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Melissa Noriega

Endorsement watch: Noriega for HD145

The Chron makes their choice for the special election in HD145.

Melissa Noriega

While the legislative session started in Austin last week, early voting begins today to select a representative for House District 145. That’s not the usual order of things.

This special election has been delayed because Republican Gov. Greg Abbott dragged his feet in scheduling the Senate District 6 special election to replace now-Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia. The winner was then-state Rep. Carol Alvarado, who now has to be replaced as well.

On the losing end of these political shenanigans are the voters in this largely Hispanic, Democratic-leaning district, which straddles Interstate 45 from downtown to Pasadena. They may see their political power diluted this year as the Legislature starts without their new representative in place. The victor in this eight-way race will need the skill and experience to effectively advocate for constituents despite a truncated timeline. Luckily, voters have that candidate in Melissa Noriega.

The former city councilwoman actually held this seat in 2005 while her then-husband, Rick Noriega, was on active military duty in Afghanistan. She then ran for the at-large position 3 seat on City Council, which she held until term-limited out in 2013. During that time she developed a reputation as a well-informed consensus-builder and routinely earned our endorsement. Since then she has worked as a vice president at Baker-Ripley, focusing on disaster response after Hurricane Harvey.

Appearing alongside four opponents at the editorial board’s endorsement meeting, Noriega, 64, spoke with specificity about the challenges facing this district, including overburdened schools, disaster recovery, flooding and the planned redesign of I-45 and Interstate 69.

I am as noted in the tank for Melissa, so I’m happy to see the Chron endorse her. This race is all about whoever gets enough people to the polls to vote for them to make the runoff. Several campaigns are out there working – I’ve been contacted one way or another by three or four of them – but the runway for this is extremely short. If you’re in HD145, make a plan to vote and get out there and do it.

Early voting begins Monday for HD145 special election

From the inbox:

First week Early Voting hours for the January 29, 2019 Special Election To Fill A Vacancy For State Representative District 145 will now be extended from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.  Extended voting hours will now give voters an extra 18 hours to make it to the polls.

“One of my goals upon taking office is making voting easier for Houstonians and expanding Early Voting hours is just one way to do that,” stated Harris County Clerk Dr. Diane Trautman.

The Early Voting locations and schedule are as follows:

Harris County, TX Early Voting Schedule and Locations

January 29, 2019 Special Election To Fill A Vacancy For SRD 145

Location Address City Zip
County Attorney Conference Center 1019 Congress Avenue Houston 77002
Moody Park Community Center 3725 Fulton Street Houston 77009
Ripley House Neighborhood Center 4410 Navigation Boulevard Houston 77011
HCCS Southeast College 6960 Rustic Street, Parking Garage Houston 77087
Harris County Scarsdale Annex 10851 Scarsdale Boulevard Houston 77089
Hours of Operation
Day(s) Date Time
Monday to Saturday Jan 14 – 19 7am – 7 pm
Sunday Jan 20 1 pm – 6 pm
*Monday Jan 21 CLOSED for MLK Day
Tuesday to Friday Jan 22 – 25 7 am – 7 pm

“Extended hours match the needs of the hard working Houstonians hoping to cast a ballot during the first week of Early Voting,” added Dr. Trautman.

State Representative District 145 registered voters can find their sample ballot as well as their nearest Early Voting location by visiting www.HarrisVotes.com or by calling the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965.

The schedule and map can be found here. I’m voting for Melissa Noriega, and given that I don’t work anywhere near the early voting locations, those extended hours for week one – which ought to be the norm going forward – will be nice and convenient for me. Early voting for HD79 will start on the same day, but I don’t get those press releases. Get out there and vote if you’re in the district, y’all.

Eight file for HD145

It’s a big field.

Sen. Carol Alvarado

Eight candidates filed by Thursday’s 5 p.m. deadline for the Jan. 29 special election to fill the Texas House seat vacated by Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston. Early voting begins Jan. 14, a little more than a month after Alvarado won an open spot in the upper chamber.

The field consists of six Democrats — Elias De La Garza, Oscar Del Toro, Ruben Gonsalez, Christina Morales, Alfred Moreno and Melissa Noriega — Libertarian Clayton Hunt and Republican Martha Fierro, the third-place finisher in last month’s race for Senate District 6, which overlaps with part of Alvarado’s old House district.

[…]

Morales, the president and CEO of an East End funeral home, announced her candidacy the day after Alvarado’s win.

“I definitely feel like I’m well connected to the constituents of District 145. I know them intimately, especially through my business,” she said. “We hear their stories daily. We help them through their darkest hour.”

Morales has assembled a campaign team made up of Alvarado’s staffers, including consultant Jaime Mercado, lead strategist Marc Campos and campaign manager Linh Nguyen.

“I wanted a team that knew the district the way I know the district and would be capable of delivering my messages,” she said.

Noriega previously held the House District 145 seat when her then-husband, Rick Noriega, was deployed to Afghanistan during the 2005 legislative session. The thought of running entered her mind in 2017, when former U.S. Rep. Gene Green announced he would retire, setting off a chain reaction that ultimately left the seat open.

Part of Noriega’s pitch, she said, is that the special election winner will be sworn in amid a session that spans just 140 days — and she would be able to assimilate quickly because of her experience, she said.

“There are still people there that I know from before,” she said, mentioning presumptive House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, an Angleton Republican.

Noriega has also served as an at-large member of Houston City Council and worked for Houston ISD, while keeping an eye on the Legislature from afar.

“Last session, there was a lot of time spent on things that probably don’t benefit Texas,” she said. “There’s an opportunity to work with people and be collegial in a way that’s productive. That I think is still there.”

I’m going to say two things up front. One is that I’m not going to have time to do interviews before early voting starts. In the likely event of a runoff, I will see about doing interviews with the two finalists. And two, as someone who lives in HD145, I’m voting for Melissa Noriega. She’s a dear friend, she’s been there before, she was an excellent member of City Council, I trust her completely. I see no point in being coy about that.

I fully expect this race to be very low turnout – candidates may have been thinking about running for weeks, but no one has been campaigning before now, and early voting starts in just over a week. Turnout will be higher in the runoff, as there will be more time for the campaigns to develop and focus voters’ attention. It’ll still be low, but it will be higher than the January election. This is one of those times where endorsements will make a difference, as they will serve as one of the few things people will be able to hear about the candidates before they have to vote. For those of you in HD145, which needless to say includes a lot of people who just went through the SD06 special election, it’s time to get ready to vote again. The Trib, which also has the lineup for the HD79 special election, has more.

HD145 and HD79 special elections set

Another sprint.

Sen. Carol Alvarado

Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday set a Jan. 29 special election to fill state Sen. Carol Alvarado’s seat in the Texas House, hours after she was sworn in to the upper chamber.

Alvarado, D-Houston, won a special election Dec. 11 to fill the Texas Senate seat vacated by U.S. Rep.-elect Sylvia Garcia, who was elected in November to replace U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston. Green, who first was elected to the House from the newly-created District 29 in 1992, announced he would not run for reelection last November.

Candidates have until 5 p.m. Jan. 3 to file for the election, while early voting starts Jan. 14.

[…]

Christina Morales, the president and CEO of Morales Funeral Home in Houston’s East End, announced on Facebook earlier this month that she would seek the seat. Martha Fierro, a Republican who finished third in the race for Garcia’s Senate seat, announced on Twitter the next day that she intended to run for the seat.

Alvarado had held the seat since 2009, winning an open race after incumbent state Rep. Rick Noriega ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate.

The district voted 67 percent to 29 percent in favor of Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016.

Melissa Noriega, Rick Noriega’s wife, has said she is considering a run for the seat. She previously served on Houston City Council and held the District 145 seat in 2005 while her husband served in Afghanistan.

See here for the background. Alvarado was sworn in yesterday, making her resignation official. I’m glad to see this get on the calendar. If there is a runoff, HD145 (which is my district) should have representation again by mid-to-late March or so.

As I expected, the special election for HD79 to succeed Rep. Joe Pickett was set for the same day. There are candidates lining up for that seat as well.

Two candidates have emerged in the race to replace state Rep. Joe Pickett, who will step down from his post on Jan. 4: Art Fierro, chairman of the El Paso Community College board, and Dr. Michiel Noe, who is finishing his last term as a city representative.

Pickett, who is the longest serving El Paso lawmaker at the statehouse, surprised many of his colleagues over the weekend when he announced that he will step down from his position on Jan. 4 to deal with health issues stemming from a 2016 cancer diagnosis.

Gov. Greg Abbott has 20 days from Pickett’s announcement to call for a special election.

“I am going to throw my hat in the ring,” Fierro said in an interview Tuesday morning. “I will be a great representative and a partner to our delegation in their efforts to continue to improve our community and let the rest of Texas see how wonderful El Paso is.”

Noe, who works as an OB-GYN, announced his intentions to run for the seat on Tuesday night.

“Joe Pickett is a friend of mine and I’ve always been an admirer of his,” he said in an interview. “When he broke the news that he would have to resign, it was kind of heartbreaking, but it left a spot open that would be empty. and with the background that I have, I will hopefully just transition into representing the district.”

Noe has served as a city representative for eight years, with his final term set to end in January, when incoming representative Isabel Salcido is sworn-in.

I figure it’s more likely than not that both races will wind up with more candidates than the ones named in these stories. They’re not wasting any time in HD79. I expect things to move quickly as well here in Houston. Ready or not, it’s soon going to be time for some of us to vote again.

Precinct analysis: At Large #4 runoff

Here we have the least competitive runoff of the six that were citywide.


Dist   Edwards  Morales
=======================
A        6,322    6,153
B       14,660    1,761
C       17,813   10,238
D       18,341    2,882
E        7,688   13,231
F        4,046    3,080
G       11,996   15,203
H        5,610    3,903
I        4,371    3,774
J        3,070    2,287
K       12,150    3,830

A       50.68%   49.32%
B       89.28%   10.72%
C       63.50%   36.50%
D       86.42%   13.58%
E       36.75%   63.25%
F       56.78%   43.22%
G       44.10%   55.90%
H       58.97%   41.03%
I       53.66%   46.34%
J       57.31%   42.69%
K       76.03%   23.97%
Amanda Edwards

Amanda Edwards

As was the case in November, Edwards had a dominant performance in the runoff, winning every district except E and G, and she didn’t do too badly in them, either. I saw more ads on TV for her and for Controller-elect Chris Brown than I did for the two Mayoral candidates combined. That may have helped her achieve the rare distinction of getting more votes than any other candidate, a hard thing to do when there’s a contested Mayoral race on the ballot since the undervote is so much higher for At Large contests. With this strong win, Edwards joins CM Michael Kubosh as the early favorites to not get serious challengers in 2019. Four years is an eternity, and it’s also uncharted waters for us in Houston, so it’s a bit silly to say such things now. It’s always possible for things to go wrong for a Council member, and who knows what the electorate will be like in four years. That said, AL5 will be open, AL1 is sure to draw interest, and five district Council seats will also be up – A, B, C, J, and K. Assuming nothing crazy happens between now and then, I’d surely put any of those races higher on my priority list if I were inclined to run for something.

