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Highlighting wages in the Mayor’s race

From the inbox:

Coalition Calls on Next Mayor to Raise Minimum Wage for Publicly Funded Projects

Today, a coalition of community and labor organizations staged a tour of of sites that received tax dollars to tell the story of how the city subsidizes the creation of poverty jobs.

“Of the City of Houston’s 35 economic development tax-incentive deals with developers between 2004 – 2014, only 7 had any job promises,” said Feldon Bonner, a member of the Texas Organizing Project at the press conference that kicked off the tour. “None of the deals included language about the quality of the promised jobs, and only one has provided reports to the City on its job creation deliverables. This is unacceptable.”

The tour started at the Westin Downtown, formerly known as the Inn at the Ballpark, for which Landry’s received $2 million dollars in tax giveaways, and despite failing to provide the 125 jobs promised, the city council voted to allow Landry’s to keep the incentives.

“These tax deals are not going to mom and pop businesses. They are not going to small, women-owned, minority owned or disadvantaged businesses,” said Pastor David Madison, a TOP leader. “Tillman Fertitta, CEO, chairman and owner of Landry’s has a net worth of $2.3 billion. Yet Landry’s is one of the region’s largest poverty job creators paying its more than 10,000 service and restaurant workers in the Houston area low wages.”

The next stop was at Ainbinder Heights, a development anchored by Walmart, and includes a McDonald’s and Taco Cabana. The city awarded Ainbinder $6 million in tax breaks for property improvements. The agreement between the city and Ainbinder spans 48 pages, yet the city failed to negotiate any specific commitments for the number and quality of jobs or any other meaningful community benefits.

“Let’s not forget that Walmart is the largest corporation in the world! And the Walton family is the richest family in America with a net worth of $149 billion dollars. Do you think they need our tax incentives?,” Florence Coleman, a TOP leader, asked the community members present. “Do they deserve our tax incentives? The average Walmart associate makes just $8.81 per hour. Nationally, taxpayers are already footing a $6.2 billion bill in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing for Walmart employees who can’t provide for their families because of the low wages Walmart pays them.”

The final stop was at the Astrodome, a project that will probably receive tax dollars. County Judge Ed Emmett has traveled around the world to put together a plan for its reconstruction that includes water park, theater & trails. But there is no plan to assure that the jobs created by this project pay well and have benefits.

“The Astrodome was built by union workers back in the early 1960s, and we’re proud to have contributed to it,” said Paul Puente of the Building Trades Union. “And our elected officials have the obligation to leverage our public dollars effectively so projects like the Astrodome redevelopment provide good jobs that pay at least $15 dollars per hour or prevailing wage, whichever is higher. Jobs that provide training and benefits. And to make sure African American and Latino families in struggling neighborhoods have access to these jobs by including local hire requirements and second chance provisions.”

The coalition staged the tour today to so that Houston’s next mayor makes higher wages a priority.

“We are here today to make sure the mistakes of the past are not repeated with publicly funded development projects like the ones we visited earlier today,” Puente added. “Our local economy cannot afford one more poverty wage job. Our communities cannot accept one more poverty-wage job.”

The following organizations participated in today’s tour: Texas Organizing Project, SEIU Texas, AFL-CIO, Fe y Justicia Worker Center and Working America. Pictures can be downloaded from here: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0Bx7Fk8Qnalp0MTdtRXBMa2hyN0U&usp=sharing

That came out the same day as this story about Houston not being the affordable city we are used to it being. High housing costs are a big factor in that, but so are low average wages. Attacking that problem can have an effect on the bottom line as well. There’s only so much a Mayor can do directly about this – we already have an executive order in place establishing a higher minimum wage for companies that do business with the city, thanks to Mayor Parker – but talking about the issue and making it a point in negotiations over real estate deals like the ones cited above are two of them. I’m glad to see this coalition call attention to it.

TOP/SEIU Mayoral forum report

From David Ortez:

After the dust settled, the forum commenced with the hosts explaining the four pillars of their platform. It boiled down to: 1) Good Jobs; 2) Neighborhoods of Opportunity; 3) Infrastructure; and 4) Immigrant Rights. At the end of the forum, all the candidates would be asked to endorse this platform by signing a large four by five foot petition. Every candidate expect Bill King would end up signing and supporting the platform.

