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City reaches settlement in pension projection lawsuit

Old story, new development.

Houston has agreed to settle a lawsuit it filed four years ago against an actuarial firm whose predictions it blamed for contributing to the city’s multi-billion-dollar pension crisis for $40 million.

The city’s outside counsel, Susman Godfrey, would collect $11 million, and $29 million would be deposited into the city’s general fund. City Council must approve the settlement.

City Council approved the filing of the lawsuit in July 2014, saying Houston officials’ reliance on the advice of Towers Perrin, now known as Willis Towers Watson, led them to boost workers’ retirement benefits in 2001 and saddle taxpayers with unaffordable pensions costs as a result.

The city alleged negligence and malpractice and sought damages of $832 million — a figure later revised to $432 million.

See here, here, and here for the background. That first link is from 2004; it and the second link have most of the relevant information. Getting $29 million in cash doesn’t suck, but boy it would have been nice to have gotten better information in the first place. Nothing more to be done about it now.

Shades of 1997

The Chron looks to the past to analyze Sylvester Turner’s runoff victory.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

As the Chronicle reported, voting in the Houston mayor’s runoff fell overwhelmingly along racial lines, with Sylvester Turner edging out a slight victory in part by securing 93 percent of the vote in the city’s majority-black precincts.

King, meanwhile, took 71 percent of the vote in the city’s majority-white precincts. Turner beat King by about 4 percentage points in majority-Hispanic precincts, earning 52 percent of the vote.

That degree of racial polarization also was seen in the 1997 mayor’s race, when Brown won 99 percent of the vote in majority-black precincts and 38 percent in majority-white precincts, according to a 2011 Texas Southern University study.

However, Brown earned just 17 percent of the vote in majority-Hispanic precincts.

TSU political scientist Michael Adams attributed Turner’s comparatively strong support among Latinos in part to his campaign’s Hispanic outreach.

“Campaigns matter,” Adams said, pointing to Turner’s endorsements from Hispanic elected officials and former opponent Adrian Garcia.

Adams also noted that Latinos increasingly have leaned Democratic in the intervening years, and that Mosbacher focused extensively on the Hispanic community during the 1997 race.

See here for the background. Lee Brown’s runoff win over Orlando Sanchez in 2001 was actually closer than his win over Rob Mosbacher in 1997. I’d have liked to see an analysis of that race, especially of the Latino precincts. You’d think Brown would have done worse there in 2001 against Sanchez than in 1997 against Mosbacher. Regardless, I think it’s fair to say that Turner would have been in some trouble this year had he not done as well as he did in these precincts.

Precinct analysis: Mayoral runoff

Believe it or not, the County Clerk’s office put out draft canvass reports last night. As a result, I can do the thing that I do. Here’s a look at the Mayor’s runoff race:


Dist    King   Turner
=====================
A      9,491    5,472
B      1,356   17,406
C     19,866   16,004
D      3,368   20,245
E     20,108    5,600
F      4,664    4,005
G     28,193    6,892
H      4,070    7,317
I      3,605    5,894
J      3,412    3,012
K      5,791   12,718
		
A     63.43%   36.57%
B      7.23%   92.77%
C     55.38%   44.62%
D     14.26%   85.74%
E     78.22%   21.78%
F     53.80%   46.20%
G     80.36%   19.64%
H     35.74%   64.26%
I     37.95%   62.05%
J     53.11%   46.89%
K     31.29%   68.71%
Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

The Chron used this data to create some maps – a City Council district map, a precinct map, and a turnout map.

Remember as always that this is Harris County data only. Turner did win Harris County, by a small amount. The bulk of his margin is in Fort Bend, which is mostly in District K. You have to give King some credit. He won F and J after having trailed in them in November, and he carried C by a fairly healthy amount. I thought if he won in C he’d be in a strong position to win overall, and he came close to that. In November I suggested that King needed to duplicate Jack Christie’s 2011 runoff performance against Jolanda Jones to win. A performance like Christie had in District C would have done it for King, but he had some other avenues as well. Two questions to ponder in analyzing this result: How many previous supporters of Garcia and Bell and Costello did King move to his column, and how many new voters did he bring out? I will try to get a handle on that when I get a copy of the voter roster. A question I’m not sure how to answer is why did King do better on Election Day than he did in early voting, despite the expectations of some pundits? Turner clearly did a good job getting his voters out early. Maybe that’s all there was to it.

As for Turner, he did what he had to do. His margins in districts B and D were awesome, but it wasn’t just about the percentage, it was about the absolute total. It’s clear Turner needed the high turnout he got in those districts, but I think it’s an oversimplification to credit his win to “high turnout”, as I’d argue that King benefited from it as well. I’d love to see someone dig up precinct information from the 2001 Mayoral runoff between Lee Brown and Orlando Sanchez and do a side by side comparison with this year. I’m guessing there would be a lot of overlap.

I’ll be looking at the other races over the coming days. This result is understandable by looking at the numbers, as both candidates did what they needed to do, with Turner ending up on top. Some of the others are more of a puzzle, especially given the context of the Mayoral race. But we’ll get to that when we get to that. What are your impressions?

KHOU/KUHF poll: Tuner 38, King 38

We have a tie, according to the latest poll.

Sylvester Turner and Bill King are now locked in a dead heat in the race for Houston mayor, according to the newly released KHOU-News 88.7 Poll of likely voters.

