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Toni Lawrence

That Press story on CM Brown

CM Helena Brown

So I’ve thought about that Houston Press story on CM Helena Brown and her relationship with William Park. There’s much to contemplate here, but I’m going to focus on three things.

1. What were they thinking?

I’m not talking about the voters, I’m talking about the three people who served as Council Member in District A prior to Brenda Stardig.

Almost no one the Press spoke to recently in District A had heard of Brown, and the few who had didn’t know much, if anything, about her. “Is she that libertarian?” one man near Brown’s home asked, then thought for a moment. “I’d heard the name.” Another neighbor, Glen Smith, said: “I don’t know anyone who knows her and I’ve lived here since 1957.”

There was concern among constituents who were more familiar with her. They worried their community would atrophy under her austerity politics. “How are we going to get anything?” asked Cecil Wahrenberger, who said she voted for Brown because past councilwoman Toni Lawrence endorsed her. “The work’s not gonna get done.”

I get that the genesis of the Helena Brown story is that Toni Lawrence had a falling out with Brenda Stardig after Stardig was elected in 2009, and this drove her to support Brown. I don’t know, and the story doesn’t say, if Lawrence helped recruit Brown as a candidate or if she just hitched her wagon to Brown once she filed. But it wasn’t just Lawrence who turned on Stardig: If you look at Brown’s 8 day finance report for the runoff, one of her contributors is Bruce Tatro, who was the Council Member in District A before Lawrence. I could swear I saw Helen Huey, Tatro’s predecessor, on one of Brown’s reports, but I can’t find it now. Be that as it may, someone should ask Lawrence and Tatro why they supported Helena Brown, what they know about her relationship with William Park, and what they think about her performance in office so far. Do they still think she’s the best choice to represent District A? Why or why not?

2. Who would run against Brown in 2013?

Whatever the answer to the questions I’ve posed above may be, I don’t doubt that a fair number of District A voters are happy with what they’ve gotten.

One aspect of Spring Branch, however, hasn’t changed: Who votes, and who does not. Bob Stein, the well-known Rice University political scientist who has studied District A’s voting behavior, says the area’s voters are overwhelmingly older, white, conservative and subscribe to Tea Party orthodoxy.

That was partly why Brown — who despises taxation — got voter support over incumbent Brenda Stardig, who fell into disfavor with the area’s political elite for her support of the so-called “rain tax.” Passed in 2010, it will raise $8 billion in drainage fees over 20 years to revitalize Houston’s infrastructure. But it also taxed churches, incensing conservatives in Spring Branch.

Around this time was when Helena Brown emerged. The political unknown had up until then operated on the fringes, the far-right campaigns, the online discussion groups, the Ron Paul movement. By every telling, she was utterly disconnected from the mainstream constituents of Spring Branch, moving in similar-minded groups like the “Friends of Freedom,” where she theorized communists had infiltrated both the United Nations and the Catholic Church, according to e-mails. After ascending to public office, Brown said she had stopped participating in the radical forum.

So with Stardig’s unpopularity, combined with her ineffectual re-election campaign, Brown won a runoff election with 3,042 votes last December — less than 2 percent of District A’s total population of 200,000 people.

Pardon me while I grind my teeth for a minute: The drainage fee does not “tax” churches because it’s a fee, not a tax. Gah.

It’s certainly possible CM Brown could be in electoral danger next year. There’s this story and there’s the time card story and now there’s the amazing campaign contributions story.

In an attempted violation of city law, and in yet another puzzling move by embattled City Council member Helena Brown, the District A representative solicited money from local Korean businessmen late last month for a trip she took this week to Seoul — though she had already paid for it with public money.

According to chapter 18 of the City Charter, Brown cannot receive direct contributions unless it’s during city-sanctioned campaigning months — February before an election until March afterward. During “blackout” periods, if a candidate or council member gets direct money, said City Press Secretary Jessica Michan, it’s a violation of city law. Whether Brown actually got money is unclear — but she sure did ask for it.

In a recent e-mail, which the Houston Press obtained, Brown said: “The trip to Korea is a costly trip. … Please make checks out to Helena Brown who will personally be offsetting the costs.”

But that wasn’t true. Brown paid for airline tickets to South Korea with public money — $11,000 — according to her expense report. Enrique Reyes, her director of communication, said last week hotel costs hadn’t been charged yet, but declined all questions. Brown’s office said the council member returned to Houston today.