The first question was regarding the first 100 days as mayor. Garcia and Turner employed their well-rehearsed and appropriate non responsive answers explaining that each candidate would meet with TOP and SEIU Texas to set an agenda. Garcia stated that he would welcome and support immigrants. Turner also welcomes immigrants to our city but added that he would want to help out areas that been ignored. King, on the other hand, noted that he would address the redistribution of wealth in neighborhoods, citing the current Houston decision to spend millions on Post Oak to create a dedicated bus lane in the Galleria area. McVey stated that he would implement an Identification Card program for undocumented residents and supports a $15 minimum wage in the city. It was not clear if this minimum wage would only apply to municipal employees or all employees within the city.

The next sets of questions were addressed to each candidate individually. Garcia was hit hard for not standing up against the controversial 287(g) program as Harris County Sheriff. 287(g) allows trained local law enforcement officials to conduct immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions. In Harris County, this usually takes place when a suspect is booked after being arrested regardless of culpability. Some defendants then have an immigration hold placed, which results in deportation. Garcia began his response by reminding folks, “First and foremost, I worked as sheriff to keep people safe. I worked to get criminals off the streets.” Then, he attempted to spin the question by claiming that it only applies to criminals in jail. This is a false statement. He concluded his response by claiming to have fought against the program. How? I am not really sure.

King was asked which program he would cut first as mayor. He did not hesitate to throw the Houston Crime Lab under the bus and vowed to eliminate programs that provided duplicate services. McVey was asked to share his strategy for success as an unknown candidate; he began by explaining that he was unknown because he was not a career politician, then he cited his resume as someone that comes from the private sector that knows how to create jobs. Turner had the softer question of the group when he was asked to explain how he would improve the quality of jobs for employees. Turner took the opportunity to support a $15 minimum wage. He would also like to provide Houstonians with skills to obtain new trade jobs. He noted that not everyone is destined for college.

There’s more, including a few pull quotes from candidates that aren’t in the main body of the post, so go check it out. I couldn’t find any mainstream news coverage of this event, which focused on some issues that don’t get as much attention as others. Here’s the TOP/SEIU platform, called “Houston 4 All”, from their press release:

  • Good Jobs: A strong mayor can incentivize good jobs with living wages and benefits that enable working parents to sustain a family.
  • Neighborhoods of Opportunity: A strong mayor can lead a city-wide effort to help all of our neighborhoods not just survive, but thrive. That means focusing on areas with greatest need first, supporting minority homeownership, cleaning abandoned properties and lots, and prioritizing development projects in the most neglected neighborhoods.
  • Immigrant Rights: A strong mayor can create a municipal ID program to increase public safety and symbolically welcome, engage and include vulnerable populations who face barriers in obtaining IDs accepted by Houston authorities like the police, independent school districts and city departments.
  • Sound Infrastructure: A strong mayor can invest infrastructure dollars for drainage, street, and sidewalk improvements in areas where they are needed most.

I’m not exactly sure how some of these would translate to specific policy proposals, but David’s report gives some clues from the questions that were asked. I’ve been wondering when a higher minimum wage would come up in the conversation. How far that might get with Council I couldn’t say, but I’m glad to see it get discussed.

The Texas Future Project

Very interesting.

High-powered Democrats from Texas and California have joined with national labor unions in an effort to mobilize out-of-state donors and raise millions of dollars to build a progressive majority in the Lone Star State that could change state policy and national elections.

The Texas Future Project – that also will seek to convince Texas Democrats to donate here – wants to direct funding to groups that it has identified as working to effect change, from Battleground Texas to Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.

The project has commitments for close to $1 million, said Houston lawyer Steve Mostyn. He and his wife, Amber, are top Democratic donors and part of a small core group of members of the project, which also includes a key California-based supporter of President Obama.