As for Roy, he’s beginning to edge into Andrew Burks/Griff Griffin territory. He’s been on a ballot for something in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2013, and 2015, winning his HCDE seat by forfeit in 2006 and making it into an At Large runoff in 2007, 2013, and now 2015. What I find fascinating, beyond the psychology of people who run for office cycle after cycle without any clear plan for a campaign or idea of how they might win, is how little support Morales seems to draw in some of these elections. The runoff in the special election in 2007 was closer than supporters of Melissa Noriega would have liked, but that was mostly about the usual problem of getting Democratic voters out to the polls at non-standard times, and she still won by ten points. He got a bit of late support in the 2009 Mayor’s race, enough to get his Election Day vote total to nudge past Peter Brown’s though not enough to threaten the top two finishers. He didn’t seem to make much of an impression in 2013 or this year. Morales was unlikely to win against Edwards, and I can certainly understand why Republican players might have put a higher priority on folks like King, Frazer, Knox, and Le. I still wonder, do they just not like the guy? Do they get the same Burks/Griff vibe that I get? Is it that he’s just not good at asking for support? Whatever the case, it’s another familiar result. I wonder if he’ll be back for more in 2019.

Precinct analysis: At Large #3

Only one candidate running for citywide office won outright in November. That candidate was first term CM Michael Kubosh in At Large #3. Here’s how he won:


Dist  Kubosh   LaRue  McElligott  Peterson
==========================================
A      8,782   1,042         835     3,152
B      8,988   1,526       1,251     3,541
C     16,414   2,314       1,409    10,138
D     12,074   1,599       1,367     4,385
E     15,033   1,249       1,217     5,314
F      4,192     973         819     2,274
G     19,632   1,463       1,069     5,433
H      6,149   1,284         925     3,055
I      5,121   1,057         953     2,567
J      3,230     600         492     1,566
K      8,524   1,271         989     4,283
				
A     63.59%   7.54%       6.05%    22.82%
B     58.72%   9.97%       8.17%    23.13%
C     54.22%   7.64%       4.65%    33.49%
D     62.16%   8.23%       7.04%    22.57%
E     65.90%   5.47%       5.33%    23.29%
F     50.76%  11.78%       9.92%    27.54%
G     71.14%   5.30%       3.87%    19.69%
H     53.88%  11.25%       8.10%    26.77%
I     52.80%  10.90%       9.83%    26.47%
J     54.86%  10.19%       8.36%    26.60%
K     56.57%   8.44%       6.56%    28.43%
CM Michael Kubosh

CM Michael Kubosh

There’s not a whole lot to say here. Kubosh won a majority in every Council district, only coming close to not having a majority in District F. Some of this is a perk of high name ID, but said name ID was earned through work on the red light camera referendum and by being visible on Council. There have been a lot more people running for At Large seats in recent elections, challenging incumbents as well as piling up in open seat races. Since 2009, when CM Melissa Noriega ran unopposed, two At Large members have been dislodged, and every At Large incumbent save Steve Costello and Brad Bradford in 2013 have had at least two opponents. Sue Lovell and Jolanda Jones survived runoffs in 2009, while David Robinson and Jack Christie face them this year. In that context, Kubosh’s achievement as one of only two At Large incumbents to clear 60% against multiple opponents in this time frame (Bradford in 2011 is the other) is even more impressive. Give the man his due.

With all this recent interest in At Large races, and with the next election being four long years away (barring any further intervention from the Supreme Court), one wonders what the landscape will look like the next time these seats are up. As noted once before, CM Christie is the only At Large member whose term would be up in 2019, meaning that if he loses then every citywide officeholder as of January 2, 2016, can be on the ballot in 2019. (Like CM Kubosh, CM Robinson is in his first term, so regardless of the outcome in At Large #2, the incumbent in that seat can run for re-election.) With four years between races, one would think that there will be a lot of pent-up demand for Council offices, which may attract another truckload of citywide hopefuls. On the other hand, districts A, B, C, J (if CM Laster wins), and K will all be open then, so perhaps that will siphon off some of that demand. I really have no idea what it will be like, but barring anything strange, it seems reasonable to say that CM Kubosh will be a favorite to win a third term. Check back with me in January of 2019 and we’ll see how good that statement looks at that time.

Endorsement watch: Chron for Leticia

It’s amazing how easy some endorsement decisions are, or at least should be, this year.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

The differences between the candidates this year could hardly be more stark. State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, the Democratic candidate, is not only knowledgeable and experienced but also congenial and easy to work with. Her Republican opponent, state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston, is divisive, disruptive and self-aggrandizing.

We urge a vote for Van de Putte. Texas voters, regardless of party, need to think long and hard about a potential demagogue becoming lieutenant governor.

[…]

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who finished fourth in the March Republican primary for lieutenant governor, described his erstwhile opponent as an unsavory combination of Huey Long, Elmer Gantry and W. Lee “Pass the Biscuits Pappy” O’Daniel. Patterson said he would not vote for Patrick and told reporters that of the 31 members of the Senate, “very, very few of them have any trust in Sen. Patrick. Very few of them.”

Patrick, 64, is a formidable politician. He’s smart, he’s articulate and he knows the issues, but those attributes make him all the more dangerous in a leadership position.

Van de Putte, a moderate Democrat of Mexican descent, is a mother, grandmother and small-businesswoman. She was elected to the Texas House in 1990 and the Senate in 1999. The exact opposite of Patrick, the 59-year-old lawmaker has earned the respect of her colleagues in the majority-Republican Senate. They know she’ll work with them.

It’s a familiar litany, and I will be very surprised if all the other major papers don’t follow it as the Chron and the Caller have done. Despite his occasional attempts at bamboozlement, I doubt Dan Patrick himself would dispute the substance of these pieces. He is what he is and he knows it. The choice really couldn’t be any clearer.

Meanwhile, the Chron also made the obvious calls in the HCDE Trustee races.

County School Trustee, Position 5, At Large: Debra “Debby” Kerner

Our strong choice for this position is the Democratic incumbent Debra Kerner. Elected in 2008, Kerner is a career speech/language pathologist who brings a valuable perspective to this board, as she has spent her entire career working with special-needs children. She earned a masters degree from Columbia University and has been an instructor of speech pathology at University of Houston. She has also served as president of the Houston Association for Communication Disorders and a former vice president of the Texas Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Kerner, 65, is being challenged by Republican candidate Michael Wolfe, who currently works as Community Outreach Director for the Harris County District Clerk’s Office. Wolfe has previously served as an HCDE trustee, where he was censured for his frequent absences from meetings and failure to notify the board about his whereabouts for three months. He was also accused of threatening board members during an executive session. When the editorial board asked about his absences, Wolfe did not give a satisfactory reply. Showing up is important. Without any question, Kerner deserves another term.

County School Trustee, Position 7, At Large: Melissa Noriega

We encourage voters to go with Noriega. After working for nearly three decades in the Houston Independent School District, three terms as an at-large member of Houston City Council and a short stint as a Democratic state representative, Noriega, 60, understands where HCDE contributes to local schools and how to pull the levers of government. As she will be the first to admit, the job of bulk purchasing, record storage and specialty schools isn’t particularly sexy, but it is valuable.

It’s a highly qualified and well-respected incumbent Trustee and one of the better City Council members we’ve had in recent years against two of the biggest jokers to “serve” in Harris County government; Noriega’s opponent is former Tax Assessor Don Sumners, whose mess is still being cleaned up in that office. The stakes are a lot smaller, but as with Lite Guv, the choices couldn’t be clearer. My interview with Debby Kerner is here, and my interview with Melissa Noriega is here. Please don’t overlook these races at the bottom of your ballot.

Interview with Melissa Noriega

Melissa Noriega

Melissa Noriega

We round out the county races this year with the Harris County Department of Education, a seven-member board that handles federal grants and provides various programs for the many independent school districts in Harris County. It’s hard to believe, but six years ago today there wasn’t a single Democrat on the HCDE. That started to change in 2008, when two Democrats won races for At Large seats against right-wing Republicans that had defeated more moderate incumbents in their primary. (One of those successful primary challengers was our current County Clerk, Stan Stanart.) Of those two winning Democrats, one was Debra Kerner, now running for re-election, and the other was Jim Henley, who stepped down last year leaving his position open for this election. Former At Large Houston City Council member Melissa Noriega is running to succeed Henley. In addition to her six successful years on Council, Noriega has a deep background in education, where she spent 27 years working for HISD in various capacities. We discussed her experience and her desire to help the HCDE continue doing its good works, among other things:

I will have more interviews in the coming weeks.

January campaign finance reports for Houston officeholders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January campaign finance reports for Harris County candidates

BagOfMoney

In our previous episode, we looked at the campaign finance reports for Democratic statewide candidates. Today, let’s have a look at the reports for candidates for countywide office in Harris County. I’m not going to get down to the Constable or JP level – I’m not aware of any interesting primaries, those districts tend not to be too competitive, and there are only so many hours in the day. Neither County Commissioner Jack Cagle nor Jack Morman has an opponent, so I’m skipping them as well. The real interest is in the countywide campaigns, so here are those reports.

County Judge

Ed Emmett
Ahmad Hassan
David Collins

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Emmett 28,600 119,244 401,209 Hassan 0 1,250 0 Collins 0 0 0

The only thing Judge Emmett has to fear, I’d say, is a 2010-style Democratic wave. Other than that, he should win without too much trouble. In the meantime, he will have plenty of campaign cash to spend on various things, including a $10K contribution to the campaign of Paul Simpson, who is challenging Jared woodfill to be Chair of the Harris County GOP, and $5K to the New Dome PAC. It’ll be interesting to see how much he spends on other campaigns from here on out.

District Attorney

Friends of Mike Anderson
Friends of Devon Anderson
Kim Ogg
Lloyd Oliver

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Anderson 0 29,730 36,739 Ogg 66,643 8,897 40,771 Oliver 0 0 0

The Friends of Mike Anderson PAC gave a contribution of $66,469.58 to the Friends of Devon Anderson PAC, which closed out the books on it. I presume Devon Anderson will commence fundraising at some point, and will have all the resources she needs. Kim Ogg has done a decent job fundraising so far, but it’s what you do with what you’ve got that ultimately matters. Zack Fertitta had $145K on hand as of his 30 day report in 2012, and we know how that movie ended. Early voting starts in three weeks, you know.

