Friday, August 28, 2009

Is Houston Ready for an "Old" Mayor?

Yeah, we know: the question de jour is supposed to be, “Is Houston ready for a gay mayor?” and at some point soon we’re going to take another of our interminable strolls down “Memory Lane” (hopefully accompanied by an able-bodied youngster to keep Gramps upright) to contrast the current climate with those not-so-long-past days of the “Straight Slate” and Louie Welch’s inadvertently broadcast suggestion that we “shoot the queers” to stop AIDS. But first let’s examine a really sensitive issue, one that we assume will not find its way into the public discourse--that of age, specifically the age of mayoral contender Peter Brown, who, if his Wikipedia entry is to be believed (yeah, a Houston city councilman’s got a Wikipedia entry--all hierarchies are being overturned, mon frere!), was born on Oct. 16, 1936. That would make Brown 73 when voters go to the polls in November and, should he win and then successfully pursue his term-limited allotment of years at City Hall, pushing 80 (!) when he’s finally wheeled out of City Hall in January 2016.

We got to thinking about the age issue (or, if you will, non-issue) after viewing Brown’s debut television advertisement, the first of the mayoral race, which according to no less an unbiased authority than the Petter Brown campaign has gotten rave reviews from the media and the kids in the blogosphere (which will translate into about, um, zero votes). With its quick cuts and frenetic pacing, the commercial is obviously keyed to making the 72-year-old grandfather of 15--here’s a dude who’s damn sure fulfilled his biological destiny!--appear to be vital, a veritable whirlwind of obsessive-compulsive perpetual motion* who just can’t stop serving the public, 24/7, a forceful PHYSICAL presence ready and able to impose his “blueprint” for Houston smack dab on the city (as if the city were a Lovett Home or sumpin’), then drop down and give us 20 push-ups, military-style, to burn off any excess energy.

Ageism--is that what you call it?--is of course the last acceptable prejudice that one can voice aloud in polite circles without fear of opprobrium: consider the tiresome razzing that John McCain still gets from late-night comedians over his long earthly tenure (we saw Steven Colbert do it just recently, aided and abetted by McCain himself, who tries to defuse the issue with frequent displays of good humor, when he’s not being a crotchety old man). Now consider this: Peter Brown is but six weeks younger than John McCain! When Brown entered this world, FDR was seeking his second term as president and Oscar “The Old Gray Fox” Holcombe was only midway into his eventual 22 years as mayor of Houston, neither as “old” nor quite as “gray” as he would be when serving out his string in the late ‘50s (by our possibly faulty calculations, Holcombe was in his late 60s when he stopped being mayor, and Bob Lanier--who already screamed “elderly” when he was first inaugurated--was just a little older than Brown is now when he was term-limited to the political scrap heap). Perhaps more astonishing, one of our favorite early Hollywood film stars, “Petey”, the crazy-eyed pooch from the Little Rascals, was still extant when Brown was born, and in fact was to pose for a picture with our then-10-year-old mother-in-law at Atlantic City’s famed Steel Pier the very next year, when Brown presumably was in his swaddlin’ clothes. Damn, that was long ago.

UPCOMING: We already know Houston’s ready for a black mayor, Lee P. Brown having crossed that bridge more than 10 years ago, but is Houston ready for a gay black mayor? An old gay black mayor? We’ll ask the experts!

*We can empathize: Although we’re not a member of Brown’s age cohort (we’re of the generation that didn’t go to Vietnam, didn’t go to Woodstock), we have recent first-hand experience of that sobering phenomenon of which Springsteen has sung--that is, of the girls in their summer clothes passing us by, sometimes passing us by even in their winter clothes, unaware that only the previous month we had had one of those whatyamacallits, an erection.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Annise Parker: The People's Choice ... Some of the People ... A Certain Kind of People ... But Still, Lots of People!