“The main thing … when we talk to people from out of state, or folks in this state about keeping your money here, is the fact that it’s possible – and that if the work is done, and the money is spent, that it’s probable, it’s actually probable -that you now become a battleground state in 2016 for the presidential race,” Steve Mostyn said. “And the long-term effect – once you get a voter to vote once, then twice, then they are pretty much to be there.”

Mostyn said the group would “like to raise as much as we can. If it’s not doing a few million a year, then it’s not really doing what it was designed to do.”

The effort is aimed at building the infrastructure to turn out underrepresented voters in Texas – particularly Latinos, African-Americans, single women and young voters – as state demographic changes give hope to Democrats long shut out of statewide office.

[…]

The Texas Future Project was started by the Mostyns – Susman and his wife, Ellen, who has now stepped back from political efforts because she was appointed by the Obama administration to head the U.S. government’s Art in Embassies program – and San Francisco-based donor activist Steve Phillips, who was founder and chairman of PowerPAC.org, which conducted the biggest independent expenditure effort in the country in the 2008 presidential primaries to support Barack Obama. Phillips also is founder and chairman of the progressive PAC&.

Also on the ground floor of the state project are labor unions concerned about Texas wages and standards. The AFL-CIO, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union helped start it. The United Food and Commercial Workers joined more recently.

The project has identified groups in Texas that it considers to be “high-impact, high-performing, accountable programs that are building field infrastructure and engaging in leadership development for progressive change beyond any election cycle,” according to Mostyn’s email.

They include Annie’s List, Battleground Texas, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, the Texas Organizing Project and the Workers Defense Project.

My interpretation of this is that it’s basically a clearinghouse for large donors to direct funds to various groups that do good work for progressive political causes, especially progressive electoral causes. The named beneficiaries are all certainly worth supporting. Their webpage is nothing more than a way to get on their mailing list at this time, so you won’t learn much there. (Note to Randall Munroe: I had to go to the second page of the Google search results for Texas Future Project to find that webpage.) I’m a little concerned that building this kind of structure might make it more difficult for new progressive organizations to get off the ground, but I don’t know for sure that will happen. Overall, this sounds pretty good to me. What do you think?

Endorsement watch: SEIU and HAR

This came in on Thursday:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mayor – Annise Parker*

District A – Helena Brown*

District B – Jerry Davis*

District C – Ellen Cohen*

District D – Dwight Boykins

District E – Dave Martin*

District F – Al Hoang*

District G – Oliver Pennington*

District H – Ed Gonzalez*

District J – Mike Laster*

District K – Larry Green*

At-Large 1 – Stephen Costello*

At-Large 4 – C.O. “Brad” Bradford*

At-Large 5 – Jack Christie*

*indicates incumbent

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

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

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

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

Elsa Caballero: Public Employee and Janitors Mobilize in Support of City of Houston Bonds

Note: The following is a guest post.

For the past month, Houston’s janitors have joined forces with our city’s public employees in favor of the City of Houston bond package and METRO referendum on the ballot this election cycle. Volunteers, made up of HOPE and SEIU Local 1 members, are having voter-to-voter conversations about the real immediate benefits of improving our libraries, parks, public housing, public transportation and roads. Working in conjunction with the Vote for Houston’s Future Committee we will have reached 4,000 households in person or by phone by November 6th.

Our members have placed their full support behind this investment in our city because we believe in growing our economy from the bottom up. All Houstonians benefit from quality infrastructure, but it’s low and middle-income families who often depend on these services. This is our opportunity to pull our resources together to balance opportunity for families who live on the margins. With nearly half of all single mothers in Houston living in poverty, it would be immoral and dangerous for us to ignore a growing wealth gap that could undermine our city’s economic vitality in the near future.

This past summer, Houston’s janitors living on as little as $9,000 a year went on strike for a better future for their families. After five weeks, with the support of political leaders, regular Houstonians, and union members from around the country, janitors saved their union and won a 12% raise. The story of one of these janitors, Hernan Trujillo, is a testament to the benefit of quality public infrastructure. As the breadwinner for himself and his two elderly parents, Hernan worked as a dishwasher during the day and a janitor at night, leaving precious little time for himself. Unable to afford a car, Hernan spent most of his time going to work on the bus where he would make time to study the English books he borrowed from his local library. Now with his English close to perfect, he hopes to return to school.