Asking for direct contributions under such circumstances appears to break both city law and Harris county policy. Brown not only solicited money during a period when it wasn’t allowed, but in her e-mail she also asked all contributors to pay her at a June 28 gathering held at a Harris County building in Spring Branch, a violation of County policy. Meeting organizers are informed before forums that fundraising isn’t allowed. “If solicitation for money was happening, that’s not right,” said Ricardo Guinea, director of the Sosa Community Center, which housed the gathering.

To steal from Casey Stengel, can’t anyone in CM Brown’s office play this game? This is amateur night. Any halfway competent staffer or supporter would have known about the fundraising blackout period, and simple common sense would have suggested that collecting contributions at a government building might be a bad idea. And let’s all keep that $11K in travel expenses in mind the next time CM Brown votes against some routine appropriation in Council, shall we?

I’m sure it’s true that the people who bother to vote in our odd-numbered-year elections skew heavily in favor of people who like Helena Brown, at least in District A, though stories like these could change that. Still, who could make a successful challenge to her? One possibility is someone with strong conservative credentials but who isn’t crazy. One person who fits that bill is Amy Peck, who ran for District A in 2009. That could make for an interesting matchup if the 2013 race in A is essentially another Republican primary, as the 2011 race was, since Peck could garner the support of some heavy hitters in the Republican establishment. The other is to reach for the old “broaden the electorate” playbook and find someone unlike Brown to try to put together a winning coalition. District A was touted as a “Latino opportunity district” after the 2011 redistricting, after all. (Yes, I know, Brown claims some Latino heritage. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t part of her pitch in the 2011 election.) I don’t have a name to toss out here, but I’m sure such a person exists. These are much tougher campaigns to run since you are by definition seeking the support of habitual non-voters, at least in these elections, but it is a strategy.

3. What else is William Park up to?

The story makes the case that William Park is basically a con man, and that he has an inordinate amount of influence over CM Brown. It’s a pretty short leap from there to wondering what other ways he might find to exert that influence, and whether he might try to benefit from it directly. The story doesn’t go there, possibly because there’s no there to go to. It’s worth keeping an eye on, that’s all I’m saying.

What were your reactions to this story?

More thoughts on the Council elections

One district at a time…

– I confess that I did not see the District A result coming. Helena Brown did raise a decent amount of money since entering the race at the filing deadline, about $22K through the end of October, which makes me wonder how she might have fared if she had gotten in the race sooner. For what it’s worth, she’s at a big financial disadvantage in the runoff, as CM Brenda Stardig reported over $67K on hand in her 8 Day report, while Brown listed only $1378 on hers. Maybe Stardig needed to spend more during regulation time. Brown has received donations from the two previous District A members, Bruce Tatro and Toni Lawrence, the latter of whom apparently had a falling out with Stardig a few months back. If Brown wins she will be a big success story for the anti-Renew Houston forces. She would probably like for the runoff to be a low turnout affair in which she can campaign like it’s a Republican primary. Stardig will likely need to persuade some Democrats that she’s worth voting for; I would also expect the Houston Association of Realtors to try to come to her rescue. I have a bad feeling about this one for the incumbent.

– A lot of endorsing organizations avoided choosing a candidate in District B for November. I presume that part of the reason for that was that it was a crowded race with no obvious frontrunner and multiple contenders who might have a shot at making it to the runoff. Now that it’s narrowed down to Alvin Byrd and Jerry Davis, who received the bulk of the endorsements that were made, it’ll be interesting to see who lines up behind whom. Davis had an email out yesterday touting the fact that former competitors Kenneth Perkins, Phillip Paul Bryant, Bryan Smart, and Charles Ingram were all now supporting him. Also up for grabs now are the HBAD and Chronicle endorsements, both of which had gone to third place finisher (and currently unaligned, as far as I know) Kathy Daniels.

– Moving to the non-runoff districts, I’m still not sure if I’m surprised or not that Ellen Cohen won in C without a runoff. I had no doubt that it was possible, but I had no good feel for what the likelihood of it was. I do have a feeling that Cohen’s next two elections will be much easier to prognosticate.

– Given how a few other first-termers did, CM Al Hoang’s 56% win in District F has to be seen as a pretty strong performance, but much like Helena Brown in A, I wonder how Peter Lyn René might have fared if he had entered the race earlier. He missed out on the opportunity to screen for an awful lot of Democrat-friendly endorsements. I’m not saying he would have won, but a swing of less than 300 votes away from Hoang would have put him into a runoff. Surely that was achievable with a few months’ extra time to organize and fundraise.