We have finally fulfilled our promise to roll at least half an eyeball over the July 15 campaign finance reports of the three major mayoral candidates, and we can now state unequivocally that ... are eyeballs are tired. Very. This is primarily due to the man hours our orbs logged perusing the report submitted by Annise Parker, whose list of contributors runs to 708 pages (at 4 per page, that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,800 donors) and appears to include the gifts of every Tomasina, Dick and Jose who forked over $5 for a barbecue sandwich or whatever at a Parker fund-raiser (we’re tempted to breach our Slampo’s Place Code of Ethics and write a check for 15 cents to the Parker campaign to see if it’s cashed and shows up on her pre-election report). Still, it’s a fairly impressive document,* not so much in eye-popping dollar figures but in the number and eclectic mix of contributors. Parker’s money base seems to be three-legged: local contractors and engineers who presumably have come to know and like the controller during her 10+ years at the municipal trough (we’re just presumin’--maybe she strong-armed ’em!); national and local networks of politically active gays and heretofore not-so-politically active gay businessmen and -women, and what we’ll call, for lack of a more precise characterization, a monied gay elite (locally and nationally), along with organizations and individuals with a history of donating to liberal Democratic candidates (such as $5 grand Parker donor Ellen Susman, “retiree,” of the 77019 area code); and, most interestingly, lots and lots--lots!--of small contributors who handed over amounts ranging from $25 to $500 and whose occupational profile tends to the mid-to-lower white collar: software developers and Web page designers, paralegals, an administrative library assistant, a number of “helping profession” types (teachers, social workers, etc.), a flight attendant, some city employees, a few professors, the stray “writer” or “artist” and some guy listed, unintentionally or not, as a “PsychoTherapist,” along with slightly more substantial gifts from doctors, attorneys, developers and mid-level oil company execs. While this suggests that Parker’s support is deep, it’s not necessarily wide, at least donation-wise: We counted but 17 contributors from our out-of-the-way and tenuously Republican-inclined zip code on the unfashionable end of the city’s southwest side, compared to well over 250 from 77006, which includes the most Montrose-y parts of Montrose (we have a hard time imagining the way most of our neighbors will go, once they hear there’s an election and the main contenders are a gay gal, a black guy and a rich urban planner who summer vacations in France---yowza!).

Parker’s most generous source of money appears to be the Cobb Fendley engineering firm, which according to its Web site contracted with the city to turn part of Cook Road into a boulevard (little touch of Paree in Olde Alief!). The firm’s PAC donated the maximum $10,000, while vice presidents Dale Conger, James Mark Sappington and Monica Silver each gave $2,000, vice president Stephanie Funk gave $2,500 and president Allen Dale Watson chipped in another $2K. Parker’s other maxed-out $10,000 PAC contributor was Anne’s List of Austin, which distributes money to liberal-y gal candidates (such as state Rep.Ellen Cohen). The Fulbright & Jaworski law firm was also good to Parker during the first half of this year, with its PAC kicking in $7,500 and individual attorneys donating more than $11,000 (or thereabouts). Other big institutional investors in the Parker campaign include the Houston Associated General Contractors PAC ($5K), the D.C.-based Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund ($6,235) and the delinquent-tax collecting firm of Linebarger Goggan Blair Etc. ($2.5K).

Among other maximum individual donors to Parker were, in no particular order, lawyer Melanie Gray of the Weil, Gotshal & Manges firm; software entrepreneur Tim Gill, president of the Denver-based Gill Foundation, which calls itself one of the nation's “largest funders focusing primarily on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights”; Mike Garver of BRH-Garver Construction; a James G. Stepp of Fort Lauderdale; Inderjit Kaur, a manager with financial software developer Intuit in Mountain View, Calif.; Georgia Anne Bost of Waller-based Village Botanica; Truman Edminster of the Edminster Hinshaw Russ engineering firm, which has been involved in Midtown redevelopment; Ray C. Davis of Spring, CEO of spooky Behavioral Recognition Systems (and a McCain man in ’08!) and his wife Debi (that is, $10,000 total); J. Nick Koston of cPanel; Aimee Boone, director of of the Texas Democratic Trust; self-employed investor John D. Freeman; tech investor William Edwrads of Austin; Houston lawyer Donald J. Farris; investor Ronald Bailey; “community volunteer” Naomi Aberly of Dallas (an Al Franken donor in '08!); Houston lawyer Pablo Escamilla; Susan Alleman of Traffic Engineers; Geoffrey Westergaard, who must be doing quite well in sales at Carl Moore Antiques Inc.; an Edward Fraser of Bayshore, N.Y.; Robert Fretz of Fretz Construction; Janet Harrell, area exploration manager for Shell; and Janet Guidry of Houston, occupation/time-killing activity unspecified. Parker also tapped a money spigot in San Antonio (Gene Locke tapped one in New Orleans), where she received maximum contributions from “homemaker” Leticia Rodriguez; boutique owner Fabeloa Diaz-Rodrigues; sales rep Julio C. Rodriguez; lawyer Douglas Poneck and wife Elizabeth ($5K each); and Dawn LaFreed, who apparently owns some Denny’s outlets that we may or may not have patronized.