The survey shows both candidates supported by 38 percent of surveyed voters, with roughly one-quarter of voters still uncommitted. About 13 percent told pollsters they didn’t know how they would vote, while another 11 percent refused to answer the question.

“I’ve polled since 1979,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist who supervised the survey. “I don’t recall ever seeing a race this close in the runoff. Usually at this point in the campaign, one of the two candidates has, if not a significant lead, an approaching significant lead. I’ve never seen a race this close.”

Turner, a Democratic state representative who’s making his third run for an office he’s coveted for a quarter century, easily led the pack of candidates in November’s general election. But King, a businessman and former mayor of Kemah who’s courted fiscally conservative Republicans, has quickly closed the gap and turned Houston’s mayoral race into an intensely competitive campaign.

“We see no evidence of either candidate leading, so I think both are going to work extremely hard, come rain or shine, to turn out that base,” Stein said. “Upwards of half the vote, maybe more, will be cast on Saturday.”

The poll data can be found here. I will note four things. One, the KHOU/KUHF poll for the November race was not terribly accurate beyond declaring Turner as the frontunner. To be fair, most of the polls we knew about were not terribly accurate, either. Two, as was the case with that poll, this one has a very high number of “don’t know” responses, which just seems weird for a runoff election. I mean, how many people who are truly going to vote in this race don’t know which candidate they support? Note the contrast in “don’t knows” between this poll and the dueling campaign-aligned polls from a week or so ago. My guess is that some number of these people who say they don’t know really do know but didn’t want to say for whatever the reason. Three, the 2001 runoff between Mayor Lee Brown and Orlando Sanchez was also viewed as a dead heat. Richard Murray, who is admittedly not Bob Stein, called it “an absolute cliffhanger” that would go down to the last vote. Finally, the KHOU/KUHF sample is 30% King voters from November, and 31% Turner voters from November; in reality, Turner led King 31-25 in November. That may be a reflection of actual turnout so far, or it may just be a reminder that who shows up is the big factor at this point. As with all polls, make of this as you will.

Our partisan Mayoral runoff

I’m shocked, shocked to find that there are partisan interests in the Mayoral runoff.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Even though Houston elections officially are nonpartisan, the contest between Bill King and Sylvester Turner has evolved into a test of party might as voters prepare to elect the Bayou City’s first new mayor in six years.

King has framed the runoff as the choice between a businessman and a career politician, a common appeal by Republican candidates against Democratic incumbents. Trying to paint King as too extreme for Houston, Turner’s campaign has taken to invoking the tea party and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the latter-day bogeymen of the Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, the local Republican and Democratic parties have endorsed their favorites and affiliated groups are gearing up their ground games to phone bank and knock on doors for their preferred candidates.

The result is a race without overt party identification, but with all of the trappings of a partisan battlefield.

“We’ve seen across the country the intensity of the partisan division grow,” University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. “It’s not that the overall population has become more partisan and polarized, but people who vote, particularly in a low-turnout election like a Houston mayor runoff, tend to be partisans.”

Murray said he expects turnout to be about 20 percent in the Dec. 12 runoff to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker, down from 27 percent on Nov. 3.

[…]

Murray said the race is more partisan than usual for city races, attributing the dynamic in part to the equal rights ordinance thought to have brought many conservative Republicans to the polls.

“It’s not surprising that the Democrats particularly, since they have a significant edge in partisanship within the city, would try to make this a partisan race,” Murray said. “And Republicans hope that they can counter and in a low-turnout election get enough of their partisans to go to the polls to squeak out a win.”

I will note that 20% turnout for the runoff will equate to over 190,000 votes, which would be higher turnout than the 2013 or 2009 November races. The 2003 runoff had 220,725 votes, while the 2001 runoff had 326,254 votes. I feel confident saying we won’t reach that level. Both races were D versus R like this one, with Bill White winning by a huge margin in 2003 and Lee Brown squeaking by in 2001. The latter election had “first Latino Mayor of Houston” possibilities (so did the 2003 one, but by then the shine had largely come off of Orlando Sanchez), and it was heavily polarized by race. This runoff certainly won’t reach 2001 levels, and probably won’t reach 2003 levels, but I doubt it will be low enough for it to be particularly favorable to Republicans. I’ll say again, I think for King to win he’s got to blunt Turner’s appeal outside of his African-American base. That was the intent of the Bell endorsement, except that a large number of Bell voters were repulsed by it. The partisans are going to turn out, as they always have in these races. If Democrats of all stripes back Turner, he ought to win. If King can cut into that enough, he can win. That’s how I see it.

And before anyone bemoans all those dirty partisans besmirching their innocent non-partisan city race, please note that there are also significant policy differences between the two. HERO, the revenue cap, and Rebuild Houston are the headliners for that, but the list doesn’t end there. I for one would rather have a Metro Board Chair nominated by Turner than one nominated by King. It’s not like these guys largely agree on things and it’s just a matter of whose flag they fly. Sylvester Turner’s Houston and Bill King’s Houston will be different places. By all means, base your choice on that. From my perspective at least, the two roads lead to the same destination.

Race and runoffs and Turner

Everyone agrees that Sylvester Turner will be one of the candidates to make it to the runoff for Mayor this year. But what happens then?

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Yet, to succeed term-limited Mayor Annise Parker, Turner, an African-American, will need to broaden his coalition beyond black voters – a challenge in a city where voting patterns often fall along racial lines.

