B Stardig       Dist A     3,750     18,173        0     89,964
J Davis         Dist B     5,934     15,988        0    137,038
E Cohen         Dist C    10,100     31,528        0     41,691
D Boykins       Dist D    27,950     66,249        0     18,492
D Martin        Dist E     2,510     26,887        0     92,371
S Le            Dist F    21,800     11,237   30,823     13,015
G Travis        Dist G    27,050      8,211   76,000     70,817
K Cisneros      Dist H    
R Gallegos      Dist I    32,850     12,963        0     69,181
M Laster        Dist J       300      8,510        0    161,402
L Green         Dist K    29,100     36,617        0     77,110

I started writing this post before the tragic death of CM Larry Green. CM Green was among the members who are term-limited; the others are Stardig, Davis, Cohen, Laster, and Christie. I did not find a finance report for Karla Cisneros; she had $25,336 on hand in the July ’17 report. No one raised a whole lot – not a big surprise, especially given how there was already a bunch of Congressional fundraising going on in the latter half of 2017 – and in fact many people spent more than they took in. If one of the potential negatives to the change to four-year terms was that it gave incumbents that much more time to accumulate cash, I’d say that effect has so far been muted. Among the first-termers, Amanda Edwards was a big money-raiser in 2015 and Greg Travis still has loan money. Mike Knox got a boost in this period, which he will need because he’s got a big target on his back for 2019. Steve Le doesn’t have much on hand, but he too can self-fund to an extent.

While those term-limited candidates continue to be among the top cash-holders, none of them increased their shares during this period. I continue to believe that at least some of them have another candidacy in their near-term future, but that’s just my impression. Some of the possibilities they may contemplate will depend on how the 2018 elections go. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. I’m just reporting what we know now. I’ll check back in July. Look for a post on the HISD and HCC reports as soon as I can get around to it.

What are the elections of interest this May?

That’s a question I’m asking as well as one I’m trying to answer. Normally, there are no elections in May of any kind of year for Houston folks, though there are some for parts of Harris County and surrounding areas. This year for the uniform election date of May 5 we do have the special election in City Council District K to succeed the late CM Larry Green. The filing deadline for this is March 26, so we should know in very short order who is in the running.

We should also know by March 26 whether that firefighters pay parity proposal will be on the ballot or not. The firefighters would like to know about that, too.

There is one legislative special election on tap for May 5. State Rep. Leighton Schubert in HD13 stepped down earlier this year, so this race is to fill out the remainder of his term. That doesn’t really mean much unless the winner of that race also wins in November, in which case he or she will have a seniority advantage over all the other members of the class of 2018. If I’m reading this list correctly, there are three candidates – Democrat Cecil Webster, Republican Ben Leman, and Republican Jill Wolfskill. Webster is on the November ballot – he also ran in 2016, getting 21.4% against Schubert in a district that voted 76.8% to 20.4% for Donald Trump. Leman and Wolfskill are in the runoff for the GOP nomination. If Webster can somehow make it to the runoff for this, even with the low stakes, it would be quite the achievement.

Closer to home, I know there are elections in Pearland for Pearland City Council – they have three-year terms, so they have elections every year – and Pearland ISD – I don’t know offhand what their terms are, but as you can see on the election results page, they have those races every year as well. Dalia Kasseb, who ran a strong race for Pearland City Council last year, is making another run this year. She is on the list of TDP-endorsed Project LIFT slate, as is Al Lloyd for Pearland ISD.

There are other races on that slate, though none in the Houston area. I’ve seen ads on Facebook for a candidate running for Deer Park ISD, but at this time I know nothing about her. Ballotpedia says these are three-year terms but there isn’t a page for 2018 yet. These elections are apparently not conducted by the Harris County Clerk, and I’m not seeing anything on the DPISD Board of Trustees webpage, so I’m throwing this out to y’all – if you know anything about this, please leave a comment and let me know.

So there you have what I know about elections for this May. What am I missing? Please fill me in.

Special election set for District K

Mark your calendars.

CM Larry Green

Voters in southwest Houston will select a replacement for the late City Councilman Larry Green in a May 5 special election, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Wednesday.

Green, who was found dead at his home Tuesday morning, remains the only councilman ever to lead District K, which was created after the 2010 Census prompted the council to expand from nine to 11 districts, plus five at-large seats.

No cause has been announced in the 52-year-old’s death, but police do not suspect foul play.

Turner said state law dictates that City Council call a special election by March 20 and that candidates file for the office by March 26. The district stretches from the NRG Park area to Fort Bend Houston and Westbury.

See here for the background. I’m sorry to post about this business so soon after CM Green’s tragic death. I’ve been reading one remembrance of CM Green after another from mutual friends. Lots of people knew him, and everyone who knew him liked him. We’re going to feel this loss for awhile.

Nonetheless, here we are. I was confused by the wording in the Chron article, which led me to think there would be some process other than a special election to fill this vacancy. I should have known better. The special election will be in May, and yes it will be a different day than the primary runoff. This is all per state law, as I have learned on some Facebook discussions. Having two different elections in May will be confusing, but I don’t think it’s any more confusing than trying to have this at the same time as the primary runoffs would have been. I suspect if we did it that way some number of people would not vote on the belief that they couldn’t since they hadn’t voted in the primary. It will be up to the candidates to explain to the voters what they’re running for and when their election is. I figure we’ll begin to see people express their interest in this seat next week. Oh, and while the winner in this election will have to run again in 2019, he or she will still get to run for a second full term in 2023 if they win. We’ll keep an eye on this.

RIP, CM Larry Green

Very sad news.

CM Larry Green

Houston City Councilman Larry Green was found dead at his home late Tuesday morning, prompting an outpouring of sadness from City Hall to the southwest Houston district he represented for more than six years.

The cause of death was not immediately known, though Houston police said foul play was not suspected.

Green, 52, remains the only person elected to lead District K, one of two seats added after the 2010 Census led the council to grow from nine to 11 districts.

Green’s ubiquity at civic club meetings and dogged work ethic took a district created from the “stepchildren” neighborhoods of two former districts and made it “better than the sum of our parts,” as Westbury civic leader Becky Edmondson put it. Texting Green at midnight often would produce an answer, she said. Meyerland/Westbury civic leader Art Pronin agreed — but put the time at 1 a.m.

“He’s at my civic club meeting, he’s at the coalition meeting, he’s at the Super Neighborhood meeting,” Keswick Place civic leader Linda Scurlock said. “He’s there. He’s not on a pedestal. I’ve lived in this community for 41 years, and we’ve never had a council member like that. It was like your friend. I’d call him all the time.”

Even residents pleased with their representatives do not always view those politicians as “friends,” but Edmondson used the same word. When she informed her daughter of Green’s passing, her daughter wept. And when her 9-year-old grandson heard the news, he cried, too.

“He’s been planting trees with Larry since he was 2 years old. He considers Larry as his friend,” Edmondson said. “He was a leader for the city, he was our advocate in District K – and he was my friend. And he was a friend to hundreds of other people like me that met him during his tenure. I’ll really miss him.”

I interviewed CM Green in 2011, when he ran for the then-new District K, but I had met him a few years before that. He was thoughtful and passionate about his community. I liked him, both as a person and as a Council member. He won that race, for a new seat in a part of town that did not lack for political talent, with little opposition. Especially on a day where we’re all feeling positive about the political process, I’m stunned and saddened by the loss of CM Green. My sincere condolences to his family and many friends.

[Mayor Sylvester] Turner’s communications director, Alan Bernstein, said late Tuesday the city legal department still was reviewing the procedures for naming Green’s replacement. The city charter authorizes council to fill vacancies by majority vote, but does not specify a timeline for doing so.

To be honest, I had assumed there would be a special election, probably in November but possibly in May, to serve the remainder of CM Green’s term. That’s what happened with other vacancies in the past. I’m not sure if the process is different in the event of a member’s death, or if this was an effect of the term limits referendum. Whatever the case, that person will have to run again for a full term in 2019. There will be time later to think about that in more detail.

Looking ahead to 2019

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

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

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

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

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

The following HISD Trustees are up for election in 2019:

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

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

The following HCC Trustees are up for election in 2019:

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

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

Mayor will take revenue cap referendum off the 2017 ballot

Not gonna lie, I’m disappointed by this.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner abruptly reversed course Wednesday on his plan to ask voters to repeal Houston’s revenue cap this fall, saying it now is “unlikely” he will ask for its removal.

The politically cautious move would leave the city fiscally shackled in the hope that a lighter November ballot improves the chances voters sign off on hundreds of millions in general improvement bonds and $1 billion in pension obligation bonds, a crucial piece of the mayor’s landmark pension reform package.

“Do I believe that the needs are as much there to remove it as they were when I came into office? Absolutely,” Turner said. “Do I want to run the risk of losing the reforms that we’ve made to our pension system…? No.”