County Clerk

Stan Stanart
Ann Harris Bennett
Gayle Mitchell

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Stanart 16,400 19,398 45,969 Bennett 10,748 7,113 2,442 Mitchell 1,138 2,010 0

Stan Stanart has $20K in outstanding loans, which was the case in July as well. His fundraising came almost entirely from two sources – the campaign of County Commissioner Jack Cagle ($10K), and a Holloway Frost of Texas Memory Systems ($5K).

District Clerk

Chris Daniel
Friends of Chris Daniel
Court Koenning
Judith Snively

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Daniel 0 15,871 0 Daniel SPAC 31,843 24,166 20,859 Koenning 38,165 48,974 112,814 Snively 5,300 3,095 2,204

Still a lot of money in this race. Incumbent Chris Daniel’s PAC and challenger Court Koenning both have the same outstanding loan totals that they had in July – $74,500 for Daniel, and $50K for Koenning. Democrat Judith Snively has loaned herself $4K. I suspect we won’t see as much money raised in this race after the primary as we do before it.

County Treasurer

Orlando Sanchez
Arnold Hinojosa
David Rosen

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Sanchez 23,500 5,577 220,437 Hinojosa 0 1,250 0 Rosen 2,875 2,122 651

Orlando Sanchez’s eye-popping cash on hand total comes from an equally eye-popping $200K loan to himself. This leaves me wondering where he got that kind of money. Did he do really well for himself from 2002 through 2007, when he was in the private sector, or was he just that well off before he was elected Treasurer in 2006? Maybe someone with a journalism degree and some spare time should look into that. Google tells me that his primary challenger Hinojosa is a constable in Precinct 5. Other than paying the filing fee, he had no activity to report.

HCDE Trustee

Debra Kerner
RW Bray
Michael Wolfe – No report

Melissa Noriega
Don Sumners

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Kerner 0 810 329 Bray 135 0 135 Wolfe Noriega 0 8,690 9,335 Sumners 0 750 0

Neither Michael Wolfe nor Melissa Noriega has filed a report with the County Clerk; Noriega’s report is from the Houston finance reporting system, for her City Council account, which will presumably be transferred at some point. Not a whole lot else to say except that everyone on this list has run for office at least once before, and with the exception of RW Bray has held office at least once. Who knew the HCDE Board of Trustees would be so popular?

113th District Civil Court (D)
311th Family District Court (R)

Steve Kirkland
Lori Gray

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Kirkland 55,065 6,806 35,963 Gray 35,000 30,209 4,791

Denise Pratt
Donna Detamore
Alecia Franklin
Anthont Magdaleno
Philip Placzek

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Pratt 146,020 78,361 67,659 Detamore 0 2,591 0 Franklin 15,555 13,595 47,317 Magdaleno 7,562 11,519 299 Placzek 6,700 25,012 149

I’m not interested in watching all of the contested judicial primaries, but these two are certainly keeping and eye on. The 113th is shaping up as a rerun of the 215th from 2012, in which the candidate running against Steve Kirkland is being financed by one person. In this case, George Fleming and the Texans for Good Leaders PAC he runs gave all of the money that Lori Gray collected. I don’t know Ms. Gray – she has responded to Texpatriate’s Q&A, but as yet has not sent answers to mine; if she has a campaign webpage or Facebook page I haven’t found it – but I don’t care for lawyers with vendettas like Mr. Fleming.

As for Judge Pratt, she may have a gaggle of challengers this March, but she’s not feeling the financial heat at this time. She’s also doing what she can to stay in the good graces of the establishment, with $10K to Gary Polland’s Conservative Media Properties, LLC for advertising and $10K to the Harris County GOP for various things (I’m not counting the $2500 for the filing fee). We’ll see how much good it does her.

Still more state and county finance reports, plus the city reports, to go through, and the federal reports should start being posted on February 1. January is a very busy month.

Final filings: We have a statewide Democrat

Boy, I didn’t see this coming.

Judge Larry Meyers

Judge Larry Meyers

Longtime Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Lawrence “Larry” Meyers announced Monday that he is leaving the Republican Party to run as a Democrat for the Texas Supreme Court.

Meyers, of Fort Worth, filed Monday on the last day of filing to seek Place 6 on the Supreme Court, currently held by Jeff Brown.

“I am thrilled to welcome Judge Meyers to the Texas Democratic Party,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said. “I am even more excited to know that Judge Meyers doesn’t stand alone. Every day, I hear from real voters that our party represents the strongest path forward for our state.

“Texas is changing and voters will continue ot reject a Republican Party more focused on ideology than ideas.”

Meyers’ party switch makes him the first statewide Democratic officeholder since 1998.

What’s more, since his term on the CCA isn’t up until 2016, no matter what happens in that race he’ll be on the bench at least until then. It’s a little strange having a criminal court judge running for a civil court, but that’s far from the strangest thing that’s happened this cycle. Meyers announced a challenge to Sharon Keller in the GOP primary in 2012 despite having previously been an ally of hers, but as far as I can tell he didn’t actually go through with it; the SOS page for the 2012 GOP primary shows her as unopposed. In any event, welcome to the party, Judge Meyers. Best of luck in your election.

That was the first surprise of the day but it wasn’t the last and may not have been the biggest, for next came this.

U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Friendswood, has filed to run against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the March GOP primary, joining at least eight other hopefuls vying for the senior senator’s seat, according to a spokesman with the Republican Party of Texas.

Stockman, who had filed for re-election in Congressional District 36, had to withdraw from that race to seek Cornyn’s seat.

In an interview with the website WND, Stockman said he was running because he was “extremely disappointed in the way [Cornyn] treated his fellow congressmen and broke the 11th commandment and undermined Ted Cruz’s fight to stop Obamacare.”

There’s crazy, there’s bat$#!+ crazy, and then there’s Steve Stockman, who does a triple lutz barrel roll with a half-gainer but still sticks the landing. Take that, Louie Gohmert!

GOP political consultant Matt Mackowiak said Stockman faces an uphill battle, from recent investigations into his political and fundraising operation to Cornyn’s “huge bankroll.”

“Now we will find out if Sen. Cornyn is truly vulnerable, which I have doubted,” Mackowiak said, adding, “I predict that not one member of the congressional delegation will support Stockman. Ultimately, he will need outside groups to spend, and that is the most important unknown right now.”

All I can say is that so far, no one has gone broke underestimating the insanity of Republican primary voters. I suppose there’s a first time for everything. In the meantime, I join with PDiddie, Texpatriate, Juanita, and BOR in marveling at the spectacle.

Stockman’s change in office means that he won’t be running for CD36, which means there’s at least a chance Congress could be a tiny bit less wacko in 2015. There are three other Republicans running, and one Democrat.

Meanwhile, Michael Cole has had his eye on the heavily-Republican district since 2012, when he ran as a libertarian. He got about 6,000 votes in that election.

Now Cole, a 38 year old teacher from Orange, Texas, is running again as a Democrat. He says he has a campaign team in place, has been crisscrossing the district, and is about to file his first report on fundraising to the Federal Elections Commission. He said he’d focus on getting things done and charged outgoing Stockman with wasting time on politics.

“I can listen to what my constituents want instead of just showboating against Barack Obama,” he said, noting that his major focus would be on middle class job growth.

The change in candidates doesn’t change the fact that this is a 70% GOP district. But still, a Republican and a Libertarian both turning Democrat to run next year? Not a bad day if you ask me.

Anyway. Here’s the TDP list, which will not include people that filed at their county offices, and the Harris County GOP list; I’ve put the HCDP list beneath the fold, since the updated version of it isn’t online just yet. Stace notes the contested primaries of interest in Harris County, but here are a few other highlights:

– In addition to Larry Meyers, the Dems have two other Supreme Court candidates (Bill Moody and Gina Benavides, who is a Justice on the 13th Court of Appeals) and one CCA candidate (John Granberg for Place 3). Not a full slate, but not too bad. According to a TDP press release, Granberg is an attorney from El Paso (as is Moody, who is a District Court judge) and Benavides is from McAllen.

– Kinky Friedman has a second opponent for Ag Commissioner, Hugh Asa Fitzsimons III. Either the Dems got used to the idea of Friedman on the ballot or they failed utterly to find an opponent for him that isn’t some dude. I never thought I’d say this, but as things stand today I’d vote for Kinky.

– Another press release from the TDP makes a nice-sounding claim:

Today, the Texas Democratic Party announced its slate of candidates for 2014. Texas Democrats are fielding more candidates for statewide office in this election cycle than any time since 2002.

In addition to the statewide slate, the party devoted significant time to recruiting for down ballot races, and announced challengers in State Senate districts 10 and 17, and a full slate of candidates to the State Board of Education.

The party spent significant time recruiting Justices of the Peace, County Constables, County Judges, County Commissioners and others in places like Lubbock, Wichita Falls, San Angelo and across Texas.

I like the look of that. I wish they had more information in that release, but it’s an encouraging sign regardless.

– There will not be a rematch in CD33 between Rep. Marc Veasey and Domingo Garcia. As a fan of Rep. Veasey, I’m glad to hear that.

– Rep. Harold Dutton did file for re-election in HD142. Some people just can’t be rushed, I guess. Rep. Carol Alvarado joined Rep. Alma Allen in drawing a primary challenger, as Susan Delgado filed at the last minute in HD145. I’ll be voting for Rep. Alvarado, thanks. Oh, and the GOP did find a challenger for HD144 – Gilbert Pena, who lost in the primary for that district in 2012.

– Dems did not get candidates foe each local judicial race, but there are a few contested judicial primaries. Yes, that’s a little frustrating, but people will run where they want to run.

– No one is running against Commissioner Jack Morman, and no one else is running for County Judge. Alas. Ann Harris Bennett has an opponent for County Clerk, Gayle Mitchell, who filed a finance report in July but has been quiet since.

– Possibly the biggest surprise locally is that outgoing CM Melissa Noriega filed for HCDE At Large Position 7, making that a three way race with Traci Jensen and Lily Leal. I will have more on that later.

I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to say about many of these races soon. Here’s the Chron story for now, which doesn’t add anything I didn’t already have here. What are your thoughts about the lineups?

(more…)

Council hears the Mayor’s payday lending ordinance

Reaction was mixed, though it appears likely there is enough support to pass.