“Since we don’t have party ID on the ballot, race is usually the No. 1 factor in predicting voter division patterns,” University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. “Campaigns exaggerate this natural inclination, because they hunt where the ducks are.”

Turner’s campaign says it is not conceding any vote.

“I’m not running a race-based campaign,” Turner said, pointing to his support from groups including the city’s three employee unions, the Houston GLBT political caucus, the Latino Labor Leadership Council and others.

[…]

From 1997 through 2009, black candidates running citywide in biracial elections earned an average of 89 percent of the vote in predominantly black precincts, 37 percent in predominantly white precincts and 32 percent in predominantly Hispanic precincts, according to a 2011 Texas Southern University study.

Those results suggest it is unlikely Turner or former City Attorney Ben Hall, who also is black, will receive significant general election support outside of the African-American community, said TSU political scientist Michael Adams, one of the study’s authors.

“Even with the extensive endorsed support Turner has received, the historical analysis of citywide races indicates that even for a candidate as well known as Turner, his prospects are dim outside the African-American community for this round,” Adams wrote in an email.

Turner thus faces the challenge of luring white and Hispanic progressives while solidifying his base. To safely advance to the runoff, he needs the support of more than 70 percent of black voters, Murray said.

Recent polls indicate Turner’s chances of pulling that off are good. Three surveys released in the last week show Turner either alone at the front of the pack or tied for the lead with former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

[…]

“African-American candidates must be able to create broad multi-ethnic coalitions; in particular they must be able to structure the race in partisan terms to be successful,” Adams said, pointing to the 1991, 1997, 2001 and 2009 races, in which African-American mayoral candidates qualified for the runoff.

In 1997 and 2001, when the races were effectively partisan, with a black Democrat running against a white Republican, the black candidate won. Otherwise, the white Democrat prevailed.

I’m not sure about including the 2001 race in this set, since the Republican in question was Orlando Sanchez, and there was quite a bit of chatter about how he could become the first Latino Mayor of Houston. It’s true that he drew the lion’s share of the Anglo vote in that race, but it still feels weird grouping him in there.

I can’t find that 2011 study, so I can’t comment on it. I just want to point out that right now, Sylvester Turner and Ben Hall have at least some amount of support in the general election from outside the African-American community. The polling data that we have tells us this:

Poll Turner Hall Black Turner% Hall% ================================================ HAR 19 6 20 95% 30% HRBC 24 8 22 109% 36% KHOU 19 4 21 90% 19%

“Black” is the African-American share of the polling sample. “Turner%” and “Hall%” are each candidate’s share of the black vote. In all three cases, that total is greater than the black share of the electorate – from 109% of it to 145% of it – ergo, at least some of their support comes from outside that share. That doesn’t contradict the thesis that they won’t get a significant share of the non-black vote, but depending on how much of the black vote is going to Hall, it does suggest that a significant share of Turner’s support is coming from non-black voters. None of these polls break the data down that far, so we can only guess.

As for how things may shake out in a runoff, it really depends on who the other candidate is. Bill King and Steve Costello are the Republicans in this race, but King is running a Republican campaign and drawing mostly Republican support, while Costello (who supports HERO) is running a more non-partisan campaign and has picked up some support from traditionally Democratic groups. Chris Bell is the Anglo Dem, but with his lesser financial position and Turner’s dominance of the endorsement process, he would seem to be an underdog. And of course, Adrian Garcia is a wild card, being neither Anglo nor Republican. I don’t know how a Turner/Garcia runoff would play out, but I’d bet it would differ greatly from the Lee Brown/Orlando Sanchez matchup of 2001.

The Trib on the big Mayor’s races

Those being the Houston and San Antonio Mayors races, with a look at how candidates of color are faring.

If former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte wins the runoff for San Antonio mayor next weekend, she’ll become the Alamo City’s first Hispanic female mayor, though not the first Hispanic, nor the first female.

If opponent Ivy Taylor wins, she’ll become the first black person elected to the position, though she’s already the first black mayor by appointment, taking over when Julián Castro left for a federal job.

And when Houston voters pick their next mayor in the fall, they could make former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia the first Hispanic mayor of the state’s most populous city. A win by state Rep. Sylvester Turner would give the city only its second black mayor.

As Texas’ major cities continue their decades-long evolution to minority-majority populations — where there are fewer whites than blacks and Hispanics combined — tracking minority and female ascension to mayoral firsts has almost reached the complexity of a political trivia game.

But the diversity of candidates is not a mere function of census numbers, political organizers and local leaders say. It’s the result of years of work in the trenches as people of color have labored to accumulate political capital.

“It’s not a magic bullet,” said Laura Barbarena, a San Antonio-based political consultant.

[…]

In modern times, San Antonio has been led by only three Hispanic mayors, despite the massive Hispanic share — 63.2 percent — of the population.

But the configuration of its local and legislative districts — particularly on the East Side — has also helped propel blacks into leadership positions. Taylor hails from the East Side and represented it on the City Council from 2009 until her peers appointed her interim mayor in July 2014.

Whichever way it goes, the June 13 runoff will give San Antonio its first woman of color elected to the top post at City Hall.

Still in its early stages, the Houston race has no clear front-runners in a crowded field, with at least seven candidates looking to win the Nov. 3 election. But with high name identification and wide appeal, Garcia and Turner are likely among the top contenders. The five other candidates are all also men, four white and one black.