Lifting Houston’s voter-imposed cap on property tax collections had been a pillar of the mayor’s agenda, and he regularly discusses how the restriction constrains Houston’s budget, preventing the city from hiring more police officers, replacing its aging fleet and maintaining other city services, such as street repair.

Turner’s about-face came during a City Council discussion of how the cap, which has cost the city an estimated $220 million in revenue since 2014, likely will force the city to scale back the street and drainage projects budgeted in its five-year Capital Improvement Plan, or CIP.

The CIP slated for council approval later this month accounts for the revenue cap this fiscal year but was written assuming voters would remove the restriction by the start of fiscal 2019.

The finance department estimated the cap will reduce revenue for ReBuild Houston, the city’s street and drainage repair fund, by roughly $201 million in fiscal years 2019-2022, delaying roughly 16 of 90 ReBuild projects planned for the next five years.


The mayor’s new plan was met with understanding around the council table.

“It’s a strategic decision,” Councilman Larry Green said. “It probably doesn’t make sense to put (the revenue cap) on the ballot, especially when we’re trying to get pension bonds passed and we’re also putting out general revenue bonds.”

I’m not disappointed because I think Mayor Turner did anything wrong, I’m disappointed because I was chomping at the bit to get rid of the stupid and harmful revenue cap, and now I have to wait again. I understand the logic, even if the unmentioned implication of all this is that pro-revenue cap forces would be willing to sabotage both the pension reform plan and the city’s capitol improvement plan in order to keep their travesty in place, I just don’t like it. But it is what it is, and if the revenue cap has to take a back seat to these other needs, that’s politics. Nobody said I had to like it.

So, again modulo any Supreme Court interference, adjust your turnout expectations for this November downward. There will be people who will vote against the various bonds, but I doubt there will be much if any of a campaign to turn out anyone who wasn’t already going to vote. There will be a pro-bond campaign, but again I doubt it will push the numbers up by much. I’m putting the over/under for November in Houston right now at about 75,000, and I could be persuaded to go lower. What I hope is that Mayor Turner has November of 2018 in mind for the revenue cap referendum, as there will be no worries at all about turnout in that environment. Remember, over 330,000 votes were cast in the Renew Houston referendum of 2010, with over 340,000 votes for the red light camera question. He’ll need to sell the idea, which is far from a given, but at least the voters he’d like to see will be there for him in that scenario.

When might the Supreme Court speak on the Houston term limits lawsuit?

So as you know there is an ongoing lawsuit over the language used in the 2015 referendum that altered the city’s term limits ordinance. It was filed shortly after the election, with the city winning the first round in district court. Appeals are ongoing, with the most recent ruling coming this past January on a procedural matter. In addition to all this, the plaintiff in the original suit filed a writ of mandamus with the Supreme Court on June 2 that asks them to direct the district court judge to vacate his previous order allowing the 2015 result to stand and to require city elections this November. I’m on the plaintiff’s attorney’s email list (for my sins, no doubt) and as he sent out a missive last week urging his followers to contact the Supreme Court and ask them to rule on the writ in time for an election to occur, I figured I ought to bring this up.

So as we are now halfway through June, I have to think that time is rapidly running out for a non-farcical election to be conducted this November. Normally at this time, multiple candidates for a variety of offices, especially the open ones, will have been at work for months. There are always people who pop up to run in July and August, including a few at the filing deadline, but by this point you usually have a pretty good idea of who is out there. Funds have been raised, materials have been printed, websites and social media presences have been built, volunteers have been recruited, etc etc etc. Campaigns require resources, and one of those resources is time. We’re basically four months out from the start of early voting. To get a campaign up and running from scratch, especially for an At Large position, that’s not a whole lot of time. It could be done, but it would greatly favor those who already have some of the other resources, namely money and some amount of name recognition. In other words, incumbents and people who can write a check to get their campaign going quickly.

For what it’s worth, the Supreme Court issued a ruling requiring a vote on HERO on July 24, 2015, which was in response to a writ of mandamus. That was about a referendum and thus didn’t directly involve any candidates, though I’d argue that it had a negative effect on the pro-HERO side, since the antis had been gearing up for a campaign for some time by then. Let’s call that the outer bounds of when a writ mandating city elections for this year may happen, though really I’d say that’s too late. Bear in mind that Council members Brenda Stardig, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, Mike Laster, Larry Green, and Jack Christie are all in their last terms one way or the other, so if those terms wind up ending this year instead of 2019, a whole gaggle of hopefuls are going to have to get up to speed immediately. There’s no question that the Supreme Court has no qualms about meddling in the affairs of the city of Houston, but that doesn’t mean it feels compelled to do so. We ought to know soon enough.

January 2017 campaign finance reports: Houston officeholders

Normally, at this time I would be scanning through Houston candidate campaign finance reports, to see where incumbents stand at the start of the season. Of course, barring near-term court action there is no season for Houston municipal officeholders this year, and unlike past years they have been able to raise money during what had once been a blackout period. It’s still worth it to check in and see what everyone has, so let’s do that.

Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
Turner     681,972   177,867        0   1,312,028

Stardig *   39,361    24,088        0      79,980
Davis *      8,500    27,439        0     154,707
Cohen *      8,350    21,563        0      77,451
Boykins     26,400    23,820        0         186
Martin       4,250    17,469        0      95,896
Le          13,100    13,519   42,823       2,023
Travis           0    12,984   76,000      23,606
Cisneros     7,500    15,295      273       4,959
Gallegos    20,834    14,742        0      33,077
Laster *     3,000     6,292        0     145,071
Green *     10,000    52,652        0     107,248

Knox         6,275    20,061        0      16,737
Robinson    44,750    15,277        0      52,408
Kubosh      10,925    12,907  276,000      20,824
Edwards     42,401    18,379        0     110,660
Christie *   1,367    22,653        0      18,563

Brown       30,520    52,814        0      41,245

Parker           0    36,503        0     136,368
King             0        50  650,000           0

Asterisks indicate term-limited incumbents. I included Annise Parker and Bill King mostly out of curiosity. Parker can’t run for anything in Houston, but if she does eventually run for something else she can transfer what she has in this account to whatever other one she may need.

Clearly, Mayor Turner has been busy. Big hauls by incumbent Mayors are hardly unusual, it’s just that Turner had the benefit of more time to make that haul. A few Council members plus Controller Chris Brown were busy, though there was nothing that was truly eye-popping. I didn’t look at the individual forms beyond the totals page, so I can’t say what everyone spent their money on, but if I had to guess I’d say recurring fees for things like consultants and websites, plus the usual meals, travel, donations, and what have you. Loan amounts always fascinate me – you have to wonder if any of them will be paid back. Probably not.

It’s not too surprising that the term-limited members are among those with the largest cash on hand totals. They have had the longest to build it up, after all. I have to assume some of them – in particular, Jerry Davis, Mike Laster, and Larry Green – have a run for something else in their future. For what will be mostly a matter of opportunity. Of those who can run again in 2019, I’ll be very interested to see how their fortunes change between now and the next two Januaries. One way or another, 2019 ought to be a busy year.

A look ahead to Houston’s 2017 elections

I want to return to something in that story about Mayor Turner’s 2017 agenda, which was near the bottom but which is a very big deal for the coming year:

A lawsuit over the ballot language used last year to extend terms to a maximum of two four-year terms, from three two-year terms, hovers in the background.

A state district judge ruled in March that the language was “inartful” but legal, and the case now is under appeal.

At stake in the near term is whether Turner and members of City Council must run for re-election in 2017 or wait until 2019.

See here for the background. Usually around this time I’m writing about the upcoming election year and what we have to look forward to. Thanks to this lawsuit, we could have a year with no city elections, or a year in which nobody knows we have city elections until April or May and everyone operates on an insanely accelerated schedule from there. With that in mind, let’s look at our Year of Elections 2017 with a frame of The Elections We Will Have, The Elections We May Have, and The Elections We Could Have.

The Elections We Will Have

Whatever else happens with the term limits lawsuit, there will be elections in HISD and HCC. The following trustees for each board are up for election this year:

HISD – Anna Eastman (District I), Mike Lunceford (District V), Greg Meyers (District VI), Anne Sung (District VII), Wanda Adams (District IX)
HCC – Carolyn Evans-Shabazz (District 4), Robert Glaser (District 5), Chris Oliver (District 9)

Mike Lunceford is not running for re-election, so his seat will be open. Greg Meyers has already submitted his resignation, and a replacement Trustee will be selected by the Board in January. It is not clear if the Board will prefer a caretaker who will not run for election in November or if the new member will try to stake a claim. Anne Sung of course won the special election to succeed Harvin Moore a couple of weeks ago. Whatever happens in November, the Board will have three different members in the traditionally Republican districts than it had at the start of 2016. That has some negative potential, as all three were devoted to public schools in a way that is not necessarily characteristic of modern Republicans, meaning that whoever wins in November could be more antagonistic than what we are used to seeing. We’ll have a better idea when we know who is selected to replace Meyers, and who emerges to run for these seats. As for Eastman, she is my Trustee and as far as I know she is in for another term, but I haven’t spoken to her in the last few weeks, and she has not made any formal announcements. I’m not aware of any reason why Adams would not run for another term.