There are thousands of others like Hernan. When families have avenues to rise out of poverty, we all benefit. A vote in support of the city bonds is vote for a brighter Houston for all.

This post was written by Elsa Caballero, State Director for SEIU Local 1 Texas

Janitors win new contract

I’m very glad for them.

Janitors who clean some of the largest office buildings in Houston have reached a tentative agreement with six of the city’s largest cleaning companies, a union representative said late Wednesday.

The deal is expected to bring an end to a heated labor dispute that began after the janitors’ last contract expired on May 31.

“We made progress here in Houston, and the janitors’ victory brings hope to security officers, airport workers and others trapped by poverty wages,” Tom Balanoff, president of Service Employees International Union, Local 1 in Chicago, which represents the 3,200 Houston janitors, said in a statement. “Our economy is broken, and unless we do something to turn low-wage jobs into good jobs, the middle class will be the great disappearing act of the 21st century.”

The Houston Area Contractors Association, meanwhile, distributed to cleaning companies and affected building owners and tenants a notice that the tentative agreement would give the janitors a 25-cent-per-hour raise each year for the next four years.

The janitors and the SEIU have been fighting for a raise for a long time now, and I’m happy they were finally able to get a breakthrough on that. But a dollar an hour raise phased in over four years, to $9.35 an hour? That works out to an annual salary of $19,448 – assuming a 40-hour work week, which may not be the case; the janitors were also seeking more hours but didn’t get them – which isn’t a total anyone can really live on. Houston janitors are still paid less than their counterparts in other cities, and they fell short of the $10 an hour goal they wanted. This is a step forward for them, and I’m sure the members will ratify the agreement when they vote today, but they still have a long way to go. They deserve a lot better than this. A statement from the janitors is beneath the fold, and The Observer has more.

(more…)

Wage theft

Any employer that would do this is scum.

[Wage theft] reflects a changing economy in which low-wage work has increased, more companies try to cut labor costs to stay afloat in a sour business climate, and fewer workers belong to unions that might protect them. At the same time, budget-cutting state and federal governments do not enforce wage laws as aggressively as they once did.

Wage theft can be as simple as stealing tips from restaurant servers, illegal deductions from a worker’s paycheck or failing to pay overtime or the legal minimum wage. It also can take other forms, such as classifying workers as “independent contractors” to avoid paying unemployment insurance.

Millions of workers are losing pay, with the majority in low-income service industries such as fast food, domestic work, agriculture, retail, hotel and tourism, and home health care. It’s also a big problem in the warehousing and construction industries, which employ large numbers of recent immigrants and undocumented workers, who are reluctant to complain, fearing scrutiny of their immigration status.

[…]

Nearly two out of three low-wage workers experienced some form of wage theft each week, according to a 2009 survey of 4,400 low-wage workers in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. On average, these workers lost $51 a week in unpaid earnings, the survey found.

The lost wages add up. Workers in Houston lose more than $753 million a year, according to a recent study.

The U.S. Department of Labor, which monitors compliance with federal wage laws on behalf of more than 130 million workers, has only 1,000 enforcement agents. State wage-and-hour investigators are equally scarce in the wake of massive budget cuts.

Last year, Texas lawmakers closed a loophole that let employers escape prosecution if they pay workers only a portion of the wages they’re owed.

You can find that study here, and a writeup about it and related matters at The Nation. Imagine if your boss could get away with paying you less than you’re owed. Imagine if you had no good recourse to get the wages you’re supposed to get. That would suck, wouldn’t it? Meanwhile, in related news here in Houston, janitors who are fighting for a living wage have been illegally barred from their jobs after staging a one-day walkout to highlight the fact that the average janitor in this town gets paid about $9,000 a year. How much would you have to be paid to do that kind of hard, dirty work? I’ll bet you won’t find any management types stepping in to do those jobs in the event of a protracted dispute. See here and here for more. If we can’t do right by the people who clean up after us, how can we do right at all?

Some questions about the airport deal

The Chron stumped for the Terminal B expansion deal on Friday.