The proposed ordinance would limit payday loans to 20 percent of a borrower’s gross monthly income and auto title loans to 3 percent of the borrower’s gross annual income or 70 percent of the car’s value, whichever is less. Single-payment payday loans could be refinanced no more than three times, while multiple-installment loans could include no more than four payments. The principal owed would need to drop by at least 25 percent with each installment or refinancing.

Skeptics on council said the proposal could drive payday lenders outside city limits, hurting borrowers’ access to credit. Councilwoman Melissa Noriega also cautioned against viewing all such lending as nefarious, saying she knows a woman who takes out a title loan each year to buy school supplies.

“It’s very important that we not make life more difficult for poor families while we assume that we’re helping them,” she said. “I’m not saying we’re doing that; I just think that’s one of the key concerns here.”

Noriega’s concerns about what would replace payday lenders were echoed by Councilman Ed Gonzalez, who said he worried about constituents visiting a loan shark at the local cantina, and Councilman Jerry Davis, who said he did not want residents turning to “Good Times” character Lenny, a neighborhood hustler, for credit.

“I don’t know that Lenny the loan shark is much worse than the worst of the payday lenders,” Parker replied.

City Attorney David Feldman added that, while many payday lenders fled Dallas when it adopted its restrictions, the same has not been true in San Antonio.

One thing I want to point out: If you go back and review the Mayor’s proposal, you will note that nowhere in there does it put a limit on the interest rate that these lenders can charge. That means they will still be free to impose a 612% APR on their loans, while claiming they’re just charging 20% and doing their best to obfuscate what it all means. Seriously, go read this account by Forrest Wilder of taking out a “payday loan” that turned out to be a new mutation on the form that was aimed at slipping through the city of Austin’s regulations. That’s what we’re dealing with here. I understand Council’s concerns, but for the most part I don’t share them. I don’t see what’s being proposed here as needless or particularly burdensome. The item will be on Council’s agenda for December 11, which means it will likely be voted on the following week after getting tagged. Texpatriate and Stace have more.

July finance reports for non-candidates

Not everyone who files a finance report with the city is running for something this November. Term-limited incumbents, and former candidates who still have money in their campaign treasuries are required to file reports as well. Here’s a look a those who did this July:

Dist Candidate Raised Spent On Hand Loan ------------------------------------------------------- AL3 Noriega 25,245 5,224 23,602 11,000 D Adams I Rodriguez 0 3,274 10,293 0 2011 Jones 0 0 3,203 0 2005 Lee 0 0 1,287 0 2009 Locke 0 427 4,065 0 2003 Berry 0 5,000 0 71,622

Here are all the reports. I did not find one for CM Wanda Adams. Doesn’t mean she didn’t file one – as noted CM Cohen filed one but it’s not visible on the city’s finance reports page – but one was not to be found.

Noriega report
Rodriguez report

Jones report
Lee report
Locke report
Berry report

CM Melissa Noriega has some debt, which is why she raised funds this year. I have no idea if she plans to run for something else in the future, but if she does I’ll be in the front row, cheering her on. I’m pretty sure she lives in Commissioners Court Precinct 2, not that I’m hinting or anything. CM James Rodriguez has been reportedly interested in taking on Commissioner Morman in 2014, but if so he hasn’t started fundraising for it.

As for the former candidates, I listed the year of their last election instead of an office, since only two of them held one. I presume at this point that Jolanda Jones is not going to push boundaries and run for District D. It wouldn’t surprise me if she does run for something else someday, but it doesn’t look like this will be the year for that. Mark Lee ran for Controller in 2003 and District C in 2005, narrowly missing the runoff in the latter race. Neither he nor Gene Locke nor Michael Berry seem likely to run for anything again, but one never knows. Unlike Congress and the Legislature, there’s just not that much leftover city campaign money lying around.

A tax break where?

I don’t quite understand this.

The Houston City Council on Wednesday will consider giving up to $1 million in tax rebates to a Costco store that would be built outside city limits.

City officials say the proposed 151,600-square-foot warehouse and liquor store, in the 23600 block of Katy Freeway, will act as a catalyst for further development in the area around Interstate 10 and the Grand Parkway, and generate tax revenues the city otherwise would not collect.

[…]

The 14 acres Costco is under contract to buy is in Cimarron Municipal Utility District, with which the city cut a special-purpose annexation deal in 2003. Under the agreement, the city and utility district 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.

[…]

Without the incentive, Chief Development Officer Andy Icken said, the company likely would have picked a tract it had under contract a mile west of the utility district, near Katy Mills Mall, where no revenue would have been generated for the city.

Icken said the city expects to collect $8 million in sales tax revenues from the store during the life of its annexation agreement, after rebates. The rebates will come from sales taxes generated by the store, and will be used to reimburse Costco for infrastructure work, mainly a road connecting it to the I-10 feeder road. The Cimarron district will pay for soil work to make the site suitable for construction.

Combined, Costco would be reimbursed about $2.5 million. Costco representatives declined to comment on the project or the rebates.

Councilwoman Melissa Noriega said she has concerns about the proposal, but has not decided how she will vote. “It seems like Costco is an awfully big, well-funded company to need that kind of infrastructure assistance,” she said. “Having said that, I know we want to incentivize the kind of retail they produce for the tax rolls.”

I get wanting to have the place built in an area that benefits the city. The usual arguments about this kind of subsidy relocating retail activity instead of increasing it is a bit less concerning when the location of the retail activity is the point. While it is unquestionably true that something is going to be built at this location, given the upcoming Grand Parkway expansion, I get wanting to make it happen sooner, since the city’s revenue sharing deal with the Cimarron MUD expires in 2033, and I get wanting to ensure that what does get built is of top quality. But yeah, I don’t really see why a large well-funded company like Costco needs the incentive. I’m sure they know which location is best for them, and I don’t know how much difference a relatively minor tax break will make to their bottom line. Council should be very skeptical of this.

Your feedback requested on Chapter 9

From the Inbox, from CM Noriega:

Council Member Melissa Noriega announces a Special Called Transportation, Technology & Infrastructure Committee meeting Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 5:00 p.m. TTI committee members will review the changes to Chapter 9, Stormwater Design Requirements, Chapter 13, Stormwater Quality Design Requirements and receive public comments.

The Standards Review Committee (SRC), Department of Public Works and Engineering (PWE) was established to review, revise, and update PWE’s Standards and Documents. The Public is invited to provide their input and to participate by the submittal of proposals for suggested changes, comments, recommendations and other information. The deadline is Friday, May 24, 2013.

In this year’s review cycle, SRC has reviewed Infrastructure Design Manual Chapter 9, Stormwater Design Requirements and Chapter 13, Stormwater Quality Design Requirements and the associated design specification and details on the basis of comments received from all interested parties.

The SRC’s draft versions of the recommendations are posted at this link.

All the interested parties are asked to please review the recommended changes and provide comments for the final review by no later than Friday, May 24, 2013. After that time the committee will review all the final comments and authorize the City Engineer to publish the 2012-2013 version of the Infrastructure Design Manual by July 1, 2013.

You can provide your comments two ways:

For more information contact Rajiv Arya at 832.394.9131or at email: Rajiv.Arya@houstontx.gov

Also from the inbox, via Ed Browne:

The public comment period for revisions to Chapter 9 of the City of Houston Infrastructure Design Manual closes on May 24, 2013.  Comments must be submitted to standardsreviewcommittee@houstontx.gov no later than that date.  The draft of the revisions for Chapter 9  was released prior to the final City Council vote on Chapter 42 (which deals with urban development) of the municipal Code of Ordinances.  Please note that these two manuals, the municipal Code of Ordinances and the Public Works and Engineering (PW&E) Infrastructure Design Manual (IDM), are distinct but different.  The Code of Ordinances are voted upon by City Council after public hearings, while the IDM is approved by a PW&E Standards Committee not subject to a vote or hearings.
Here’s a link to our comments on proposed revisions to our red-lined copy of Chapter 9.
There are several key points that are particularly important to note:
  • This sentence was removed in the new version of Chapter 9: “Drainage criteria administered by the City of Houston and complemented by Harris County and the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) for newly designed areas provides protection from Structural Flooding from a 100-year storm event.”   We hope that the City doesn’t quit trying to provide protection from a 100-year storm event and that FEMA and commercial insurers don’t abandoned Houston to our floods.  Removing a sentence does not remove the City’s responsibility to protect its citizens from preventable disasters. (see Section 9.01.A.1)
  • Chapter 9 is not harmonized with Chapter 42.  Recent Chapter 42 changes include increasing development density for single family residences  dramatically (from 7 to 27 homes per acre) and designating all of incorporated Houston as urban.  Urban density means more concrete and more concrete means more water runs off of properties.  The stormwater runoff coefficient, C, that percentage of a property that is impermeable, needs to be changed in Chapter 9 to reflect an all urban City.  Any roadways being reconstructed by Rebuild Houston need to assume stormwater runoff of 90% or higher. (see 9.05.B.3.a.1)
  • Chapter 9 allows fees in-lieu-of detention (see Section 9.05.H.2.a.).  Section 9.02.J. says that payments in-lieu-of detention will be allowed only if deficit drainage systems are improved to sufficient capacity to convey new and existing runoff.  If conveyance systems are being asked to carry all the runoff, then they need to have been designed using urban stormwater runoff  (C>90%)  that assumes all the water will be carried by the roadway conveyance and have capacity in excess of this.  If Rebuild Houston intends to install subregional detention ponds, then all conveyance routes must be designed and built to handle more than the 100-year event; i.e., C >100%.   Any fee paid in-lieu-of providing detention needs to go to a Rebuild Houston fund earmarked to build subregional detention in the subregion where the fee was paid.  It should not go towards the General Fund, nor to be used on any road project anywhere within the City.
  • Attempts by the City to deal with “Grandfathering” will cause more confusion than anything.  Inspectors will be unable to discern the small amount of new detention added when redeveloping properties with existing impervious cover (concrete).  Enforcement would be virtually impossible.  Our suggestion is that all development or redevelopment install the same amount of detention.  Inspectors could very easily tell whether detention was installed or not and requiring everyone to install the same detention would reduce, if not eliminate, creative ways to avoid detention.  We also recommend that elevating properties would require mitigating for 100% of runoff due to the elevation. (see Section 9.05.H.3.)
  • Subregional (huge) detention ponds have been touted as the City’s savior by several Houston Mayors, but they are not.  It will be years (if ever) before Rebuild Houston funding begins to accumulate enough funds for these detention ponds.  Back-of-the-napkin math suggests that we would need approximately 600 subregional detention ponds, each of about 640 acre-feet (huge), if we want to do away with requiring local detention.  This would cost tens of billions and land available for purchase may not be optimally placed for detention, and will become scarcer as Chapter 42 is implemented.  Clearly, we’ll need to build some anyway, even if local detention is used, because we’re only mitigating for half the runoff produced.  A more subtle problem is our insistence that our roadways are designed to convey excess water in heavy rains, so the roadways will need to carry the water to the subregional detention ponds.  Trouble is, major thoroughfares that need to carry emergency vehicles, or provide an evacuation route, must not flood even in an extreme event.  Theoretically, all neighborhoods will have access to emergency and evacuation routes, so the question becomes, “How will the need to convey water to subregional detention ponds and the need for safe passage be reconciled?”  The answer is that they cannot unless major thoroughfares are designed with much larger drainage systems than currently used, and that costs even more money.  Chapter 42 densification will not wait for Rebuild Houston money to accumulate, so we strongly advocate for local on-site detention with no in-lieu-of payments. (See section 9.05.H.5)
Please refer to our other pages for more information about the relationships between Chapter 42 and Chapter 9.  Use whatever comments you wish to get your own talking points for the June 12th meeting or to send comments to the City (standardsreviewcommittee@houstontx.gov).