In HCC, both Shabazz-Evans and Glaser won elections to complete the unexpired terms for trustees who had resigned following their 2011 campaigns. Evans-Shabazz was appointed to replace Carroll Robinson in District 4 in May of 2015, and then was unopposed for election. Glaser won a contested race to succeed Richard Schechter in 2013; appointed replacement Leila Feldman did not run for the seat. Oliver is a multi-term incumbent who easily defeated a challenger in 2011. Sometimes there are interesting things to say or look forward to in these races. This is not one of those times.

There will also be some number of constitutional amendments on the ballot in November, but we won’t know what they are until May or so when the Legislature finishes its business. If the term limits lawsuit goes down, preserving the new four-year terms for city officeholders, these referenda will be the only guaranteed items on your ballot this year.

The most interesting race in the area that is not in Houston will be in Pasadena, where Mayor Johnny Isbell is term-limited out and where the City Council lines may or may not be redrawn, pending the ruling in the voting rights lawsuit that is currently in the judge’s hands. That election will be in May. Other area cities such as Bellaire, West U, Sugar Land, and Rosenberg, also have elections in May. I hope to have some more information about some of these races in a subsequent post. Also of interest in May will be the San Antonio elections, where Mayor Ivy Taylor has some competition for a second full term. I’m sure I’ll do some writing about that as well.

The Elections We May Have

In addition to the statewide ballot propositions, there are two local ones that could be on your November eSlate machine, both of which could be quite contentious. Mayor Turner has stated his intention to put a referendum about the revenue cap on the ballot this year, though one presumes that could change if his pension reform bills do not pass. You can be sure that the opposition to this, mostly from the likes of Paul Bettencourt and no doubt with the help of the statewide Republican cabal, will be ferocious and very well-funded. Which in a way will be good for Mayor Turner, because if he can successfully cast this as a partisan issue, especially a “statewide Republicans meddling in our business AGAIN” issue, he ought to at least begin with the larger share of the vote. Getting those people to vote, whether or not there are other city elections to draw them out, will be the challenge. I suspect Mayor Turner doesn’t do anything without planning out how it will go, so I sure hope he has a plan for this one.

The other possible ballot item we might have is an updated Metro Solutions plan, which may include more rail construction projects, possibly including another shot at the Universities Line. This has been floated as an option by Metro Chair Carrin Patman, but it is not yet clear that it would be on the ballot, and if it would be there this year if so, and it is not yet clear what the scope of it would be. Needless to say, any rail component would generate some opposition, with a new Universities Line plan bringing out the usual suspects, some of whom would already be fully engaged in a revenue cap fight. It’s an interesting question whether you’d rather have this item on the ballot by itself, or in the same space as a revenue cap item. I’m glad that’s not my call to make.

The Elections We Could Have

This is the one that is entirely contingent on the Supreme Court, which as we know has not hesitated to stick its collective nose in our electoral business. If the 2015 term limits referendum is thrown out for having insufficiently clear wording, then the people who will be the most affected are the Council members who are in their last terms: Brenda Stardig, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, Mike Laster, Larry Green, and Jack Christie. Cohen’s District C and Laster’s District J represent challenges for Democrats, as Bill King carried both districts in the 2015 Mayoral runoff. The ideal District C candidate is in the Anne Clutterbuck-Ellen Cohen spectrum, while the low turnout District J will always be a bit of a wild card. Against that, Dems will have opportunities in both Christie’s At Large #5 and first-term CM Mike Knox’s AL #1, though as we have discussed before, cattle call races with lots of similarly-profiled Democrats have benefited Republican citywide candidates in the recent past. The ideal here is for a candidate who begins with a lot of backing to get in and largely hoover up all the support – think Melissa Noriega in 2007, or Amanda Edwards in 2015.

I don’t want to spend too much time on this, as it’s even more speculative than usual, but I do want to at least put a marker on it, since if these elections do happen they may happen all at once, with little warning and not much time to prepare. I’ll be keeping an eye on this, and will be ready for either a busier or more relaxed interview season this fall.

Still seeking a downtown connection for the high speed rail line

I’m hoping one gets found.

Texas Central Partners, the private firm proposing the Houston-to-Dallas line, briefed a city council committee Monday, telling officials they remain on track to break ground in late 2017.

“That might slide into early 2018,” said Shaun McCabe, vice-president of Texas Central Railway.

Any connection to downtown, which would likely require public funding, would be built later, said Holly Reed, manager of external affairs for Texas Central Partners.


“I am concerned there is a possibility of land-locking my district,” District A Councilwoman Brenda Stardig said, noting details have made it hard to determine the traffic effects the line will have.

The train line would run parallel to U.S. 290, Hempstead Highway and a freight rail line, which Stardig said could be too much for the area to overcome in terms of crossings and large impediments cutting the neighborhoods in half.

The lack of a downtown connection, meanwhile, continues to worry some officials, including [District K Council Member Larry] Green and Mayor Sylvester Turner. Houston Public Works has a pending request for proposals for an engineering firm to study the downtown link in greater detail. Green said the study would give Houston more information about the importance of a downtown link, which would then be turned over to the company so they can consider a possible link.

“It might make sense for them to do it,” Green said. “We as a city want to know what the impact would be and is there another way.”

Reed, the Texas Central spokeswoman, said the company would consider any alternative outside its own plans as “complimentary” to its own plans. She compared the Houston discussion to a similar conversation happening in the Dallas area, where a link to Fort Worth is being studied.

That extension, however, is predicated on public funding, Reed said.

I would point out that the Gulf Coast Rail District is studying this issue as well, and as noted in that first link if anything comes of this it would involve multiple entities, including the GCRD, H-GAC, Metro, TxDOT, and the city of Houston. How that would work, where such a connector would be located, who pays for what – those questions and many more remain to be answered. The point is that someone is at least thinking about them. As for TCR, their draft environmental impact statement is expected in summer or fall, and there will be public meetings after that, as there were with Metro and the light rail lines. I’m sure some of them will be quite eventful. The deadline for responses to the city’s request for a study of options connecting the high speed rail terminal to downtown is May 27. KUHF has more.

More speed bumps coming

Like ’em or not.

Houston officials are speeding up the process of slowing down residential street traffic.

A laborious process to improve traffic and safety by installing traffic calming devices such as speed humps is radically streamlined in a new method by the city’s public works department, unveiled Monday at a City Council committee meeting. Council members applauded the change.

“I am doing the happy dance here,” said District K Councilman Larry Green, whose southwest Houston area has some of the neighborhoods that have waited the longest for relief from speeding cars.

In the future, with demand for speed humps high in many areas, public works will no longer require traffic and speed analyses, Public Works Deputy Director Jeff Weatherford said.

“We believe all local neighborhood streets should automatically qualify for speed control if they want it,” Weatherford said, citing overwhelming evidence that pedestrians and bicyclists are safer with lower residential street speeds.

The change would only apply to residential streets, where speed humps are practical, and not thoroughfares that carry far higher volumes of traffic.


In the past, neighbors upset at a cumbersome city process left dissatisfied, especially when the analysis found they didn’t have a speeding issue. Residents would then frequently ask public works to assess the traffic volume, which would start the process over again.

When requests from residents come to public works in the future, staff will analyze the neighborhood and then deliver their recommendations to the district council member for the area.

Pending approval from the council member, public works will then coordinate construction of the speed humps. Plans are devised for entire neighborhoods, often a 10- to 20-square block area between two major streets. Public works will normally consider streets best suited for traffic calming, then locate humps, medians and other features where appropriate to control speed.

District D Councilman Dwight Boykins noted the city successfully dealt with fast-moving vehicles crashing in a curve in a residential area by placing the humps not at the curve, but leading to it.

Under the old way, however, that process often took nine months to complete. The new method that reduces studies decreases it to six to eight weeks, but it also puts a lot more responsibility in the hands of council members, [CM Ellen] Cohen said.

I confess, I hate these things. I hate driving over them, and will go out of my way to avoid them. But I understand why we have them, and I’ve seen more than enough jackwads doing in excess of 40 on residential streets to accept them without complaint. Well, OK, with a bit of whining, but without any expectation of sympathy. If we want safer streets and fewer traffic fatalities – and we do, or at least we should – then this is a part of that. I’ll just have to suck it up.

More on the draft bike plan

From the Chron.

The Houston Bike Plan identifies $300 million to $500 million in improvements aimed at encouraging cycling and bringing more accessibility to every corner of the city via paths, off-street trails and safer lanes where cyclists share the road with drivers.

A key goal of the plan is to generate discussion about how to proceed as interest in cycling increases in Houston, officials said.

“Once we have consensus on how to make Houston a great place to ride a bicycle, we’re then going to need to look very carefully at all of our funding tools on how we can actually implement this as quickly as possible,” Houston Planning Director Patrick Walsh said. “I just don’t think we’re quite there yet. That’s the next step.”


