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Stephen Costello

Harris County to consider floodplain regulations change

Seems like a good idea to me.

Nearly three months after Hurricane Harvey, Harris County is proposing using 500-year floodplains instead of 100-year floodplains for new development, the first significant overhaul of county elevation requirements in nearly two decades.

The regulations, which still must be approved by Commissioners Court, would force developers to build new homes eight feet higher than previously required in some flood-prone areas.

They would also, for the first time, open up a broader geographic area to regulation by forcing developers building in 500-year floodplains to meet stricter elevation standards. Currently, there is little regulation outside the 100-year floodplains.

“Any time we can figure out how to make our regulations better and our infrastructure more resilient, we want to do it,” said county engineer John Blount. “We don’t want to be permitting houses that would flood. It’s not good for the county. It’s not good for people that are in the houses. You shouldn’t be building houses at an elevation you know they’re going to flood.”

[…]

The newly proposed regulations focus on the booming unincorporated region as opposed to areas within Houston city limits. Unincorporated Harris County has added nearly 1 million people since 2000, more than three-quarters of the growth in the county since 2000.

For some areas along the San Jacinto River, Spring Creek and Cypress Creek, the difference between the new and old regulations — 500-year versus 100-year flood levels — could be several feet of elevation required for new homes, which could increase the cost of development by thousands of dollars.

You can see the proposed new regulations here. This is in line with the larger vision County Judge Ed Emmett proposed in September. If this winds up making some new development more expensive, that’s fine. All that’s doing is more accurately pricing in the flood risk. As the story notes, though, the newest construction in the unincorporated county mostly escaped destruction during Harvey. It’s existing development that was the hardest hit, and that’s going to be a much more difficult and expensive problem to solve. And as Jim Blackburn says in the story, the 500 year zone may not be big enough to address this. Still, this is a positive step, and the Court will take up the proposal in early December.

One more thing:

Meanwhile, the proposed regulations would not govern development in the city of Houston. City regulations require new homes built in 100-year floodplains to be elevated one foot above the 100-year flood level — less than the 18 inches that the county currently requires.

Houston Chief Resilience Officer and “flood czar” Steve Costello said the city has not yet made any proposals regarding new floodplains, but has called a meeting in December among city staff to start the discussion. He said the city would consider the county’s changes.

“There’s no guarantee we will formally adopt everything that they have done,” he said. “Obviously we don’t want different criteria at the end of the day.”

I agree that the city should be in line with the county. I hope we have been involved in the discussion over these changes.

What the Harvey needs are from the state

It’s not just about recovery. The long term needs, including mitigation against future events like Harvey, is where the real money will need to be spent.

More than one month after Harvey’s deluge hit, local officials, including Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, testified at a state House of Representatives Appropriations Committee hearing that more than $370 million worth of debris removal and repair work on more than 50 government buildings has strained local coffers, necessitating quick aid and reimbursement from the federal or state government.

They also emphasized what likely will greatly exceed the costs of immediate recovery: how to prepare for the next storm. That could include billions of dollars for large-scale buyouts, a third reservoir on Houston’s west side, a reservoir on the Brazos River in Fort Bend County and hundreds of millions of dollars to jump start bayou improvement projects that have slowed in recent years without federal funding.

“There’s going to come a time where we have taken all the money from the feds, we have gotten all the money we’re going to get from the state, and we’re going to have to decide: What kind of community do we want to be?” Emmett said at the hearing.

Harvey’s record-smashing rainfall and floods damaged more than 136,000 homes and other buildings in Harris County and killed nearly 80 people across the state.

The Texas House Appropriations Committee and Urban Affairs Committee met at the University of Houston on Monday to understand public costs and where reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other U.S. Congressional appropriations were being directed in the storm’s wake.

Emmett, Turner and Fort Bend County officials testified, as did Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp, who is coordinating the state’s recovery efforts. The heads of several other state agencies also testified.

The hearing came just three days after Gov. Greg Abbott visited Houston and presented Turner with a check for $50 million. The check almost immediately was spoken for, Turner said, mostly for debris removal and insurance costs.

Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas, R-Houston, said Harvey, in theory, qualified as the “perfect reason” to use the state’s so-called “Rainy Day Fund,” a savings account comprised of billions in excess oil and gas taxes.

Abbott had indicated as much last week but said he would tap existing state emergency funds and reimburse them from the Rainy Day Fund when the Legislature next meets in 2019.

“Before the Legislature acts, we need to ensure what the expenses are that the state is responsible for,” Zerwas said.

Yes, that would be nice to know. There were other hearings this week as well.

The first order of business, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett told the House Natural Resources Committee, needs to be a flood control plan for the entire state — and the Gulf Coast in particular.

The Texas Water Development Board is already in the process of crafting a statewide flood plan, with the help of $600,000 state lawmakers gave them earlier this year. Lawmakers haven’t yet promised to back any of the projects that end up in the plan.

Emmett, a Republican and former state lawmaker, said Harris County intends to put together its own flood control plan in the meantime, add up the costs of its recommended projects, then see how much the federal and state government want to contribute. He said he’ll be the first to push for a local bond package to make up the difference.

Property taxes are “the most miserable tax created,” Emmett said. “But it’s what we’ve been given to work with so we don’t have a choice.”

Emmett said Harris County’s plan likely will include another major dam to catch runoff during storms and relieve pressure on two existing reservoirs, Addicks and Barker. Those reservoirs, which filled to historic levels during Harvey, flooded thousands of homes that may not have been inundated with additional protections.

Emmett and the city of Houston’s “flood czar,” Stephen Costello, suggested the state tap its savings account, known as the Rainy Day Fund, to pay for such a project, estimated to cost at least $300 million. (Gov. Greg Abbott has said lawmakers can tap that fund in 2019 or sooner if they need it for Harvey relief; so far, he has written Houston a $50 million out of a state disaster relief fund.)

Costello said Texas should also consider creating a multi-billion dollar fund to support flood control projects similar to one the state’s voters approved in 2013 for water supply projects.

So far all of the talk is constructive, and even Dan Patrick is doing his part. The real test will be whether we follow up on any of this when the Lege reconvenes. Also, while this doesn’t directly answer my question about the SWIFT fund, but it does clearly suggest that it’s not intended for this kind of infrastructure. Which makes sense, given when it was created, but I had wondered if there was some flexibility built in. I would hope there would be plenty of support for a similar fund for flood mitigation.

Let’s review those flood control regulations

Seems like a good idea, wouldn’t you say?

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to review Harris County’s flood control regulations to gauge whether they sufficiently neutralize the flood risk posed by the region’s booming development, a question that has drawn increasing scrutiny after a series of storms in recent years, capped by Hurricane Harvey, have devastated the region.

The Harris County Flood Control District already had begun a review of the regulations and asked in August for a third-party re-examination by the Corps. The district expects preliminary results at the end of October.

“We are looking at where development is going, is there any trend that we are seeing,” said Ataul Hannan, planning division director for the flood control district. “We might have to go in and fine-tune areas.”

The county’s flood control rules largely center around a principle called “detention,” a requirement that any development – subdivision, strip mall, gas station – hold runoff in a basin and release it slowly so as to not increase flooding downstream.

Regulations mandate that the basins, also called detention ponds, hold enough water to mimic the landscape being paved over.

After repeated storms in recent years, a growing chorus of critics has connected the county’s rapid development with its destruction.

Following last year’s Tax Day floods, a Houston Chronicle investigation found that flood control regulations, including detention requirements, routinely were undercut by developers.

[…]

Jim Blackburn, an environmental attorney who has sued the Corps and the county over flood control issues, said a Corps review would not be objective, given the ties between the agencies.

“They need an independent assessment because the problem with Harris County’s detention regulations is they are not strict enough,” said Blackburn, a co-director of Rice University’s center for Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters.

The city will be doing its own separate review of its detention requirements in the coming months. Doing the review is one thing, but enforcement is quite another, and ensuring that the review is sufficient and spares no concern about anyone’s feelings is still one more. There’s no room for denial anymore. We’ve been given a very clear demonstration of what the flaws in our current policies are. There’s no excuse for not getting it right this time.

More flood mitigation coming

This is ambitious.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

After local leaders stood on the banks of Brays Bayou to celebrate a creative agreement that is expected to speed up work on a long-delayed effort to lessen the risk of flooding in southwest Houston, some angry Meyerland-area flood victims peppered them with questions.

The press conference was called to tout a plan under which the city of Houston would borrow $46 million from the state, give the cash to the county to speed up work on Project Brays, then be reimbursed later with federal dollars.

City officials hope to repeat that process for two other bayous – White Oak and Hunting- ultimately forwarding the county about $130  million.

For more background on this effort, click here. For more information on another recent flooding initiative Mayor Sylvester Turner and his “flood czar,” Steve Costello, announced, click here.

And for more information about Project Brays, visit this county Flood Control District page.

[…]

Turner — who, like flood control officials — was mobbed by residents after he stepped down from the podium, answered questions for several minutes before departing.

“There’s no question that there are frustrations and I understand the frustrations,” the mayor said. “Nobody wants their homes flooded once, four times or seven times. And that’s why the city, in an unprecedented move, took the lead and borrowed the $43 million. Now we have certainty that this project will be completed.”

Harris County Flood Control District Director Russ Poppe said his agency expects to complete channel widening through Meyerland to Fondren in the next two years. The city loan, which will be used chiefly for downstream bridge replacements, is important, he said, because bridges that are too low can create significant backups, heightening the flooding risk for those upstream.

The Mayor’s press release is here, and as you can see there are statements from multiple other elected officials, at different levels of government. The plan, which has received preliminary approval from Council, is a bit convoluted, but it’s also an example of Mayor Turner leveraging his experience in the Legislature to forge complex agreements. Homeowners who have been badly harmed by recent floods had some understandable questions about how all this will affect them, not all of which are addressed by this plan. Still, I think we can all agree that bayou improvements are a key component in flood mitigation, and streamlining the process to make it happen more quickly will help. It would be nice if we could come to a similar consensus about preserving flood plains and wetlands, but one step at a time. The Press has more.

Mayor Turner delivers State of the City 2016

Here’s the press release.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Flooding, pensions, City finances and public safety were front and center as Mayor Sylvester Turner delivered his first State of the City before the Greater Houston Partnership. In a major move designed to produce tangible results and instill confidence among residents, the mayor announced the selection of Stephen Costello to fill the new position of Chief Resilience Officer, or Flood Czar. Costello, who is a civil engineer who has worked on numerous drainage projects, will report directly to the mayor and will have the sole responsibility of developing and implementing strategies that will improve drainage and reduce the risk of flooding.

“The April 18 floods had a dramatic impact on our entire region,” said Mayor Turner. “Hundreds of people sought rescue in hastily opened shelters, hundreds more elected to stay in their flooded apartments and homes. Nearly 2,000 homes in Houston flooded and some flooded for the second, third or fourth times. Property owners throughout our area have become weary of flooding in the Bayou City, impatient with elected officials who offer explanations with no practical solutions, and some have and others are close to packing up and leaving our city unless we can convince them that we are going to do exponentially more than what they currently see.”

The mayor also announced that he will soon unveil a plan to put 175 more police officers on the street, called for repeal of the revenue cap self-imposed on the City by voters in 2004 and detailed his plan to address the City’s unfunded employee pension liabilities, a growing obligation that is stressing the City’s overall financial stability.

“There are certain realities that cannot be ignored: the increasing costs to the City simply cannot be sustained,” said Turner. “As we look to 2018, City services will be adversely affected, hundreds of employees will be laid off, and our credit rating will most likely be damaged. But this is a course we need not travel. My mom said, ‘Tomorrow will be better than today,’ and as mayor of this City, I still believe what she said.”

The mayor is already in productive discussions with the employee pension groups about reigning in costs in a way that is least burdensome to employees, reduces the City’s escalating costs and avoids unintended consequences. He has laid out three objectives for those discussions:

  • Lower unfunded pension obligations now and in the future;
  • Lower annual costs for the city now and in the future; and
  • An agreement by the end of the year to present to the legislature for consideration in the 2017 session.

The mayor noted that the revenue cap, which was cited as one of the reasons for a downgrade of the City’s credit rating, puts Houston at an unfair advantage and hinders the City’s ability to meet the needs of its growing population. No other governmental entity in Texas is under similar constraints.

“The revenue cap works against creating one Houston with opportunity for all and the ability to address pressing needs like flooding, transportation and mobility, parks and added green space, affordable/workforce housing and homelessness,” said Turner. “We are competing not just against Dallas, San Antonio and Austin; not just against New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, but against Vancouver, Berlin and Singapore. We are an international city speaking 142 languages, with 92 consulates and two international airports within our city boundaries.”

The mayor concluded his speech with a commitment to leading the nation in addressing homelessness and a personal appeal for Houston businesses to join his Hire Houston Youth summer jobs program. Information on the program is available at www.hirehoustonyouth.org.

The full text of the speech is here, and a Chron story about the additional patrol officers is here. It’s a concise reiteration of things Mayor Turner has spoken about often, with no new directions or surprises. You know what he wants to do, it’s a matter of doing it. If you’re wondering how Mayor Turner might be successful at getting the Lege to pass a pension-related bill – as you may recall, I was deeply skeptical of some other candidates’ approaches last year – the answer is that he intends to have an agreement on what changes should be made with all the relevant stakeholders. The Lege may not be interested in solving Houston’s problems, but they will ratify a solution that Houston itself comes up with. That’s the plan, anyway. As I said, the important part is doing it. If nothing else, we’ll have a pretty good idea of how it’s gone by the time of the 2017 State of the City address. The Chron and the Press have more.