Finally, the Planning Department will hold numerous community meetings to discuss the recent changes to Chapter 42:

Thursday, May 23, 2013, 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Sunnyside Multi-Service Center
9314 Cullen
Houston, Texas 77051

Thursday, May 23, 2013, 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Northeast Multi-Service Center
9720 Spaulding
Houston, Texas 77016

Wednesday, May 29, 2013, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Briar Grove Elementary School
6145 San Felipe
Houston, Texas 77057

Wednesday, May 29, 2013, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Avenue CDC Home Ownership Center
707 Quitman
Houston, Texas77009

Thursday, May 30, 2013, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m
Garden Villa Community Center
6720 South Haywood Drive
Houston, Texas770612

Monday, June 3, 2013, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m
La Fontaine Reception Hall
7758 West Tidwell
Houston, Texas 77040

Thursday, June 6, 2013, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Freed Community Center
6818 Shady Villa Lane
Houston, Texas 77055

Tuesday, June 10, 2013, 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Willowridge High School
16301 Chimney Rock Road
Houston, Texas 77053

Thursday, June 10, 2013, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Jefferson Davis High School
1101 Quitman
Houston, Texas 77009

Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Memorial Drive United Methodist Church
12955 Memorial Drive
Houston, Texas 77024

To learn more about this program and download applications, visit http://www.houstontx.gov/planning/Neighborhood/prevailLotBldg.html.

One size does not fit all, parking regulations department

This makes a lot of sense to me.

A proposed rewrite of Houston’s off-street parking rules could allow some areas to alter the new requirements or ditch them altogether, part of what Mayor Annise Parker said is an effort to allow tailored solutions in this “city of neighborhoods.”

City planners say the off-street parking ordinance, barely touched since it first was passed in 1989, has been made more flexible with the revisions, none more adaptable than the advent of “special parking areas.”

The idea would allow neighborhoods, with Planning Commission and City Council approval, to create parking districts suited to their needs. City planners say the ordinance deliberately is vague about what rule changes would be allowed and who can apply – described only as “management entities” with a “perpetual commitment” to the area – to allow applicants room to find creative solutions for their unique areas.

“What we’re trying to get away from is a one-size-fits-all policy for the city of Houston,” Parker said. “If we pass these changes, we will have the ability to structure solutions on the micro level instead of just the one macro ordinance. I’m very excited about the possibilities.”

The proposed ordinance also loosens rules on how close parking lots must be to a building’s front door, makes it easier for businesses to share parking, allows substitution of bike parking for car spaces and cuts parking for historic buildings.

There’s a lot here to like. All the places where the rules are being loosened are exactly where I’d want them to be loosened. The increasingly dense inner core is not the same as more outlying areas, and businesses in the inner core should not required to provide suburban amounts of parking for their customers if they don’t think it’s needed. Giving neighborhoods the freedom to come up with their own solutions for their own unique problems, as was done for the Washington Avenue corridor, is the way to go. I’m impressed by how flexible the city has been, and judging by the reactions from stakeholders it seems they’ve addressed a lot of their concerns. Council has now approved the changes, with a further improvement added:

Added to the changes Wednesday was an amendment, suggested by Councilwoman Melissa Noriega, that will allow businesses within a quarter-mile of a transit station to get a 20 percent reduction in parking requirements if they build to city guidelines for development in transit corridors, meant to encourage pedestrian-friendly environments.

Good job, y’all. I look forward to seeing how this develops. CultureMap has more.

“Houston History” Fall 2011 Launch Reception

From the inbox:

Join Council Members Ed Gonzalez, Melissa Noriega, and James Rodriguez, and State Representatives Carol Alvarado and Jessica Farrar for the launch of

Houston History Magazine
 Fall 2011 Issue

Tuesday, December 6
 5:30-7:00PM
Sombreros (formerly Velia’s)
2910 Navigation Blvd.
(Map)

Meet the Authors and Enjoy Sweet Treats

The University of Houston Center for Public History’s “Houston: Nuestra Historia” focuses on the history of Mexican Americans in Houston, an often neglected area of discussion. Because Houston was not established as a Spanish colonial city, its history as one of Texas’s Mexican American communities is often overlooked. This issue focuses on community organizations, culture, politics, and education, all issues that are of great importance to the ethnic Mexican community in Houston.

Please RSVP to Kristin Deville by email or by calling 713-743-3087.

Precinct analysis: 2011 At Large races, part 1

Here’s a look at the election returns in each Council district for the three “normal” At Large races, in At Large #1, #3, and #4. First up is #1, where first term incumbent CM Stephen Costello won a narrow majority for a second term.

Dist Costello Galvan Boates Cook ====================================== A 46.25% 7.44% 28.98% 17.34% B 42.41% 9.19% 18.17% 30.24% C 63.58% 5.07% 19.66% 11.68% D 46.48% 8.23% 20.82% 24.47% E 42.68% 6.21% 33.25% 17.86% F 45.46% 9.03% 22.44% 23.07% G 53.55% 3.44% 30.58% 12.43% H 53.68% 18.22% 12.30% 15.80% I 48.36% 22.10% 12.91% 16.62% J 50.64% 9.05% 21.56% 18.74% K 52.14% 7.15% 19.85% 20.87%

Costello’s numbers roughly match those of Mayor Parker – he did a little better in some districts, a little worse in others, and finished about a percentage point higher than the Mayor. A couple of things stand out to me. One, for all of the anti-Renew Houston backlash in District A, Costello didn’t do too badly there; he received as many votes as Brenda Stardig but had a higher percentage of the vote, as there was a greater undervote in his race. The total among his three opponents was about the same as Helena Brown’s total, so who knows, maybe all of the Bob Schoellkopf voters skipped this race. Two, the fact that James Partsch-Galvan was able to score in double digits in Districts H and I is a clear indicator to me that little to no voter outreach was done in those districts, at least for this race. No rational voter, given even minimal information about the candidates, would ever choose Partsch-Galvan. Greg suggests that CM Costello needs to work on increasing his name recognition, and I’m inclined to agree. When people don’t know anything about the candidates they’re voting for beyond the names they see in front of them, strange things happen.

Moving on to At Large #3:

Dist Noriega Carmona Batteau ============================== A 48.35% 34.81% 16.84% B 53.76% 15.36% 30.88% C 66.58% 23.62% 9.80% D 51.89% 14.82% 33.28% E 43.06% 41.43% 15.51% F 49.26% 32.34% 18.39% G 46.92% 40.23% 12.85% H 68.16% 19.62% 12.23% I 70.08% 18.12% 11.80% J 55.64% 26.48% 17.88% K 56.49% 20.80% 22.71%

CM Noriega had over 55% of the vote, which is right in line with her performance in the 2007 special election runoff. She won majorities outside of the Republican districts, though her totals in B, D, and K were likely diminished by the presence of Brad Batteau, even if some people thought he was in another race. Carmona did decently in E and G but was mostly background noise in the rest of the districts. He had less money than Scott Boates did, but as Carmona did not try to have it both ways with his party ID, it probably worked better for him. One more thing to note is how well Noriega did in Districts H and I. Having a Latino name surely didn’t hurt, but let’s not forget that Noriega lives in District I and is pretty well known in and around there. She did better in I than its district Council Member, James Rodriguez: Noriega received 4,282 votes to Rodriguez’s 4,045. Point being, once again, that being known to the voters is a necessary condition for performing to expectations.

Finally, At Large #4:

Dist Bradford Molnar Price ============================== A 59.66% 14.08% 26.26% B 84.79% 4.63% 10.58% C 65.64% 10.81% 23.55% D 83.70% 4.51% 11.79% E 60.52% 12.40% 27.08% F 55.85% 15.19% 28.96% G 67.61% 10.75% 21.64% H 57.52% 17.58% 24.90% I 52.43% 21.77% 25.81% J 57.19% 14.69% 28.12% K 73.82% 7.76% 18.42%

CM Bradford had easily the best showing among contested citywide candidates, and one of the best showings overall. He also did not have something that Costello, Noriega, and Jolanda Jones had: A Republican opponent. My guess is that if you’d thrown a token R into his race – imagine Jack O’Connor moving into At Large #4 instead of the Mayor’s race after leaving At Large #5 – you’d likely move Bradford’s numbers down into the Costello-Noriega range. It’s impossible to say with any certainty, of course. There are so many factors to consider. Unlike Costello and Noriega, Bradford did get the CCLUB endorsement, which surely helped him in the Republican areas, but who knows if he’d have gotten it over a real Republican. I don’t want to understate Bradford’s strength as a candidate – he’s now won two multi-candidate races in a row with large majorities, which is no small feat – but I don’t want to overstate it, either. He was in a different race than his colleagues, and that makes it hard to compare them.

I’m working on analyses of the At Large #2 cattle call, and of course the At Large #5 race as well. Look for them shortly. Let me know what you think of this.

Endorsement watch: Noriega and Bradford

Another twofer, and another easy and obvious choice in At Large #3.

For the past four years Houston has been well served in At-Large City Council Position 3 by Melissa Noriega. We recommend Noriega for a third and final term at City Hall. In her service on council, Noriega has demonstrated a welcome ability to be a team player and consensus builder in city government. The Scarborough High School graduate, hailing from a family with deep roots in education, is herself a career educator, having served 27 years in several key administrative and staff positions at the Houston Independent School District.

[…]

Noriega and the other four at-large council members have a unique role in working with district representatives and, in particular, identifying those areas where quality of life is suffering because of inequities in the placement of capital improvement projects. She is committed to pressing for fairness in this process to help close gaps in the quality of life for residents in different parts of the city.