Bike advocates acknowledged that the plan’s goal – creating a 1,600-mile bike system in Houston over 20 years – would not be cheap, but they said sticker shock should not dampen enthusiasm for the plan’s ideas.

“You are always going to have your naysayers because some people in Texas love their cars and don’t think anything should change,” said Regina Garcia, chairwoman of BikeHouston, one of a handful of groups active in developing the plan.

A short-term list of projects compiled as part of the bike plan would increase miles of high-quality bike lanes and trails to 709 in the next five years, including 328 miles of on-street, high-comfort lanes. Most of those lanes can be built cheaply by restriping roads and adding signs, at a cost of $24 million to $45 million.

“I don’t think there’s going to be some dedicated fund or anything to specifically deal with this,” said Councilman Larry Green, chairman of the city’s transportation, technology and infrastructure committee. “I believe, for the most part, the way we really get it done is as we rehab streets and repair streets.”

Proponents, enthused by the draft report, cheered its release while downplaying its immediate impact.

“It does not commit any city dollars,” said Mary Blitzer, government and grants director for the nonprofit BikeHouston. “Money is going to be figured out on a project-by-project basis.”

See here for the background. The vision is great. Finding funding is the key, and the more funding that can come from non-city sources, the better. I wish I could predict how this will play out, but I have no idea. Mayor Turner will have a lot of influence over the outcome, but most of the push is going to have to come from everyone who wants to see this happen. If that includes you, show up to the CIP meetings and make sure your Council member knows how you feel. The Press has more.

More Commissioner hopefuls make themselves known

The race is on.

El Franco Lee

With former city attorney Gene Locke in place to finish the late Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee’s term, Democratic players are quickly emerging as candidates in the November general election.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said late Thursday that he intends to run, sacrificing 25 years of legislative seniority in a bid for a powerful local office. City Councilmen Jerry Davis, Dwight Boykins and Larry Green said Friday they have begun campaigning, such as it is, under these unusual circumstances. Councilman C.O. Bradford said constituents had encouraged him to run, and he’s considering it.


Ellis was the first to go public with his campaign efforts. He began researching what it would take to run for the county position, since his name is on the November ballot for state senator.

A legal memo prepared for county Democratic chair Lane Lewis outlined a path by which Ellis said he could seek the ballot spot. In mid-June the Democratic party chairs for Precinct 1 will vote for a candidate to replace Lee on the ballot.

If the party chose him for commissioner, Ellis could withdraw his name from the ballot for state senator, which would trigger a second process by the Democratic leaders to pick a Democrat for state Senate.

Ellis said a move to local office would bring him back to his political roots.

“I started out in local politics in 1983” to run for the City Council, Ellis said. “I left a great job I loved as chief of staff of a U.S. congressman, Mickey Leland.”

Despite having passed 600 bills in the Legislature, Ellis said, he sees himself as “very much an activist” on local issues like urban homesteading and criminal justice.

When he ran for the state Senate, he always planned to find a path back to local office, “probably to run for mayor,” Ellis said. “I have done a lot of thinking, a lot of praying on this.”

This is from the fuller version of yesterday’s story regarding new Commissioner Gene Locke and Ellis’ first-in-line announcement. Good timing has its rewards. I don’t have much to add except to note again what I’m looking for in a new Commissioner. I’ll leave it to you to decide which of these candidates may fit what I have in mind.

Overview of the open Council seat runoffs

Kind of late in the cycle given the number of lesser known candidates in these races, and not nearly complete, but here it is anyway.

Amanda Edwards

Amanda Edwards

In addition to the first open mayor’s race in six years, Houstonians can expect to see at least four new faces on City Council next year – three of which will come from contests to be decided in Saturday’s runoff election.

In the At-Large 1 race, former police officer Mike Knox faces photographer and philanthropist Georgia Provost.


In the At-Large 4 race, municipal finance lawyer Amanda Edwards faces former Harris County Department of Education trustee Roy Morales.

Edwards, who has served on nonprofit boards such as Project Row Houses, worked in the Georgia Legislature while in college, then for U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, before heading to Harvard Law School.

City Council must better articulate Houston’s goals, she said, so it does not work at cross purposes by retaining what she views as suburban parking rules, for instance, in areas primed for the sort of density that would enable bicycling and walking.

She said voters must be asked to modify a decade-old cap on city property tax collections at least to protect public safety spending, and rising pension costs also must be addressed.

“I can’t think of more complicated, pressing issues than some of the ones we face right now,” she said.


The race to replace term-limited Ed Gonzalez in largely Latino District H pits elementary school teacher Karla Cisneros against HPD community service officer Jason Cisneroz.

Cisneroz, an Army veteran, worked at City Hall as a staffer for Gonzalez and former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia. Cisneroz said he believes a staffing shortage at HPD can be resolved, in part, by more effectively coordinating calls for service with other law enforcement agencies.

Cisneroz has emphasized the economic disparities in District H. Corralling stray dogs and catching illegal dumpers, he said, also would be top priorities. He also called for an independent “developer integrity unit” to make sure new projects do not adversely affect roads and drainage in the area.

“People talk about inequality all the time,” Cisneroz said. “I’m living it every day.”

Cisneros, too, has focused much of her campaign on inequality in the district, pointing to her experiences teaching elementary school on both sides of Interstate 45. The former Houston school trustee said many of the city’s tax increment reinvestment zones, which keep some property tax revenues within their boundaries for public improvements, have “institutionalized inequality.” Cinseros said she would work to limit the expansion of these zones and to disband others.

Not very conducive to excerpting, so read it all yourself. If there isn’t a story in today’s paper about the At Large #2 and #5 runoffs, I’ll be very disappointed. I mean, we could have a very different Council next year, with a ton of new faces, and yet I’d bet most of the voters who will cast a ballot today couldn’t name more than one or two of the eight At Large candidates off the top of their heads. I expect the undervote rates to be pretty high – not as high as they were in November, but in excess of 20% per race. We’ll see.

The Forward Times points out another notable aspect of today’s races.

This election is not like any other in Houston’s rich history.

After the November election, Council Members Jerry Davis (District B), Dwight Boykins (District D) and Larry Green (District K) were all re-elected to council. With Council Member C.O. “Brad” Bradford being term-limited, that reduces the number of African American council members to three. As a result of the general election results, however, Houstonians now have an opportunity to vote to have seven African Americans serving on Houston City Council at the same time, by voting for candidates in four At-Large city council races.

In the At-large Position 1 race, entrepreneur Georgia Provost faces Mike Knox; in the At-Large Position 2 race, Rev. Willie R. Davis squares off against incumbent David Robinson; in the At-Large Position 4 race being vacated by term-limited C.O. “Brad” Bradford, attorney Amanda Edwards faces Roy Morales; and in the At-Large Position 5 race, Sharon Moses faces incumbent Jack Christie, who defeated two-term incumbent Jolanda Jones, who fell short in her quest to complete her final term.

Not only would there be seven African Americans serving on Houston City Council, but in the race to replace outgoing Mayor Annise Parker as mayor of the city of Houston, Sylvester Turner also has a chance to be the 2nd African American mayor in Houston’s history. That would make a total of eight African Americans around the horseshoe at Houston City Council.

Some of those eight are better than others, obviously, but no question we could have a historic result. The story notes that we could have had six elected African Americans in 2011, but fell short when Jolanda Jones was defeated. Provost and Moses also have the chance to be the first African American women on Council since Wanda Adams’ departure in 2013. It will be interesting to see whatever happens.

Endorsement watch: Houston GLBT Political Caucus 2015

Congrats to all the endorsees.

A raucous municipal endorsement meeting brought mayoral candidate Sylvester Turner the coveted backing of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus on Saturday, positioning the 26-year state representative to broaden his coalition to include the city’s progressive voting bloc.

Caucus members voted 142-85 to endorse Turner after more than an hour of insult-laden discussion in which they rejected the recommendation of the group’s screening committee to endorse former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

Turner also beat out former Congressman Chris Bell, a longtime ally of the gay community who had been considered a likely pick for the group’s endorsement.

Once-shunned, the caucus’ supprt is now highly sought-after by candidates aiming to win over left-wing voters, known for reliably showing up at the polls.

“This is a major step to the finish line,” said Turner, seen as a frontrunner in the crowded mayor’s race. “This is a race about the future of the city versus its past, and this group represents a vital component of Houston’s family.”


Of the five mayoral candidates angling for caucus support, Turner, Garcia and City Councilman Stephen Costello received the highest ratings from the group’s four-member screening committee.

Committee members said concerns about Bell’s viability landed him a lower rank.

Bell closed out the first half of the year with less money in the bank than any of the other top-tier candidates.

“He’s in a tough position, because absent resources, financial resources, he would need key endorsements like this one to bolster his candidacy,” [consultant Keir] Murray said. “It just makes what was already a tough road even tougher.”