Turner’s Council

So what kind of City Council will Mayor-elect Sylvester Turner have to work with?

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

In addition to Turner replacing term-limited Mayor Annise Parker, the council also will gain five new faces, four thanks to term limits and one who defeated an incumbent. Political analysts, however, sensed little ideological shift among the 16-member body.

How city government will function or fail to do so, observers say, thus circles back to Turner. With a looming $126 million budget deficit to close by June, the 26-year Texas House veteran will be tested quickly.

“Having a career legislator lead the council is likely to have a significant change in how the city operates,” said Mustafa Tameez, a Houston political consultant. “He’s likely to lean on his experience and run the council as a legislative chamber versus, in the past, other mayors saw it as an executive office and the council may have been a nuisance.”

[…]

If the political tilt of the council shifted with Saturday’s results, analysts said, it may have been slightly to the right. Conservative former policeman Mike Knox will replace moderate Steve Costello in the At-Large 1 seat; physician Steve Le, who opposed the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, ousted District F incumbent Richard Nguyen, who voted for it. As a counterbalance, the analysts said, municipal finance lawyer Amanda Edwards’ replacement of C.O. Bradford in the At-Large 4 race is a shift to the left.

In conservative District G, where lawyer Greg Travis replaces Oliver Pennington, and in progressive-leaning District H, where educator Karla Cisneros replaces Ed Gonzalez, observers saw little ideological change.

Observers guessed the general split to be roughly 10 to 11 progressive votes and six to seven conservative ones, depending on the issue, though council members are known to invoke the adage that there is no Republican or Democratic way to fill a pothole.

The new council will have four years to work out the kinks, thanks to voters, who approved a move from a maximum of three two-year terms of office to two four-year terms on Nov. 3.

That change, coupled with the loss of rules banning campaign fundraising during certain months – known as a blackout period – will bring the biggest changes to City Hall, Tameez said.

Let me start by saying I completely agree with Tameez here. I believe the change to four-year terms is going to have a big effect on how our municipal government operates and how our elections are conducted. I have no idea what those changes will look like, and neither does anyone else. It’s just going to be different, and we won’t begin to understand how until four years from now.

As for the makeup of Council, again I basically agree with what’s being said here. Mike Knox is to the right of Steve Costello, but I’d argue Amanda Edwards is to the left of C.O. Bradford. Losing Richard Nguyen hurts, but District F has always operated as a Republican-friendly district. Nguyen only declared himself to be a Democrat in 2014 – he was a political enigma when he was elected. It’s a loss, but we were playing with house money.

And to a large extent, none of that matters very much anyway. The Mayor still sets the agenda, and as long as the Mayor can get nine votes for whatever is on that agenda, it gets enacted. It will be interesting to see if Turner, a master of dealmaking and getting things done in a hostile environment, adopts a collaborative Lege-like approach to Mayoring (*), as that would be a great departure from every other Mayor in my memory, or if he exercises the power of the office like all his predecessors have done. Usually there’s at least one Council member who acts as a foil to the Mayor; of the holdover Members, Michael Kubosh and Dave Martin were the main antagonists to Mayor Parker. Will one or both of them maintain that role with Mayor Turner, or will someone else pick up the baton? The next budget gets adopted in June, so we ought to have some idea soon enough. Feel free to speculate on these topics in the comments.

(*) If “Presidenting” can be a word, then so can “Mayoring”.

Is Bill King a sign of a trend?

Probably not. Doesn’t mean that other candidates like him can’t do well, however.

Bill King

Bill King

Bill King’s near-upset over Sylvester Turner in the Houston mayoral runoff stoked the hopes of some Republicans that the party soon could break Democrats’ 34-year hold on City Hall.

Political experts, however, attributed King’s success more to his unique profile as a moderate fiscal conservative than a Republican resurgence in the Bayou City.

“King pretty skillfully positioned himself. He didn’t run as a Republican but happily accepted the support of Republicans,” University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. “You might get elected with support from Republicans, but that’s not enough to win unless the turnout is extremely skewed.”

Murray estimated Republicans make up about 35 to 40 percent of the city electorate, just 21 percent of whom cast a ballot in last Saturday’s runoff election to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker.

[…]

Kingwood Tea Party co-founder Jim Lennon said King’s bid instilled new confidence in Houston Republicans.

“With the results of this race being so close, I think there’s a change in attitude,” Lennon said. “We know we can win. We know we can put together a coalition.”

Nonetheless, Lennon acknowledged that the former Kemah mayor’s bid may be difficult to replicate.

“I don’t think there’s a deep bench of Republican politicians that can duplicate that,” Lennon said.

As you know, I largely agree. King was a decent candidate who took advantage of the opportunities he had and ran a good campaign. He was also lucky – again, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation if Oliver Pennington had not dropped out of the race. I think we’d be talking about why Adrian Garcia fell short against Turner in the runoff. That’s the way it goes, and every successful politician, like every championship sports team, gets a bit of luck here and there.

Republicans may not be able to win a Mayor’s race in Houston, but they’ve done a lot better in At Large Council races. Steve Costello, Jack Christie, Michael Kubosh, and now Mike Knox have all won citywide since 2009. Of course, the first three all won with the support of a significant number of Democratic voters – Costello (who basically profiled and governed as a moderate Dem) and Christie have done well with Anglo Dems, while Kubosh has solid support among African-American voters stemming from his previous work on the red light camera referendum. Only Knox won based on Republican votes, and that comes with a bit of an asterisk, given how low profile his runoff election was. The real test will be in 2019, when Christie is termed out and Knox will have to run without the backdrop of a King candidacy. If the Dems could unite on a single candidate against Knox (I know, I know) then that person ought to be favored. But let’s worry about that later, like maybe after the current electeds get sworn in and figure out where their offices are.

Finally, however swell the GOP establishment may feel about their near-miss with Bill King, it should be noted that they also had a good chance to win the Controller’s office as well, but missed that by a wider mark. Bill Frazer was a well-qualified candidate who was much more clearly identified with the Republican Party and who was as focused on pensions and fiscal matters as King. He was also Chron-endorsed and led the field in November after running a strong race in 2013, yet he wound up more than 10,000 votes behind Chris Brown (remember to add in the Fort Bend votes when you tally it all up). Brown had a bit of a financial edge, he had a bunch of ads running on cable TV, and he definitely made this a D-versus-R race. At a guess, I’d say that he had the support of a lot of Anglo Dems who had gone with King. All of which is a longwinded way of saying what Jim Lennon said: It’s hard for them to duplicate what King did.

Chron analysis of how Turner won

I suppose it’s a bit simplistic to say “he got more votes than the other guy”, but one way or the other that’s what happened.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner’s 24-year quest for the mayor’s office was realized by a narrow margin Saturday night, driven by overwhelming support from black voters and a robust effort to push supporters to the polls.

The tallies showed Houston’s long trend of voting in racial blocs held in this year’s runoff, by far the closest in 12 years.

Conservative businessman Bill King took 71 percent of the vote in the city’s majority-white voting precincts, where residents also turned out in the highest numbers. Turner won a whopping 93 percent of the vote in majority-black precincts, however, erasing King’s turnout advantage. Turner also had an edge in the city’s two predominantly Latino council districts, giving him the boost he needed to secure a 4,100-vote victory.

[…]

Texas Southern University political scientist Michael Adams said the racial polarization reflected in the tallies is consistent with Houston’s electoral history. Adams’ research on black candidates’ performance in Houston elections from 1997 to 2009 shows Turner performed slightly worse than would be expected in Anglo precincts.

“Turner’s success in only a handful of majority-white precincts, all inside the 610 Loop, is interesting. He performed worse than other Democrats had in similar precincts,” Adams said. “His success is almost entirely attributable to the overwhelming vote in the African-American community.”

Turner lost the city’s progressive urban district west of downtown, District C, by more than 10 points, but Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said the tallies are not necessarily a sign of racial polarization.

“It had more to do with the effectiveness of the Bill King campaign,” Jones said. “King’s message regarding the city’s fiscal crisis resonated with those voters in part because District C is the most educated and arguably the most politically interested council district. If it was going to resonate with any district that was a non-core conservative district, it was District C.”

Here’s another map of how the precincts voted, if you’re into that sort of thing. I’m the wrong person to objectively evaluate King’s campaign, because I was never buying what he was selling. I will say three things about the race he ran, then move on:

1. The timing was good for him and his gloomy economic message. In 2015, with the local economy sputtering and some bills coming due for the city, voters were more receptive to his message than they likely would have been in, say, 2013. It also helped that the sky-is-falling crescendo about pensions has been incessantly drilled into people, thanks in no small part to King’s own column in the Chronicle and his apparent effect on their editorial board. This was a good year for that message.

2. King basically had the Republican vote to himself. Remember, at the start of the year Oliver Pennington was a candidate for Mayor. I think it’s fair to say that he would have eaten into King’s November vote total had he stayed on the ballot, and it’s quite reasonable to think that the two of them could have split the vote to the point of letting Adrian Garcia slip into second place. One need only look at At Large #1 this year and At Large #3 in 2013 to see the scenario I’m talking about. Yes, I know, Steve Costello is a Republican, but come on. He’s a pro-HERO, pro-“rain tax” Republican. Who else was going to get the Polland/Woodfill/Hotze vote? For that matter, King was lucky that the only true wingnut anti-HERO candidate on the ballot that could have sucked votes away from him on his right was Ben Hall, whom the local GOP establishment warned its voters away from for not being an actual Republican. Surely if an Eric Dick or Dave Wilson had decided to run, that would have made it harder for King to get into the final round.

3. Still and all, King ran a good campaign. I can’t think of any obvious mistakes he made, none that would have cost him any votes anyway. He might have unleashed some negative mail on Turner in the runoff, but looking at how he actually did in the Anglo Dem areas, it’s hard to say that he could have done much better. Unless things go badly wrong for Turner, I don’t think he’d have as much success in a rematch in 2019 (or in 2017, if term limits hadn’t been changed), but he took advantage of the opportunities he had at this time and came close to winning. There’s no shame in that.

Beyond that, every election is different. I’d be hesitant to draw any broad conclusions from this race. Barring legal intervention, the next city races are in 2019, and by then this year will be ancient history. Next year is completely different as well. Learn from what did and didn’t work and move on to the next election.

One more thing before I can move on to the next election: I have a nit to pick with this Daily Kos election roundup that states “Houston leans Democratic, but poor turnout from Team Blue almost allowed King to become the city’s first non-Democratic mayor since Republican Jim McConn left office in 1982.” This is what happens when out of towners try to make sense of our news. Turnout was fine in Democratic precincts. King did as well as he did in part by winning some Democratic crossover votes, and in part by giving Republicans a reason to vote. Both Turner and King had ground games going, and Turner’s was very effective. Let’s not fall into oversimplified narratives about what happened; that does no one any good.

The ground game

Where we are with one day to go.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

The neck-and-neck Houston mayor’s race has become an all-out ground war in the final days before Saturday’s runoff election as Sylvester Turner and Bill King turn to local Democratic and Republican party operatives to get out the vote in what is putatively a nonpartisan contest.

Democrats, labor groups and local churches have pooled manpower to launch a comprehensive, intricately designed field operation to push Turner voters to the polls, while Republicans have poured resources into mailers, radio ads and phone banks urging Houston residents to back King and his message of fiscal reform.

The race carries symbolic weight, both parties say, presenting Democrats with an opportunity to maintain their longtime hold on the mayoralty and Republicans the long-awaited chance to make inroads in municipal politics.

By the close of early voting Tuesday, more than 113,000 voters had cast a ballot, an increase of about 39,000 from the runoff election in the city’s last open-seat mayor’s race six years ago. Several political scientists project overall participation will be 200,000 or more.

Early turnout was strongest in City Council District G, on the city’s conservative, majority-white west side, followed by predominantly white, progressive District C and conservative District E. King won all three in the general election.

“I would expect King to win the early vote and Turner to win the election day vote, with the election then being decided by the margins for those two respective segments,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said.

It’s true that King won District C in November, but only by a small margin, with a large share of the vote going to Adrian Garcia, Chris Bell, and Steve Costello. My gut says that if Turner picks up a majority of these voters, he’ll be in good shape. If not, that may be a problem. We’ll know when the returns start coming in. I’ll post about Election Day locations tomorrow. Who has not voted yet?

Endorsement watch: Bell for King

As the headline notes, this came as a surprise to many.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Former Congressman Chris Bell publicly backed fiscal conservative Bill King in the Houston mayoral runoff Tuesday, a move that could bolster King’s efforts to make inroads with progressive voters.

Bell’s endorsement came as a surprise to many political insiders expecting the progressive former mayoral candidate to support King’s rival, Democrat Sylvester Turner.

Bell cited King’s focus on pension reform, public safety, road repair and flooding as reasons for his endorsement, as well as the businessman’s thoughtful approach to policy issues.

“It might come as a surprise to some because of my political persuasion, but it really shouldn’t,” Bell said alongside King in Meyerland. “Truth be told, we agree much more than we disagree. As far as the major principles of his campaign, we’re in complete agreement.”