– I’m just going to point you to what Greg says about District J, because there really isn’t anything I can add to it. I hope CM-elect Mike Laster makes an offer to Criselda Romero to be on his staff so that she can be in a good position to succeed him in 2017.

– Regarding the At Large runoffs, it’s easy to see the AL2 and AL5 races in racial terms, with the fates of the candidates entwined. Here’s Greg again:

As an aside in looking at the At Large runoffs together, I have a hard time seeing the needle threading such that both JoJo and Kristi win, though that’s obviously the outcome I’d most love to see. The more JoJo voters there are, then theoretically, the better the odds are for Andrew Burks. And the better things look for Kristi, the harder they look for JoJo. I really hope I’m wrong on this.

I think it’s a little more complex than that, for the simple reason that Burks isn’t a particularly good candidate. To put it another way, while I would agree that there will be a correlation between the vote totals of Burks and CM Jones, there will also be a lag between their totals. I believe a fair number of people who show up to vote for Jones will not bother to vote for Burks. As evidence, I cite the district returns from the 2009 runoffs, which featured both Burks and Jones as well as Ronald Green and Gene Locke. Take a look at these numbers, which I compiled from these earlier posts:

Candidate B votes D votes ============================ Locke 11,395 15,223 Green 10,017 16,935 Burks 7,773 11,974 Jones 10,673 17,653

Burks received less that 75% of Jones’ vote total in the African-American districts in the 2009 runoff, and he was running against someone who is not nearly as well-liked as Kristi Thibaut. He isn’t anywhere near Jones’ league. Maybe this time it will be different, but I see a lot of room for Jones to win and Burks to lose. And like District B, there are now a bunch of endorsements up for grabs. Thibaut, who had more endorsements by my count than other candidates going into the November election, counted HBAD among her supporters. She has since picked up the support of former candidates Bo Fraga, Jenifer Pool, and David Robinson; a whole host of Democratic elected officials, including numerous African-Americans (Rodney Ellis, Alma Allen, Garnet Coleman, Harold Dutton, Ron Reynolds, and Senfronia Thompson); and the Oak Forest Dems and Democracy for Houston endorsements; both of those groups reaffirmed their support of CM Jones as well. I think that says something, and about Burks’ ability to keep up with Jones.

As far as CM Jones goes, the playbook is the same for her as was two years ago: Run up the score in the friendly precincts, and hope it’s enough. Without a Gene Locke at the top of the ticket to drive turnout, that could be harder to achieve. She does have the benefit of the runoff in B to help her, but that may be canceled out by the action in A. It’s a crapshoot. I wouldn’t bet against her, but boy this is a tough way to go about it.

Taco trucks and city regulations

Lisa Gray writes about the food truck craze in Houston, and the obstacles that these foodie entrepreneurs must overcome.

Food trucks can be a serious urban amenity, a quick way to bring life to a street, parking lot or underused park. But some of Houston’s rules seem hellbent on preventing such outbreaks of civility.

Consider, for instance, the weird sanitation rule that prevents mobile food vendors from operating within 100 feet of outdoor seating – never mind setting up their own tables, chairs and umbrellas. Nobody seems to know why sanitation officials would consider tables near a truck less sanitary than a restaurant’s outdoor seating or a park’s picnic area. But there you have it: a law that not only discourages one of the great pleasures of urban life, but actually encourages people to get back in their cars and eat while driving. That’s supposed to make us safer and healthier?

The Boys also complain that they can’t set up shop in either downtown or the Medical Center, the two pedestrian-dense places in Houston. City rules make it prohibitively expensive for food trucks to get a license to use propane tanks in either the Medical Center or downtown. Never mind that New York and Chicago haven’t had much trouble with exploding hot-dog vendors.

You’d think that Houston would be eager to bring food trucks to its neighborhood parks. As a slew of renewal projects have proven – think Market Square Park, Discovery Green, Hermann Park – food is a powerful people magnet, able to draw people to what might otherwise be a spooky, underused place. But yet another city rule prevents food trucks from parking on a street for more than an hour while they do business. For the Eatsie Boys, that’s a serious barrier: Before the trailer can roll, they have to spend 20 minutes bungee-cording all the loose stuff in the kitchen. And it’s not worth it if they can only stay in a spot for an hour.