Bell, for his part, remained optimistic after the endorsement vote.

“Obviously not everyone participates in the caucus endorsement process,” Bell said. “I still think I am going to have tremendous support in the progressive voting bloc.”

See here for some background. I followed the action on Facebook and Twitter – it was spirited and lengthy, but everyone got a chance to make their case and to be heard. Here’s the full list of endorsed candidates:

Mayor – Sylvester Turner

City Council
District B – Jerry Davis
District C – Ellen Cohen
District F – Richard A. Nguyen
District H – Roland Chavez
District I – Robert Gallegos
District J – Mike Laster
District K – Larry Green
At Large 1 – Lane Lewis
At Large 2 – David Robinson
At Large 3 – Doug Peterson
At Large 4 – Amanda K. Edwards
At Large 5 – Phillipe Nassif

Controller – Chris Brown

HISD District 2 – Rhonda Skillern Jones
HISD District 3 – Ramiro Fonseca
HISD District 4 – Jolanda Jones
HISD District 8 – Juliet Katherine Stipeche

HCCS District 3 – Adriana Tamez
HCCS District 8 – Eva Loredo

None of these come as a surprise. Several could have gone another way, thanks to the presence of multiple qualified and viable candidates. I look forward to seeing this slate – and the near-misses – do very well in November.

Term limits change approved by Council committee

One step closer to the ballot.


Most council members are in favor of changing term limits from three two-year terms to two four-year terms.

They will refer their recommendation to the mayor, who will then put it up for a vote during a regular council meeting.

“If in fact the full council supports it, it then will be added to the November 2015 ballot,” Council member Larry Green said.

He is one of the 10 members who voted for the recommendation.

The ad-hoc City Charter Review Committee consists of all 16 council members, but Green said the committee vote doesn’t necessarily mean it will pass.

“There are some council members who wanted to see other changes along with term limits,” he said. “And so they may not be in support if some of the other items don’t get up to vote to be added to the ballot.”

See here for the background. I’ve explained my problems with four year terms before, so I’ll spare you the usual kvetching. Given the abolition of the fundraising blackout period, it’s even harder for me to see the justification for four year terms. Any incumbent that doesn’t go into their re-election year with a six figure-plus campaign treasury will have committed political malpractice. How exactly is this going to make things better? We’ll see how it goes when it comes up for a final vote.

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.

Parker proposes new firefighter pension plan

We’ll see about this.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

With the city of Houston facing huge and rising pension costs, Mayor Annise Parker on Thursday unveiled a proposal to put new firefighters in a separate, less generous plan that would do away with expensive automatic cost-of-living adjustments.

The move would not affect current firefighters covered by the Houston Firefighters Relief and Retirement Fund, long insulated from reform by the Texas Legislature. It would be an unprecedented change to new firefighters’ pensions and would mark the latest chapter in the contentious relationship between Parker and the city’s firefighters. There are two lawsuits pending between the city and the pension fund; the fund is expected to sue the city over the latest proposal.

Creating a separate plan, Parker said Thursday, is her only recourse for reining in pension costs. Though the city long has had the ability to create the separate pension plan for new firefighters, Parker said, she has waited to do so until now because she wanted to attempt broader pension reforms first.

“But if I can’t solve that one – Legislature won’t help, I don’t have the ability to negotiate – let’s set up a separate pension and create one that is fair and sustainable for both sides,” she said.


Todd Clark, who chairs the fire pension board, told a City Council committee on Thursday that the proposal would “put a firefighter on welfare,” hurt morale and weaken the department’s ability to retain and recruit staff.

Council members Larry Green, Jerry Davis and Jack Christie pushed back, asking Clark whether there was room for compromise.

“I understand that you think the fire pension doesn’t have a problem, but as someone who has just gone through the budget process for the city of Houston, we have a problem,” Green said. “Our objective is not to become Detroit. What’s the solution?”

Clark responded, “The best thing you can do is just come up with the money. It’s not my job to balance the city’s budget. What the city should be doing is finding ways to meet the promises made, not trying to cut the benefits. No changes need to be made to our system. We’re a very strong and healthy pension system.”

The Mayor’s press release, with more details about her proposal, is here. I think Todd Clark is correct that the current pension is well-funded and in better shape than many others, but I think he’s got a tough sell politically to say that the city just needs to suck it up and pay whatever they’re told to pay, over which the city has no control. I’m not commenting on what’s right or wrong here, just saying that’s a tough sell. On the other hand, CM Costello, the biggest pension hawk on Council, wants this applied to current firefighters as well. That would have been the Mayor’s preference too, but she never got anywhere with the pension fund or the legislature, so it’s also a tough sell. There’s a dispute over whether this proposal can be implemented by Council or if it requires legislative action like any change to the plan for current firefighters would, so if it does get adopted expect there to be a lawsuit.

It’s past time for a garbage fee

Yes, this.

For years, Houston’s Solid Waste Management Department Director Harry Hayes has suggested the city implement a garbage fee to expand curbside recycling and pay for other initiatives. And for years, Mayor Annise Parker has demurred.

Now, with a looming budget deficit that could force widespread layoffs and cuts to services, the idea may see serious discussion at the council table for the first time.

Though Parker has not endorsed any particular path, she acknowledges a garbage fee is among the most important of the dozens of ideas officials are considering as they try to close a $150 million budget gap by next summer.


For Hayes’ part, he said he has “been like the North Star on this,” pushing roughly the same fee for the same reasons for six years, always reminding council members that Houston is one of the only major cities in the country, and the only one in Texas, without a garbage fee.

“I have consistently stated the same things to both mayors, who have both been huge recycling advocates, and the same thing to all the council members,” Hayes said. “If you’re asking me what to do and I’m your appointed and confirmed expert, here’s what we should do as a best practice in this particular city business.”

The fee Hayes has pitched – $3.76 a month or $45.12 per home, per year – would ensure recycling trucks and containers are replaced on time and without taking on too much debt, would deploy officers to better enforce rules against illegal dumping, and would add neighborhood depository sites.

Hayes said any broader proposal in line with what other Texas cities charge would be designed to generate enough revenue to cover his department’s $76 million budget, removing waste operations from the tax-supported general fund entirely. Such a fee in Houston, Hayes said, would be $15 to $20 a month per home, or $180 to $240 a year.

Using fees for 96-gallon bins, the type Houston distributes, Dallas charges residents about $21.92 a month, San Antonio $17.69 to $19.93, Fort Worth $22.75, Austin $33.50 and El Paso $16. Austin also levies a monthly $6.65 fee that funds other waste operations.

I’ve supported the idea of a garbage fee for some time now. The city would have been able to roll out the single-stream recycling bins a lot sooner with a dedicated fee, instead of having to wait till it had collected enough money from the program itself to finance the purchase of the equipment. How much better it would have been to deal with this back in one of the good budget years when the focus could have been on the improved service that a garbage fee would have meant instead of now when it’s all wrapped up in a deficit-reduction veneer.

The oddball argument was unconvincing to Councilman C.O. Bradford.

“When you look at business magazines, trade publications, economic forecasts, Houston is separate,” he said. “Houston is doing much better than those other cities because we do things differently. We don’t have to do it just because other cities are doing it.”

Councilwoman Ellen Cohen said an informal survey of civic clubs in her district last year showed general support for the $3.76 monthly fee.

“People were willing to consider that,” she said. “For me, we have serious issues ahead and I think everything should be on the table for the purpose of talking about it.”

Dwight Boykins said he is supportive of the garbage fee concept, but is far more comfortable with the lower amount than leaving a $15 to $20 monthly fee in place indefinitely, particularly for low-income residents.

Councilmen Larry Green and Jerry Davis are against the idea, saying constituent surveys have found more opposed than in favor.

All due respect, but the “Houston exceptionalism” argument is hooey. Sometimes, when you’re the only one not doing what everyone else is doing, you’re the one that’s doing it wrong. I get where CMs Green and Davis are coming from, but one of the things that a garbage fee can help finance is better surveillance and enforcement of illegal dumping, which is a huge problem in District B. I hope the potential benefit of this can be made clear – perhaps Director Hayes could put together a short presentation detailing some of the dumping hotspots that would be first in line for enhanced attention with a garbage fee – before any vote is taken.

Counting votes on the non-discrimination ordinance

From the Houston GLBT Political Caucus Facebook page:

Members have asked for the responses on our questionnaires to the questions below. The President of the Caucus, Maverick Welsh, has asked me to post the information. As the chair of the Screening Committee, I have reviewed the questionnaires from 2013 and below is the result:

Mayor–We asked:

Question: If elected, would you be willing to introduce a non-discrimination ordinance, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing, and public accommodation, that provides reasonable exemptions for small businesses, religious organizations, and federally exempt residential property owners?

She answered:

Annise Parker: Yes

City Council–We asked:

If elected, would you publicly advocate for and vote in favor of a non-discrimination ordinance, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing, and public accommodation, that provides reasonable exemptions for small businesses, religious organizations, and federally exempt residential property owners?