If you say so, Chris. From my perspective, the main area of overlap between the two campaigns was an enthusiasm for bashing Adrian Garcia. On a number of issues I can think of, from HERO to the revenue cap to ReBuild Houston to (yes) pensions, there seemed to be little in common. It’s easier for me to see agreement between Steve Costello and Sylvester Turner than it is for me to see concurrence between Bell and King. Perhaps it’s in the eye of the beholder, I don’t know. But really, on a broader level, it’s that Bell positioned himself quite purposefully to Sylvester Turner’s left, with his greater purity on LGBT equality being a main point of differentiation. Though he missed out on getting the Houston GLBT Political Caucus’ endorsement – amid a fair amount of grumbling about Turner buying the recommendation via a slew of last-minute memberships – Bell had a lot of support in the LGBT community; a couple of his fervent supporters courted my vote at the West Gray Multi-Service Center by reminding me of an old Turner legislative vote against same sex foster parenting. This is why it’s hard to believe his claims about there being so much in common between him and King, and why this announcement was met with such an explosion of outrage and cries of betrayal. It’s not a partisan matter so much as it is a strong suspicion that either the prior assertions about being the real champion of equality were lies or that this endorsement had to come with a prize. If Chris Bell honestly believes that Bill King will be the best Mayor, that’s his right and his choice. But no one should be surprised by the reaction to it.

Does this help King? Well, he needs to get some Anglo Dem support to win, and that was Bell’s base. Of course, speaking as someone in that demographic, I’ve seen very little evidence that any of his erstwhile supporters were impressed by this. Quite the reverse, as noted above. I guess it can’t hurt, I just wouldn’t expect it to do much.

In the meantime, various organizations have been issuing new and updated endorsements for the runoffs. A few highlights:

– As previously noted, the HCDP endorsed all Democratic candidates with Republican opponents. That means Sylvester Turner for Mayor, Chris Brown for Controller, Georgia Provost, David Robinson, Amanda Edwards, Sharon Moses, Richard Nguyen, and Mike Laster for Council, and Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Jose Leal for HISD Trustee.

– The Houston GLBT Political Caucus added Georgia Provost and Karla Cisneros to their list of endorsed candidates. Turner, Brown, Edwards, and the incumbents were already on there. They did not take action on Moses and Leal.

– The Meyerland Democrats made their first endorsements in a city election: Turner, Brown, Provost, Robinson, Edwards, Nguyen, and Laster.

– Controller candidate Chris Brown sent out another email touting endorsements, this time from five previous Controllers – Ronald Green, Annise Parker, Sylvia Garcia, George Greanias, and Kathy Whitmire. As you know, I’m glad to see Green support him.

– As noted here, the Harris County GOP Executive Committee endorsed Willie Davis in AL2, though it wasn’t exactly unanimous.

– The Log Cabin Republicans transferred their endorsements to Bill King and Mike Knox, and reiterated their support for David Robinson, Jack Christie, and Steve Le. Guess being staunchly anti-HERO has its drawbacks.

– A group called the Texas Conservative View endorsed the candidates you’d expect them to – King, Frazer, Knox, Davis, Roy Morales, Christie, Steve Le, Jim Bigham – and one I didn’t, Jason Cisneroz. All of them were repeats from November except for Morales; they had previously endorsed Jonathan Hansen.

– Finally, the Houston Association of Realtors gave Bill King an endorsement that does mean something and makes sense, along with Amanda Edwards.

I think that catches me up. I’m sure there will be more to come – in particular, the Chron has a few races to revisit. They need to pick a finalist between Brown and Frazer, and make a new choice in AL1 and AL5. I’ll let you know when they do.

UPDATE: The line I deleted above about “being staunchly anti-HERO” was a reference to Willie Davis not getting the LCR endorsement in At Large #2. It made sense in my head when I wrote it, but I can see now that I didn’t make that clear at all. And given that the LCRs endorsed David Robinson in November, it doesn’t make sense even when I clarify who I intended that to be about. So, I take it back. Sorry for the confusion.

Endorsement watch: Costello for Turner

I’m glad to see this.

CM Stephen Costello

CM Stephen Costello

Houston City Councilman Steve Costello endorsed Sylvester Turner for mayor Wednesday, dealing a potential financial blow to fellow conservative Bill King as he looks to expand his donor base in the runoff.

An engineer who finished sixth on Election Day with 7 percent of the vote, Costello is not likely to sway a large share of the electorate, but his endorsement could bolster Turner’s fundraising efforts, particularly among local engineers and contractors, who are consistent donors in municipal races.

Last week, former mayoral candidate Adrian Garcia also endorsed Turner.

“The real blow here is for fundraising,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said. “I think one of the goals for Turner in this runoff is to create an aura of inevitability behind his candidacy, and this, along with the Garcia endorsement, certainly aids that effort.”

[…]

In a statement announcing his endorsement, Costello cited ReBuild, public safety and transportation as reasons for backing Turner, a Democrat.

He said Turner agrees that ReBuild is a good baseline program from which to improve and that the Houston Police Department should be expanded with a focus on community policing.

Costello, who is term-limited, added that he will focus on improving Houston’s mass transit after leaving office.

“Sylvester Turner is the best candidate to connect all of Houston through multi-modal transportation, and I look forward to working with him on critical transportation issues like commuter rail,” Costello said.

A copy of the statement is beneath the fold. All due respect to Prof. Jones, but I’d put fundraising lower on the list of reasons why this is good for Turner. For one thing, while Costello didn’t get a large number of votes, I get the impression that his voters are the kind of people who are likely to show up for a runoff. As such, his endorsement ought to move some actual voters to Turner, since this endorsement could have gone either way. It also obviously makes Turner’s coalition a little broader, and it narrows the pool of voters that King will be fishing in. And while endorsements are often about supporting the person you want to win, they are also often about supporting the person you think actually will win. It’s not unreasonable to see Costello’s endorsement as a signal of which way the wind is perceived to be blowing.

Or maybe it’s much ado about nothing. Nobody really knows what any single endorsement is worth – we’re all just guessing. Maybe no one who wasn’t already voting for Turner cares. Maybe as many Costello voters think he’s nuts to endorse Turner as those who applaud it. We just don’t know. Be that as it may, campaigns love endorsements, and everybody reacts to them as if they mean something. Turner also received endorsements from multiple Latino elected officials, while King touted a few of his own, from former electeds and business leaders. I’m sure when more endorsements are made, we will all hear about them.

(more…)

Precinct analysis: Mayor’s race

I now have draft canvasses. You know what that means. All data is for Harris County only. First up, the Mayor’s race:


Dist  Hall  Turner  Garcia    King Costello    Bell
===================================================
A    1,906   4,587   3,509   6,265    1,522   1,129
B    2,494  15,947   2,159     459      259     277
C    2,575  10,951   6,804  12,121    4,894   7,451
D    4,060  17,033   2,637   1,571      702   1,022
E    3,409   4,258   4,831  15,228    2,122   1,745
F    1,189   3,297   2,561   2,428      820     574
G    3,017   5,036   4,076  20,042    4,040   2,787
H    1,194   4,721   7,145   1,585      810   1,119
I    1,237   3,717   6,114   1,327      650     796
J      902   2,151   1,900   1,810      594     598
K    2,777   9,912   2,922   3,022    1,097   1,806
						
A    9.80%  23.58%  18.04%  32.20%    7.82%   5.80%
B   11.38%  72.75%   9.85%   2.09%    1.18%   1.26%
C    5.64%  24.00%  14.91%  26.56%   10.73%  16.33%
D   14.66%  61.50%   9.52%   5.67%    2.53%   3.69%
E   10.56%  13.19%  14.96%  47.17%    6.57%   5.41%
F    9.79%  27.14%  21.08%  19.99%    6.75%   4.73%
G    7.60%  12.68%  10.27%  50.48%   10.18%   7.02%
H    7.06%  27.93%  42.27%   9.38%    4.79%   6.62%
I    8.65%  25.98%  42.73%   9.28%    4.54%   5.56%
J   10.67%  25.45%  22.48%  21.41%    7.03%   7.07%
K   12.57%  44.87%  13.23%  13.68%    4.97%   8.18%
Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

The seven other candidates combined for 2.57% of the vote, so for the sake of space and my sanity, I’m omitting them from these tables, but I will say a few words about them here. Hoc Thai Nguyen, who had the seventh-highest vote total, scored 6.60% of the vote in District F, and 3.02% in J, the two most Asian-heavy parts of town. As it happens, F (1.93%) and J (1.15%) were Marty McVey’s two best districts, too. Nguyen also broke out of the square root club (*) in A (1.01%) and I (1.08%). No other candidate reached 1% in any district. Demetria Smith, who ran for District D in 2013, came closest with 0.93% of the vote in D. At the bottom of the ladder were Joe Ferreira (240 votes) and Dale Steffes (302), but it was Steffes who had the worst performance in any district. Nearly half of his votes (143 of them) came in District G, and he collected all of 2 votes in J and 3 votes in B. Ferreira got 7 votes in B, but made it to double digits everywhere else. Neither he nor Rafael Munoz made it to triple digits in any district, however. I guarantee, this is the kind of analysis you won’t see anywhere else.

The conventional wisdom on Sylvester Turner is that he needed to broaden his appeal beyond African-American voters, who were expected to strongly support his candidacy. He certainly received their strong support, as the results in B and D attest. Turner also finished first in districts F, J, and K, and finished second in A, C, G, H, and I. That looks pretty reasonably broad to me. If you’re alarmed by him finishing behind King in C, I would simply note that there do exist Republicans in District C, and C was where both Chris Bell and Steve Costello had their strongest showings. I feel confident saying that much of that vote will transfer to Turner. Ben Hall didn’t dent Turner’s support in B and D; given that plenty of anti-HERO voters also supported Turner, it seems likely to me that he will pick up a fair bit of Hall’s support. And perhaps with some help from Adrian Garcia’s endorsement, Turner ought to do well in H and I. None of this is guaranteed, of course. People do actually have to come out and vote, and if there’s any sense of inevitability that might make some people think they needn’t bother to show up. For what it’s worth, I get the sense from too much Facebook reading that plenty of disappointed HERO supporters are not depressed but angry, and that they know their best chance of a second shot at an equal rights ordinance is with Mayor Turner, not Mayor King. I think they’ll show up. Runoff early voting starts December 2, so we’ll know soon enough.

A word about Garcia before I move on: If every single voter in H and I had voted for him, his Harris County total would have been 62,623. If you then subtract the votes Bill King got in H and I from his total, he’d be left with 62,954. Garcia gained a net 267 votes on King in Fort Bend and lost a net 26 votes in Montgomery, so when you add it all up, he’d still have been out of the money. Now I know that H and I aren’t solely made up of Latinos – hell, I live in H, and I’m almost as white as King – and there are plenty of Latino voters in other districts. There could also have been higher turnout in these districts; both were under the overall average. My point in using this bit of shorthand is to say that it was really Garcia who needed to broaden his support, and to that end his biggest problem was other Democrats, not any anti-HERO surge. I think Garcia was handicapped by his late entry into the race, much as Sylvester Turner was by his late entry into the 2003 Mayor’s race. By the time Turner jumped in, after the legislative session, Bill White had locked up a significant amount of support from Democratic voters, including a non-trivial number of black Democrats. By the time Garcia got in, he had to ask a lot of people to reconsider the decision they’d already made about whom to support for Mayor in order to ask them to support him. That’s a much harder thing to do. He had his reasons for getting in so late, and it’s always easy to be a Monday morning quarterback. I’m just saying the reasons why Garcia isn’t in the runoff go beyond simply counting the number of Latinos that voted.

And while we’re still talking about broadening appeal, there’s Bill King. Look at those numbers above. King did very well in E and G, fairly well in A, C, F, and J, and not so well anywhere else, including below-the-Hoc-Thai-Nguyen-in-F-line finishes in B and D. Where does King turn to sufficiently improve his performance in the runoff to have a shot at it? I feel like the basic model for this is Jack Christie’s runoff win against Jolanda Jones in 2011, which is to say broaden his appeal outside of his Republican base, maximize those votes, and limit Turner to his own base in B and D. Easier said than done, but it has been done. It’s been suggested to me that a factor that may have driven turnout at least as much as the HERO vote was Republican voters in the city having a real choice for Mayor for the first time since 2003. There may be something to that, but if so I’d note as before that King received just 30,000 more votes than Roy Morales did in 2009, which receiving 33,000 fewer votes than Orlando Sanchez did in 2003. Make of that what you will. King ought to have room to boost Republican turnout in the runoff – Republicans have a few candidates they might like to support elsewhere on the runoff ballot as well – but I don’t think that gets him over the line on its own. I think he can’t win unless he can take some votes away from Turner. How he might do that, I assume we’ll find out.

I’ve got more of these to do over the course of the week. Remember again, these are draft canvasses, so no overseas or provisional ballots, and these numbers are all Harris County only. If you like seeing pretty pictures instead of numbers, these two Chron stories ought to have what you want. Let me know if you have any questions about this. I’ll have the next post up tomorrow.

(*) This is an old Rice joke. The “square root club” referred to anyone for whom the square root of their GPA was higher than their actual GPA. This is a geeky way of saying “less than 1.0”, which for these purposes means “less than 1.00 percent”.

8 day finance reports: Mayoral candidates

Here’s the story:

BagOfMoney

Adrian Garcia outspent his chief rivals in the Houston mayor’s race over the last month, hoping to hold what polls suggest is his slipping grip on a spot in the likely December runoff.

The final round of campaign finance filings before the Nov. 3 election, covering the period from late September through last Saturday, showed Garcia’s $1.1 million outlay made up a third of all six top campaigns’ spending for the period.

About $860,000 of the former Harris County sheriff’s expenditures were for advertising, double that of what some polls show is his closest rival, former mayor of Kemah Bill King.