[…]

Instead, every day that they operate, they have to tow the trailer to a city-approved “commissary” – essentially, a big car wash – where they hose the truck down, then receive a green inspection sticker that says they’re good for that day. The process, including bungee-cording anything in the rolling kitchen that might fall, as well as the round-trip drive, takes about two hours out of their business day. It’d be way more efficient, Alex says, just to hook up water at their own site and wash the trailer down there.

As it happens, I recently attended a presentation by a lawyer from the Institute for Justice, which bills itself as “the nation’s only libertarian, civil liberties, public interest law firm”, on the subject of the city’s regulatory environment and its effect on entrepreneurs. You can see the booklet he handed out with the talk here. The subject of food trucks, in particular taco trucks, was covered in the lecture – that material starts on page 6 of the document. It should be noted that a number of these onerous regulations, in particular the daily trek to the city’s commissary, were imposed on the city by the Legislature, thanks to a bill passed by Rep. Dwayne Bohac at the request of then-Council Member Toni Lawrence. There was a lawsuit filed in 2007 after the legislation was enacted by some of the taco truck owners.

State Rep. Dwayne Bohac says he was protecting the public’s health when he co-authored two new state laws to tighten regulation of taco wagons in Houston and Harris County.

But more than 60 Hispanic owners of mobile taquerias have challenged the new state laws in federal court, contending they are more about racial intolerance than food safety. Their attorney says there has not been a single report of someone getting sick from eating at a taco wagon.

“Certain legislators don’t like these Hispanic-run businesses in their neighborhoods — they think they’re too low class,” said Houston attorney David Mestemaker, who is representing the taco truck owners suing the city, county and state over the new regulations.

The city ordinances that were required by Bohac’s law were allowed to go into effect, and as far as I know the litigation is still pending. I was thinking as I listened to the Institute for Justice fellow speak that there sure were a lot of food trucks popping up around town despite the regulatory muddle. You have to wonder how many more there might be without that 2007 law.

Jolanda versus the world

If you’re on Carl Whitmarsh’s mailing list, you’ve probably seen this, which is one of several mailers being sent out by the Jack Christie campaign. That one is going to the Heights, Montrose, and District C. The others are this one, being sent to voters in Council Districts A and G; this one, being sent to voters in District E; and this one, also being sent to voters in District C.

Looking at all of these, I think it’s safe to say that Council Member Jones has alienated a number of her colleagues. I can’t recall anything like this in recent years, where sitting members have openly support a challenger to a colleague. (Did anyone do this to Shelley Sekula Gibbs in 2003 when Peter Brown ran against her?) What’s damning about it is that much like the earlier mailer Christie sent out, it uses Jones’ own words and actions against her. I like CM Jones. I think she has a lot of talent, I think she represents a constituency that otherwise doesn’t have much of a voice, and I think she has the potential to do a lot of good. But she has definitely provided her critics with a lot of ammunition, and it’s stunning to see so many of her fellow Council members try to oust her like this. If she does survive, it’ll be very interesting to see what her relationship with these members will be like going forward. I’m thinking it’ll be awkward for awhile.

With all that said, I don’t think anyone has too much trouble with CMs Lawrence, Clutterbuck, Sullivan, and Holm, all of whom are on the opposite side of the political fence as Jones and none of whom are currently involved in an election of their own, supporting a fellow member of their party. The mailer by CM Lovell is the explosive one. It’s a little bizarre to think that at this time in 2007, Lovell was working to help Jones get elected. The relationship fell apart pretty quickly after the election, and the two have been feuding ever since. I happen to think that Sue Lovell is also a pretty good Council member, but it’s no secret that she is not the forgiving type. She has reportedly been telling donors not to contribute to Jones. I’m not going to defend what Jones said about HPFFA President Jeff Caynon, which is the basis of Lovell’s attack on her, though I will note that Jones did get a $1000 contribution from the Houston chapter of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters. But I believe Lovell crossed a line here, and judging from what I’ve seen elsewhere, that may be one of the more restrained reactions to this. If Lovell was still thinking about running for County Clerk next year, something that already seemed unlikely with the entrance of Sue Schechter and her show of strength early on, I’d say her odds of getting nominated just got a lot longer. Not to mention the fact that she still has an election of her own to win. She’s certainly stuck her neck out, I’ll say that much.

I guess what really bothers me about this is precisely that both Jones and Lovell are talented Council members. All of this is just a needless distraction and a waste of energy. I wish Jones had not put herself in this position but had instead channeled her energy and passion on Council in more productive ways. I hope that should she survive this election, it will spur her to do exactly that. I wish Lovell would learn to put things behind her and focus on what’s ahead. I hope whatever happens in their respective races, the next City Council finds a way to work together and help the new Mayor deal with the challenges that we face. Surely we all deserve that.