Under the proposal by United, which merged with Continental this year, the Chicago-based airline would spend $686 million to expand and renovate Terminal B. The city is being asked to contribute $288 million via a $3-per-passenger fee for the Houston Airport System and, if needed, the issuance of bonds to fund the city’s share.

City Council tagged the measure on Wednesday, a routine procedure that allows extra time for review and the answering of councilmembers’ questions. It is expected to come up for a vote at next week’s regular council session. We urge its passage.

The proposed work on Terminal B is another in a series of infrastructure improvements that will be necessary for the Houston region to fulfill its enormous economic promise. It is also a competitive necessity for both the Houston hub of the new United, the airlines’ largest, and the airline itself. The city’s self-interest is obvious: Improving the terminal figures to further solidify the deal between Continental and United, a partnership of major significance for Houston and the region. Translation: jobs.

Under the United proposal, the terminal would be expanded, would be easier for passengers to navigate and would feature more amenities than the current Terminal B.

On that last point, the airline would handle the selection of concessionaires and vendors, in exchange for a 10 percent cut of the take, up to $1 million per year.

While I would agree that this approach is superior to the no-bid method that had been used previously, the Chron got this exactly backwards. It’s the city that gets 10% of the concession take, with a cap at $1 million. United gets the rest. That $1 million cap is in place for the entire length of the deal, which needless to say won’t be as much in real terms down the line. That strikes me as something that maybe ought to be reconsidered.

In addition, according to this analysis by the SEIU of the deal, United still does have discretion about participating in Phases 2 and 3, meaning they’re only on the hook for the $97 million they’re committing for Phase 1. They also report that there’s no commitments to contract with Houston-based businesses. I’m taking their word for it on all this, as I have not read the deal myself. This is because I still can’t find it anywhere on the City of Houston or Houston Airport System webpages. Maybe it’s there somewhere, but if so it’s hiding from me. Isn’t that a problem, too? We need some more light on this one. Maybe it’s a fine deal, but I can’t tell from what is and isn’t out there to see.

Chron story on the Terminal B expansion

Here’s the Chron story on that Terminal B expansion at IAH that I mentioned on Sunday. It fills in some blanks.

United Airlines would pay $686 million to expand and renovate Bush Intercontinental Airport’s Terminal B and gain control over its operations — including concessions — under a deal on Wednesday’s City Council agenda.

The city’s share of the project will be $288 million, raised through a $3-per-passenger fee the Houston Airport System has been collecting since November 2009.

The city has the cash to pay the $55 million for the project’s first phase, but may have to issue bonds to pay for subsequent phases, HAS Director Mario Diaz said. Those bonds would be paid off with continuing proceeds from the fee.

[…]

As part of the handover of maintenance and janitorial functions at Terminal B to United, 18 city employees would have to reapply for their current jobs when a United contractors begins doing the work. Diaz said the city will reassign any workers who are not hired by the contractors to other locations in the airport system.

Nonetheless, representatives of the Service Employees International Union, which represents neither United nor airport workers, raised doubts about protections for workers who transition from unionized city jobs to non-union positions for private companies. SEIU leaders also asked that council delay a vote on the contract until the public has had more time to scrutinize it.

The deal is on Council’s agenda for today, and you can be sure it will be tagged. And it needs to be delayed for at least a week, because there are still many issues that have not been fully aired out. The Chron story mentions “a 118-page agreement” that isn’t anywhere to be found on the city’s webpage, meaning that hardly anyone knows what’s in this beast. I do now have a copy of the original presentation about this proposal that was given in June. If you go to page 11, you’ll see that United has a decision point in 2017, whether or not to proceed with Phases 2 and 3 of this project. The page says “If United does not proceed with Phases 2 or 3, these areas remain with [the Houston Airport System]”. That reference has been removed in the updated doc, on which the Monday public meeting was based. What else has changed? Some more time to study this, and at least one more public hearing, would help.