[…]

City Councilman Steve Costello, who has been a strong fundraiser but trails Garcia and King in most polls, posted the second-highest outlay for the period, at $732,000. Of that, he spent $652,000 on advertising, and was helped by another $251,000 in ad spending by a political action committee organized to support him, Houstonians for the Future.

King spent $572,700 in the period, about $429,000 of it on advertising. He stopped running TV ads in the middle of last week but was to resume them on Tuesday, campaign spokesman Jim McGrath said. That gap is not concerning, McGrath said, pointing to consistent radio buys, key endorsements and strong early turnout from conservative areas.

“We like where we are,” McGrath said. “We could spend a good chunk of money on broadcast, but it’s all about getting the most bang for your buck. We like cable.”

State Rep. Sylvester Turner, who remains the presumed frontrunner, raised nearly $400,000 in the period, spent the third-highest amount at $626,000 and entered this week with $285,000 on hand – roughly the same amount as Garcia and Costello. King entered the week with $123,350 banked.

Former Congressman Chris Bell, who has lagged in fundraising, spent $106,000 in the period and entered the final week with $60,500 on hand. Former City Attorney Ben Hall, who loaned his campaign $850,000 earlier in the year, continued to post low fundraising totals and spent $134,000 in the period, leaving himself nearly $694,000 on hand.

Eight day reports for Mayoral candidates and some others (still working on it) are on my 2015 Election page. Here’s my breakdown of the reports:


Candidate    Raised      Spent      Loans   On Hand
===================================================
Bell         96,167    106,155          0    60,564
Costello    294,033    731,861     90,000   278,987
Garcia      440,941  1,079,308          0   278,434
Hall         69,260    134,142    850,000   693,755
King        317,919    572,737    650,000   123,349
McVey         4,800     87,216  1,075,000   954,729
Turner      394,323    626,106          0   285,648

Candidate    Advertising     Print/Mail
=======================================
Bell               3,600         30,620
Costello         631,000         20,300
Garcia           860,000              0
Hall             137,500          1,750
King             430,000         15,000
McVey              2,750         10,262
Turner           160,000         60,000

“Advertising” and “printing” can be vague categories, and some reports are more organized and sensible than others. These are add-them-in-my-head totals, and I’m pretty good at addition, but don’t make any bar bets based on them because I may not have always been consistent in how I categorized things. A few comments:

– Chris Bell mentioned in the interview I did with him that he was a regular user of Uber, and his finance report bears that out.

– Steve Costello had some polling expenses in there, and was the only candidate who listed an expense for phone calls. He classified that as “advertising” on the report, but I didn’t include it in my total. The report for that “Houstonians For The Future” PAC is here.

– Remember how Adrian Garcia had fairly low expenses for consultants and staff in his July report because of his later entry into the race? He made up for that in this report, in addition to the buttload he spent on ads. He was the only one who didn’t have any obvious expenses for mailers that I could see.

– How is it that Ben Hall listed $134K in expenses yet I show him as having $137,500 in ads? He had $25,000 in in-kind donations listed as “Television/Univision”, plus $9,000 in one in-kind donation for “commercials”. Of the rest, there was a single $100,000 expense for “Media”, whatever that means, and a few bits and pieces besides. His “print/mail” total is all in-kind contributions for mail ballots. I feel like these in-kind contributions are somehow un-kosher, but I can’t say for sure.

– Unlike Hall and his monolithic “Media” expense, Bill King itemized all of his media buys, which were multiple ones for the local TV stations and some radio. He also did a fair amount of online advertising – he had several $500 expenses to Google for that, plus a couple other line items. A few other candidates had online ad buys as well.

– Marty McVey bought some Facebook ads, and had one mailer. I don’t know why you loan yourself a million bucks then don’t spend it, but whatever. Most of his expenses for consultants and other campaign services were listed under “Unpaid Incurred Obligations”.

– Sylvester Turner had less advertising expenditures than the fighting-for-second-place candidates, but he also had over $145K listed for “get out the vote” services. He also spent some money on polling.

With all that, I’ve still mostly seen Costello ads – they tend to run on cable, during sporting events – with a handful of Turners and Garcias thrown in. I’ve not yet seen a King ad, nor a Hall ad if one exists. It’s times like these that I’m glad to listen to non-commercial radio – satellite, HD radio, and college station KACC. I will try to summarize the other citywide race 8 day reports in the next day or two.

An Election 2015 threefer

Three links of interest that weren’t quite worth a post on their own.

Cort McMurray deconstructs Bob McNair:

It’s not easy, being Bob McNair. Back in the old days, being a Houston billionaire was fun: Whether you made your fortune in the oil patch or, like McNair, you cashed in your Enron stock at exactly the right time, just before the soufflé imploded, life was lunch at the Petroleum Club and dinnertime ribeyes at Confederate House, and doing pretty much whatever you pleased.

You made deals. You attended charity galas. You bought a football team. And you basked in the grateful approbation of your NFL-deprived city. Those were the days, my friend, when you could step in front of a microphone and ask, “Are you ready for some football?” and have an ocean of Houstonians cheering and lining up to buy official Tony Boselli replica jerseys.

You were a community pillar, the Great Philanthropist, the Teflon Billionaire. You negotiated a stadium deal that would have made Bud Adams blush, and the fans chanted your name. You gave your team the most lunkheaded name this side of “Shelbyville Shelbyvillians,” and they lined up to buy licensed merchandise. You drafted David Carr, and Amobi Okoye, and Jadeveon Clowney, and it was someone else’s fault. McNair was the Billionaire Philanthropist, and Billionaire Philanthropists made no apologies.

That’s what makes this whole anti-HERO mess such a shock.

[…]

NFL football is more than a business. The Texans don’t belong to us, but they’re ours. Sports teams are the last unifying institution, the binding agent in a city that’s diffuse and diverse and in so many ways, divided. And while we’re glad the Rockets and the Astros are around, we only care about them when they’re winning. The Texans are different. The Texans are our football team.

McNair’s anti-HERO donation, despite his press release protestations that the contribution was a sincere attempt to encourage “a thoughtful rewrite” of problematic wording in the legislation, an effort to craft an ordinance that “would be less divisive of our city,” was a reminder that the Texans aren’t really Houston’s team; they belong to a Philanthropist Billionaire, who does what he pleases.

There is a surprised, hurt tone to the McNair’s press statement. From the pretzel logic opening — McNair argues that he made the anti-HERO donation so the city could craft an even better HERO ordinance — to the non sequitur Robert Kennedy quotation about ordinary folks changing history at the close, McNair sounds like a guy who can’t understand the fuss: He knows people are mad; he can’t figure out why. If dogs who were caught pawing through the kitchen garbage pail could write press releases, they would all sound like McNair’s statement on HERO.

Any relationship between McNair’s behavior and his team’s recent performance is strictly coincidental, I’m sure.

Jef Rouner says what a lot of people I know have been thinking:

This is the scenario people opposed to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance want me to believe is going to happen: my little girl, all pink eyeglasses, blond curls, and a sass level over 9,000, will need to use a public restroom at the park or a restaurant. Once in there she will be at the mercy of a transwoman, maybe even one with a penis, who will use the rights protected by HERO to… what? Pee within a certain amount of feet from her? Expose herself? Molest her? What diabolical she-penis monstrosity has the City unleashed on our powerless womenfolk?

I’ve got to tell you I know a fair amount of trans folks, and the idea of any of them in the bathroom with my daughter scares me way less than the thought of someone who honestly holds these beliefs being in there with her does.

For once, I can honestly advise you to read the comments following the story. The couple of idiots who snuck in got roundly knocked down by everyone else. It’s almost enough to restore your faith.

And finally, the Trib covers the Mayor’s race.

Adrian Garcia, once a solid frontrunner and potentially the city’s first Hispanic mayor, has seen his support slip amid increased scrutiny of his tenure as Harris County sheriff. Former Kemah Mayor Bill King appears to be consolidating Republican support that had been splintered among a number of hopefuls. And the whole field — including Sylvester Turner, who appears guaranteed a berth in a runoff — are starting to sense a No. 2 spot on the second-round ballot that is increasingly up for grabs.

“It’s going to be Turner and,” local political analyst Nancy Sims said, pausing for effect. “It’s the ‘and’ we don’t know the answer to right now.”

A batch of recent polls show Garcia and King neck-and-neck, finishing second in the race to replace term-limited Annise Parker, whose 2009 election made Houston the largest U.S. city with an openly gay mayor. Yet the surveys have found at least two other candidates bunched near Garcia and King within the margins of error, and election watchers are urging caution with nearly half the respondents undecided in one poll.

Watching the battle for No. 2 unfold has been Turner, the 26-year state representative who is making his third bid for City Hall. Armed with high name recognition and a reliable African-American base, he is seen as a lock for the runoff, and analysts say such inevitability has persuaded rivals not to waste their time attacking him, letting him float above the fray — for now.

Yeah, the runoff will be very different, and I agree with Nancy Sims that at this point no one is willing to stick their neck out and predict who will join Turner in the December race. Choose which Election Night watch party you go to carefully, there’s a good chance that it could be a bummer for your host.

Time to get out the vote

A look at the strategies for turning out the vote for various Mayoral campaigns.

vote-button

In the days before Monday’s start to early voting, Houston’s top mayoral campaigns moved to mobilize their volunteer forces, aiming to ensure their supporters make it the polls. With 13 candidates on the Nov. 3 ballot and no incumbent, the vote is expected to splinter, forcing a December runoff. Early voting runs from Monday to Oct. 30.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner, who has the combination of high name identification and a reliable base, widely is expected to secure one of the two runoff spots, leaving his competitors to battle for second place.

Recent polls show the next four or five candidates separated by only a few percentage points, with former Kemah Mayor Bill King and Garcia, the former Harris County Sheriff, often in second and third place.

However, surveys also indicate a large share of Houston voters remain undecided, and the campaigns’ estimates of voter turnout vary widely, from 175,000 to 230,000.

The city’s controversial equal rights ordinance, known as HERO, is expected to bring non-traditional voters to the polls, but how many remains an open question.

In this volatile, low-turnout climate, ushering supporters to the ballot box becomes crucial, as just a few votes could separate the two candidates who advance from those whose campaigns sunset when the polls close on Election Day.

Read the rest for more details, but there’s no real mystery. Democratic campaigns are more focused on getting their people out, including some less-likely voters who might vote for their candidate if they vote. Republican campaigns are more focused on persuasion, as the polls we have indicate that more of the undecided voters lean conservative. There’s room for the four main non-Turner campaigns to get the edge for second place. The campaigns’ estimates of what turnout will look like is the most interesting piece of data in the story, and I wish there had been more information about who was banking on the lower end and who was planning for the higher end, as one’s overall strategy would be different for each.

Meanwhile, the last candidate forum delved into some topics that haven’t received a lot of coverage.

On housing, the city’s program to give a $15,000-per-unit subsidy for up to 5,000 apartments built downtown drew ample discussion, as it does not control affordability.

Hall called for those dollars to be given to help homeowners in gentrifying neighborhoods afford their rising taxes; former Kemah Mayor Bill King said they should be used as down-payment assistance to single-family home-buyers; Costello and state Rep. Sylvester Turner said the city should target them to affordable units.

Former Harris County sheriff Adrian Garcia said the city should better market abandoned lots for redevelopment, and Bell called for policies to avoid gentrification in redeveloping areas.

Asked about the role of the civilian oversight board that reviews some HPD actions, former Congressman Chris Bell and Hall called for the board to be given subpoena power, and Garcia said he would consider that. Turner said the board needs more staff to be effective. Costello and King did not favor expanding the board’s purview.

Most candidates said they support citing and releasing minor possession offenders, rather than jailing them, and called for better collaboration among law enforcement agencies to address Houston’s role as a hub for human trafficking. Garcia, Turner and Costello called for more officers for the task; Hall said the crime must be deterred by punishing those who purchase sex.

Asked how the city should keep pace with its ongoing population growth, King called for neighborhoods to be given more tools to protect themselves against development and for builders to be forced to mitigate the impact of their developments.

Costello said he would use the city’s recently adopted general plan to guide city investments, steering development proactively into chosen areas. Turner said neighborhoods should be educated on the protections available today.

Along with growth came questions about transit’s role in reducing road congestion. King said he would focus on bus and park and ride services; Costello backed commuter rail. Turner agreed, and called for more buses and bike lanes. Bell stressed bus rapid transit as an alternative to light rail.

All of the candidates expressed concern about the number of recent hit-and-run accidents involving bicyclists, and many voiced support for the Vision Zero plan aimed at reducing road fatalities. Some also called for better enforcement of a city law requiring drivers to maintain a three-foot distance from cyclists. Garcia also said he would require motorists who receive moving violations to participate additional driver education.

I could have focused more on transportation issues, or on quality of life and housing affordability, or income inequality, or any number of other issues in my interviews with Mayoral candidates. There’s only so much time I can spend on them without wearing everyone out. That’s the good thing about the multitude of candidate forums – put them all together, and you can cover a lot of ground, which one needs for a powerful office like Mayor of Houston. I hope you feel like you got your questions answered somewhere.