They answered:

Jerry Davis: Yes
Ellen Cohen: Yes
Dwight Boykins: Yes
Ed Gonzalez: Yes
Robert Gallegos: Yes
Mike Laster: Yes
Larry Green: Yes
Steve Costello: Yes
David Robinson: Yes
C.O. Bradford: Yes
Jack Christie: Yes

There’s been a lot of speculation about who may or may not support the ordinance that Mayor Parker has promised to bring before council. As yet, there is not a draft version of the ordinance, and that seems to be the key to understanding this. As CMs Bradford and Boykins mention to Lone Star Q, without at least a draft you don’t know what the specifics are. Maybe it’ll be weaker than you want it to be. Maybe it’ll be poorly worded and you will be concerned about potential litigation as a result. It’s not inconsistent for a Council member to say they support the principle and the idea of the ordinance, but they want to see what it actually says before they can confirm they’ll vote for it.

Nonetheless, everyone listed above is on record saying they would “vote in favor of a non-discrimination ordinance, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing, and public accommodation”, and they will be expected to do exactly that. If they want to make arguments about making it stronger, that’s fine. That list above is more than enough to pass the ordinance, so there should be no waffling, no fretting about vote counts, and especially no fear of a backlash. When the time comes, everyone needs to keep their promises. Now would be an excellent time to call your Council members and let them know you look forward to seeing their vote for this NDO.

Hiram Clarke TIRZ

I think this will be a good thing.

CM Larry Green

CM Larry Green

The Houston City Council and the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court approved a plan this month to boost development in Houston’s southwest corner with the creation of a tax increment reinvestment zone.

Under a tax increment reinvestment zone, property taxes generated within the zone’s boundaries are frozen at a set level. As development occurs and property values rise, tax revenues above that level are funneled back into the zone to pay for public projects in hopes of attracting further development.

Over 30 years, the new Hiram Clarke/Fort Bend-Houston zone is expected to divert $141 million in tax revenues into such projects as road repairs, converting utility easements into park space or coordinating with developers to transform South Post Oak, Chimney Rock, Hiram Clarke and West Fuqua into commercial thoroughfares.

“See all the vacant land we have here? All of the development we could have along here?” [Vivian] Harris asked, pointing to an empty lot where tree branches obscure a faded real estate sign.

Harris, who sought the same types of projects in her decades as a community leader with several civic organizations, credits her new boss, District K Council Member Larry Green, with pushing for the creation of the zone.


Green looks at the new zone as an assurance his district will see the same level of city investment as the 24 other areas with intact zones.

“This area has been neglected in regard to infrastructure improvements,” Green said. “We’ve gotten a lot of residential development, but our commercial is slow coming. If we incentivize it, they would come.”

Joshua Sanders, executive director of Houstonians for Responsible Growth, a nonprofit that represents developers, said the reinvestment zone, coupled with changes to the city’s development rules and a new state-created management district, could bring developers back within city boundaries by proving Houston is as committed to maintaining the area as the neighboring suburban governments.

“Many businesses are choosing to go across the highway to Pearland,” Sanders said. “Once you push that far out … all these suburbs have invested more recently in infrastructure than the City of Houston has.”

I’m very much in favor of efforts to revitalize areas like Hiram Clarke and the Fifth Ward. It’s great that there’s a lot of demand for housing in certain parts of town, but what’s being built in these neighborhoods is by definition high end. If we want the city to be affordable and available to everyone, we need to build housing in the open spaces and the parts of town that aren’t already premium priced. That’s going to mean some investment in infrastructure, but let’s face it, that’s way overdue in places like Hiram Clarke. This is a step in that direction, and I’m glad to see it.

Council approves Costco tax rebate

I still don’t think this is a good idea.

The Houston City Council on Wednesday approved a $1 million economic development deal to help Costco build a store outside the city limits.

In a rambling discussion ending in a 12-3 vote, supporters argued that the sales tax rebate would drive further development in the area around the site of the proposed store, at Interstate 10 and the Grand Parkway, generating revenue the city would not collect otherwise.

Opponents said they had heard no argument for why the rebates were needed for the store to be built, or, in Councilman Andrew Burks’ case, said the deal did not ask enough of Costco.

Corporations should take a more active role in funding after-school and summer jobs programs in the city, Burks said, and should give preference to veterans in hiring.


The store would sit on 14 acres Costco has under contract in the Cimarron Municipal Utility District. The city since 2003 has had an agreement with the district under which the parties split the revenues of a 1-cent sales tax collected within the district’s boundaries. The city provides only animal control services there, and property owners pay no city property taxes.

Economic development experts have said the area is likely to develop without incentives, given that a new segment of the Grand Parkway connecting I-10 with U.S. 290 will open in December. Councilman C.O. Bradford, who joined Burks and Councilman Larry Green in opposing the deal, took a similar approach.

“Is the incentive necessary?” Bradford asked. “I haven’t heard anybody articulate the real need for the incentive.”

Councilman Ed Gonzalez said the proposal was necessary because Costco was considering a nearby site that would generate no revenue for the city.

“While technically, yes, it’s a very lucrative site, very high-profile and likely Costco would still come there, I think to some extent, by us having skin in the game, we guarantee they do come into this area,” Gonzalez said. “I would rather us control some of our own destiny here, make sure this investment is here and leverage our $1 million to bring a much greater return to the citizens of the city.”

See here for the background. I get why Council agreed to this, but the question I haven’t seen asked – let alone answered – is what the return for the city would be compared to what was likely to be built on that property if no rebate was offered. We all agree that something would be built, possibly this very Costco, but even if you accept that Costco would have gone elsewhere, something else would have been put there eventually. As such, it makes no sense to compare the revenue the city will get from making the deal to zero. Compare it to some scenarios where something else gets built, and compare it to that. Is it still worth the money the city is giving up? If it is, then I can live with this. If not, then we need to do a better job of making economic projections.

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.

Endorsement watch: Planned Parenthood gets an early start

From the inbox on Friday:

Today the Board of Directors of the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast ACTION FUND Inc, (PPGCAF) voted to endorse the following candidates for the November City Election. Each of the endorsed candidates has demonstrated a strong commitment to the health and well being of Texas women and families. PPGCAF encourages all Houston registered voters to cast their ballot for candidates who support women’s health education, information and services. 


  • Annise Parker for Mayor
  • Ronald Green for Controller
  • Stephen Costello for Houston City Council At-Large Pos. 1
  • C.O. Brad Bradford for Houston City Council At-Large Position 4
  • Jerry Davis for Houston City Council District B
  • Ellen Cohen for Houston City Council District C
  • Ed Gonzalez for Houston City Council District H
  • Mike Laster for Houston City Council District J
  • Larry Green for Houston City Council District K
  • Anna Eastman for HISD Board of Trustees District I

A copy of the release is here. I’m still a little too focused on the legislative session to pay that much attention to the city elections, but I’m not going to let a slate like this pass by without notice. The only mild surprise on this list is CM Costello, who started out as a Republican in good standing but who has been a pragmatic moderate in office. He drew a challenge from the right in 2011 and will likely draw another this time around, but he was still viewed with considerable skepticism by left-leaning groups despite winning numerous endorsements from Democratic clubs. It’ll be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out this time around.

The PPGCAF will likely have more endorsements to make as the open seat contests come into greater focus; it’s possible they’ll take a side against an incumbent or two, depending on who files for what. I’ll be curious to see if they take a position in At Large #2, where CM Andrew Burks is a Democrat but will almost surely face a strong challenge or two. The same is true for HIDS Trustee Larry Marshall. Speaking of HISD, Anna Eastman now has an opponent, Hugo Mojica, who ran in the special election for District H in 2009. As I noted before, there are currently no open seats in HISD. Campos had an update on who’s filed designations of treasurer so far. Needless to say, that list is a work in progress. This is as good a time as any to ask what rumors and rumblings you’ve heard lately. Leave a comment and let us know.

More Green woes

Maybe it’s the name.

CM Larry Green

A 28-year-old nonprofit workforce training organization is teetering on the brink of extinction after four years under the leadership of Houston City Councilman Larry Green.

Green left HoustonWorks USA in May by what he and board president Howard Lederer called a mutual agreement so Green could dedicate himself to his $55,770-a-year job as a city councilman. Green was elected to his first term last November. He was paid $179,369 by HoustonWorks in 2010, according to the organization’s most recent available tax forms.

Audits of the organization have revealed $1.7 million in unpaid bills, including repayment of a $665,000 cash advance due next month to a grantor, a $490,000 bank loan due this month and $629,000 in other bills that include overdue rent on its corporate headquarters. The Houston-Galveston Area Council, a regional planning agency that funnels federal money to HoustonWorks for job training, decided early this month to discontinue the $16.7 million annual allotment to the organization. That represents more than 90 percent of HoustonWorks’ total budget.