Another point to note, as you can see in the fact sheet that SEIU sent me is that United will wind up with the lowest gate fees of any airline, much lower than what airlines like Southwest pay at Hobby. They’re also going to get 90% of the concessions – the city is letting United handle those details rather than handle the bidding itself. That’s probably wise given the kerfuffle that was caused the last time, but that doesn’t make this the best solution. Again, some time to talk all this through would be a good idea. The impression one gets from this story is that United is hot to get things started. That’s great, but let’s not get too hasty. We’re all going to live with this deal for a long time. Let’s get it right beforehand if we can.

HOPE/SEIU poll of the Mayor’s race

Here’s another poll result, this time from Houston Justice for Janitors.

Annise Parker leads her closest opponent by a 2-to-1 advantage in an initial vote preference for mayor. Parker holds a solid lead in the election for Houston mayor (28% Parker – 14% Locke – 13% Brown – 5% Morales — <1% Huntley – 40% undecided), though the plurality of voters are still undecided. After hearing completely positive introductions of each candidate, Annise Parker maintains her significant double–digit lead over the rest of the field. In an informed vote preference where positive bios of each candidate were read, Parker is still in control of the race (33% Parker – 19% Locke – 18% Brown – 5% Morales – 12% Huntley – 13% undecided).

You may be wondering, as I was, why they bothered to include TJ Huntley in this poll, given that he dropped out of the race (and endorsed Morales) back in August. The answer comes from the poll summary:

The poll, conducted by national research firm Hamilton Campaigns, is based on a survey of 400 registered voters who are likely to vote in the November 2009 mayoral election in Houston. Voters were interviewed by telephone in the period July 17-20, 2009. The margin of error for a sample of this size is ±4.9 percentage points, at the 95% confidence level. The racial composition of the sample was 49% White, 33% Black, 15% Hispanic, 3% Other.

Which leads to the next question: Why is a poll from July just being released now? I can’t answer this question, but I do have to wonder how accurate the result is two months later, given the TV exposure Brown has had, among other things. This poll has far fewer undecideds than the more recent KHOU poll, which seems counterintuitive, though it could be a function of the likely voter screen each pollster used.

Beyond that, the main point I want to bring up is with the “informed voter” sample, in which Morales and Huntley were described as follows:

Roy Morales is a 51 year-old Hispanic and serves as Harris County School Trustee. Morales is passionate about our children receiving a proper education, staying in school, and staying off the streets. Morales understands that when our children grow up they are not only going to be competing for jobs with people here, but also with people in other countries like China and India. Morales is running for mayor to help move our children up the ladder of success — not with welfare or handouts — but with education and hard work.

T.J. Huntley is a 37 year-old Anglo successful businessman who is pro-life, believes marriage should be between a man and woman, and supports the right to bear arms under the 2nd Amendment.

Now which one of those descriptions screams “Republican!” to you, and which one doesn’t? It’s no wonder that Morales’ total remained the same in each, while Huntley went from a complete non-entity to 12% of the vote. That basically tracks the boost Morales got from the “informed voter” sample in the KHOU poll, which unlike this one specified party identification. About ten percent of the vote is undecided Republicans. If they figure out who Roy is, he’ll easily crack double figures, and could affect who makes it to the runoff. If not, who knows what those folks will do – stay home, undervote, spread their support around, some combination. Roy has no money, but the Harris County GOP could try to whip up some support for him. We’ll see if they bother, or if they can afford it.

Anyway. This is an interesting result, but I’m not sure I know all that much more about the race than I did before I saw it. Houston Politics has more.

Endorsement watch: SEIU and HOPE

The Houston Organization of Public Employees (HOPE) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 members have made their endorsements for the November elections. From the press release:

Mayor – Annise Parker
At Large 1 – Karen Derr
At Large 2 – Sue Lovell
At Large 3 – Melissa Noriega
At Large 5 – Jolanda Jones
District A – Lane Lewis
District B – Jarvis Johnson
District D – Wanda Adams
District F – Mike Laster
District H – Ed Gonzalez
District I – James Rodriguez
City Controller – Ron Green

You can read the full release here. I note that they did not mention the At Large #4 race, for which the endorsement status has been the subject of controversy. I sent an inquiry in about this and received a reply that indeed, no endorsement was made. Seems a bit anti-climactic, but there you have it.