In a city more diverse than San Antonio — Hispanics make up 43.8 percent of the population, blacks 23.7 percent, almost double the state’s share — both candidates have been more overt with messages about bringing people together.

As far as Houston goes, I would note that we had an African-American candidate and a Hispanic candidate in each of the last two open-seat Mayor’s races. Gene Locke in 2009 and Orlando Sanchez in 2003 (as he had against then-Mayor Lee Brown in 2001) made it into the runoff but lost there. This year, I would not bet any amount of money on any runoff candidate combination, and I would not bet any amount of money on any runoff outcome. There are too many candidates with a credible shot at making it into overtime, and too many possible variables in play once that happens. Unless something happens to clearly separate one or two candidates from the rest of the pack, I will continue to believe that the difference between finishing in the money and finishing fourth or fifth could be as little as a couple thousand votes, much like the At Large 3 race in 2013. Anyone who says otherwise is probably on one of the candidates’ payrolls.

Today is the last day of early voting in the San Antonio runoff, with Runoff Day being this Saturday, the 13th. Early voting turnout is up from the May election, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that final turnout will be up. From what I have gleaned on Facebook, there are a decent number of new voters (i.e., those who did not vote in May) in the mix, so an uptick is definitely a possibility. Who that favors is a question I’m not in a position to answer. If you’re from San Antonio, what’s been your impression of how the vote is going so far?

Where are the women?

I have several things to say about this.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the seasonal return of term limits modification

Here’s a fuller version of that earlier story about Council moving forward with a modified term limits proposal.

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dads

You can almost set your watch by it.

Mayor Annise Parker is in her third and final term, which means it is time for the cycle that has repeated roughly every six years since voters imposed term limits on City Hall in 1991: City Council is discussing asking voters to change those term limits.

This loop started with the late Bob Lanier, whom voters first elected as mayor the same year they chose to cap city officials’ tenures in office, for the first time, at six years: three terms of two years each.

Lanier started as a supporter of term limits, but as his departure approached in 1997 – and his backers pushed a bill in the Legislature to let him stay longer – his stance switched. Both local and state efforts to let him stick around came to naught, however.

Lanier was succeeded by Lee Brown, who pledged to pursue term-limit changes during his final stint in office but didn’t make much progress.

Brown’s successor, Bill White, was careful not to push term-limits reform as he eyed a run for governor, but he did form a commission to study the issue. That group’s recommendations were forwarded in 2010 to City Council. The body failed to place them before voters, concerned that the proposal, by allowing some incumbents to serve longer than six years, would appear self-serving.

These late-term mayoral pushes ignore still other times that City Council members or influential business leaders and political insiders discussed but ultimately dropped plans to push for term-limit changes – most commonly, to switch to two four-year terms – in 1997, 1999, 2001, 2004 and 2012.

Whether 2015 will be added to that list of dates when talk of reform fizzled is up to City Council, which is in the process of discussing reforms to the city charter, including term limits.

See here for the earlier story. I don’t really have much to add to this, I’d just forgotten that Mayors Lanier and Brown had taken a shot at changing the ordinance as well. And I’ll never understand the allure – from the public’s perspective, anyway – of four year terms. I’m in wait-and-see mode for now. Campos has more.

Council votes to sue over bad pension projections

Game on.

BagOfMoney

Houston City Council on Wednesday paved the way for city attorneys to sue an actuarial firm the city claims gave inaccurate pension estimates that spurred costly changes to firefighters’ retirement benefits in 2001.

[…]

Houston’s contribution rate to the fire pension skyrocketed soon after the changes were approved, despite an actuarial report from Towers Perrin, now Towers Watson, that predicted the payment rate would remain flat for a decade. This year, the city is contributing 33 percent of payroll to firefighters’ retirements, more than double the rate prior to the changes.

In the event of a payout in the proposed lawsuit, the money would be used to reimburse the city for the Susman Godfrey’s fees and expenses up to $970,000, and the firm would get a third of the remaining cash, with the city keeping the rest.

See here and here for the background. Based on past history, the city would have a decent chance of winning. How much they might stand to collect remains to be seen, but it likely would fall in the “not nothing, but not going to make a big dent in the unfunded liability” bucket.

Another pension-related lawsuit coming?

Here’s a little blast from the past.

BagOfMoney

The city of Houston may sue a company whose advice it relied upon in making changes to firefighters’ retirement benefits in 2001, saying the firm’s inaccurate predictions left the city on the hook for pensions it cannot afford.

Houston’s contribution rate to the firefighters pension skyrocketed soon after the changes were approved, despite an actuarial report from Towers Perrin, now Towers Watson, that predicted the payment rate would remain flat for a decade. This year, the city is contributing 33 percent of payroll to firefighters’ retirements, more than double the rate prior to the changes.

Former Mayor Lee Brown’s administration also based its support for 2001 changes to municipal workers’ pension benefits on a separate Towers Perrin report that projected the city’s contributions to that fund would not top 14 percent of payroll; by 2003’s end, the rate was 42 percent.

Both reports were commissioned by the employee- and retiree-controlled pension boards; the city did not seek second opinions.

City Attorney David Feldman said the proposed lawsuit is targeted at the actuary’s fire pension projections because the specifics of the situations make the fire report a “cleaner” case; he did not rule out bringing suit based on the flawed municipal estimates.