HoustonWorks was in fiscal distress before Green came aboard. The organization’s financial problems have their roots in an $800,000 loss on a failed ice cream store on Main Street downtown. Lederer said he continues to think highly of Green.

Nonetheless, Lederer said, “If somebody gives you a job and you’re the top guy and you’re there for four years, it’s pretty hard to say you don’t have anything to do with the net result.”

Green said he is proud of the job he did at HoustonWorks, and that he brought in $7 million in new revenue.

“I was the guy that brought fundraising to the organization,” he said.

This largely appears to boil down to a business dispute, and the facts laid out in the story don’t make either side look particularly good. Hard to say if there’s anything more to it than that. Perhaps if there’s a lawsuit we’ll learn something interesting in the discovery process. Should CM Green face more serious opposition in his subsequent elections, I’m sure this will come up again.

Tag this

Live by the pointless parliamentary maneuver, die by the pointless parliamentary maneuver.

CM Helena Brown

City Councilwoman Helena Brown’s colleagues, after weeks of frustration over her delays of what they consider vital city business, reached the limit of their patience Wednesday and twice took the unusual step of quashing her parliamentary maneuvers and admonished her to stop.


Council on Wednesday voted twice to override tags by Brown. An override generally is frowned upon as a break from council decorum. It is so unusual that it has not been done since last summer, and regular City Hall observers could not recall the last override before that.

“I understand that an override of a tag is considered a nuclear option around this table,” said Councilman Mike Laster, who said he had reached out to his fellow council members and found none with unanswered questions regarding more than $25 million in road projects in his District J. Brown tagged it without explanation, so Laster made a motion to override, and it passed 13-1. Brown also refused to answer questions after the meeting.

District K Councilman Larry Green called Brown’s tag “careless” and said it revealed a disregard for years of preparation.

“When you start coming into other people’s districts with regard to projects that other people have been working on for many years and to stall, delay if you will, without valid reason or opposition, I believe is disingenuous,” Green said. “I don’t think that it’s a precedent that this body needs to accept.”

The story says the other tag that was overridden was on the agenda item to raise taxi rates; according to Campos, it received the same 13-1 vote to override. Laster asked Brown to remove her tag, then moved for the override when she refused. Good for him, and good for CMs Larry Green and Andrew Burks for calling out their fellow freshman.

In that Hou Politics post, Brown is referred to as a “fiscal hawk”. Putting aside the fact that most so-called (and usually self-styled) “fiscal hawks” these days are huge hypocrites whose definition of “fiscal responsibility” is only spending money on stuff they like, the term has no meaning when applied to someone like Brown. Surely to earn a laudable title like “hawk”, one must at least have some comprehensible set of principles that clearly define what is good and responsible and what is bad and frivolous. Tagging, and voting “no”, on anything and everything for no articulated reason doesn’t make you a “hawk”. It makes you a nihilist and a speed bump. If that’s the way it’s going to be, then the sensible thing for the rest of Council to do is routinely override Brown’s scattershot tags. One of my principles is that you shouldn’t reward bad behavior. Guaranteed overrides would be a simple way of accomplishing that. If Brown can learn to pick her battles, or to at least deign to give a reason for doing her thing, that’ll be different. Until then, I see no reason why Council should play along when there are more important things to do. Campos has more.

2011 Houston results

Let’s go through the races…

– Mayor Parker won with a shade under 51%, with none of her opponents cracking 15% on their own. Obviously, this is not a position a Mayor with no serious opposition wants to be in, and it won’t surprise anyone if one or more potential opponents for 2013 are on the phone already calling potential financial backers. It’s certainly possible, perhaps likely, that she will face a much tougher challenge in two years. It’s also possible, given a better economy, a less dire budget, and fewer externally-driven issues like a red light camera referendum, that she could be in a stronger position for re-election in two years and that the time to have beaten her was now. Many people thought Rick Perry looked vulnerable after winning with 39% of the vote in 2006, but things don’t always go as you think they will. Often uncertain the future is, that’s all I’m saying.

– Brenda Stardig trailed Helena Brown in District A by 479 votes. She and Jolanda Jones, who led Jack Christie by about 6700 votes, will be headed to a runoff. All other incumbents won majorities, with CM Stephen Costello having the closest race but winning with 51.2%. So much for the anti-Renew Houston slate.

– Only two of the five open seats will feature runoffs. Ellen Cohen in C (53.62%), Mike Laster in J (67.27%), and Larry Green in District K (67.23%) all won. Alvin Byrd (25.11%) and Jerry Davis (24.38%) head to overtime in District B, while the perennially perennial Andrew Burks led the field in At Large #2, garnering 17.33%. Kristi Thibaut came in second, with 15.65%, followed by Elizabeth Perez and David Robinson. This is at least the third time Burks has made it to a city election runoff – he lost to Sue Lovell in overtime in 2009 – and I wonder if he will get any official support. Being in a runoff with Jolanda Jones and a District B race also on the ballot will help him, but beyond that it’s hard to see him doing much of anything. You have to wonder what Michael P. Williams is thinking this morning. Oh, and Eric Dick finished seventh out of ten. Apparently, it takes more than spreading campaign signs like grass seed and putting out puerile press releases to win public office. Good to know.

– Paula Harris and Juliet Stipeche easily won re-election in HISD, as did Chris Oliver in HCC. Carroll Robinson defeated Jew Don Boney by a 55-45 margin to succeed Williams as the District IV Trustee. The closest race of the election, one that will have people gnashing their teeth all winter, was in HISD III, where Manuel Rodriguez barely held on. I’m a staunch advocate of early voting, but you have to wonder how many early-goers to the ballot box may have regretted pushing the button for Rodriguez before his shameful gay-baiting mailer came out.

– There were 123,047 city of Houston votes cast in Harris and Fort Bend Counties, making this election a near exact duplicate of 2007 turnout-wise. There were 164,283 votes cast in Harris County, of which 120,931 were Houston votes, for a Houston share of 73.6%. The final early vote total for Harris County was 60,122, almost exactly what I hypothesized it would be, and the early vote total was 36.6% of the overall tally in Harris. There were 920,172 registered voters in Houston, about 15,000 fewer than in 2009 but 7000 more than in 2007. City turnout was 13.14% in Harris County.

I have my second tour of jury duty today, this time in the municipal courts, so that’s all from me for now. I may have some deeper thoughts later. What do you think of how the election went? PDiddie has more.

UPDATE: Robert Miller offers his perspective.

UPDATE: Nancy Sims weighs in.

Eight day finance reports, part II

Finishing what I started…

Fernando Herrera‘s report appeared on Tuesday. He raised $15,835, spent $27,185, and has $242.87 on hand. There were several expenditures on signs and a couple for “Advertising” that didn’t give me much of a clue about what kind of advertising they may be – there were two items totaling $4060 to Concepts In Advertising, $500 to St. Julien Communications, and $2500 to Van TV 55.2, whatever the heck that is. He also spent $500 on the Baptist Ministers Association of Houston and Vicinity for printing and poll workers.

– In addition to the airplane ad, Jack O’Connor spent $4K on yard signs. I’ve seen numerous Herrera yard signs around my neighborhood, but offhand I’m not sure I’ve seen any O’Connor signs, at least not in any actual yards. Maybe one, I’m not sure. But it’s a big city, and I only see a little piece of it in a normal day. Is there some hotbed of O’Connor support out there somewhere?

– Hatemeister/vanity candidate Dave Wilson spent $33K after loaning himself $35K in the 30 Day report. He dropped $4200 on signs, $14,400 on printing expenses, which I presume means direct mail, and $10,605 on advertising – $5965 at Clear Channel, $4640 at KSEV. This would be a good time to plug your iPod in while driving.

Kevin Simms spent $2000 on online ads, and $350 on phone banking. Good luck with that.

– As for the Mayor herself, her buys are a bit bigger. $686K on TV ads, $26K on radio ads, and $132K on direct mail. And she remains with $1.5 million in the bank, which any story that gets written after the election about potential challengers will have to mention as a barrier.

– District K candidate Larry Green used quite a bit of the green he’d been accumulating, spending $52K. That included three direct mail pieces, for a total of $15K, and three listings for radio ads, totaling $5850. His opponent Pat Frazier didn’t raise much, but between her 30 Day and her 8 Day she listed $25K in loans, borrowing $5K each from four individuals as well as giving herself another $5K. She bought $2K worth of radio ads, and most of the rest of her expenditures were for signs, door hangers, and card pushers.

– I don’t know if it’ll help me get a handle on who if anyone may have an edge in the At Large #2 scramble, but here’s a look at how those candidates are spending money on voter contact, according to their 8 day reports:

Bo Fraga – $9,039 on field, $5,350 on door hangers, $1,277 on signs.

Jenifer Pool – $6,775 on field, $1,455 on signs, and $150 on a print ad.

Kristi Thibaut – $34,599 on direct mail.