Melissa Noriega will give all Houstonians informed, energetic representation in a third term as an at-large councilmember. We urge city voters to cast a ballot for Noriega.

You can listen to my interview with CM Noriega here. I think she does excellent work, and I agree with the Chron’s assessment.

The Chron stayed with the incumbent in At Large #4 as well.

In the race for Houston City Council At-Large Position 4, voters have a choice among two attractive political newcomers and a well-regarded incumbent, former Chief of Police C.O. “Brad” Bradford.

With a nod of encouragement to the newcomers to continue with their political efforts in the future, we heartily recommend Bradford for a new term. He brings to council judgment, maturity and wide experience in handling budgets, personnel and management issues.

[…]

C.O. “Brad” Bradford is a significant leadership resource on Houston City Council. We commend him to voters for another term.

My interview with CM Bradford is here, with Louis Molnar is here, and with Amy Price is here. As I’ve noted, the Chron doesn’t usually mention anyone but the endorsed candidate – this is only the third time out of fifteen, and one of those was to castigate the incumbent as they recommended his opponent – so good for them for that.

The Chron seems to have set itself up for an eventful weekend, with At Large #5 presumably coming tomorrow, and Mayor on Sunday. My prediction is that the Chron will decline to endorse CM Jolanda Jones for a third term. They did endorse her in 2009 and in 2007, so I could very well be wrong about this. What do you think?

Council passes noise ordinance revisions

They’re the first such changes in a decade, and are intended to make it easier to prosecute complaints.

The police now can cite revelers, musicians and other noise makers for bass notes that officers can feel from the sidewalk. In addition, police and prosecutors were given legal language to describe how loud is “too loud.”

Previously, the vagueness of the “plainly audible” standard made it difficult to enforce in court, according to a memo by the city’s sound regulators.

The revisions also double the fines on violators to $1,000.

Wednesday’s action does not change the legal levels of acceptable noise – 75 decibels with a permit and 65 without. Nor does it change the practice of using sound meters to support charges of exceeding those levels.

The city, however, cannot afford enough $800-to-$2,500 sound meters to investigate all complaints, according to the Department of Administration and Regulatory Affairs. In other cases, department aide Christopher Newport said, a mechanical measurement may not fairly assess whether a violation is occurring – for example, barking dogs, pounding on walls or the revving of a motorcycle.

Therefore, the city will continue to use the “plainly audible” standard for non-bass noise, which it now defines as sound that “unreasonably disturbs” others. The new standard continues to give police officers leeway to make judgments based on volume, time of day, whether the sound is intermittent or constant, and whether it can be controlled easily.

Rocks Off has some of the specifics. The main objection to the revised ordinance was that it was too vague and and would be harmful to live music venues. I don’t have a good enough feel for this to make a judgment for myself. I sent an email to CM Melissa Noriega to inquire about this, and was told that Council has committed to a task force review of the revisions in six months’ time, so there will still be plenty of opportunity to give feedback on it. CM Noriega said they need to discuss entertainment districts going forward and that she would welcome any concerns or specific issues at atlarge3@houstontx.gov or 832-393-3003. You can always contact your district Council member or any of the other At Large members with your questions and comments as well.

Lineup update

The Chron story that ran in yesterday’s news is now updated online to reflect the fact that CM Melissa Noriega does have two opponents, Brad Batteau and Chris Carmona. I emailed reporter Chris Moran yesterday to ask about that discrepancy, and he replied that it was just an error on his part, for which he apologized to Carmona. The City Secretary‘s candidate listing hasn’t changed since yesterday, so I would assume at this point that what you see is what you’re going to get.

In my writeup yesterday, I noted that I could not find a voter registration online for now-former HISD candidate Art Huerta. Fred King with the Tax Assessor’s office emailed me to say that Huerta had requested some time ago that his registration certificate info be suppressed online, which is why it was not visible to me. He also confirmed for me that Huerta’s registration info listed him in HISD District VIII. Now I’m not sure why he thought he was in IV to begin with, since apparently the redistricting did not affect his address. HISD needs to get itself some better quality maps. My thanks to Fred King for the information.

I still have no idea if any new HCC Trustee candidates emerged at the last minute. There’s no listing of filed candidates for these races that I can see. If you Google “HCC Trustee Candidates”, you can find this page that tells you how to file to run, but nothing that tells you who has done so. I guess I need to send someone another email, but frankly I find it ridiculous that this information isn’t out there somewhere.

Having said all that, a Google search of “HISD Trustee Candidates” doesn’t find anything, either, but at least those races got reported on. My presumption is there’s nothing new to report, and the lineup we already knew about – Richard Schechter and Chris Oliver running unopposed, Carroll Robinson and Jew Don Boney running for the seat being vacated by Michael Williams – is the same. It would still be nice to have confirmation.

And finally, we have our first official attack mailer of the season, from the Houston Police Officers Union against CM Jolanda Jones. Both HPOU and the HPFFA have endorsed Jones’ opponent Laurie Robinson. There are a lot of interesting races this year, but it’s hard to top At Large #5 for drama and intrigue.

UPDATE: So I wake up this morning and there’s an email to Whitmarsh’s list that announces the endorsements made by the Harris County Tejano Democrats (not listed on their website yet), and one of the endorsed candidates is a fellow named Wendell Robbins, III, who is apparently running for HCC Trustee in District IX, against Chris Oliver. I found nothing useful about him or his candidacy via Google; he’s on Facebook but his last wall posting is from May; and of course as noted there’s no listing of HCC Trustee candidates anywhere. Awesome. Anyone know anything about this?

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.

Interview with CM Melissa Noriega

CM Melissa Noriega

Council Member Melissa Noriega was elected to finish the unexpired At Large #3 term of Shelley Sekula Gibbs in June of 2007, and has been re-elected for full terms twice since. She’s the chair of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee on Council, a former HISD employee, and the wife of former State Rep. and 2008 Senate candidate Rick Noriega. She’s also one of my favorite people in government, and it’s always a pleasure to talk with her.

Download the MP3 file

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

UPDATE: Since someone asked, let me make it clear that CM Noriega is running for re-election to her third full term. Her first re-election in 2007 was for her first full term; the unexpired portion of Sekula Gibbs’ term, for which she won a special election runoff in June, doesn’t count towards her term limits total.

East End community meeting to consider Harrisburg grade separation

From the Inbox:

East End community meeting to consider Harrisburg grade separation

Wednesday, June 15

Union Pacific’s East Belt rail subdivision is one of the busiest in the city, carrying more than 30 freight trains a day through Houston’s East End. For years, the crossing at Harrisburg has created delays and headaches for motorists and trains alike. The City of Houston first targeted this crossing for grade separation in 1953. Harris County recommended an underpass at this location in 2004. The Gulf Coast Rail District identified this crossing as a priority in 2009.

METRO is currently constructing the East End light rail line down Harrisburg. They must either go under or over the freight rail line, which poses a timely opportunity to finally grade separate the road and the freight line as well. The remaining questions are whether to construct an underpass or an overpass, how much it will cost, and who will fund the improvements.

For more than three years, East End business and neighborhood leaders have fought for an underpass. An underpass will be less obtrusive, require less right-of-way, and project less noise than an overpass, minimizing impacts to Harrisburg businesses. It will also will provide a neighborhood-friendly crossing that’s accessible to bicycles and pedestrians. They recognize that the success of METRO’s rail transit investment depends on creating pedestrian-friendly development around stations, and that an overpass is likely to stymie that process. The underpass proposal has widespread support from both businesses and residents in the East End, including:

  • Greater Eastwood Super Neighborhood (SN 64 & 88), Eastwood Civic Association, Houston Country Club Civic Association, Magnolia Pineview Civic Club, East Lawndale Civic Association, and Idylwood Civic Club
  • East End Chamber of Commerce, East End Management District, Harrisburg Merchants Association, and Historic Harrisburg

In 2010, the City of Houston commissioned a study to determine the cost differential between two overpass options and an underpass. The study estimates that an underpass will cost $43.4 million, or $13.4 million more than a vehicle overpass. You can review the draft executive summary (4.7 mb pdf) which explains the options but does not include final cost estimates. The City should release the final Harrisburg Grade Separation report this week. City leaders have identified some of the funds needed for the underpass, but a significant gap remains. There’s potential to defer other City capital projects to make up the difference, and also for Harris County Commissioner Jack Morman and Union Pacific to help close the gap.

Community meeting Wednesday!

On Wednesday night, Mayor Parker, Council Members Gonzalez, Rodriguez, and Noriega, and METRO CEO George Greanias will host a community meeting about the grade separation. You’re invited hear an update on the state of funding for the project, and have the opportunity to express whether other projects in the City’s capital improvement program (CIP) for the area should be deferred to help the underpass move forward.

What: Harrisburg grade separation update meeting
When: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Where: Ripley House, 4410 Navigation Blvd, Houston, 77011 (map)

I realize money is tight, but in the grand scheme of things $13 million isn’t that much, especially considering the benefit those extra dollars will yield. Everyone with a stake in this – the city, Harris County, Metro, the Gulf Coast Rail District, and so on – should do whatever it takes to get this right. Those of you who live in the area, please do your part and show up to tell them so. Thanks to the CTC for the heads up.

Our first campaign drama of 2011

I’m pretty sure we’d have had some sort of kerfuffle like this by now if we hadn’t had to redraw Council lines, which has pushed the timeline back a bit.

Lone Star Strategies has dropped City Council candidate Jenifer Rene Pool as a client in anticipation of working for another candidate in the race to succeed the termed-out Sue Lovell in at large seat #2.

Lone Star’s Matt Zeis won’t comment on whom the firm will be raising money for other than to say she is an existing client. Pool campaign manager Clay Sands said Zeis told him it’s Kristi Thibaut, who is listed on Lone Star’s Web site as a client and lost her re-election bid as state representative in 2010.

I like both Jenifer and Kristi, whose apparent candidacy for Council is news to me, so I’m sorry to see this happen. Be that as it may, I guess this is further evidence that Council doesn’t represent a “step down” from the Lege. We could have three former State Reps, on Council next year if Kristi Thibaut and Ellen Cohen join on Melissa Noriega there. Might make for an interesting dynamic if it happens.

“Nobody likes a sore winner”

Mayor Parker’s updated drainage fee proposal, which would allow for exemptions to schools and churches, was introduced to City Council amid a torrent of whining from the pro-exemption forces.

Church and school leaders testified at a special council meeting that it still was not good enough.