Celebrity contributors--and here we’re stretching the definition of “celebrity” way beyond the word’s standard tensility--include former Montrose state rep and Linebarger Goggan attorney Debra Danburg ($250); Rice U political scientist Chandler Davidson ($50); Democratic candidate-in-waiting Chris Bell ($750); onetime Merchant Prince Robert Sakowitz ($100; also a donor to Parker foe Peter Brown); caterer Jackson Hicks ($1,000), and onetime Dem gubernatorial candidate Sissy Farenthold ($54). Media moguls include Greg Jeu, publisher of OutSmart magazine, a 5K donor, and fellow OutSmart publisher James Hurst, who contributed $4,504 in advertising, as well as Roger A. Bare, vice president/general manager for Channel 39 and Thomas Purser, vice president of the local Comcast cable operation ($500 each). On the non-mogulish media side were Clyde Peterson ($100), who we guess is the old Chronicle cartoonist of the same name, and one Daniel Pritchett, identified as a Chronicle copy editor, who could spare but $50 but no doubt has made invaluable contributions in seeing that his candidate’s Christian name is always spelled with two n’s. And then there’s our old pal Juan Ramon Palomo, formerly Houston’s only openly gay three-named Hispanic newspaper columnist, who, despite his current lofty perch as “senior communications adviser” for the American Petroleum Institute in D.C., was good for only $100 to Parker (but from each according to his abilities, as some dead German philosopher put it).

That guy also said something to the effect of "to each according to his needs," and while we're sure the Parker campaign does not subscribe to the nostrums of dead 19th century German philosophers, it certainly realizes that it’s good to get but better to give (or so we’ve heard), and early on in its effort doled out generous $1,000 "sponsorships" to the Houston Area Women’s Center, the Houston Food Bank, the local SPCA and the Houston Zoo. For some reason the League of Women Voters got but $900, New Life Christ Baptist Church but $300, the local LULAC Council but $175 and a mere $60 went to the Harris County GOP. The Harris County Democratic Party, meanwhile, got $4,050 from Parker’s campaign. (Spreadin' it around! Just like Enron!)

*We are easily impressed, however.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dedication to Craft

[Les Paul and Mary Ford] were touring in 1948 when Mr. Paul’s car skidded off an icy bridge. Among his many injuries, his right elbow was shattered; once set, it would be immovable for life. Mr. Paul had it set at an angle, slightly less than 90 degrees, so that he could continue to play guitar.
-- From the New York Times' Aug. 14 obituary of Les Paul, inventor of the solid-body electric guitar and pioneer of multi-track recording

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Last Time We Saw Robert Novak ...