David Robinson – $6500 on print ads, $6000 of which went to the Texas Conservative Review, and $31K on “media”, which I know includes TV advertising. Far as I know, it’s him, CM Costello, and Mayor Parker on the tube. He also spent about five grand on postage, but I did not see any expenditures for direct mail, including in his 30 day report. I have no idea what all those stamps are being used for.

Griff Griffin – $1200 for signs, and a bunch of ad buys in neighborhood newspapers, including $633 for the Northwest Leader, $150 for Guidry’s, and $669 for the Bay Area Citizen. Oh, and $720 to the Sacred Heart Society for wine, which is my nominee for best expense report item so far. He’s still too dumb or lazy to list totals, however.

Andrew Burks – Five paid poll workers at $480 apiece plus another $850 for canvassers, and $800 for radio ads on KCOH. Burks had reported a $20K loan from his wife in July, which turns out to be a no-no, but an easily fixed one. He also has over $12K left unspent, which appears to be par for the course for him.

Eric Dick – Another $1700 to Ron the Sign Man, plus $187 on Facebook ads. Spend enough early on making the city your bulletin board, and you don’t have to spend much late. He also paid back a $15K loan to himself, and failed to give any totals on his form.

As of this publication, I do not see 8 day reports for Rozzy Shorter, Elizabeth Perez, or Gordon Goss.

– In At Large #1, Scott Boates spent $8500 on direct mail, $750 on phone banking, and $12K on radio ads, running on KSEV, all from personal funds.

– Finally, in At Large #5, Jolanda Jones spent $61K in all, including $23K on two direct mail pieces, $8K on radio ads, and $7K on polling. I’d kill to see that polling memo. Jack Christie spent almost $63K, $24,500 of which (for a direct mail piece) came from personal funds. He spent another $27,700 on mailers, and $6K on a Texas Conservative Review ad. I have not seen a finance report for Laurie Robinson or Bob Ryan as yet.

I think that does it for me with finance reports. I will post the list of non-filers tomorrow, to give everyone one last day.

Endorsement watch: Laster and Green

Today is a twofer as the Chron finishes its endorsements in the district races with recommendations for the two new seats. In District J, they pick Mike Laster:

District J’s inaugural City Council race has drawn three capable candidates from whom voters can choose. Among the three, we favor 18-year resident, attorney and community activist Mike Laster for the new seat at City Hall.

Laster, a University of Texas and University of Houston Law Center graduate, has poured himself out in service to his community for two decades. Among other things, the former senior assistant city attorney has served as president of the Sharpstown Civic Association, and as a board member and former chair of the Sharpstown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, which has landed the area an estimated $90 million in infrastructure development.


Laster views District J as a distinctive “community of opportunity” and predicts that much of the future economic opportunity for Houston “will come through this corridor.”

We agree. That opportunity, when it comes, will be best assisted by his able representation in city government. We recommend a vote for Mike Laster to voters in the new District J.

Laster is unquestionably a good candidate, and his two opponents are also quite capable. As this district was ostensibly created as a Latino opportunity district, I have a feeling that both this endorsement and if it happens Laster’s election will upset some folks who might have had different expectations. Stace articulates this better than I can. In any event, you can listen to my interview with Mike Laster here.

Moving on to District K, the Chron makes the easy and obvious choise of Larry Green.

Green is the right candidate for the job. He believes that District K desperately needs economic development, and he suggests a slew of best-practices models for neighborhoods that sorely need jobs, grocery stores and management districts.


In the race against two opponents, Green has sewn up practically every significant endorsement to date. The other candidates suggest that he did so chiefly by entering the race earlier than they did. We don’t think that’s the only reason.

And in fact, we like it that he got to work as soon as possible. District K needs a representative able to set goals and work toward them without delay. Larry Green would be that kind of councilmember.

I completely agree with those last two paragraphs. Two things to add to that: One, Green has had an opponent since June, and pretty much every endorsement that I’m aware of has been made since then. In other words, the claim that he got all those endorsements by default is incorrect on its face. Two, even a passing familiarity with the candidate process should make one aware of when screenings are done. If you chose for whatever the reason to not get involved in time to partake in them, I say you have no grounds for complaint about it after the fact. You can listen to my interview with Larry Green here.

Interview with Larry Green

Larry Green

District K is one of the two new Council seats that resulted from the redistricting plan this year. You’d think a brand new seat like that would draw a crowd, but this new district has basically drawn a crowd of one, attorney and businessman Larry Green. A look at his impressive list of supporters provides one clue why. Green is a lifetime resident of the area now known as District K and is a former District Director for Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. Here’s what we talked about:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2011 Elections page.

A closer look at finance reports: Elected officials

In addition to contributions from PACs, there was another class of donor that I thought was worth highlighting: Elected officials and candidates for public office. Basically, the idea is to see who “the establishment” is supporting, to see what we might learn from that. So without further ado, here’s a Google spreadsheet with all the details, as before sorted by both donor and recipient. Some notes:

– I only counted current candidates and officeholders. There are numerous donations in these reports from former (and possibly future) officeholders/candidates, such as Sylvia Garcia and Peter Brown, but I drew the line at current incumbency and candidacy.

– Also not included, partly because I wasn’t sure I’d recognize them all, were appointed officials. I saw a few – Janiece Longoria and Kase Lawal from the Port Commission, and J. Kent Friedman from the Sports Authority, all showed up multiple times – and probably missed many more. Unfortunately, having all this data in individual PDFs makes that kind of detailed analysis a lot harder to do.

– As with PACs, it should come as no surprise to learn that incumbent council members were the main beneficiaries, receiving about 75% of the donations from other politicians. Again, everyone likes to back a winner, and incumbents almost always win. And again, as open seat races sort themselves out, expect to see more involvement in them.

– It’s clear that CM Jolanda Jones knew going into this election that she had an arduous task ahead of her, and in keeping with that she tapped into the broadest network, receiving donations from ten different elected officials. CM Melissa Noriega was next with five; no other incumbent received more than three. Among non-incumbents, Larry Green in K (four) and Ellen Cohen in C (three) were the leaders.

– On the flip side, State Rep. Garnet Coleman was the most frequent giver, donating to nine different incumbents. He was an equal opportunity contributor, donating to five Democrats (Bradford, Gonzalez, Jones, Rodriguez, and Adams) and four Republicans (Costello, Stardig, Pennington, and Sullivan). Justice of the Peace Zinetta Burney was the next most frequent with five contributions, all Democrats: Bradford, Rodriguez, Jones, Adams, and Larry Green.

– The contributions listed from Ellen Cohen and Kristi Thibaut to themselves are transfers from their State Rep campaign accounts. Mayoral candidate Fernando Herrera was also a candidate for State Rep in 2010, but he did not list any such transfer, which I found curious since he listed more than twice as much in expenditures ($9206) as he did in contributions ($4550) and still claimed $3334 on hand despite having filed no report in January and claiming no loans. Leftover cash from his prior candidacy is the most logical source for the discrepancy, but if so he did not document this.

– The other curiosity about this class of contributor, which I have mentioned before, is the generosity of At Large #2 candidate Eric Dick, who gave a total of $640 to five candidates – Cohen, Jones, Green, Noriega, and District B candidate Phillip Paul Bryant, who received by far the biggest donation of $500. As we will see in a subsequent post, Dick did not limit his giving to city races. Among other candidates, Jack Christie donated to three campaigns (Hoang, Noriega, Sullivan), and Jenifer Pool to two (Gonzalez and Adams). CM Stephen Costello was the only Council member to donate to his colleagues, making contributions to CMs Noriega and Gonzalez.

– To be honest, I expected there to be more of this type of donation. Perhaps the 30 day and 8 day reports will be more in line with what I thought would be the case. If I had the capability, I’d love to expand this analysis to include all of the people who show up on multiple finance reports. You really do see the same names over and over again.

Starting with the next post in this series, I’ll take a look at expenditures. Let me know what you think.

More on the new Council districts

For just about everything you could want to know about the new Council districts, go read Greg. Population and registered voter data, 2009 election returns, a look at how the districts have changed and may change in the future, it’s all there. Check it out.

I said in my previous post that we should expect to see some candidates start to appear now that we know where the districts are. Houston Politics mentions a few names.

Criselda Romero, an aide to Councilman Ed Gonzalez, told me she will run for the District J seat. She said she plans to file the paperwork today to appoint a treasurer so she can begin raising money.

Much was made of creating an opportunity for a third Latino to join what will become a 17-member council in January when the newly elected members are seated. District J is 63 percent Latino, though only about 17 percent of the registered voters in the southwest Houston district have Latino surnames.


The new District K is an African-American stronghold.

Larry Green, CEO of HoustonWorks USA, a non-profit work force development, training and placement organization, has declared his candidacy for the seat. Otis Jordan, former president of the Houston Black Firefighters Association, told me yesterday he’s considering running for the seat as well.

Marc Campos has a pretty good list of candidates here, and as always there’s Noel Freeman’s Facebook note with treasurer filings and rumored candidates. If you know of anyone else sniffing around a race, leave a comment and let us know.