For one thing, critics said, the exemptions cover only existing buildings. Future schools and churches would have to pay the drainage fee on any increase in impervious cover — such as roofs, parking lots or playgrounds.

In addition, religious leaders criticized the proposal for not exempting church schools and other private campuses.

Councilman C.O. Bradford also said that public schools chartered by the state — independent but publicly funded campuses not affiliated with Houston Independent School District — also deserved exemptions.

For Councilwoman Melissa Noriega, who said she has not decided whether she will support any exemptions when the ordinance reaches the council agenda Wednesday, the criticism of the mayor’s compromise proposal was a little too much.

“Nobody likes a sore winner,” Noriega said, “If someone says, ‘Yes,’ take yes for an answer.”

CM Noriega speaks for me. You want to see what a sore winner looks like, read their statement. I’ll say again, I understand why the Mayor did what she did here, but from where I sit if you extend a hand and it gets slapped away, the logical thing to do is to un-extend it and go back to what you had originally wanted. If these guys want to fight, I say let’s fight. And while we’re at it, let’s clarify once and for all whether these guys agree that flooding and drainage is an issue in Houston, and if so just what exactly they think we should do about it. I hate to break it to them, but the Magic Drainage Fairy doesn’t actually exist. In the real world, solutions cost money.

A very early look at 2011 fundraising

A couple of weeks ago I took an early look at the 2011 city elections, but there was a key ingredient missing in that analysis: Money. The fundraising season for city candidates, which has been closed since last January, will open again on February 1. Let’s take a look at where various cast members stand now, before all the fun gets underway again.

Name Office Cash on hand ========================================= Annise Parker Mayor 1,050,253 Ronald Green Controller 15,677

One of the nice things about being elected Mayor is that you can hold a late-train fundraiser or two before the year-long moratorium sets in, and people with checks will attend them. Keep that number above in mind when discussing other potential Mayoral candidates. Sure, some of them would be able to raise big bucks as well, but 1) that takes time; 2) a lot of people who might otherwise like them will already be on the Mayor’s team; and 3) you can be sure she’ll have a couple of events lined up for as soon as the curtain is lifted, making the hole they start out in that much deeper. It’s a big factor, and when you hear someone say they’re “exploring” a race, what they mean is they’re calling around to see if there are enough people out there willing to write them enough big checks to make it worth their time. Waiting for term limits to do their thing is almost always the wiser course.

As for Controller Green, he defeated two better-funded opponents in 2009, so his lack of scratch is no big deal. Better yet, as you will see there’s no one out there with the kind of moolah MJ Khan and Pam Holm had to begin with. I’ll say again, it’s my opinion that Green is a lock for re-election.

The returning City Council members:

Name Office Cash on hand ========================================= Stephen Costello CCAL#1 28,938 Melissa Noriega CCAL#3 1,681 C.O. Bradford CCAL#4 4,238 Jolanda Jones CCAL#5 22,304 Brenda Stardig Dist A 21,892 Wanda Adams Dist D 342 Mike Sullivan Dist E 162 Al Hoang Dist F Oliver Pennington Dist G 64,223 Ed Gonzalez Dist H 19,975 James Rodriguez Dist I 45,923

CM Hoang’s report was not available as of this posting. There were numerous issues with his finance reports in 2009. So far, 2011 isn’t starting off so well for him on that front.

You can see why I’ve been skeptical of the rumors about CM Bradford’s potential candidacy for Mayor. He has not demonstrated big fundraising abilities in two different campaigns, and he starts out with very little. Again, I’m not saying he (or anyone else) couldn’t do it, but the track record isn’t there, and the piggy bank isn’t overflowing.

After winning a squeaker of a runoff in 2009, it’s good to see CM Jones with a few bucks on hand. While I believe she won’t be any easier to beat this time around, she will undoubtedly continue to be in the news, so she may as well be forearmed.

CM Pennington raised a boatload of money in 2009 and won without a runoff, so I’m not surprised he starts out with a decent pile. CMs Rodriguez and Gonzalez were unopposed in 2009, and given that they may have very different diatricts this year, I’m sure they’re happy to have the head start. I’d guess CMs Adams and Sullivan will be hitting the fundraising circuit sooner rather than later.

The departing incumbents:

Name Office Cash on hand ========================================= Sue Lovell CCAL #2 98,935 Jarvis Johnson Dist B 0 Anne Clutterbuck Dist C 89,534

Hard to know what the future holds for CM Johnson, but another candidacy doesn’t appear to be in the cards right now. The same can probably be said about CM Lovell, who had once wanted to run for County Clerk. That ship has sailed, and I don’t see there being much of a Lovell bandwagon these days. I won’t be surprised to see her disburse some of her funds to other candidates in the future, however.

I do feel that we’ll see CM Clutterbuck run for something again. No, not Mayor – at least, not this year. There was a time when I thought she’d be a big threat to win HD134, but unless Sarah Davis (whom Clutterbuck supported last year) stumbles badly, that seems unlikely now. She could possibly be groomed to take over for her former boss Rep. John Culberson. I’d hate to see that if it meant she’d morph into a Washington Republican – she’s far too sensible for that, I hope. Actually, what I wouldn’t mind seeing is for the redistricting fairy to move her into Jerry Eversole’s precinct (this map doesn’t quite do that, but it’s close), because she’d be an excellent choice for Ed Emmett to make in the event Eversole does get forced out before 2012. Just a thought.

Finally, a few others of note:

Name Office Cash on hand ========================================= Gene Locke Mayor 20,645 Roy Morales Mayor 5 MJ Khan Controller 1,657 Michael Berry CCAL #5 88,122 Jack Christie CCAL #5 0 Eric Dick CCAL #2 4,036 Mark Lee Dist C 1,287 Robert Glaser Dist C 301

If it’s an election year, you can be sure ol’ Roy will be running for something. Doesn’t really matter what – this is Roy we’re talking about. I’m sure he’ll let us know what soon.

Who knew Most Influential Houstonian of 2010 Michael Berry had so much cash left in his account? I seriously doubt he’d run for anything – he’s got a much cushier, not to mention higher-paying, gig now – but I suppose he could decide to throw a few bucks at someone. Hey, Roy, you got Berry’s phone number?

I have no idea if Jack Christie will take another crack at At Large #5. As I said above, I don’t think CM Jones will be any more vulnerable this time around, but who knows? It does seem likely she’ll draw a fringe opponent or two – Griff Griffin needs a race now that Lovell is termed out – so hoping for a runoff and better luck in same isn’t unreasonable. My advice, for what it’s worth, would be to start fundraising early, and not shoot your wad all in the last few days.

Mark Lee ran for District C in 2005, and for Controller in 2003. He’s reportedly looking at C again, but like Ellen Cohen will have to wait to see what the mapmakers produce. Robert Glaser ran against Clutterbuck in 2007 and 2009. Eric Dick, who as far as I know has not been a candidate before, will be running for the open At Large #2 seat; the cash on hand listed for him is the result of a loan.

There were a handful of other names listed among the reports, but none that are likely to be candidates this cycle. We’ll have a much better idea where things stand after the June 15 reporting date.

Personality matters

Lisa Falkenberg, writing earlier this week about longtime teacher Jamie Simmon leaving HISD after 27 years to take a job with YES Prep:

The decision, she says, has nothing to do with the daunting challenges of educating Lee’s largely at-risk, immigrant population, and everything to do with not feeling valued by a new superintendent so focused on reforming what’s wrong that he can’t be bothered to appreciate what’s going right.

“The total disregard for people’s time, people’s commitment and people’s dedication is unconscionable,” Simmon said. “There just seems to be a total lack of regard for the working stiff, the someone who’s willing to come in and give 125 percent every day.”

She said an exchange she had with Superintendent Terry Grier when he visited Lee a few months ago solidified her decision to leave. She proudly introduced herself to him, thinking perhaps he was familiar with her role in helping Lee boost the number of students taking AP exams over the past four years from 156 to 710.

Grier offered neither kudos, nor recognition, she said: “He looked at me and said ‘Have you ever heard of AP Human Geography?’”

Hair Balls wrote on Friday night about a conflict between Grier and Council Member Melissa Noriega.

“My issues with Terry Grier, I think he came here with a charge from the board and I think the board is getting what they bought,” she says. “If you want to talk about education, and what I think is a lot of the slash-and-burn stuff going on with the district, I might weigh in on that, but gossiping about Grier’s bad behavior is not something I’m going to do.”

Okay, then, what about his stewardship of HISD?

“I’m just dismayed by how many good people I know are leaving [HISD],” Noriega says, adding “I’m not comfortable with Grier’s approach, I’m certainly not…Everything I’ve heard has just been disturbing.”

I’m going to say this again: I want Terry Grier to succeed, in the sense that I want him to deliver on his promises to reduce the dropout rate and improve performance across the board. I’ll be absolutely delighted if he transforms HISD into the premier large urban school district in America. Doing that will be hard work, and will require doing some things that not everyone will like. Grier has some good ideas, some ideas that can be improved with engagement and feedback from various stakeholders, and some ideas that need to be pushed back on. Under the best of circumstances, he will be opposed by people who have sincere disagreements with his ideas, and by people whose positions or stature are threatened by what he wants to do. That’s normal, and healthy. What isn’t healthy or helpful is alienating people who ought to be allies. We all have all the enemies we need, there’s no need to make more. My concern is that Grier is taking an already difficult task and making it harder, for no good reason. All I can say is that I hope he reads these stories and considers what, if anything, he might have done differently.

Eastwood art deco facade saved

The art deco facade on the Sterling Laundry & Cleaning Co. on Harrisburg in Eastwood, which had been marked for demolition as part of the construction of the Harrisburg line, has been saved. From the inbox:

Vice Mayor Pro Tem Sue Lovell, District H Council Member Ed Gonzalez, and At-Large Position 3 Council Member Melissa Noriega are pleased to announce that a historic structure in Houston’s East End-the Sterling Laundry & Cleaning Co. façade at 4819 Harrisburg Blvd.-has been saved. This was accomplished through an effort between the Council Members, METRO, and leaders of the surrounding neighborhood. The façade will be saved and then relocated to Eastwood Park, where it will remain a part of the streetscape on Harrisburg, as it has been since 1935.

As chair of the City of Houston historic preservation committee, Vice Mayor Pro Tem Lovell thanks all the partners who have participated in saving this historic structure. “These are the kinds of partnerships that are needed to save our history as the city continues to grow and develop.”

Details will follow as to the timing of the façade removal and relocation.

All things considered, that was probably the best outcome possible. Swamplot has some snarky fun with the idea, but if the neighborhood is okay with it, who am I to argue?