UPDATE: The Lovell mailer was sent out by her campaign, not by Christie’s. My apologies for the confusion.

Lawrence backs out of running for Eversole’s seat

And we’re back where we started.

Houston Councilwoman Toni Lawrence has decided she won’t run against Jerry Eversole for the Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner’s seat.

“I did talk to Jerry on Tuesday and told him I was not going to run against him,” Lawrence said today. “I’m staying out of the race.”

[…]

Lawrence said she never intended to seek the office if Eversole campaigned again.

“We have a lot of mutual friends, we really do, and it was really tough on a lot of those mutual friends,” Lawrence said. “It was putting pressure on those people of who they were going to support and what they were going to do.”

So much for that. I just hope a halfway decent Democratic candidate takes on Eversole, if only so that someone can challenge him on the whole FBI investigation thing. Not too much to ask, is it?

Eversole running for re-election

Surprise!

Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Eversole announced on Friday that he will run for re-election, potentially pitting him against a term-limited Houston city councilwoman and, perhaps, his own tarnished reputation.

Eversole, 66, who was hit with a $75,000 fine in the summer by the Texas Ethics Commission over campaign spending violations, said he decided to seek a fifth term to complete a number of highway projects and a major park complex in his precinct.

“Well, I enjoy the job, I enjoy getting up in the morning and doing what the job involves,” he said on Friday. “At the end of the day, I’ve got projects that were started that I want to see moved along or completed.”

That sound you hear is Toni Lawrence spitting nails. On the plus side, this has the potential to be an even more entertaining Republican primary than Perry/Hutchison. There will be plenty of material for the oppo researchers. I mean, a little more than a year ago, Eversole was convinced that the FBI was out to get him. Surely we’ll be hearing plenty more about that, and who knows what else besides.

No quorum for Lawrence’s Council meeting on 287(g)

Good.

Three City Council members fell short of forcing a vote Wednesday on the city’s participation in a controversial immigration screening program after the rest of their colleagues skipped a special meeting.

The city secretary counted only three members — Toni Lawrence, Anne Clutterbuck and Mike Sullivan — present at the afternoon special meeting before it was called off for lack of a quorum. To officially meet on the issue, they would have needed at least eight members of council present.

After the aborted meeting, City Council member Pam Holm joined the trio at a news conference calling for Mayor Bill White to hold a public meeting on whether the city should participate in the 287(g) program, which trains local law enforcement to identify illegal immigrants in the jails.

The lackluster turnout came as little surprise as several council members reported last week that they had scheduling conflicts. Others had called for an informal boycott of the rare special meeting, accusing Lawrence of political “grandstanding” on the sensitive immigration issue.

Lawrence, who is campaigning to become the next Harris County Precinct 4 commissioner, denied calling the meeting for political gain, saying, “I have never grandstanded in the six years I’ve been on the council. I’m very passionate about this.”

Remember when Council Member Lawrence walked out of a Council meeting along with several of her colleagues while then-CM/candidate for Congress Shelley Sekula Gibbs was giving a speech that demanded the city change its immigration policies? Lawrence said she was “embarrassed” to be in the same room as Gibbs was. Funny how
running a race as a Republican changes one’s perspective, isn’t it? And as Stace notes, the claim about never grandstanding is a bit shaky, too.

Now I’m willing to have a real debate about the 287(g) program, as long as it is a substantive debate and not a political stunt. Seems to me we’re going to have to have this debate sooner or later, since most of the Mayoral candidates have talked about closing the city jail and outsourcing that function to the county, where the 287(g) program is being used. We’ve got the County’s example, now let’s learn from it. How many of the inmates they’ve referred to the feds really were “dangerous”? How many left families behind? How can we objectively quantify the effect, good and bad, of doing this? When we get those answers, we can talk about what the city should be doing.

Lawrence forms exploratory committee for Commissioners Court

Houston City Council Member Toni Lawrence, the one term-limited member of city government who hadn’t announced a run for somethinge else yet, has now announced that she is forming an exploratory committee for the presumed-to-be-open Commissioners Court seat in Precinct 4. From her press release:

Today, former Cy-Fair high school teacher and current Houston City Council member Toni Lawrence announced the formation of a Republican Primary Exploratory Committee for Harris County Commissioner Precinct 4. She will be transferring more than $100,000 from her city council campaign account into an exploratory county commissioner campaign committee.