The only time, actually, at least live and in the flesh, was back in '88, when we were in the employ of the daily newspaper located near the confluence of the Loop 610 and the Southwest Freeway and had been assigned to cover a debate among the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination that was being staged, in advance of that spring's alleged "Super Tuesday" primaries in Texas and elsewhere, at Houston's then-spanking new Wortham Center. We watched the debate, listened to the spinners spin their post-debate BS, then sat down at the TRS-80 Radio Shack portable computer assigned to us (the "Trash 80," as it was immortalized in the new biz) to tap out our little story. We remember being quite satisfied with the result (there were more than a half-dozen candidates, and under any circumstances these pseudo-events are kind of hard to write-up on deadline, in a manner both lively and fair and balanced--try it some time!) before attempting to send the product to the home office. When we called in, though, we were informed that the story had not arrived. We tried again, with the same result. And again, but no dice. We spoke with the paper's technical support person, whose advice did not end in a successful launch on our fourth attempt. Finally we called our desk and spoke with an assistant city editor whom we'll call "Chester." We asked Chester (in-house nickname: "Chester the Copy Molester") whether he might be able to take "dictation" from us over the phone, a common practice then and possibly now, but Chester claimed to be too busy. We then asked whether there might be another staff member available to tap-out our story while we relayed it over the phone, but Chester said that, no, no one was available because there had been a big double-murder or something that evening (this, mind you, was the second-largest daily newspaper in the nation's fourth-largest city). So we asked Chester to please let us speak with his superior, the city editor, whom we'll call "Brent," and when we were transferred to Brent* the conversation went something like this:
Us (whiny and pissed-off): "Goddamn, Brent, I'm at this big debate with all kinds of national media here and this frickin' Trash 80 isn't working and it's 5 minutes before deadline so if we wanna have a story in the first edition couldn't you please get somebody there, even a copy editor, to take dictation from me? Please?" Brent* (curtly): "No, we can't." Us (desperate, ever-eager to please): "So what should I do?" Brent (cold, robotically): "You'll have to come back here and write it on a computer."
After concluding the conversation we slammed the phone receiver down as hard as we could and cussed as loudly as we could, then looked around the little press room at the Wortham and noticed that we were all alone except for the Prince of Darkness himself, who perhaps had been experiencing technical difficulties too or had been otherwise detained. "What's the matter?" he asked, and when we explained something to the effect that our immediate superiors were a bunch of sorry cocksuckers he laughed and commiserated. ("Hey," we remember thinking, "this guy is nothing like the asshole he's made out to be!") As we both packed to go Novak related that he was staying at a downtown hotel--we believe it was the Hyatt--and as he had come directly to the debate from the airport he had no idea how to get there but had been told it was within easy walking distance. We gave him simple yet exact directions--"Go out the front of the building, take a left, go to Smith, take a right, keep walking, can't miss it" and hurriedly took our leave. After retrieving our truck from the garage we were on the way out of downtown when we spotted Novak, his clothes bag slung over his shoulder, resolutely hoofing it north across the bayou and wending his way through small nighttime clutches of the homeless and derelict--going totally the wrong way. In a press to meet our deadline, we did not stop to redirect him but honked and waved as we sped past. Upon arriving at our office we tried once again to send our dispatch into the system, this on-site attempt finally resulting in the story's total obliteration and disappearance from the face of the earth. We managed to reconstruct a reasonable but abbreviated facsimile in time to meet the paper's "owl" deadline--there's some quaint newspaper talk for you--but over the next couple of days we worried over the fate of Robert D. Novak, hoping he had found his way to his hotel and was not laid out in the weeds next to Buffalo Bayou. We were relieved when a post-debate installment of his syndicated column appeared in the other local newspaper.

We were to depart the newspaper out on the freeway in just a few months, following yet another unsatisfactory employee-supervisor consultation with Brent, and Chester and Brent were to be not that far behind, moving on, possibly, to bigger and better things where their peculiar talents could be put to better use. The newspaper was put out of its misery some years later. Novak, of course, continued to wander through the wasteland of American politics-governance for two more decades--a happy warrior, of sorts, until the end.

*Who was notable in the newsroom for the incessant nose-picking and crotch-rubbing he performed while in the act of editing copy.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Not Just Your Average Run-of-the-Mill Hispanic Museum, But a “First-Class” Hispanic Museum ...

The Chronicle’s Bradley Olson has now reported twice on Gene Locke’s campaign promise to push for creation of a “Hispanic museum” in Houston and has thoughtfully posted a recording of a recent “Latinos for Locke” soiree during which the mayoral candidate can be heard “reiterating” the promise, as the reporter put it. While it’s all vague and tenuous sounding--we assume this idea has been floating round out there somewhere and Locke has latched on to it as a show of solidarity with los hermanos y las hermanas--it does not cause us to look with great favor on Locke’s candidacy, especially if creation of this facility would require the expenditure of government funds.