My sense of where things stand right now

Here’s an aggregation of the polls we’ve seen so far:

Candidate HAR HRBC KHOU KPRC Avg ======================================== Turner 19 24 19 20 20.50 Garcia 19 14 9 13 13.75 King 10 18 9 14 12.75 Bell 10 11 6 12 9.75 Costello 9 8 5 11 8.25 Hall 6 8 4 4 5.50 McVey 1 0 1 1 0.75 HERO HAR HRBC KHOU KPRC Avg ======================================== For 52 31 43 45 42.75 Against 37 40 37 36 37.50

Poll averaging, with various weightings, adjustments, and other secret-sauce mumbo-jumbo, is all the rage for federal elections, so I thought I’d try it here, since we have a relative bonanza of polling data. I think the rankings in the Mayor’s race would conform with most people’s general impressions – I had Costello ahead of Bell, and Garcia ahead of King, before I filled in the numbers, but otherwise they are all where I placed them initially. Basically, Turner is by himself, Garcia and King are tied for second, and Bell and Costello are a notch behind them. Hall and McVey are non-factors. There are still enough undecideds to possibly shake things up a bit, though how many of those “undecideds” are actually non-voters is an open question.

As for HERO, that HRBC poll with the slanted wording is an outlier, and may not be as accurate as the others on this question. Without it, HERO prevails by a 46.3 to 36.7 margin, a much more comfortable margin than if we include the HRBC poll. I’m not inclined to throw it out on the grounds of having no idea what the turnout effect for HERO will be, and not knowing what effect the shriekingly hateful anti-HERO campaign will have. As I’ve said before, I feel optimistic but not yet confident. I was pleased to see a HERO endorsement in the African-American News, which one hopes will help counter this nasty anti-HERO op-ed from two weeks earlier. I really don’t know what I expected going into this, but I feel like there have been more positive surprises than negative ones.

The biggest area of uncertainty for me is in the downballot races. Ben Hall’s anemic poll numbers suggests that there just aren’t that many voters for whom being anti-HERO is their main or only issue. There are obviously a lot more anti-HERO voters than what Hall’s numbers show, but the combined numbers for Hall and King suggest that some number of them will be voting for at least some pro-HERO candidates. If that attitude prevails in Council races, I think we’ll mostly get good outcomes. If not, there could be some ugly runoffs. I think all contested Council incumbents are in decent shape, though any of these five (listed in descending order of likelihood) could wind up in a runoff: Nguyen, Christie, Laster, Robinson, Kubosh. We could have a very busy November.

UPDATE: It helps to do the arithmetic right if one is going to aggregate polls. I goofed on the King numbers, which is why I originally had him second, but on review I see I gave him too high a total. What’s there now is correct. My apologies for the error.

KPRC poll: Turner 20, others close together

Yet another poll with Sylvester Turner in the lead.

As of Oct. 15, State Representative Sylvester Turner finishes just ahead of the rest of the pack of 13 candidates with 20 percent of the vote; attorney Bill King gets 14 percent, neck-and-neck with former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia at 13 percent;, former US Representative Chris Bell with 12 percent, and City Council Member Stephen Costello at 11 percent.

Ben Hall and Marty McVey are in single digits. Three percent would vote for one of the other candidates on the ballot. Twenty-two percent today are undecided.

“There are a lot of undecided voters who really haven’t started to think about the mayoral election, or are only starting to do so right now,” Mark Jones, political science chair at Rice University, said.

Turner leads by 6:1 among African-Americans and is strong among older voters and Democrats. King is strong among those most concerned with the city budget. Garcia leads by more than 2:1 among Hispanics and edges out Turner among those voters who say city taxes and fees will be the most important issue in determining their vote for mayor.

Here’s the full result set:

1. In the election for mayor of Houston, how do you vote? (margin of error +/- 4.5%)

AMONG ALL VOTERS:


UNDECIDED:        22%
Sylvester Turner: 20%
Bill King:        14%
Adrian Garcia:    13%
Chris Bell:       12%
Steve Costello:   11%
Ben Hall:          4%
Martin McVey:      1%
OTHER:             3%

All four polls we have so far show Turner leading by some amount, with his level of support being between 19 and 24 percent. One showed Adrian Garcia tied with Turner, one poll showed Bill King in second by a modest amount, and two other have now shown no clear second place finisher. I don’t know if this indicates that the attacks on Garcia have had an effect, or if that first poll just happened to be favorable to him. This conforms to my general feel of the race, which is that Turner is a huge favorite to make the runoff, and after that just about anything can happen. A few thousand votes could well be the difference between second and fifth.

And yes, KPRC also polled HERO.

Here are the poll numbers (margin of error +/- 4.5%):

  • 45 percent of those polled said they will vote in favor of Prop 1.
  • 36 percent plan to vote no.
  • 20 percent are not certain.

While it appears supporters are ahead, the issue is far from resolved.

“You really do have to consider that a majority, or perhaps three quarters of people who say they’re undecided or say they have no response, will end up if they turn out, will end up voting no,” Mark Jones, political science chair at Rice University, said.

I’m not exactly sure where Professor Jones gets that particular tidbit, but it’s not clear that makes much difference. If HERO is at 45% with 20% undecided, then if all undecided voters do turn out, HERO needs only a bit more than 25% of them to get above 50. It’s even less than that if some number of those folks wind up not voting; in fact, if half of them don’t vote, HERO is already at 50% of the sample that does, since 45 is half of the ninety percent that participates. None of this is a guarantee, of course, nor is it a reason to be complacent. It’s only one poll result, and they could have missed people who will vote but weren’t deemed likely. Still, now three of four polls show HERO winning. I’d rather be in our position than in the naysayers’.

Interview with Steve Costello

CM Stephen Costello

CM Stephen Costello

We continue with Mayoral candidate interviews. Steve Costello is finishing up his third term as Council Member, At Large position 1, where he has served as chair of the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee and chair of the Transportation Policy Council of the Houston-Galveston Area Council. He was the architect of ReNew/ReBuild Houston, getting that referendum passed in 2010 during his first term on Council. Costello is a professional engineer and the founder of his own engineering firm, Costello, Inc., which has been named as one of the “best places to work” by the Houston Business Journal. I’ve interviewed him for each of his three Council campaigns, and now here’s my interview with him for his Mayoral campaign:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

30 day finance reports, citywide races

Here’s a brief summary of the 30 Day campaign finance reports that I’ve been able to find, some of which are on this page and some of which are findable via the normal campaign finance report website, and all of which are collected on my Election 2015 page. First up, the Mayoral candidates:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Bell 126,563 240,035 0 91,901 Costello 266,845 871,109 90,000 696,539 Garcia 584,916 1,060,457 0 831,284 Hall 57,859 111,417 850,000 758,618 King 284,031 626,621 650,000 322,474 McVey Turner 526,516 1,265,239 0 507,099 Ferreira Lane 11,105 14,467 9,000 5,457 Munoz Nguyen 150 0 5,000 150 Smith Steffes

I’ve separated the “real” candidates from the “minor” candidates. Marty McVey did file a 30-day report but the totals on cover sheet page 2 are wrong; the Chron’s Rebecca Elliott did the pencil work to tot things up if you’re interested. Neither Sylvester Turner nor Adrian Garcia slowed down after their torrid initial pace, thought both Steve Costello and Bill King weren’t as prolific. On the spending side, I’ve seen plenty of Costello ads on my TV lately, as well as a handful of Turner ads; Turner has been all over my Internet, but all of the “real” candidates minus Hall have had multiple sponsored Facebook posts on my feed. I keep wondering when I’m going to see an Adrian Garcia ad on the tube.

The Controllers:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Boney Brown 42,820 181,923 0 106,165 Frazer 58,375 80,377 32,500 58,293 Jefferson Khan 84,950 5,495 5,100 81,290 Robinson 14,050 17,556 0 1,527

No report as yet from Jew Don Boney or Dwight Jefferson. That’s a pretty decent haul for MJ Khan given how late he entered the race. He also had an ad running during the fourth quarter of the Monday Night Football game between the Steelers and Chargers. I’m about 99% certain it was a rerun of one of his Controller ads from 2009. I’ve seen several Chris Brown ads on TV, but nothing from anyone else. Brown, Bill Frazer, and Carroll Robinson have been in my Facebook feeds.

At Large races:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Griffin 1,000 1,600 0 895 Knox 22,940 11,370 0 9,349 Lewis 40,164 64,479 100 48,803 McCasland 60,978 33,222 0 112,443 Oliver 9,400 7,840 0 25,230 PartschGalvan Pool Provost 1,956 6,841 0 543 Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Burks 2,525 1,906 0 618 Davis 7,000 662 0 7,000 Dick 0 103,772 0 0 Rivera Robinson 27,596 40,188 0 121,348 Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Kubosh 39,025 46,255 25,000 41,306 LaRue 13,250 4,524 0 8,725 McElligott Peterson 10,225 9,886 0 2,271 Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Blackmon 27,285 34,500 0 0 Edwards 131,417 61,327 0 191,445 Hansen Morales 17,495 30,042 2,200 3,786 Murphy 670 5,125 14,045 167 Robinson 29,050 25,923 15,040 35,886 Thompson 0 1,850 0 0 Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Batteau 0 0 0 0 Christie 33,202 50,153 0 84,899 Moses 550 1,418 0 0 Nassif 29,690 27,558 0 14,368 Tahir

Candidates with blanks next to their names had no reports I could find. I’ve given some details in the posts about the At Large #4 and At Large #1 races, and Greg covered some of this ground last week. I like to think of campaign finance reports as being one part about who people want to see win, and one part about who (some other) people think actually will win. To whatever extent that holds true, you can see who the betting favorites are. It’s not destiny, of course – as I said, it’s more like Vegas – but it does tell you something. What are your guesses for these races? Leave a comment and let us know.

Race and runoffs and Turner

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

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KHOU poll: Turner 19, King and Garcia 9

Our third poll result in the past week.

Sylvester Turner remains the front-runner, but Adrian Garcia has lost his once firm grip on second place and Bill King rises into the top tier of contenders in the race for Houston mayor.

That’s the headline from the latest poll conducted for KHOU 11 News and Houston Public Media, TV-8 and News 88.7, a survey indicating Garcia and King are now fighting it out for a chance to face Turner in a runoff.

Turner heads the pack of mayoral candidates at 19%, maintaining the lead he commanded in the same poll last May. No other candidate in this poll stands in double-digits.

Garcia and King tie for second-place, both supported by 9% of surveyed voters. Chris Bell comes in fourth at 6%, followed by Steve Costello at 5% and Ben Hall at 4%.

Still, a large number of voters haven’t made up their minds. The survey of 567 likely voters conducted between September 25 and October 6 showed 42% undecided.

[…]

“I would say that Bill King is a slight — if not strong — favorite to get into the runoff,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU political analyst who conducted the poll. “And I think Garcia is fighting now to stay in the runoff.”

Throughout the campaign to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker, other candidates have generally presumed Turner – a well-financed, longtime state representative who’s run for mayor twice before — will win the most votes in November. So other candidates, most notably Bell, have gone on the offensive against Garcia in hopes of knocking him out of second place.

This poll indicates the attacks criticizing Garcia’s performance as Harris County sheriff have done their damage.

A day-by-day analysis of the phone survey results also indicates the former sheriff’s candidacy has been hurt by a series of negative news reports, like a front-page Houston Chronicle story about jail inmate abuse and a KHOU 11 News I-Team expose on a $1-million jail ministry contract awarded to one of Garcia’s friends.

“We saw his support drop in half,” Stein said. “He is now in a competitive race for the runoff slot. And it’s not obvious to us that he is a guaranteed or even a likely runoff candidate.”

King has been the chief beneficiary of Garcia’s decline, mainly because of growing support from Republican voters. King and Costello have been fighting it out for GOP hearts and minds, emphasizing financial issues like the city’s growing pension obligations.

But Costello’s backing of the drainage fee to bankroll flood control infrastructure has hurt him with many Republican voters, who consider it a poorly implemented new tax.

“Bill King has gained tremendously,” Stein said. “He was barely measurable in our May poll. He’s now at 9 percentage points. Most importantly from our May poll, his gain appears to be from Republican voters.”

Republicans polled for this survey are breaking for King over Costello by a 4-to-1 ratio, Stein said.

“And here’s the good news for Bill King, if this trend continues: 45% of Republicans still don’t know who they’re voting for,” Stein said, indicating King will gain more votes as more GOP voters make up their minds.

“Keep in mind close to half of those Republican voters who are likely to vote still haven’t picked a candidate,” he said. “If the trend continues, Bill King will get that advantage, not only with Republicans over Costello, but maybe enough to get him into the runoff.”

I’d be hesitant to say that Garcia’s decline and King’s rise are related. If I had to guess, I’d say that Garcia’s former supporters are most likely to be in the “Undecided” column now, while King’s new supporters came from those who had previously been undecided. Garcia may be able to win back some of his lost supporters – I still haven’t seen any TV ads from him, so there’s plenty of room for him to go on offense, and if one of the other candidates don’t win them over, they may fall back to him. I’m sure the bad news and the attacks have taken a toll, I just wouldn’t count him out yet.

Poll data can be found here. Compared to the previous polls, the racial/ethnic mix and age distribution are about the same, with the KHOU sample having a similar partisan mix as the HAR poll, which is considerably more Democratic than the HRBC poll. That makes it better for King and more ominous for Garcia, though again there’s still room for Garcia to move back up. Note also that the HAR poll was from September 21-24, the HRBC poll from October 5-6, and the KHOU/KUHF poll from September 25-October 6, so that also suggests there is a trend away from Garcia. I don’t know if there are other polls in the pipeline, but if there are any from after October 6, I’d love to see them.

