Friday, June 30, 2006

Once, Giants Trod Here

This excellent story from Thursday’s Houston Chronicle on the imminent release of former Houston councilman Ben Reyes from federal prison to a halfway house brought back memories (not necessarily fond) of a day, not too long ago, when local politicians seemed to be somewhat larger personages than, say, Shelley Sekula-Gibbs or M.J. Khan. We suspect we were not the only local to find portent in the fact that the release from confinement of the newly humbled, buff and ponytailed Reyes comes in the same week that Superman Returns hit theaters.

Reyes’ cheesy theft of a magnolia tree from the yard of a crackhouse he razed by taking the stick of a bulldozer summed up the man’s approach to politics: a little community service, a whole lot of showboating, and a cut on the side for Benny. The desire for money seemed to be the overriding motivation for the perpetually cash-strapped Reyes: in the government-induced chain of events that led to his imprisonment, the then ex-councilman was caught on tape by the FBI trying to wheedle $1,000 from an undercover operative so he could take a trip to Mexico.

An uprooted magnolia, a mere one grand---you can’t say the man was grandiose.

We recall a conversation with Reyes that we believes dates to the mid- or late 1980s, as we were gathering information on a legislative race in which Reyes’ support of one candidate was the overarching issue, probably the only issue. Reyes rang us back early in the evening, saying he was at a pay phone and in a hurry and acknowledging that he had drunk a couple of beers (although he sounded as if he had had a couple on top of those). He then launched into a long, rambling exegesis of the contest, but, sometime well after we had stopped listening, abruptly cut if off by saying,
“You know what this is all about, right?”

“No,” we said, although we most certainly did, “what’s it all about?”

“It’s about who’s gonna be the No. 2 man in our community,” Reyes said.

We couldn’t resist: “Oh yeah? Who’s No. 1?”

“Me, baby---always have been, always will be.”

“So we can quote you on that?”

“Shit, I don’ care.”

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