The “Hispanic Museum” is included in a laundry list of demographically fine-tuned pledges Locke reels off to his Hispanic, Latino, what-have-you supporters. It sounds almost like a parody of a big-city politician’s pandering--like something from The Wire in one of its less inspired moments. (Yes, we know, all politicians pander, to greater or lesser degrees, and to all sorts of people--including to white voters, especially to white voters--but in this case Locke’s enumeration of his “commitments” is so overt and specific it borders on being funny.) After a spirited introduction by government-employee-for-life Carol Alvarado, who notes that Locke, as city attorney under Mayor Bob Lanier, was responsible for “writing” the city’s current affirmative action ordinance, Locke pledges to fight for more “diversity” at City Hall (by somehow ensuring that “there’s at least one Hispanic in the pool” of applicants for city department head jobs) and to “diversify our community developments dollars so they’re spent in all communities of Houston” (which we would take as implicit criticism of recent past mayors, including his benefactor Lanier). Then he says, “We need to be about the business of a least considering trying to build in this city a first-class Hispanic museum--that’s not just good for the Hispanic community, that’s good for Houston ...” (Locke adds something about this musuem being an economic development tool, although most of the addendum is drowned out on Olson’s tape by applause from the candidate’s supporters; he rounds out his Latino to-do list by pledging “to work to bring a soccer stadium to Houston” for the panhandling professional team, etc.)

Be about the business ... at least considering--that's not exactly whole-hearted. Then again, Locke also promises “to work night and day for the commitments I’ve made.” (A premise for a possible phone-call-at-3 a.m. TV commercial for Locke: He’s wide awake in his PJs, hollering into the receiver, “We gotta get movin’ on that first-class Hispanic Museum deal--the economic vitality of the city depends on it!”)

We’ll spare you the obvious and refrain from going on about what a bullshit idea this is and arguing why municipal government should have no hand in these little exercises of ethno-narcissism. (Yes, we know the Houston Museum of African American Culture took root way back in the Lee Brown administration and has received city funding, and where has that led? The Facebook site for the outift says “Building Completetion: 2011." We rest our case). We’d have no problem, though, if Lanier ... excuse us ... Locke were to spearhead a private fund-raising for such a facility, although we’d think a mayor would have better things to do (we’d suggest he start out by tapping some of the Hispanic politicians supporting him--the ones whose faces are starting to sag from bending over the the public trough for so long).

We find this pledge, as well as Locke’s entire brief spiel to his Hispanic backers, interesting on two counts: 1.) They show Locke to be the traditional promise-making labor-liberal candidate he apparently is--he mentions his own past membership in the OCAW and steelworkers’ union in his opening--which kinda doesn’t jibe with the politics of many of his big-money supporters. He must be the only past union card-holder who named his daughter after the site of the famous (or infamous) 1971 New York state prison uprising to have gotten campaign contributions from GOP moneybags Bob Perry, that noted friend of organized labor. And 2.) in a realpolitik sense, Locke is playing to the wrong crowd. It’s unlikely this “Hispanic museum” promise will have much influence on actual Hispanic voters, who generally seem to be a fairly independent lot (we're talking about voters here, not the "community" at-large) and who, according to no less an authority than Richard Murray, the Bob Lanier Professor of Public Policy at the University of Houston, constitute only about 8 percent of the city electorate (seems just a tad low to us, and as we’ve reported we graduated in the top 75 percent of our high school class). On the other (Caucasian) hand, Locke’s pursuit of a Hispanic Museum is liable to carry considerable symbolic weight for Republican-inclined suburban voters, and not in a good way for Locke. (Murray estimates that heavily GOP Kingwood alone accounts for 5-6 percent of the electorate.) These are the voters who will probably be the deciding factor in an election in which the three top contenders (the monied candidates, that is) are all traditional promise-making labor-liberals, of a sort. We await reports of Locke trumpeting his Hispanic Museum down in Clear Lake and out in Memorial (maybe he has and we missed it).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

One Hundred Years of Sugar-tude (Or Maybe Half Of That)

"Ain’t no more cane on the Brazos,
They ground it all down into molasses."