Current Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Eversole has yet to announce his plans to run for reelection. Lawrence said Commissioner Eversole has worked diligently on the Commissioners Court for almost twenty years, but expressed her view that its time for a new Republican voice for Precinct 4. If elected, Lawrence would be the first Republican female to serve on the Harris County Commissioners Court.

Lawrence, known as one of the hardest working members of the Houston City Council, is completing her third term representing District A and will immediately begin testing the waters by visiting with community leaders and Republican voters across County Commissioner Precinct 4 which overlaps most of North and Northeast Harris County.

“As I explore a run for County Commissioner, I will listen to voters and community leaders’ ideas on how we can make Harris County a better place to live while highlighting my record of accomplishment on the Houston City Council,” said Lawrence. “I feel my experience as a taxpayers’ watchdog, mobility advocate and strong supporter of neighborhood integrity will be a good fit on the Commissioners Court. It would be an honor to continue and expand upon my public service in this new role.”

I’ve posted the full release, which details her Republican credentials for what will surely be a crowded primary, here. We first heard of Lawrence’s interest in this race back in July, so this comes as no surprise. It’s just a question of who else will jump in.

Transit corridors ordinance approved

It’s not all that it could have been, but it’s a start.

Passengers stepping off trains in Houston’s expanding light rail network will be more likely to encounter walkable environments and interesting destinations because of action taken Wednesday by the City Council, city officials and transit advocates said.

The council unanimously approved changes in development codes intended to promote dense, urban-style development along the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Main Street rail line and five planned extensions. The pedestrian zone requirements and incentives were developed through more than three years of work by city officials, consultants, development experts and others.

Councilwoman Toni Lawrence said the changes, coupled with plans to expand urban development regulations from Loop 610 to Beltway 8 and high speed rail proposals under consideration for commuters, will have a major impact on automobile-dependent Houston. The measures take effect immediately.

“I’m excited about it,” Lawrence said. “We’re behind cities our size to move forward with rail.”

The changes drew support from real estate organizations including Houstonians for Responsible Growth, which generally resists new development regulation. But others who have followed Houston’s efforts to encourage so-called “transit-oriented development” offered only qualified praise, noting that the city’s consultants recommended more far-reaching changes.

“On the whole, it’s a teeny-tiny step in the right direction,” said Andrew Burleson, a development consultant and blogger. While the incentives for enhanced pedestrian amenities aren’t sufficient, Burleson said, the measure makes progress simply by providing a good definition of “quality urban development.”

The new rules will require unobstructed, 6-foot-wide sidewalks — two feet wider than the current standard — for new development along transit corridor streets and certain intersecting streets near transit stations. In most other areas of the city, the sidewalk standard will be increased to 5 feet.

Nice to see Andrew, a/k/a neoHouston, get quoted in the story. His take on the ordinance is well worth reading, as are each of Christof‘s. I expressed my views here. Note that RichmondRail.org’s proposed streetscape for Richmond Avenue conforms to the six-foot sidewalk width. I hope this new ordinance is a good omen for that.

Interview with Brenda Stardig

Brenda StardigAnd we return to District A for a conversation with Brenda Stardig. Brenda is a businesswoman and real estate broker who has served on the City of Houston District A Apartment Task Force as well as a number of boards and committees. She recently received the endorsement of outgoing District A Council Member Toni Lawrence. Brenda is a resident of Shadow Oaks Subdivision.

Download the MP3 file.

PREVIOUSLY:

Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4
Stephen Costello, At Large #1
Lane Lewis, District A
Lonnie Allsbrooks, At Large #1
Noel Freeman, At Large #4

Interview with Lane Lewis

Lane LewisMoving on to the first district Council race of this interview cycle, today’s subject is Lane Lewis, who is running for the District A seat currently held by Toni Lawrence. Lewis has worked as a social worker and has been on advisory boards for the last three Mayors, and is currently a teacher. He is a resident of Oak Forest.

Download the MP3 file.

PREVIOUSLY:

Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4
Stephen Costello, At Large #1

Design guide versus transit corridors ordinance

Not sure what to make of this just yet.

Fallout from the long-dormant Ashby high-rise development emerged Wednesday as a potential obstacle to the city’s effort to promote walkable, urban-style development along Metro’s planned light-rail lines.

Neighborhood opposition to the Ashby project, a planned 23-story mixed-use tower whose developers continue to await a permit almost two years after they first applied, inspired changes to an obscure city document known as the Infrastructure Design Manual. The changes include a review process intended to prevent high-density developments from worsening traffic congestion on surrounding streets.