Two other matters. First, from the Chron:

In 2009, Houston’s last open-seat mayor’s race, fewer than 180,000 people cast a ballot – about 19 percent of registered voters. Stein said he expects between 200,000 and 220,000 voters to turn out this year.

That’s the first “official” guess on turnout that I’ve seen. If that’s accurate, it suggests the HERO referendum isn’t that big a driver of turnout, certainly not compared to other years with similarly high-profile referenda. I honestly don’t know what I think about that. I truly have no idea what effect HERO will have on the number of voters.

Speaking of HERO, item #2 is that this poll also asked about that issue, though for whatever the reason neither story mentioned that. HERO leads 43-37 in this poll – click the poll data link to see. Note that the pollsters also tested the efficacy of various campaign themes on the question. The “men in women’s bathrooms” attack shifts 15% of supporters, while the “we could lose the Super Bowl” attack shifts 24% of opponents. Make of that what you will. The poll also asked about the term limits referendum (44% support, 40% oppose) and the Harris County bond issue (53% support, 22% oppose), though that was from city of Houston voters only. With no campaign in support of either of those items, and given recent performance of Harris County referenda, I feel pessimistic about their chances despite their leads in this poll. There were also questions about the revenue cap and Rebuild Houston, but I’d consider them for entertainment purposes only at this point. There’s likely to be a lot of fluidity in those issues, and once they are taken up by a Mayor (if that happens at all for the revenue cap), opinions on the Mayor will come to affect the polling on them.

Endorsement watch: Going for Turner

The Chronicle endorses Sylvester Turner for Mayor.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Because there is no perfect candidate on the ballot, voters should look for someone who has the talents best suited to fixing the problems that currently threaten Houston’s long-term success: Sylvester Turner.

For the past six years, Houston has been well led by Annise Parker’s competent hand. But being right on the issues only gets you part way there. Politics isn’t just about policy – it is about people. Turner, more than any other candidate, grasps this reality.

How can you defend a long-term Rebuild Houston plan if Houstonians still are hitting potholes? What’s the point of a pension solution if you can’t get it passed in Austin? How can people feel safe when police don’t respond to routine property crimes?

As Turner told the editorial board, “people want to see improvements now.”

The technically correct answer of a well-informed policy wonk is little solace if you’re dealing with a busted tire or burgled car. Houstonians need to know that their city is working for them today.

[…]

On pensions, Turner goes beyond the other candidates by calling for comprehensive reform of the city’s finances. Every time Parker hit firefighters on pensions, they seemed to push back just as hard. At this point, it is difficult to see how Steve Costello or Bill King would be more successful. Instead, Turner wants to bring everyone to the table so that folks don’t feel like they’re being turned into a target.

He attempted that strategy during the last legislative session by backing a deal that would lower the city’s payments in the short-term but raise the long-term liability. When he met with the editorial board, Turner said the failed bill was supposed to serve as a stop-gap to help bridge the city’s continuing budget crisis while getting both sides talking. We opposed the plan then and we’re still skeptical now. However, as someone with support from the city’s three key public unions, Turner is well prepared to bring consensus to a pension solution that closes annual funding gaps and pays down the city’s liabilities.

We can only guess what political machinations led the city’s three key public unions to endorse Turner before meeting with any other candidate. And time has obscured the scandals that bogged down Turner during his last two mayoral campaigns. Despite all the baggage that comes with a long-time legislator, Turner still stands as the candidate best suited for City Hall.

Former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia entered the race with high hopes. He had served on City Council, had the executive experience of the sheriff’s department and routinely demonstrated a sharp policy focus with his mental health advocacy. However, Garcia stumbled on the campaign trail, routinely answering deep questions with shallow responses. Reports of deaths, violence and ignored whistleblowers at the county jail also undermine his record as chief law enforcement officer.

Councilman Steve Costello similarly provides a balance of political service, executive experience and policy chops. His engineer’s mentality can be a welcome presence around the horseshoe, but his technocratic style, so much like Mayor Parker, will mean more of the same if he’s elected mayor. Houston needs a new operating style at City Hall and Costello can’t promise that.

Of all the other candidates, Bill King provides the sharpest critique and greatest insight into the way our city is run. He’s traveled across the city, and written dozens of Chronicle columns, arguing about how Houston’s problems stem from a failure of management. His advocacy for better organization within City Hall, and focus on measurable results, is reminiscent of former mayor Bill White’s first campaign. However, as mayor he would be the antithesis of Turner when it comes to uniting people around a cause. It isn’t enough to be right – you also have to get the votes. Nevertheless, any future mayor would be wise to give King a seat at the table.

I predicted a Costello endorsement, predicated in part on him and the Chron being in sync on pension issues, so this is all a bit surprising to me. I’m not exactly sure what caused the Chron to change their tune on the issue, but if Turner was able to persuade them that his way really is the better way, then there clearly is something to the logic that he’s better positioned to get something passed in Austin, and as such the endorsement follows. The bit about Costello’s style being too much like Mayor Parker’s is reminiscent of the discussion that often accompanies a change of coach or manager in professional sports. It’s not just about drawing up the plays or juggling the rotation, it’s about tone and approach and so on. Say what you want about Gary Kubiak and Bill O’Brien, they are very different personalities, and going from one to the other is as much a part of the process as any other consideration. We do that in politics, too, when other factors like competence and qualifications are basically equal.

Anyway. I know the Chron endorsed Bill White back in 2003, and I’d bet a dollar or two that they went with Bob Lanier in 1991, so at least on this score the third time was the charm for Turner. My interview with Turner is published today, and interviews with the rest of the field will run through next Monday, so you can hear what they have to say for themselves if you haven’t attended any of the nine million or so candidate forums. However one feels about the slate of candidates and the state of the race, there’s more than enough information out there to help one make an informed choice.

HRBC poll: Turner 24, King 18

Looks like we’re going to see more polling than usual this cycle. This was sent as a press release from the Bill King campaign, which was kind enough to forward the full poll data to me when I requested it:

Thursday, the Houston Realty Business Coalition (HRBC) released a poll of 428 active voters measuring support of Mayoral candidates and important issues facing city voters. The Survey was conducted October 5-6.

“Bill King is the clear choice among fiscal conservative voters,” said Chairman Alan Hassenflu. “Bill King’s message of getting back to basics has earned him the support of our organization and is resonating with voters who are concerned with the current fiscal crisis facing City Hall.”

The poll shows King has emerged from the pack of major mayoral candidates running very close to the presumed frontrunner. Only 13% of Houston voters say they have yet to decide who they will support in the upcoming election.

Founded in 1967, HRBC, comprised of top business leaders, has become Houston’s Premier Business Coalition by supporting public policy, elected officials and candidates for elected office that promote its core values of limited government, capitalism and private property rights.

BALLOT: If the election for Mayor was held today and these were your choices: Ben Hall, Sylvester Turner, Adrian Garcia, Bill King, Steve Costello, and Chris Bell, who would you vote for?

Ben Hall 8 Sylvester Turner 24 Adrian Garcia 14 Bill King 18 Steve Costello 8 Chris Bell 11 Other 4 Unsure 13

HERO ORDINANCE: Do you support the City of Houston’s Prop 1 ordinance, often referred to as the HERO ordinance – the law among other things would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity?

Support 31 Oppose 40 Unsure 13 Refused 16

PENSION: Currently the City of Houston has $3.1 billion in unfunded pension liabilities and has little to no control of the pension funds. Would you support a proposal that would return control of pension funds to the Mayor and allow him to negotiate necessary changes to the current pensions?

Support 31 Oppose 21 Unsure 30 Refused 19

METHODOLOGY:
The sample size for the survey is 428 targeted voters in Houston, Texas. The margin of error is +/- 4.77%. All interviews were completed using automated telephone technology and were conducted October 5-6, 2015 by TargetPoint Consulting. The total percentages for responses may not equal 100% due to rounding.

Full poll data is here. I said yesterday that we might get another poll that doesn’t agree with the HAR poll, I just didn’t expect one so quickly. A couple of things to note: One, in comparison to the HAR poll data, this sample is more Republican, but also younger and slightly less white. I’m gonna guess that means more west side/Clear Lake/Kingwood and less Montrose/Heights/Meyerland. It also highlights the importance of how questions are asked. Note here that the HERO question only refers to “sexual orientation or gender identity”, whereas the HAR poll mirrors the ballot language, which lists all the protected classes under HERO. This is Polling Methodology 101 here, and it’s no coincidence that HAR supports HERO while the HRBC opposes HERO and has backed a slate of candidates (including King) that opposes it as well. There’s nothing wrong with this approach – needless to say, it’s the way HERO opponents are doing their messaging, and very much the way they want people to think about Prop 1 when they vote – but it doesn’t mean this sample is “wrong” and the other one is “right”. It means that messages and campaigns matter, which is why it’s nice that HERO proponents have plenty of resources to get their message out.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story, which makes the same points I do.

Finally, some coverage on the pension issue

I kid, I kid. Like it or not, HERO or not, it’s what this race has been about.

BagOfMoney

The top candidates for Houston mayor are talking far more about the city’s growing cost of retiree benefits than voters are, which is, in some ways, a testament to the profound challenge presented by the city’s pension burden.

Sure, potholes, policing and parks have all gotten ample focus in the campaign, but when such core political talking points are available, why risk putting voters to sleep with talk of actuarial projections and unfunded liabilities?

In short, because paying the rising pension bill could play a role in preventing the new mayor from funding other items, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones.

“What the candidates realize, as well as the Houston business elite,” Jones said, “is that if the pension problem is not resolved, it’s going to eat up more and more of the budget, which will mean less money for police, less money for the fire department, less money for parks and libraries.”

The top seven mayoral hopefuls, to varying degrees, acknowledge pension reform is needed but disagree on the details.

You can read the rest for yourself. It’s not anything you haven’t heard before if you’ve been following the campaigns. I don’t know that I have anything to add that I haven’t said before, so I’ll just say that this is a topic that will be discussed in the Mayoral interviews that I am conducting/have conducted. Those will run beginning on Monday.

HAR poll

And some more good news here.

With less than four weeks to go before the election, the Houston mayoral race remains “fluid,” according to a new poll commissioned by the Houston Association of REALTORS® (HAR).

The poll finds Adrian Garcia and Sylvester Turner tied for the lead, with a second tier of closely-clustered candidates, including Chris Bell, Bill King and Stephen Costello. Digging deeper into the numbers yields more insight about those candidates with stronger name identification and favorable ratings, along with those candidates whom the voter would even consider supporting. Complete polling results may be found at www.har.com/poll.

“HAR has always had a voice in political matters affecting local real estate, and we commissioned the poll in an effort to enlighten our members about the candidate that best represents the interests of the citizens of Houston and the real estate industry,” said HAR Chair Nancy Furst. “Our 31,000-member association, the largest trade association in Houston, is regarded as the leading authority on real estate and the integral role it plays in quality of life issues.”

The telephone survey of 500 likely Houston voters was conducted from September 21-24 by American Strategies, a leading Washington, D.C.-based research firm specializing in political polling.

The release of this poll follows the HAR board’s announcement last week that it supports Proposition 1, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), in the November 3 City of Houston election. The poll included questions about HERO and showed a majority of Houstonians expressing their intention to vote in favor of the ordinance. Other organizations supporting HERO include the Greater Houston Partnership, Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Houston and Houston Apartment Association.

Houstonians will be asked to vote on a new mayor as well as Houston City Proposition 1 (HERO) on the City of Houston ballot on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3.

The poll summary is a good read, too.

Garcia and Turner each capture 19 percent of the vote, almost twice the support of Chris Bell (10 percent), Bill King (10 percent) and Steven Costello (9 percent). Ben Hall (6 percent) and Marty McVey (1 percent) round out the crowded field, with 25 percent who are undecided.

Garcia and Turner are better known than the second tier candidates and each has strong backing from a base constituency. Overall, half of voters have a favorable opinion of Garcia (compared to 24 percent who are unfavorable) while 45 percent are favorable towards Turner (28 percent unfavorable). Garcia wins a majority (51 percent) of Hispanic voters, and also shows relatively strong backing from whites (17 percent). Garcia has more bi-partisan support than other candidates: he wins 21 percent of self-identified Democrats and 17 percent of Republicans (second only to King with 21 percent). Turner, by contrast, wins 55 percent of African-American voters and 11 percent of whites. He leads among Democrats with 32 percent, but wins just three percent of Republicans.

The front-runners have room to grow their support. For starters, their personal favorable ratings exceed their current vote. In addition, nearly one-third of those who are not currently supporting Garcia say there is a fair chance (18 percent) or small chance (12 percent) that they will vote for him – virtually identical to Turner’s numbers among those who are not currently voting for Turner (16 percent fair chance they will vote for him; 13 percent small chance).

[…]

The effect of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance on the mayoral contest is not clear. Just over half currently vote “For” HERO (52 percent), with 37 percent against and 10 percent undecided. Passions are high on the issue: 44 percent are very certain to vote “For” and 30 percent very certain to vote against. In the mayoral contest, by comparison, only 34 percent of voters are “very certain” of their candidate choice.

The results are similar in nature to the previous poll, which was done in June before we knew HERO was going to be on the ballot. Full poll data is here. I am always wary of polls done on the city of Houston because of the tricky nature of determining who really is a “likely voter”, but as with that June poll I have no major quibbles. This sample is old (67% are 55+, with 40% being 65+), white (62%), and well off (40% college graduates plus 24% post-grads), and that’s usually the kind of electorate we get in odd years. That said, HERO is of course a wild card. The Chron highlights this.