Freeman and Bradford spar over SEIU endorsement

Last night, Noel Freeman sent out this press release:

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 confirmed Tuesday during a screening interview with City Council At-Large Position 4 candidate Noel Freeman that his opponent, C.O. Bradford, has falsely claimed to have received its endorsement.

Bradford issued a press release on August 17, 2009 announcing he had received SEIU’s endorsement. According to SEIU officials, Bradford had been asked to remove the endorsement from his campaign website more than a week ago, but as of 11:00 pm on September 1st, the endorsement still appeared on the website.

“I find it disappointing my opponent would attempt to mislead voters by claiming an endorsement he does not have.” Freeman said. “My opponent’s claim that he received SEIU’s endorsement more than two weeks before they even finished screening candidates in this race does a tremendous disservice to the proud men and women of SEIU who take the political process seriously.”

This morning, C.O. Bradford responded with a press release of his own:

“C.O. “Brad” Bradford does have Labor’s endorsement. Noel Freeman’s claim that C. O. Bradford is falsely claiming that he had received the endorsement of the SEIU, Local 1 is not truthful. I am the person that told C. O. Bradford that he had the endorsement of the Harris County AFL-CIO Council and of all of the Unions affiliated with it – including SEIU, Local 1. It is possible that SEIU, Local 1, is reserving their endorsement and they have every right to do so. I gave C. O. Bradford the wrong information. Noel is off base on this one and is stirring up trouble to get attention. The Unions of the Harris County AFL-CIO Council did endorse C. O. Bradford. If one or two of the 77 Unions choose to do otherwise, this is still an endorsement of the whole (thousands and thousands of members who will be informed of the endorsement) of the Labor movement for a very good candidate who will represent Houstonians very well on City Council. Noel Freeman does not have our endorsement,” stated Mr. Richard Shaw, Harris County AFL-CIO Council.

“I am honored to have received the endorsement of the Labor Unions in Harris County. I am committed to helping the thousands of workers who are striving for better conditions, benefits, safety equipment, and training for the greater good of all in our community,” stated Bradford.

Both Freeman and Bradford suggested that I speak to Tiffany Hogue with the SEIU, Local 1 organization. So I did, and this is what she told me:

– Generally speaking, all of the local unions participate in the AFL-CIO screening process, with the AFL-CIO acting as an umbrella organization for this purpose. Each union has the right to conduct its own screenings and make its own recommendations, but most of them follow the AFL-CIO’s lead. This is basically what Shaw said.

– SEIU, Local 1, and HOPE, which is affiliated with AFSCME, is in the process of conducting its own screenings and making its own endorsements for all city races. They have already issued an endorsement of Annise Parker for Mayor, but have not yet completed the screening process for other races. They anticipate doing so and announcing their endorsements in the coming weeks. I specifically asked if this meant that they could endorse Freeman, and she said yes, that could happen.

What that says to me is that Freeman’s claim that Bradford did not have the SEIU endorsement is truthful. On the other hand, Bradford certainly had reason to believe he had the SEIU endorsement once he had won the AFL-CIO Council nod, based on the usual way these things go and on what Shaw told him. I don’t think either of these points is seriously in dispute.

Where it gets dicey is the claim that Bradford had been told to remove SEIU’s name from his endorsement list. Bradford denied being asked by anyone to do this. Freeman says he had several conversations with Hogue about this, that she told him she had asked Bradford to take SEIU’s name off his list, and that when he asked her at his screening interview to confirm that someone had asked him to take it down, she said Yes. Hogue agrees she told Freeman that she had heard that someone had asked Bradford to do this, but she told me she didn’t know who that was, and she couldn’t say for certain that it had happened at all. Freeman, in a followup email, gave specific dates and times for the conversations in which he said he asked about this.

So that’s where it stands. I’m somewhat at a loss for what to make of it. It’s clear there was miscommunication, but it’s not clear where it all comes from. This is hard for me, because obviously I wasn’t party to any of the original conversations, and because I like everyone involved. I don’t know what actually happened, but this is what I’ve been told about it. I don’t know how much this clears things up, but it’s what I know. If I hear more, I’ll update this post.