-- Traditional song by anonymous, long-dead author

As you may not be aware--especially if you’re one of those high-hatted types who never ventures beyond the confines of Houston’s Inner Loop--this year is the 50th anniversary of the incorporation of the rapidly metastasizing suburban burg of Sugar Land, and to mark the occasion the city fathers have planned many special activities: In addition to the always-popular “Butt-Naked Women’s Gator 'Rassling” (ummm ...) tourney, residents can participate in a special “Sugarland Express” competition in which they will be allowed to track and capture specially outfitted “escapees” from the city jail (only inmates being held for the alleged commission of non-violent crimes will be “set free” for this family fun run).* The country-poppish duo Sugarland, which may or may not be named after the city (we dunno), may or may not be on hand (we dunno) at the “finish line” to play their shimmery-slick version of that hallowed local favorite--the one you and I learned at the knee of Johnny Rivers--Leadbelly’s Midnight Special.

But seriously: We occasionally find our self in and around Sugar Land (it took us many years of corrections by the copy desk before it dawned on us that the city’s name consists of two words), usually lost and searching for some elusive residential or commercial address and disoriented not just by the lack of identifiable natural or manmade landmarks aside from the Brazos (usually a “sign” we’ve “gone too far”) but also by the sheer overwhelming newness of the place (Houston being ancient Athens by comparison). Of course, the “new” has just been tamped down atop the “old”--we always get a chuckle out of those posted signs across from the shopping centers warning motorists not to pick up hitchhikers 'cause there are prison units in the vicinity. (It must be hell to be an actual non-escapee hitchhiker in Sugar Land--perhaps Sugarland, the musical combo, would like to record a song about such an ordeal, and it so happens that we’ve written one just now, although we’ve never been hitchhiking in Sugar Land and never intend to.)

Then there’s the ghastly, traffic-choked Town Center (Or is it Town Centre? No, it’s Center.), with it’s indistinguishable buildings--that big, fine, pillared City Hall looks to us like a slightly more substantial version of the la Madeleine across the street--and all of them brick and stone and bearing that same light dusty red color (is it ocher?), a likely result of the same mildly cypto-fascist impulse toward uniformity that led to all those little frame houses around the Inner Loopy Menil Collection being painted the same shade of grey. The last time we were out that way we came across some godforesaken newly built subdivision--they looked to be still bulldozing the nearby former cane fields into tract-home-ready flatness--entrance to which was framed by a looming faux-suspension bridge (or so it looked) with giant COLUMNS built over some piddly little fake manmade LAKE (“Awww, mama, can this really be the end?” is what we were thinking).

But lest you mistake us for some SWPL snoot who actually cares about old buildings and such shit--we’re not; well, not too much--we must acknowledge that Sugar Land is WHAT THE PEOPLES WANT. And not just the white and black middle classes, who began their migration Sugar-ward years ago, but also the many, many--beaucoups!--Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese and Vietnamese who seem to be skeedaddling away from Houston and into Sugar Land by the veritable busload. Sugar Land has become the default destination for southwest Houstonians, particularly newly or nearly affluent immigrants who first settled into the cheap housing of the Great Southwest and then saw the handwriting on the wall (it usually said “Southwest Cholos” or “Los Tercera Crips”) and headed further southwest for more residential square footage and better schools, mostly the latter.