“When we were closely studying how we got to where we are today, I started collecting all the historical information, and I came across this and said, ‘Wait a minute, look at these projections. What happened?’ ” Feldman said. “Even if we weren’t in the ditch we’re in, if I came across that information I’d have a duty to my client to say, ‘You have a cause of action here.’ ”

[…]

While relatively rare, disputes between local governments and pension actuaries do occur, and have yielded damages.

In Alaska, where state pensioners have their retirement and health care benefits covered, the state sued its actuarial firm, Mercer, for allegedly projecting rising health care costs incorrectly; the firm ultimately settled for $500 million.

Mercer also was sued by Milwaukee County, Wis., which accused the firm of underestimating the cost of new benefits offered in 2001; the firm settled for $45 million.

I had to go back ten years to find the last mention of Towers Watson (née Perrin) on the blog. The fact that some other governments have collected for crappy pension forecasts in the past is intriguing, but suffice it to say we’re a long ways off from any kind of settlement. If we do ever get to that point it’ll be nice, but probably not transformative. I figure it can’t hurt to at least explore this, but we’ll see how it goes.

Funding after school programs

This should be a no-brainer.

CM C.O. "Brad" Bradford

CM C.O. “Brad” Bradford

To combat youth crime, a former Houston police chief says the city must first solve another problem: unstable and inadequate funding for after-school programs.

City Councilman C.O. Bradford said it is more urgent than ever to make after-school programs a public-safety priority as federal grants continue to dwindle or expire, forcing dozens of area providers to shut their doors this year and leaving more children unattended during critical hours.

“Deadly house parties. Drive-by shootings. Killed kids,” he said. “We’re going to see more and more of that.”

Bradford, Houston’s police chief from 1997 to 2003, has failed on previous attempts to persuade Houston leaders to take city funds earmarked for new police officers and instead spend them to expand after-school programs, but he vows to continue the push.

Since 2011, Bradford has chaired a coalition of area after-school care providers called ENRICH, which is based out of the Harris County Department of Education’s Cooperative for After-School Enrichment. The group’s end-of-year report highlighted local studies it organized and funded that show that after-school programs are linked to reducing youth crime.

For more than a decade, numerous national and regional studies have concluded that about 20 percent of all crimes – and more than half of violent crimes – committed by kids and teens happen in the four hours after school on weekdays, combatting the perception that mischievous kids prefer to skulk the dark. Some hope a solution is as simple as providing positive alternatives during those hours.

Former Mayor Lee Brown touted after-school programs as an anti-crime measure when the city began funding some in the late 1990s. Although the city spends millions from federal grants each year, only about $225,000 comes from the general fund.

“Too many young boys and girls are being cited and being detained because they are simply being children, and we are not providing the proper guidance, coaching and counseling they need,” Bradford said.

ENRICH reported that 53 percent of funding for after-school programs in Harris, Waller and Fort Bend counties came from federal sources in the 2012-13 school year. Dozens of after-school programs focused on academic enrichment were forced to shut down after that school year as federal grants expired with no option to reapply for one or two years.

I completely agree with CM Bradford that this is a priority and a sound investment that needs to be funded. You know the old expression “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”? That’s the idea here. Kids who are bored are more likely to get into trouble than kids who are busy. Doesn’t make them bad kids, it just makes them kids. I don’t know about you, but I certainly did a few stupid things when I was a kid and didn’t have anything better to do. The fact that federal grants are getting scarcer for this, presumably in the name of “austerity” or “smaller government”, is a scandal and a travesty, but this is the world we live in right now. We can pay now to help keep kids busy and engaged and productive, or we can pay later when they’re not. You tell me what makes more sense.

On African-American turnout in city elections

Bill King makes an observation about Ben Hall’s chances in the upcoming Mayoral election.

Ben Hall

When Lee Brown was elected mayor in 1997, many pundits predicted that with Houston’s growing minority community, Houston had seen its last white mayor.

That, of course, proved not to be the case as Bill White and Annise Parker defeated minority candidates in 2003 and 2009.

In each of those elections, there were credible, well-financed African-American candidates: Sylvester Turner in 2003 and Gene Locke in 2009. However, in 2003, Turner did not even make the runoff, and in 2009, Locke narrowly made the runoff and lost to Parker by a 53-47 margin.

The principal reason that Turner and Locke lost their mayoral bids was a dramatic decline in African-American turnout in city elections.

I looked at the election results in five key, predominantly African-American precincts from around the city. In the 2001 election when Brown faced a stiff challenge from Orlando Sanchez for his third term, the turnout in the general election in these five precincts averaged just less than 30 percent.

For the runoff between Brown and Sanchez, the turnout actually went up to almost 37 percent. The five precincts produced more than 5,600 votes, and Brown won more than 95 percent of those votes.

In 2003, when Bill White, Orlando Sanchez and Sylvester Turner squared off in the general election, the turnout in these precincts was about the same as the 2001 general election, but Turner got only about 80 percent of the vote compared to Brown’s 95 percent.

This was the decisive factor in Turner not making the runoff. With him eliminated, turnout in the runoff in these precincts dropped by almost half to just 17 percent.

In 2009, Locke was unable to motivate African-American turnout or rack up the margin,s that Brown achieved in 2001. In the 2009 general election and in the runoff, turnout in these precincts was only 15 percent, with Locke winning about 84 percent of the vote.