City Council members and speakers at a public hearing Wednesday said certain provisions in the design manual conflict with the goals of the proposed urban transit corridors ordinance. Councilwomen Toni Lawrence and Pam Holm threatened to withhold support from the ordinance, seen by many as a vital first step in creating walkable urbanism in Houston, unless the conflict was resolved.

“Urban corridors and transit streets are getting caught in the trap they set for Ashby,” said Kendall Miller, president of Houstonians for Responsible Growth, a group seeking to limit new regulations on Houston’s real estate industry.

[…]

Chapter 15 was added to the design manual in the aftermath of the Ashby controversy, but it simply put into writing procedures that the city already followed, said Andy Icken, deputy director of the Department of Public Works and Engineering.

Icken said he will work with Marlene Gafrick, Houston’s planning and development director, to add language to the transit corridors ordinance clarifying that reduced automobile traffic is likely along corridors where people will be riding trains. That should reduce the need for any traffic mitigation, Icken said.

But Miller, of Houstonians for Responsible Growth, said he remains concerned that Chapter 15 of the design manual gives Public Works personnel too much discretion to require developers to take costly steps to offset traffic impacts. Those costs and lack of predictability could discourage investment in transit corridors and elsewhere, Miller said.

Holm agreed.

“Many of these standards have been put in place to deal with a specific project,” she said, referring to the Ashby high-rise, “and it gives too much decision-making to one person as opposed to setting standards. It is in conflict with the goal of what we’re trying to do with this ordinance as a city.”

I’m not going to take Kendall Miller’s word for it – I think he’s more likely to be concern-trolling than anything else. I’d like to know what folks like Christof Spieler, Andrew Burleson, or David Crossley have to say about this. Having said that, the point that a bunch of us have made all along regarding the Ashby highrise is that the problem with it wasn’t traffic but scale – it just didn’t fit into the surrounding area. Until that is truly acknowledged and dealt with, there’s a real possibility of unintended consequences like this.

Lawrence looking at Commissioners Court

Something I’d realized recently is that almost everyone in city government who is or would have been term-limited out is running or has run for another office. Mayor White is running for Senate. City Controller Annise Parker is running for Mayor. Council members Ronald Green, Pam Holm, and MJ Khan are running for City Controller. Former member Adrian Gonzalez was in his last term when he got elected Sheriff last year. The odd one out was Toni Lawrence, but that may not be the case any more.

So we hear current City Council Member Toni Lawrence is eying her next move, possibly toward County Commissioner. Multiple people have told me that Lawrence is seriously considering running for Commissioner Jerry Eversole’s seat, whenever that becomes available. She has already begun privately gauging support. Contacted last night, Lawrence said it was definitely something she is looking at. This apparently, after another formidable female elected official decided to take a pass at the seat… again, whenever it becomes available, which of course, it’s currently NOT.

Perhaps the FBI will step in and make CM Lawrence’s decision easier for her, though given that she just moved into the precinct, barely in time to be qualified for the ballot, perhaps she’s already decided. In any event, an open County Commissioners Court seat is one of the ultimate prizes in our government, and if Eversole jumps or gets pushed out of the race you can be sure it’ll be a free-for-all to replace him. I’m confident there will be some Democrats in that mix as well; I know there are recruitment efforts going on now. Certainly, as a challenge to an incumbent, even one like Eversole, it’s a steep climb. I don’t recall the exact numbers offhand, but CC Precinct 4 is redder than Precinct 3 – it’s slightly on the Republican side of 60/40, so any Dem would be a heavy underdog, even in an open seat. Still, you can’t pass something like this up, and if the stars line up and you hit the jackpot, it’s huge.

Oh, anyone have a clue who the “formidable female elected official” that declined to run might be? Leave a comment and let me know.

UPDATE: Stace has more, and his post suggests former City Council member Addie Wiseman as a potential candidate.

UPDATE: I’ve received some feedback that that the “formidable female elected official” in question is State Rep. Patricia Harless, who was in line to be appointed to the seat in the event that Eversole resigned. The word now is that Eversole will stay till the end of his term, and Harless will run for re-election to the State House.

Precinct analysis: The City Council districts

I’d been wondering for a long time how the 2008 vote broke down by City Council districts, as well as for the city of Houston versus non-Houston Harris County. I finally did something about it awhile ago and made a call to Hector de Leon at the Harris County Clerk’s office to ask him if precinct data was available from the 2007 election that could help me answer these questions. He very kindly provided me with a spreadsheet that gave all the 2007 results by precinct, and I was off to the races. Here’s what I found out.