We recently had several conversations about this New Face of Sugar Land with one of those new faces, a lad we’ll call Abdul (not his real name, but close enough). A Pakistani Muslim by birth, if not practice, Abdul has second-generation written all over him: He’s restless and bored (particularly by school); somewhat dismissive of his old-country parents, who, according to him, sell “fake” merchandise out of an “import” shop off Harwin; knows everything there is to possibly know about the NBA and bristles with a sort of mock rap-artist hostility--talking a lot with sharp jabs of his hands, the way rappers did 10-15 years ago, and employing ghetto-centric locutions such as “Where you stay at?” (Meaning “Where do you live?”, to which we answered “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” to which he replied “Oh.”) We had occasion to speak on the phone with Abdul’s sister, who teaches high school physics, and when we mentioned the conversation to Abdul the first thing he said was, “She sounds like she’s white, right?” In other words, Abdul’s assimilated, if maybe not to the things we used to think of as constituting “assimilation.” Anyhoo, Abdul, a recent graduate of a Fort Bend ISD high school, is highly conscious of racial, ethnic and class differences out in the New Territory subdivision, where his family moved to escape the Cholo-choked Alief school district. “Yeah, you know,” explained Abdul, emphasizing his rap with short chops and forward thrusts of his open hands, “it’s like, you know, the Indians live with the white people, y’know, or right next to ’em, and then us”--meaning the Pakistanis of New Territory--”all live together, with nobody else. So it’s the whites, the Indians, and then us, by our self.”

We’d rather not think too much about what this may bode for the future, although we do hope that Abdul takes up our suggestion that he embark on the study of sociology when he enters community college. In the meantime, and in honor of the 50th anniversary of the city of Sugar Land, we hope all residents, whatever their skin tone and no matter which deity they declare allegiance to, join hands and sing together that great ballad of yeaning and escape: “Let the Midnight Special/SHINE ITS EVER-LOVIN' LIGHT ON ME.”

Praise be to Allah and amen.

*Just joshin'.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Standing on the Verge of Getting It On: Peter Brown, the Friends ’n’ Family Candidate for Mayor, and the Clear-Cut Favorite of ... Peter Brown!

In observance of the biblical injunction (at least we think it is) that “by their contributions shall ye know them,” we present our second in what apparently will be a long-running examination of the July 15 finance disclosure reports of the major candidates in Houston’s November mayoral election. We hope to complete this venture sometime before the election. In this installment we administer a less-than-thorough going-over of the document submitted by Peter Brown--architect, urban planner, at-large city councilman, husband of Schlumberger heiress, annual summer vacationer in France, father of five and grandfather of 15, U.S. Army vet, a guy who if elected mayor would be older than Bob Lanier was when he took office (!) and, last but certainly not least, the only mayoral candidate bearing the coveted endorsement of Parliament/Funkadelic's George Clinton*. (“But what about Bootsy, baby?”, as some observer, perhaps us, was moved to remark after this news broke.)

We’d like to declare here at the outset that was do not consider Peter Brown to be solely a vanity candidate, even though more than 60 percent of the money he amassed in the first six months of this year came from his own apparently deep pocket, in the form of loans totaling $765,000 (for which he’s charging himself zero percent interest--there’s nothing subprime about Peter Brown!). And we were slightly off-base recently when we airly dismissed Brown as the candidate of
Stuff-White-People-Like white people, because there are obviously many SWPL white people who dig Annise Parker (like the massage therapist her campaign listed as having made a $10 contribution), and some--well, maybe a couple--who have given money to Gene Locke. Moreover, we were mildly surprised that people other Peter Brown were willing to hand over almost $500,000 to the Peter Brown campaign from January through June, despite general widespread skepticism about his chances of winning (here’s an astute but gentle analysis of Brown’s prospects, by somebody who knows what he’s talking about). It’s clear that Brown has built up quite a bit of good will in certain sectors of the community, particularly among Inner Loop development-property management-realtor types, who share his penchant for planning and mass transit and orderly growth and whatnot, and in Houston’s interlocking circles of Old Money wealth (and by this we mean people who wouldn’t be caught dead in a Shelby Hodge column, at least on the scale and frequency of, say, Rebecca Cason Whazhername). The occupation of a noticeable number of sizable-dollar donors to Brown was listed as “self-employed investor.”