From just these five precincts, Turner got 1,650 fewer votes in 2003 than Brown did in the 2001 runoff. In the 2009 runoff, Locke got a staggering 3,300 fewer votes than Brown did in the 2001 runoff. The significance of this drop in vote totals is highlighted when you consider that Locke lost by fewer than 9,000 votes citywide.

Here’s the problem with this analysis: It assumes that the decline in African-American turnout, as epitomized by these five precincts King highlights, is independent of citywide turnout. That’s not the case, however. Consider:

2001 election – 290,556 total votes, 28.30% turnout in Harris County, Five Key Precincts turnout is “just less than 30%.

2001 runoff – 326,254 total votes, 31.23% turnout in Harris County, Five Key Precincts turnout is “almost 37%”.

2003 election – The page says 381,274 total votes, but that can’t be right since there were 298,189 Harris County votes, for 31.22% turnout. Assume it’s more like 301,000 total votes, with 31.22% Harris County turnout, Five Key Precincts turnout is “about the same as the 2001 general election”, or “just less than 30%”. Don’t you love all this precision?

2003 runoff – 220,725 total votes, Harris County turnout is 22.71%, Five Key Precincts turnout is “just 17 percent”.

2009 election – 181,659 total votes, 19.12% Harris County turnout, Five Key Precincts turnout is “only 15 percent”.

2009 runoff – 160,046 total votes, 16.48% Harris County turnout, Five Key Precincts turnout is again “only 15 percent”.

In other words, the Five Key Precincts turnout tracks the overall citywide turnout pretty closely. The question isn’t “why did African-American turnout decline so much from 2003 to 2009”, but why did overall turnout decline so much? I don’t have a good answer for that. I can say that one reason why Sylvester Turner got a lower percentage of the African-American vote is because unlike Lee Brown, he had a Democratic opponent as well as a Republican one. Maybe Ben Hall will do a better job turning out African-American voters than Gene Locke did, but to some extent that’s a function of overall turnout.

There is almost a demographic component to the decline. African-Americans, who tend to vote in higher percentages, are increasingly leaving their inner-city neighborhoods for the suburbs, just as their white counterparts did in past decades.

Pearland and several of the cities in Fort Bend County now have significant African-American populations. To some extent, the out-migration of African-Americans has been backfilled by Latinos, who so far have shown little interest in participating in city elections.

Also, when you drive through some of the historically African-American areas in the city, there is an obvious “hollowing out” of these neighborhoods. There are an estimated 8,000 abandoned homes in the city.

The vast majority of these are in historically African-American neighborhoods.

As we’ve just seen, African-American turnout is correlated to overall turnout. Beyond that, there’s a lot of anecdote and supposition but not much hard evidence. It’s true that population has declined in certain historically black neighborhoods. This is a long term trend. But that doesn’t mean that African-American population in the city of Houston as a whole is declining. According to the Census, black people were 23.7% of Houston’s population in 2010, and they were 25.3% of the population in the 2000 Census. That may sound like a steep decline, but the overall population of Houston went from 1,953,631 in 2000 to 2,099,651 in 2010, so if you do the math the black population actually went up, from 494,269 in 2000 to 497,617 in 2010. Unless you posit that black people outside the Five Key Precincts vote differently than those inside them, I think another explanation is needed.

Now, I do agree with King that Hall will need more than just African-American votes to win, and that he will need to develop another constituency, which as Campos notes they are trying to do. The question is how does he succeed where Gene Locke failed. Maybe there’s something in the numbers to suggest what that is, but if so it’s not apparent to me.

Precinct analysis: The 2011 Mayor’s race

I finally have a draft canvass of the 2011 Harris County vote. You know what that means. Here’s the breakdown in the Council districts for the Mayor’s race:

Dist Simms Ullman Wilson Herrera Parker O'Connor ===================================================== A 4.41% 1.28% 16.31% 18.03% 41.89% 18.09% B 22.41% 3.02% 11.92% 12.71% 43.80% 6.14% C 1.65% 0.83% 9.11% 11.21% 65.38% 11.83% D 15.33% 2.63% 11.07% 11.67% 50.84% 8.45% E 2.48% 0.81% 18.23% 15.03% 38.25% 25.20% F 5.20% 2.15% 10.81% 13.48% 48.78% 19.59% G 1.49% 0.51% 12.16% 9.43% 50.50% 25.91% H 6.04% 2.09% 7.70% 29.48% 47.33% 7.36% I 5.95% 2.47% 8.82% 29.98% 44.68% 8.10% J 5.82% 2.15% 13.27% 13.97% 50.05% 14.74% K 9.62% 1.99% 10.29% 11.00% 56.63% 10.47%

For comparison purposes, here’s my analysis of the 2009 Mayoral runoff. A couple of thoughts:

– As expected, Mayor Parker had her best showing in her District C stronghold, but let’s be honest: 65% against a bunch of no-names is nothing to write home about. Even on her friendliest turf, she failed to top the Lee Brown line. This is what I mean when I say that her problems begin with a lack of enthusiasm in her base. That needs to be Job One for her political team.

– All things considered, Parker did pretty well in the African-American districts, certainly compared to her 2009 head-to-head with Gene Locke. Obviously, not having a top tier African American candidate opposing her helped, but at least she can say she got a lot more support in these areas than before.

– On the flipside, the Mayor lost a lot of support in Republican areas, though she maintained a (slim) majority of the vote in District G. While there were no A listers among them, the fact that there were three conservative Republicans running against her was certainly a contributor. Seeing this makes me wonder why Republicans didn’t back Roy Morales more strongly in 2009. He’s no worse a candidate than any of the three Rs this time around were, and he’d run citywide before.