Let the games begin

The filing deadline for Houston municipal offices is one week from today – Martha has been keeping track of who has filed yet and who has not. What could be better to do immediately after the deadline than get together with a bunch of fellow political junkies and gossip about it? Well, now you can.

Let The Games Begin!

Go here if you want to add this as an event on Facebook. Have fun!

Interview with Council Member Melissa Noriega

Melissa NoriegaOne of the things planned to do with my interview series this year is include conversations with incumbent Council members. I’ve started on those and hope to get to all of them just as I hope to get to as many candidates as I can. My first incumbent interview subject is someone I consider a friend, as well as an excellent Council member, At Large #3 Council Member Melissa Noriega. She won a special election in 2007 to fill the seat vacated by Shelley Sekula Gibbs when she ran for Congress and has served since then. Previously, she worked for 27 years in HISD, and served one term in the State Legislature in 2005 while her husband, former State Rep. Rick Noriega, was serving in Afghanistan.

Currently, CM Noriega has no opponent for November. I would happily endorse her for re-election regardless of that. She has done an outstanding job, and is a credit to the city as well as to City Council.

Download the MP3 file

PREVIOUSLY:

Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4
Stephen Costello, At Large #1
Lane Lewis, District A
Lonnie Allsbrooks, At Large #1
Noel Freeman, At Large #4
Brenda Stardig, District A
Oliver Pennington, District G
Amy Peck, District A
Herman Litt, At Large #1
Natasha Kamrani, HISD Trustee in District I, not running for re-election
Alex Wathen, District A
Robert Kane, District F

At Large action

We’ve certainly got a fascinating Mayor’s race going on this year, with three viable candidates that can all plausibly claim a path to victory, but it seems to me that there’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in the At Large races as well. Marc Campos writes about a development that could affect one of them.

Yesterday, Commentary’s shop sent out an email announcing the supporters for Rick Rodriguez, candidate for H-Town City Council, At Large, Position 1. We will be helping him out this election season. Rodriguez is being taken very seriously. One opposing campaign asked him to consider running in At-Large, Position 4 race – no thanks. Another major interest group asked Rodriguez to run in At-Large, Position 5 – no thanks again. It is pretty obvious to Commentary that local political players know that Rodriguez has a strong base and is a force to deal with. Stay tuned!

Stace made notes of this as well. The email Campos’ shop sent included State Sen. Mario Gallegos, who I’m told made numerous calls on Rodriguez’s behalf, State Rep. and former City Council Member Carol Alvarado, and current City Council Members Ed Gonzalez and James Rodriguez, as supporters. And according to David Ortez, who attended Gene Locke’s event at Doneraki’s on Tuesday, at which Locke announced the endorsement of Gallegos, Alvarado, and several other local Latino leaders, Locke has “informally endorsed” Rodriguez as well. I wish I’d seen that before I conducted my interview with Rodriguez, who was as non-committal about his preferred candidate for Mayor as just about everyone else has been, but oh well. That’s an impressive amount of support for Rodriguez, and established him as someone to watch in a race that already has several strong candidates.

Having said that, Rodriguez still has to establish himself. He finished fourth in the District H special election, with 9.5% of the vote. He entered this race late, and reported essentially no money raised as of July 15. He has not won any endorsements yet; the Tejano Dems went with Herman Litt. All this backing puts Rodriguez on the map, and may position him to get into a runoff, but winning it would be another matter; ask Joe Trevino about that. Let’s not forget, Steve Costello raised a ton of money in the first six months, and has won several endorsements; he announced the support of the Houston Contractors Association and the Houston Apartment Association Better Government Fund today. Herman Litt starts out as a fave among many Dems for all the work he did on things like the Johnson-Rayburn-Richards dinner last year, and he came out of the gate with a lot of endorsements from establishment Dems. Karen Derr has been running longer than anyone in this race, and has raised a pretty respectable amount, though she didn’t have much cash on hand as of July 15. She has won some group endorsements as well. Lonnie Allsbrooks trails in all of these categories, but I sure see a lot of his signs in yards around where I live. Point being, this is a crowded field, and everyone in it has a base.

So I can understand the reasons why there might have been suggestions to Rodriguez that he consider another race. I’m going to guess that one reason why he might prefer At Large #1 to #s 4 or 5 is that he might not want to wind up in a runoff against an African-American candidate when there’s a strong likelihood Gene Locke will also be in a runoff for Mayor. On the other hand, a lot of the votes in this year’s runoff are likely to come from Districts A and G, and while Locke has certainly spent time courting Republican support, it’s not at all clear to me that those folks would go on to vote for C.O. Bradford and/or Jolanda Jones as well.

And that brings me to the other At Large races. Melissa Noriega in #3 is uncontested so far, and will likely get nothing more than token opposition. Pretty much everyone likes her, and nobody likes running against an incumbent, especially one with good fundraising numbers. Sue Lovell in #2 has three opponents, first-timer Roslyn Shorter plus perennials Andrew Burks and Griff Griffin. Unlike 2007, when Lovell spent a lot of her time helping Wanda Adams, James Rodriguez, and Jolanda Jones get elected and wound up in a surprisingly close race against the do-nothing Griff, Lovell is taking her re-election very seriously this time. She’s raising money like never before. I see no reason why she won’t win easily, but I daresay she won’t take anything for granted.

At Large #4 hasn’t changed from the beginning. Bradford and Noel Freeman are fairly evenly matched. Both have won some endorsements. Neither has raised a ton of money. Bradford has more name recognition, but that’s not necessarily a positive for him. I understand the logic that would go into gaming out various runoff scenarios, as described above, but I still don’t quite understand why At Large #1 has five candidates and this race has (for all intents and purposes) two. And I say that as someone who likes both of these gentlemen.

And finally, there’s At Large #5. A month or two ago, I’d have expected Jolanda Jones to cruise to re-election. Carlos Obando, whom I interviewed recently, is a nice guy and I thought he had some good things to say, but he has no money and no obvious backing, and it’s just hard to knock off an incumbent in our system; it’s only happened once since we adopted term limits. Now Jones has two more opponents, and I daresay a larger number of people who would prefer to vote for someone else, but I don’t see any of that translating into support for any one person yet. All three of her opponents have fared poorly in previous elections – Obando lost a GOP primary for HD134 last year, Davetta Daniels lost by a 2-1 margin for HISD Trustee in 2007, and the less said about Jack Christie’s abortive attempt to win this same At Large #5 seat in 2007, the better. I can envision there being enough of a not-Jolanda vote to force a runoff, and I can envision the challenger coming out on top in that scenario, but until one of these folks shows me something, like winning an endorsement that Jones has lost or getting some establishment support on his or her side, I think the smart money stays on the incumbent. Again, while I understand the reasons for running in At Large #1, I can’t help but think there’s an opening here for someone.

Rerun for Welsh?

Maverick Welsh is a young first-time candidate who exceeded expectations in his initial campaign. I most certainly do expect we’ll see him run for office again.

“I absolutely will run for council again,” Welsh said. “I had way too good a time, met too many wonderful people. I saw too many issues around the city to just go away. I will absolutely run again, I just don’t know when or where it will be.”

The two races he’s looking at closely include giving District H another go in November — due to some changes in polling places he believes could work to his advantage — and running for one of the five At-Large City Council seats.

The At Large races are starting to get a little crowded. There’s a GLBT candidate in each of the two open seat At Large races, so the support Welsh had in this go-round in H may or may not be there for him in one of those. I tend to think a November rematch is unlikely to go any better for the runnerup, but there’s not much history to base that feeling on – pretty much just the 2007 special in which Melissa Noriega beat Roy Morales in June and then again by a wider margin in November – and I’m certainly not going to underestimate Welsh. That said, I wonder if waiting till 2011 and the possibility of a new map that creates a district that joins Montrose and the Heights isn’t the better idea. There are no guarantees that will happen, of course, so it’s as much a gamble as anything else. Worth a mention, though.

Looking back on the race, Welsh said the deck was stacked against him with a large base of institutional support going to Gonzalez. He ran a grassroots campaign, which is one of the reasons he said he did not regret the mail pieces that brought about some controversy in the final week of campaigning.

“I have no regrets at all,” he said. “I don’t believe my mail pieces got personal. Look, I was running against the establishment for District H. Ed had worked in Adrian (Garcia)’s office…I didn’t get personal in the mail, and I think that’s important. You’ve got to look at the race and go with your strategy, and my strategy was that I was the grassroots guy.”

I agree that Welsh was running as the non-establishment candidate, and that the mailers simply reflected that. In fact, I said exactly that when the mailings first came out and caused a stir. I also said I wasn’t sure that was the best strategy in this case. Of course, it’s easy to be an armchair quarterback. I have no idea what, if any, strategy might have worked better. I thought Welsh ran a strong race. I based my vote for him in the first place in part on the fact that I was impressed by the campaign he ran. If and when he does run again, here or elsewhere, it’ll be up to him to figure out how to build on that. I see no reason why he can’t do that, and I look forward to his next effort.

Counting on the Census

I wasn’t really paying attention to this sort of thing ten years ago, so I don’t know how much effort was made at the time to get an accurate count of Texas’ residents for the 2000 Census. I can say that there seems to be a lot of focus this time around, and that’s a very good thing, because there’s a lot riding on getting it right.

Census undercounts have historically plagued Texas, and with billions of federal dollars at stake for health care, schools and immunizations, officials say the state could lose millions if the count is not accurate in 2010.

With the census just a year away, communities have organized “Complete Count Committees” to urge residents to participate.

An audit of the past census, conducted almost a decade ago, found that 373,567 Texans were not counted, or 1.76 percent of the state’s population, for an estimated loss of $2,913 per person — or $1 billion — in federal funds from 2002 to 2012.

That census was recalculated, and it was determined that there was a half a percent nationwide overcount, which shows the difficulties in getting an exact figure.

If the undercount had been allowed to stand, losses for Medicaid, child care, block grants, vocational services and other services would have been dire. And the nation’s eight largest counties, including Harris and Dallas in Texas, would have lost more than $100 million each in federal funds, according to the audit for the U.S. Census Monitoring Board.

A lot of the undercount in Texas was along the border, but it happened in the big cities as well. Here in Houston, I know that Council Members Melissa Noriega and James Rodriguez are working with the Census folks to get as accurate a count here as possible. The local effort is called Houston Counts, and they could use your help if you’re so inclined. Click over and fill out the Volunteer/Committee sign-up form (PDF) to pitch in. They’re not exactly overflowing with volunteers right now, so every little bit matters. The Houston metropolitan area should be in line for one of the extra Congressional seats that will come Texas’ way in 2011, but it won’t happen if we don’t count everyone.