However, Rice University political scientist Mark Jones cautioned that the poll does not account for non-traditional city voters who may show up at the polls this year to vote on the ordinance, known as HERO.

It also likely under-represents support for Turner, Hall and potentially Garcia, Jones said, as it surveyed lower percentages of African American and Hispanic voters than are expected to turn out in November, given that there are two black candidates and one Hispanic candidate in the top-tier.

Sixty two percent of respondents identified as white, 20 percent as black, 10 percent as Hispanic and 2 percent as Asian.

“This survey would appear to be underestimating African American turnout by at least 10 percent and perhaps a little more,” Jones said.

“If there are people who are being driven to turnout by the HERO ordinance or by Adrian Garcia’s mobilization of the Hispanic community, they would not be represented,” he added.

As I’ve said, I do believe HERO will drive some turnout, as past city referenda have done. That’s not the same as saying that any of the candidates on the ballot will drive turnout. Sylvester Turner has run for Mayor before. So have Ben Hall, Lee Brown, Gene Locke, Orlando Sanchez, Gracie Saenz, and Roy Morales. Did any of them affect African-American and/or Latino turnout in their races? What were the African-American and Latino turnout rates in their races? I have no idea. Perhaps Mark Jones does, but either he didn’t say or his answer wasn’t included.

I guess what I’m saying is that while I’ve said repeatedly that I expect higher than usual turnout because of HERO, I more or less expect the racial and ethnic demographics of the electorate to be roughly the same. There’s lots of room for overall turnout to grow without that turnout needing to be disproportionately from one group. Do I know this to be the case? Of course not. Could there be a surge in African-American and/or Latino and/or Asian turnout? Absolutely, and for sure Turner and Hall and Garcia are working on that. So, while this result is encouraging – I’d always much rather be up 52-37 in a poll than down 52-37 – it’s hardly gospel. The next poll, whenever that may be, could show a very different result but look just as plausible. Do not take anything for granted.

Get ready for the TV ads to begin

Keep that DVR remote handy, because you’re going to have to start fast-forwarding through Mayoral campaign ads on TV soon.

After nearly topping the July fundraising that put this year’s mayor’s race on track to be the most expensive in recent city history, City Councilman Stephen Costello led the pack to the TV airwaves in late August.

His debut ad focused on three broad policy priorities: infrastructure, public safety and city finances.

Thus far, Costello has spent more on broadcast than any candidate in the race – about $625,000 across KTRK (Channel 13), KHOU (Channel 11), KPRC (Channel 2,) KRIV (Channel 26) and KIAH (Channel 39), according to his campaign – with ads scheduled in two waves through Nov. 2. He also has been advertising on cable since July.

“We saw the opportunity now to break out early, and thanks to successful fundraising and low overhead, we’re in a position to go back up and go back up strong,” Campaign Manager Ward Curtin said.

Meanwhile, presumptive frontrunners Sylvester Turner and Adrian Garcia, who closed out the first half of the year with more than $1 million in the bank apiece, have invested about $450,000 each in broadcast TV.

A Turner ad began airing this week on the same five Houston-area channels as Costello and briefly introduces the candidate and his policy initiatives: job training, a living wage, community policing, school partnerships and filling potholes.

According to his campaign, Turner also will begin advertising on cable on Oct. 12, having spent $75,000.

Garcia has opted for a more concentrated approach, with his ads slated to run only in the final three and a half weeks before the Nov. 2 election. They will air on six Houston-area channels, including Univision and Telemundo, beginning October 10, according to Campaign Manager Mary Bell.

“The Garcia campaign is communicating to all voters, including predominantly Spanish speaking voters, and paid communication is a part of that,” Bell said, adding, “we’re not finished buying.”

[…]

Federal Communications Commission records show [Bill] King has spent nearly $20,000 for time on KHOU next week, though campaign spokesman Chris Begala said King also will be going up on three other channels.

“Our intention is to stay up on broadcast until Election Day, but it would not be a deal-killer to be off a day or three,” Begala said in an email. “We are engaged in an aggressive mail program, social media, cable and radio buy.”

King has spent nearly $300,000 on cable, beginning in May, according to his campaign.

Chris Bell also has made a nominal foray onto television, spending nearly $25,000 to run a 30-second introductory spot this week on KTRK, KHOU, KPRC and KIAH, according to his campaign.

Greg goes into much more detail on this than I could, so let me direct you to him for an in-depth analysis. For what it’s worth, so far I’ve seen a few Costello ads and maybe on Bill King ad. I’ll just add that no candidates should overestimate their name ID. Adrian Garcia, by virtue of being elected countywide twice during Presidential years is the only candidate on this ballot that can feel reasonably secure that the voters know who he is. Everyone else from the Mayorals on down needs to assume they need to introduce themselves. An awful lot of people are just now starting to pay attention, and early voting starts in three weeks. Let’s see who does what with the opportunity they have.

A broader overview of the Mayor’s race

The TL;dr version of this is basically “meh, not much happening”.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

With a bevy of candidates and midyear fundraising that collectively topped $7 million, Houston’s 2015 mayoral race has been poised to be a blockbuster.

Yet, just five weeks before the start of early voting, the race has remained relatively stagnant.

For the most part, the candidates still are spending little, agreeing often and floating only modestly different visions for the city’s future.

“This election has unfolded so far to be an election of single-interest forum after single-interest forum,” said local political observer Darrin Hall, who previously worked for mayors Annise Parker and Bill White. “There’s not a big picture – four major points that any candidate is exposing – like in years past.”

Put another way, the race to succeed term-limited Parker, essentially, is a popularity contest that at least five candidates still have a shot at winning, Democratic political consultant Keir Murray said.

It goes on, and while it won’t tell you much you didn’t already know if you’ve been following the race, it’s a good overview and I broadly agree with it. I am a little surprised that with all the money in the race there hasn’t been more TV advertising. If there’s one thing we should have learned from the last couple of municipal elections in this town, it’s that nobody should overestimate their name ID. Outside of Adrian Garcia, none of the candidates should be too comfortable in the percentage of voters who have heard of them. I get the argument that they;re keeping their powder dry until a runoff, but the harsh fact is that only two people are going to need it for the runoff, and if as everyone seems to think one of them will be Sylvester Turner, then I’m not sure what the purpose of waiting is.

Beyond that, the big x factor is what effect HERO will have on turnout. I feel confident saying turnout will be up from 2009, but I have no idea by how much, nor do I have any idea how many HERO-motivated voters will bother to cast ballots in the actual races. The number of HERO-only voters could be quite large. Consider that in 2005, the year of the anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment, turnout in Houston was an amazing 332,154 voters, or well over 30%, but only 181,841 people cast votes in the Mayor’s race. To be fair, that year’s Mayoral election was a king-size snoozer, as Bill White cruised to re-election with over 90% of the vote, but still. Over 40% of all people who turned out to vote that year couldn’t be bothered to cast a vote for Mayor. I seriously doubt that will be the case this year, but I do believe that while more people than usual will undervote, that will still leave a lot of people casting ballots. Just compare 2005 to 2007 to see what things might have been like in the absence of a high-profile ballot item. The bottom line is that some number of people will show up specifically to vote on HERO, and some number of them will then decide that as long as they’re there, they may as well vote in those other races, too. What effect that will have on the outcomes is anyone’s guess, and the sort of thing that drives campaign managers to guzzle Pepto-Bismol.

Time to guess the Chronicle’s endorsements

vote-button

We are a bit more than a month out from the start of early voting, and as such we are getting close to the start of Chronicle endorsement season. I know from doing candidate interviews that the Chron has been holding screenings in recent days, so it shouldn’t be long now. So while we wait for that, why not take a crack at guessing what their endorsements will be?

I want to stress up front that these are not my endorsements. I’m not making any endorsements, here or elsewhere. Nor are these necessarily the candidates I think the Chronicle should endorse. I’m not making any value judgments. These are my best guesses at who the Chron will endorse, based on past history and my read on what they are looking for this year.

What are they looking for this year? I don’t think that’s any mystery. They’re looking for candidates who support HERO and who are sufficiently “serious” about pension reform. That doesn’t mean these are their only criteria, nor does it mean that they can’t or won’t endorse a candidate who doesn’t agree with them on one or both of them. I’m not there in the screenings, I don’t know what else might be on their minds. I’m just making what I hope are reasonable guesses. None of this should be taken seriously. Consider this the political nerd’s equivalent of Sean Pendergast predicting the Texans’ season, with fewer references to the WWE and Game of Thrones.

So with all of that said, let’s begin.

Mayor

At first glance, you’d think this would be a tough one to guess, but looking back at what I wrote above, it jumps right out at you: I believe the Chron will endorse Steve Costello. He checks all their boxes, and he has the most experience in city government to boot. King and Hall are both anti-HERO. McVey is an extreme longshot. I think they will be too critical of the recent issues with the jail to go with Garcia. Bell and Turner are possible, I guess, but I don’t think the Chron would consider them “serious” enough on pensions; the Chron did not care for the agreement that Turner helped broker with the firefighters earlier this year. The more I think about it, the clearer it seems. I’ll be surprised if it’s not Costello.

Controller

This one is murkier. Chris Brown is possible, but I think they will ding him for being Ronald Green’s second in command, and it’s not like they were ever big fans of his father. They endorsed Bill Frazer in 2013 and could endorse him again, but I think that was at least partly about Green’s baggage. I also think that if I’m right about Costello, they may be reluctant to endorse two Anglo Republicans for the top offices of a city that is not particularly Anglo nor Republican. I believe they will view Carroll Robinson’s tenure with the HCC Board as a negative. Honestly, I think the favorite at this point is Dwight Jefferson, who was part of the best Metro board in recent memory and who has no obvious negatives about him. I’ll say Jefferson 60%, Frazer 25%, Brown 15%.

At Large incumbents

With incumbents there’s an extra factor to consider, namely whether the incumbent in question has done anything to disqualify himself or herself. There are no Helena Browns this year, so the main question is how big a strike against someone is a vote against HERO? I’ll get to that in a minute. In At Large #2, I think David Robinson is an easy call. He checks the boxes, and none of his opponents are anyone I’d expect the Chron to consider seriously. Kubosh and Christie are the tougher ones to guess. How much will their opposition to HERO be held against them? My guess is “some”, but unless the screening goes badly for them or I’ve underestimated the commitment the Chron has to HERO, I figure they’re both favorites. I’ll make it 80% for Kubosh and 65% for Christie, with the difference being that Christie made some goofy statements about vaccines in his first term, and Philippe Nassif is compelling enough that the Chron might take a flyer on him as a “breath of fresh air” candidate.

At Large open seats

I’m going to go with Tom McCasland in AL1 and Amanda Edwards in AL4. Edwards feels like the safer choice. It would have been a harder call if Laurie Robinson hadn’t flipflopped on HERO, but if my conviction about this means anything, it means it in this race. In AL1, I could see the Chron supporting Lane Lewis or Jenifer Pool – as with Carroll Robinson, I think the Chron will not consider Chris Oliver’s time with HCC to be a positive – but I think McCasland’s resume will carry the day. Let’s say 60% McCasland, 30% Lewis, 10% Pool.

District seats

All district incumbents will be endorsed. This is easy, as there are no disqualifiers and outside of F and J no challengers that are likely to be considered. The cases worth examining are the open seats in G and H. G is a two-candidate race, and you can make an argument for or against either – both candidates are sufficiently qualified, and both are against HERO in a district where that would be expected. The main negative for Sandie Mullins Moger is being on the HCC board – yeah, there’s a theme here – and the main negative for Greg Travis is that he recently announced an endorsement by Helena Brown. I make it 55-45 for Travis. As for H, I can see any of Jason Cisneroz, Roland Chavez, and Karla Cisneros getting the nod. For no reason I can easily explain, I think Karla Cisneros is a slight favorite – let’s say 40-30-30. Have I mentioned that I’m guessing?

HISD and HCC

For HISD, they’ll stick with incumbents Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Juliet Stipeche, and they’ll reverse themselves from 2011 and go with Ramiro Fonseca over Manuel Rodriguez. In the open District 4 seat, I don’t seem the picking Jolanda Jones, so I’ll say they’ll endorse Ann McCoy. The only contested races in HCC involve the two incumbents running for re-election, Adriana Tamez and Eva Loredo. I’ll be surprised if they don’t endorse those two.

Referenda

Obviously, they’ll endorse HERO. I think they’ll be as “meh” on the term limits item as I am, and will either give it a lukewarm thumbs up or they’ll advocate a No. Same for the Harris County bond issue, with a slightly better chance of a Yes. I have no idea on the state constitutional amendments, if they bother with them. There were none that excited me one way or the other, though there are a few I’m likely to vote against.

So that’s how I see it. Go ahead and tell me where I’m wrong in the comments. I’ll check back in a few weeks and see how good a job I did trying to read their mind.

Mayoral debate #1

Who watched?

In the first televised debate in the Houston mayor’s race, three of the candidates jockeying to replace Mayor Annise Parker took aim at former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and the agency’s allegedly low crime clearance rates.

The pointed effort marked a swift and telling segue from the candidates’ summer circuit of mostly small forums, featuring intermittent fireworks, to their biggest stage yet.

At the end of the debate, former Congressman Chris Bell, businessman Marty McVey and former mayor of Kemah Bill King all honed in on Garcia, a Democrat who many view as a frontrunner in the Nov. 3 balloting.

[…]

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said the first televised debate typically previews some of the battle lines and messaging beginning to emerge as the campaigns heat up.