– The results in district H and I should concern Team Parker. How much of that was genuine dissatisfaction with the Mayor, and how much was Latinos voting Herrera’s name plus a lack of engagement from the Parker campaign? In my neighborhood, I saw a lot more Herrera signs than I did Parker signs. No question that a lot of the former was driven by the issues we’ve discussed before, but the latter I suspect was mostly about lack of outreach. I spend a lot of time in District C, and I barely saw any Parker signs there. What, other than run some TV ads, was her campaign team doing to reach out to voters?

– Looking at this, I wonder if the strategy of squeezing Parker out by running an African-American and a Republican against her – say, Ben Hall and Paul Bettencourt – would really have worked. I’ve no doubt that Hall could have taken a chunk of African-American votes away from Parker, but it’s not clear to me that Bettencourt had much room to improve on the performance of the three Republicans. For one thing, if you replace Wilson, O’Connor, and Herrera with Bettencourt, I’d bet he’d lose some of the Latino votes Herrera got in Districts I and J. He might do better in District G than the non-Parkers did, but maybe not. It’s also possible that the presence of a polarizing figure like Bettencourt, combined with the possibility that she might actually lose to this partisan, conservative Republican, could galvanize the Democratic vote in the Mayor’s favor. It’s anybody’s guess who would benefit from higher turnout, but I don’t think it would strongly favor any one candidate. I think the odds are very good that a Parker-Bettencourt-Hall race winds up in a runoff – Parker had very little margin for error, after all – but I think the most likely ordering would be Parker, then Bettencourt, then Hall – remember, it was Sylvester Turner that got squeezed out in 2003, not Bill White. In that scenario, I’d make Parker a solid favorite in the runoff. Ironically, if she went on to post a decent win in that hypothetical runoff, say 55-45, she might then have been perceived as stronger than she is right now. You can drive yourself crazy thinking about these things.

I’m sure I’ll have more things to say about this as I keep thinking about it. For now, this is what we have. I’ll run the numbers for the At Large races next. Greg has more.

Chron overview of the Mayor’s race

For the Sunday that is the last day before the start of early voting, the Chron brings us their overview of the Mayor’s race. And a theme we’ve seen expressed once or twice before.

Political analysts predict Mayor Annise Parker has a virtual lock on a second term, but she still has a lot at stake in next month’s election.

Winning isn’t enough, the experts say. She needs to win big to head off a challenge in 2013 and to give her a stronger hand with the City Council.

[…]

Too slim a majority in November, some observers say, could encourage a stronger challenge two years from now.

Lobbyist and blogger Robert Miller points to former Mayor Lee Brown, who in 1999 won re-election to a second term with just 67 percent of the vote against two largely unknown candidates.

As a result, Brown drew a stronger challenge in 2001 and was forced into a run-off to win re-election.

sigh I think I have a pretty good idea now how Leibniz must have felt. Maybe I need to register as a lobbyist.

Anyway. With the possible exception of what some of the other, minor characters in this race have to say, there’s probably not much in there that you didn’t already know. My interview with Mayor Parker is here, and my interview with Fernando Herrera is here.

San Antonio City Council extends domestic partnership benefits to city employees

Good for them.

On Thursday, words like “abomination,” “sin” and “Satan” were commonplace in City Council chambers as the audience weighed in on a tiny portion of San Antonio’s $2.2 billion budget.

The council listened to three hours of public comment on an estimated $300,000 line item that will extend benefits to domestic partners — both same-sex and opposite-sex — of city employees. The cost represents 0.014 percent of the city’s total annual spending, but it was such a controversial item that the council discussed almost nothing else.

The City Council adopted a budget that keeps the property tax rate steady and invests in Mayor Julián Castro’s long-range plan, SA2020. But council members Elisa Chan, Carlton Soules and David Medina dissented, breaking a years-long trend of unanimous budget approvals, because the budget included domestic-partners benefits.

The council voted 8-3 to approve the budget, which takes effect Oct. 1.

[…]

Despite the heated rhetoric, Councilman Diego Bernal said San Antonio is full of good people, and the 2012 budget reflects that. Aside from the necessities — infrastructure projects, public safety, economic development and other items — the budget “reflects the goodness in charity and respect and fairness of the people who live here,” he said.

It provides food for the hungry, assistance for poor women and children, shelter for the ill and real, meaningful services for the homeless, he said.

“The budget also contains a provision that treats a small faction of our city employees the same as all our other employees. I believe the budget reflects the values and charity and goodwill of the city.”

[…]

Councilman Rey Saldaña, who came out in strong support, said he felt like the provision had been adequately discussed and said his vote for domestic partner benefits was to send a message of respect and of support for equal rights.

Saldaña said he had no intention of trying to sway opinions.

“My job, however, is to do what I truly and deeply believe is in the best interest of the city,” he said. “And I truly and deeply believe we need to give our employees what they need to be successful. That being the case, my vote is to take care of people.”

BOR has more on this. I’m proud of the Alamo City, Mayor Castro, and each of the Council members that voted for this budget. You done good. Equality Texas has more.