There’s one key point that needs to be understood before I get into this: Precinct boundaries do not conform to City of Houston boundaries. In other words, a given precinct may have voters who live inside the City of Houston, and voters who do not. The effect of this on my analysis, since my data is only granular to the precinct level, is that about half again as many votes were counted as “City of Houston” than they were as “Harris County”. That’s because if a precinct had votes in it for the 2007 election in a city race, it was counted in its entirity towards the City of Houston total in 2008. Had this not been the case, I would have expected a roughly equal amount of votes inside and out of Houston in Harris County. I just don’t have any way to make a distinction within a precinct, so we have to live with that.

That raises the interesting question of whether or not this skews the numbers I generated, and if so by how much? Precincts are geographically small, so these Houston/not Houston voters in the same precinct are basically neighbors for the most part. What’s the bigger factor in determining their voting behavior: proximity or city limits? There’s probably a master’s thesis in that. In any event, my rough guess is that the results I’ve generated probably underestimate the Democratic-ness of the city of Houston and overstate it for its complement, but not by very much.

I note here I’m still using draft canvass numbers from 2008, which is basically all of the non-provisional votes. I don’t think this makes much difference, either, but I wanted to mention it just to be clear. And so, without further ado…

District Obama Noriega Garcia Judicials ============================================ Houston 58.5 59.3 63.5 58.4 Harris 39.0 40.1 45.3 39.3 A 39.5 40.2 46.3 39.0 B 86.8 87.7 89.4 87.8 C 60.6 59.9 64.5 58.5 D 87.7 87.1 88.7 87.0 E 41.3 43.2 48.1 41.8 F 63.6 65.1 68.7 65.0 G 42.3 40.7 45.6 39.2 H 68.8 72.4 77.6 70.9 I 72.7 79.0 81.6 76.5

The numbers given are percentages of the vote, for Barack Obama, Rick Noriega, Adrian Garcia, and the county Democratic judicial candidates. A few thoughts:

– I had previously thought that District A would be amenable to electing a Democrat this year to replace the term-limited Toni Lawrence. That doesn’t appear to be the case here. I was surprised to see that A was the most GOP of the districts – I’d have guessed it would have been E or G. It may be that the precincts that encompass District A also happen to include some strongly Republican non-Houston turf, more so than E or G, I can’t say. But it does put a bit of a damper on my hopes for Jeff Downing and Lane Lewis.

– I expected Districts C and F to skew Democratic, but I was surprised by how much they did. Given that C’s precincts likely include some pieces of West U and Bellaire, that’s even more impressive. Democrats – and as that stands right now, that means Mike Laster – ought to win F this year, and I’d give good odds on winning C in 2011 when Anne Clutterbuck terms out.

– In the meantime, despite their inability to compete citywide, Republicans have overperformed a bit in winning district Council races, as they have five seats but are only a majority in three. As noted, I think that’s a temporary situation, and given Adrian Garcia’s showing in those three red districts, they shouldn’t be taken for granted by anyone, either.

– Of course, the electorate for a historic Presidential race and the electorate for city races, even one with a wide-open Mayoral campaign, are two very different things. All things considered, that probably gives a more Republican tilt overall, one which is more pronounced in the years that don’t have a Mayoral melee at the top of the ticket. How big an effect that is, and how much it’s being counteracted by demographic trends, I couldn’t say.

– Finally, I thought I’d add one more table, showing how many votes were cast in each Council district in the Presidential race, again bearing in mind all the caveats from above:

District Votes ================== A 118,019 B 72,743 C 73,627 D 81,009 E 113,438 F 43,704 G 99,061 H 47,409 I 35,492

Even if you assume some districts are more bolstered by precincts with non-Houston voters than others, there are still some pretty huge differences there. Let’s just say I foresee large challenges for those who are tasked with redrawing City Council districts, whenever that may be.

Stardig announces in A

We now have a third official candidate in City Council District A, businesswoman Brenda Stardig, who I am told is outgoing Council Member Toni Lawrence’s preferred choice. She joins Alex Wathen and Jeff Downing, who have already filed their Treasurer’s reports, and possible Bert Schoelkopf in the pursuit of this seat. Her press release is beneath the fold. I haven’t heard of any other new candidates lately; if you’re aware of some, please leave a comment and let me know. Thanks.

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