Still, with the race crowded and the time limited to one hour Thursday, it was difficult for any one candidate to stand out. There was little new policy territory covered, but the candidates did find themselves on the hot seat, both with one another and the moderators, more than in previous settings.

“This (debate) rises above the clouds in terms of its prominence and its significance in that its audience is all of Houston, not just a specific interest group, and its medium is television instead of the best-case scenario a somewhat unreliable Web stream from a forum,” Jones said.

With State Rep. Sylvester Turner seemingly “close to invulnerable getting into the runoff,” Jones said, “pretty much everyone has an interest in taking a hit on Garcia.”

PDiddie was impressed by what he saw, Campos not so much. I confess I didn’t watch. I’m not a big fan of general interest candidate forums, which are especially hard to do with multiple candidates. You need to limit response times to give everyone a chance to speak, but that generally invites sound bite answers. I think forums that are focused on narrower and more specific topics can be more illuminating, partly because they often cover ground that gets very little attention overall, and partly because it gives you a chance to see who has actually thought about some of this stuff, and who is faking it.

And along those lines, there are a couple of upcoming specific-interest Mayoral forums coming up. On Thursday, September 10, Shape Up Houston and the Kinder Institute are hosting a forum on urban health and wellness. The forum goes from 8 to 9 AM with preliminaries beginning at 7 – see here for details and a list of sample questions. The event will be livestreamed here if you want to check it out. That evening at 7 PM, the Houston area Sierra Club, Citizens’ Transportation Coalition, and Citizens’ Climate Lobby with support of OilPatch Democrats will be hosting a forum on growth and climate change. That will be at the Trini Mendenhall Community Center, see here for more information and to RSVP. Finally, there’s an event this morning at Rice hosted by Emerging Latino Leaders Fellowship, Mi Familia Vota, the Hispanic Association for Cultural Enrichment at Rice (HACER), the Student Government Association at University of Houston-Downtown, and Young Invincibles on the subject of young adult and Latino community issues. It’s too late to attend if you wanted to – the venue is full – but this is one I wish I would have been able to see. I’m hoping it will be recorded, and if so I’ll post a link to the video. All of this is my longwinded way of saying that if you have an opportunity to go to an event like one of these, I recommend you take it. I think you’d learn more than you would watching a general purpose event. Just my opinion, of course, and your mileage may vary.

On the value of endorsements

The Chron asks what they’re good for.

Houston mayoral candidate Sylvester Turner has the backing of the city’s three unions. Do you care?

The C Club, a group of top conservative donors, supports former Kemah Mayor Bill King, and a handful of Houston pastors publicly have thrown their weight behind 2013 mayoral runner-up Ben Hall. Will that impact who you vote for?

For most Houston voters, the answer likely is no. Rather, political observers said, a candidate’s ability to marshal support from political power-brokers demonstrates viability to deep-pocketed donors and, in certain instances, provides the campaign with added organizational muscle.

“Endorsements are primarily an inside game that influence money and, on some occasions, votes,” local political analyst Nancy Sims said. “But to the overall voters, it usually doesn’t matter.”

And so, in the quiet summer weeks preceding Labor Day – when voters’ minds were thought to be elsewhere – many in the crowded field seeking to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker hustled to rack up institutional support, touting their growing lists of supporters as evidence of campaign progress.

Let’s not overthink this. There are three ways that endorsements, which as you know I track on the 2015 Election page, can help a candidate. One is the organizational support of the endorsing organization. Endorsements from unions, the GLBT Caucus, and the Texas Organizing Project gets you the votes of most of the members as well as outreach from them to like-minded voters who aren’t members. Another is money, as a lot of endorsing organizations are PACs or have them. The police, the firesighters, the realtors, the contractors – all of them write checks up to $10K to their endorsed candidates. Finally, as the story notes at the end, endorsers can be signals to less-informed voters in some elections, or to voters like me who are looking for a tiebreaker between two otherwise equal candidates, especially in a race where one wants to ensure someone favorable gets into a runoff. None of these factors are likely to be decisive in any race, but in close contests where the difference between advancing and going home will be small, every little bit helps.

Chron Mayoral profile: Steve Costello

Here’s “the second in a series of profiles on the top candidates running for mayor in Houston”.

CM Stephen Costello

CM Stephen Costello

It was July 2007, and Steve Costello, leading a crowded meeting of the region’s most influential engineers, had just silenced the room.

“You know, we participate in a lot of campaigns now,” Costello said. “We need to get someone on City Council who can be our spokesman for infrastructure investment.”

Heads nodded. Many in the room long had contributed to candidates who, in their view, had focused elsewhere while Houston’s street and drainage systems crumbled. But then he added: “Who wants to volunteer to become a council member?”

Three dozen men sat studying their hands, the mood having grown tense. The pause lingered.

“OK,” Costello said. “I’ll do it.”

His peers’ sense of relief, Costello recalls now, grinning, was obvious. Less obvious was how this buttoned-down engineer with a Long Island accent would transform himself into a politician.

[…]

Costello reads constantly, and if a book doesn’t catch his interest in 20 pages, he picks up the next one. If a run is scheduled for 5 a.m. and a friend arrives at 5:02 a.m., she should expect Costello to be two minutes down the trail.

“If we were planning on running at 4:45 a.m., he’d get there at 4:30 a.m. and fall asleep in his car waiting for me every day,” said Donna Rickenbacker, with whom Costello trained for 15 years. “He’s fiercely competitive – but he never used that competitiveness to go out there and try to beat me on the runs or not hold back if I were having a bad day. He just had to get the park first.”

Even his mannerisms suggest impatience, in part because the former smoker always has something in his hands. In the office, he bounces a tennis ball. At council, he trades the dark chocolates he keeps in his desk for rubber bands.

His approach has flaws. In a political culture that assumes council members must praise every civic leader present, Costello never speaks just to speak. As a result, when he weighs in, his colleagues listen – but they do not necessarily fall in line.

Even when trying to rally support, Costello often lays out his logic just once, even if opponents peel away votes by chiming in again and again. He trusts his solution is right, and expects others to recognize that.

Some colleagues find his style refreshing; others think it overconfident.

Like the first entry, about Chris Bell, this one is long on biography and what-makes-him-tick and not so long on policy. Unlike the first one for me, it did tell me things I didn’t already know. I like Steve Costello and I think he’s been a good and effective member of Council. I’ve said before, I think the main obstacle he has to overcome is affinity. Both Republicans (who think he’s a RINO) and Democrats (who are aware of his voting history and continued sponsorship of the annual Harris County GOP fundraiser) have alternatives to him who are equally strong on the issues they care about as Costello, but are one of them. I believe he’d be the second choice, or at worst the third choice, of a lot of voters. That would work in his favor if he makes it to the runoff, but it won’t help him get there in the first place.

Endorsement watch: The score so far

We’ve had a slew of endorsements for municipal races this past week. I’ve been keeping track of them as best I can on my 2015 Election page. This isn’t always easy to do, because some groups are not very good at posting their endorsements anywhere. I gather, for example, that the HPFFA has made endorsements, based on these tweets, but so far no official list appears to be visible. Groups whose endorsements I have added to the page so far:

AFL-CIO
Houston GLBT Political Caucus
Houston Stonewall Young Democrats
Houston Area Stonewall Democrats
Democracy for Houston
Harris County Tejano Democrats

Log Cabin Republicans
Houston Police Officers Union
Houston Building Owners & Managers Association

I’ve separated the traditionally Democratic/progressive groups from the rest. There are still a lot of groups out there to endorse – HOPE (they have endorsed Sylvester Turner for Mayor but I’ve not seen anything else from them as yet), SEIU, Houston Black American Democrats, Houston Association of Realtors, Houston Contractors Association, the C Club, Texas Organizing Project, and the firefighters if they ever produce a list. Things may change as more endorsements come in, but here are my initial impressions on what we’ve seen so far.

Sylvester Turner has done very well so far. I had thought some endorsing organizations might want to keep their powder dry in this crowded field, but Turner has stood out with his ability to collect support from different groups. Given all the competition for the LGBT group endorsements, snagging two of them is an accomplishment. Stephen Costello nabbed the other two, with the nod from the Stonewall Young Dems being a bit contentious. Adrian Garcia got on the scoreboard with the Tejano Dems; I’m sure that won’t be his last endorsement. Chris Bell has impeccable credentials for some of these groups, but he’s come up empty so far. You have to wonder if they’re getting a little discouraged over there, and you have to wonder if their fundraising is taking a hit. Ben Hall is getting Hotze support; I’ll be interested to see if he buys Gary Polland’s endorsement in the Texas Conservative Review. Will also be interesting to see if a more mainstream group like the C Club throws in with Hall or goes with an establishment choice like Bill King.

My initial reaction to Chris Brown’s dominance in Controller endorsements so far was surprise, but on reflection it all makes sense. He’s really the only viable Democrat running – Carroll Robinson has Hotze taint on him, and Jew Don Boney doesn’t even have a campaign website. Frazer got the Log Cabin Republicans, and I expect him to sweep up the other R-based endorsements. Keep an eye on what the realtors and contractors do in this one, if they get involved at all rather than waiting for the runoff.

Lane Lewis has crushed it so far in At Large #1, not only sweeping the Dem/progressive endorsements over three quality opponents, but also picking up support from the police, firefighters, and BOMA, who didn’t endorse in any of the other three open citywide races. He won’t win any Republican endorsements, of course – I assume new entrant Mike Knox will, if he can get his campaign organized in time to do whatever screenings are needed – but at this point I’d make him a favorite for most of what’s left. Amanda Edwards has impressed in AL4, though Laurie Robinson has split a couple of endorsements with her and will be a threat to win others. Not clear to me who will take the Republican support that’s available.

I expected more of an even fight in the two At Large races with Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents, but so far Doug Peterson and Philippe Nassif have taken them all. As I understand it, Durrel Douglas hasn’t been screening for endorsements – this can be a very time-consuming thing if you are doing a solo campaign – so Nassif has had a clear path and has taken it. As for AL3, I get the impression that Peterson is considered the more viable candidate against CM Kubosh. I though both he and John LaRue were good interview subjects, for what it’s worth. CMs Kubosh and Christie have gotten the “friendly incumbent” endorsements so far, and I expect that will continue. CM David Robinson has gotten those and the Dem/progressive nods. I’ll be interested to see if HBAD backs Andrew Burks; I expect Gary Polland to give Burks some love for being a HERO opponent, but I don’t know if groups like the C Club will join in with that. Burks is doing his usual thing campaign-wise (which is to say, not a whole lot), so anything that requires an organized response is probably beyond his grasp.

Not a whole lot of interest in the District Council and HISD/HCC races. I’m a little surprised that Karla Cisneros hasn’t picked up any endorsements in H, but there’s still time. Ramiro Fonseca has done well against Manuel Rodriguez, who is deservedly paying for the rotten things his campaign did in 2011. Jolanda Jones still has some game. Beyond that, not much to say.

So that’s where things stand now. As I said, they may look very different in a month’s time. And as with fundraising, a good showing in endorsements only means so much. Plenty of candidates who have dominated the endorsement process have fallen short at the ballot box. So consider all this as being for entertainment purposes only, and take it with a handful or two of salt.

UPDATE: Corrected to reflect the fact that HOPE and SEIU are no longer affiliated.

Endorsement watch: Houston GLBT Political Caucus 2015

Congrats to all the endorsees.

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mayor – Sylvester Turner

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

Controller – Chris Brown

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

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

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

Chron looks at Mayoral fundraising

They focus on small-dollar donors.

BagOfMoney

A Houston Chronicle analysis of the top seven candidates’ campaign finance filings covering the first six months of the year shows most businesses and special interest groups are waiting for the race to shape up before pushing their chips forward, and shows the top campaigns have each drawn roughly half their cash from wealthy donors giving the individual maximum of $5,000.

The most instructive data, political analysts say, comes from grassroots donors giving $50 or less.

For one thing, University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray says, there are far more people able to give $50 than $5,000 – and those folks often will cut additional checks to fund the final push to November.

“They’re the people you expect to do the door-knocking and stuff the envelopes and hustle up some additional votes,” Murray said. “That’s awfully important because turnout has dropped in city elections. Every vote becomes more valuable. And research shows one of the most effective ways to get people to vote is to tell your friends, ‘I’m going to vote and you should to.’ ”

Presumed front-runners Adrian Garcia and Sylvester Turner drew the largest share of their contributions from small donors, followed by City Councilman Steve Costello.

Garcia, the former Harris County sheriff, boasted 315 small donors, a quarter of all contributors to his campaign. Turner, a longtime state representative from north Houston, reported 141 small donors, also comprising about a fourth of his donors.

Costello drew a fifth of his donors from the grassroots. This surprised some analysts, who knew only that the moderate-to-conservative engineer was sure to draw business backing. Others said the haul was notable but needed context, given that Garcia entered the race months after Costello, and Turner had just nine days to solicit checks following the end of the legislative session and associated fundraising blackout rules.

Though his overall fundraising total was modest, former Congressman Chris Bell also drew a solid group of small donors, with these supporters making up 17 percent of his contributors.

Bill King only had 6 percent of his donors come from this small-dollar group, but Mark Jones assures us that doesn’t really mean anything, so don’t go wallowing in existential despair just yet. There’s also a chart that also tallies up contributions from PACs and max donors, or you could have read what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, with more information and fewer expert quotes. Snark aside, looking at the small-dollar donors is a worthwhile exercise that I didn’t have the bandwidth to do. More transparency is good.