I wish I could say that they were joining the city of Houston in promoting justice and fairness in this regard, but alas I cannot. To its credit, our City Council did pass an anti-discrimination ordinance that extended domestic partner benefits to city employees back in 2001, but unfortunately it was overturned by charter amendment referendum later that year. I don’t know about anyone else, but I for one am ready to revisit that fight. Our city needs to catch up to its sister to the west and do what’s right for its employees.

As I was looking for information about Houston’s experience with domestic partner benefits, I came across some familiar names in the articles I found, including then-Council Member Annise Parker, who led the charge for the ordinance that was eventually invalidated by the referendum; hatemeister Dave Wilson, who spearheaded the petition drive for the referendum; and former Council Member Rob Todd, who was one of the leading opponents of the ordinance on Council; it was his 1998 injunction against Mayor Lee Brown’s executive order implementing domestic partner benefits that led to the need for an ordinance in the first place. I’m Facebook friends with Todd, and I was curious what his reaction to the San Antonio news would be, so I contacted him to ask. He told me that as best he could recall, his main objection back then was being able to verify who was really a long-term partner for someone who wasn’t married to that person and who wasn’t. He says he’d have similar concerns now, but “People have more options now. You can get married in other states now, for example. Other cities have done this, and they’ve found ways to make it work – I’m sure we’d be able to figure it out. And I’ve come to the realization that treating all employees equally is the right thing to do. I think the city would be more accepting of it now, too. I believe a referendum to repeal the one from 2001 would pass. I’d vote for it if it were on the ballot. I’d put a sign in my yard, and I’d tell my friends to vote for it, too.” As would I. I hope we both get the chance to do all that soon.

UPDATE: Concerned Citizens has a good rundown of the Council discussion on this.

The 70 Percent Solution

Where have I heard this before?

November’s election really is about 2013, said lawyer, lobbyist and blogger Robert Miller. He speculates that the mayor needs to win big against low-profile opponents in November to discourage stronger candidates from running against her as she seeks a final term in 2013.

“If she looks weak, blood attracts sharks into the water,” Miller said.

Bill White and Bob Lanier never had a close call in their re-elections. But Lee Brown’s 67 percent of the vote in 1999 against weak candidates, by Miller’s thinking, attracted strong enough opposition two years later that Brown was forced into a runoff to keep his office.

Sounds familiar, but I just can’t quite place it.

You get the point. I still believe the true consensus among the “chattering class of political insiders” won’t be truly set in stone till the election results are in, but it never hurts to get out in front of these things.

Where the line is

Me, July 17:

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

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

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

Robert Miller, August 8:

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

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

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

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

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

Finance reports and the Mayor’s race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mayor and the firefighters

Despite the tone of this, I wouldn’t make too much of it.

While looking for tens of millions of dollars through a combination of cuts, deferrals, savings and fee hikes, Mayor Annise Parker repeatedly has identified the Houston Fire Department as one of the largest of budget bogeymen.

Whether describing an intransigent pension board, a union rejecting attempts to reduce overtime or the department’s overspending, Parker frequently has criticized the representatives of men and women who generally enjoy a public image as heroes and lifesavers.

Last week, her ongoing public sparring with firefighters culminated in a series of statements that painted the union and pension board as impediments to solving the city’s budget problems. When announcing a deal with the union to defer termination pay to save 238 firefighters’ jobs in fiscal year 2012, she told the media that she had been “stood up” by the union president who had been expected to show and play nice for the cameras.

The next day, she announced a deal with the police pension board to defer $17 million in pension payments. She contrasted their cooperation with the firefighters’ pension board’s rejection — and “not very politely” — of a similar deal. Last Thursday, even as she gloated a bit about the labor deal she had struck with the firefighters just 10 minutes before she was to send out layoff notices, she lashed the department for busting its budget year after year.

She made a point of mentioning that the only person calling for a tax increase this year was firefighter union chief Jeff Caynon.

“The mayor’s administration has been hostile to firefighters from Day One,” Caynon said. “There’s no question that if you asked the average firefighter on the street, they would tell you that they think the mayor hates firefighters.”

Now, the mayor needs those firefighters to ratify the labor agreement. If they reject it, they blow a $12 million hole in her budget just as her $1.8 billion plan goes before City Council for adoption.

It’s true that the Mayor and the firefighters, who of course endorsed Gene Locke in 2009, don’t exactly see eye to eye. It’s just that it’s not particularly remarkable that this is the case. The story notes that Kathy Whitmire had a contentious relationship with the firefighters, but there’s still more than that. The firefighters endorsed Orlando Sanchez over Lee Brown in 2001, and while I don’t recall them butting heads with Bill White, they endorsed Rick Perry for Governor last year, so draw your own conclusions. Seems to me this is pretty much par for the course. As for the deal that the union will have to vote on, the question is simple: Do they think they can do better if they turn this one down? I have no idea. Everything else is a political calculation. Neil has more.

Mayor Parker officially kicks off her re-election campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

I also agree with Murray about this:

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

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

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

Interview with CO Bradford

C.O. "Brad" BradfordNext up in the interview series is C.O. “Brad” Bradford, who is running for At Large #4, currently held by the term-limited Ronald Green. Bradford was the Democratic candidate for Harris County District Attorney last year, and though he lost in a very close race, a number of the ideas he campaigned on have been adopted by the victor, DA Pat Lykos. Bradford is a 30-year resident of Houston who served in HPD for 24 years, including a stint as Chief of Police under former Mayors Bob Lanier and Lee Brown.

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Karen Derr