The bearers of venerable Houston names who’ve opened their wallets, and possibly their hearts, to Brown include Cullen Foundation president Roy H. Cullen, down for a grand; Corbin Robertson of Quintana Minerals, also good for $1K; Joan Blaffer Johnson, Jane Blaffer Owen and Marjorie Jester Milby ($1K each), and sundry others whose venerable names we’re too lazy to type. Somewhat more generous, at least for this go-round (but from each according to his abilities, as some joker once said), were Henry Holmes Cullen of Quintana Petroleum and Louisa Stude Sarofim, chair of the Menil Collection, who donated the maximum $5,000 apiece. Also on the Brown ledger were scions of some of the city’s long-past-their-heyday Jewish Merchant families, including Robert Sakowitz, down for $500, and Marilyn Oshman, who chipped in $2,500. Then there’s Sakowitz’s sis, socialite
Lynn Wyatt, wife of former jailbird Oscar, who contributed $2.5K.

But Brown’s most generous supporter appears to be an exemplar of the city’s New Money, Frank Liu of Lovett Homes. Light-rail booster Liu himself kicked-in $5K, while Cindy Liu, whom we presume is the Missus Liu, added her very own $5K to the PeterPot (we think it’s sweet how spouses pool resources, especially went trying to get around vexatious campaign finance rules). But the Liu-related generosity didn’t end there: Brown’s report also listed $5,000 contributions from a Frank Liu of the 77007 zip code and a Kirby Liu of Hanover, N.H. (we been there and ain’t ever, never goin’ back). Both of these latter Lius were reported to be STUDENTS for occupational identification. It’s reassuring to know that even in these times of rising tuition, some students are willing to set aside the money they’ve earned washing dishes or whatever to make their voices heard in the political process (we sniff a future piece in this from the Chronicle’s Teen Columnist).

Also maxing-out for PB in the last reporting period were Michael Garver of BRH Garver Construction, who appears to have also anted up for Brown opponent Parker; Richard Bost of Environmental Resource Management; Glen Seureau, listed as president of Seureau Investments; Janet Pignataro Hansen of the Jamail & Kolius law firm; Edward Allen of Eagle Global investment advisors and wife Chinui; James Dunlap of the El Paso Corp.; Andrew Segal of Boxer Property; self-employed Meg Goodman, and James Flores of Plans Exploration. The Wu clan was especially good to Brown: Henry, president of American First National Bank gave $5,000, as did Janae Wu and Chyong Jae Jenny Wu (say that real fast--it’s fun!). (Developer Ed Wulfe--who would be a Wu if he lost the “-lfe”--gave $2.5K in the last period.) And then there were the Browns, proving again that blood is thicker than mud, in the person of Hoyt Brown Sr. of El Paso Energy, accountant Martin A. Brown of KPMG, and Catherine Brown, STUDENT, of the 77019 area code, each good for 5 grand. (We notice Brown listed no PAC donations--perhaps he swore off of them and we missed it, or perhaps he couldn't get any--but he does list, possibly erroneously, what appear to be two direct $5,000 donations from corporate interests, which we believe is not kosher, unless they changed election law while we were dozing for the past 20 years.)<>plans and proposals, a few of which might actually be politically viable). While we personally would not be willing to wager any of the fortune we’ve amassed as a self-employed investor on a Brown victory, the man obviously has potential to wreak some mischief, especially if he can lend himself another $765,000 and paper the airwaves with clever, wall-to-wall commercials, maybe using whoever it was who made Bill White’s ads (although he should have gotten started on it back in the spring). And of course there probably are several thousand Wus and Lius out there who haven’t maxed out, if not on this continent then some other.

*Brown told our old pal Bernstein, late of the Chronicle, that his favorite Funkadelic number is "Under a Groove," meaning One Nation Under Groove, although we would have guessed that he’s partial to Sexy Ways or perhaps Jimmy’s Got a Little Bit of Bitch in Him.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Reports Confirm the Obvious: Locke Is the Undisputed Insider-Establishment Candidate for Mayor (Not That There's Anything Wrong with That, Per Se)

We held off on mowing the grass last weekend--it's still too hot for a delicate flower such as our self to venture out in the fearsome daylight--and instead killed some precious time skimming the July 15 campaign finance reports of the major candidates to replace the apparently indispensable, irreplaceable and downright saintly Bill White as mayor. (We know this is "olds," not "news," but, as we've often noted, we're not on the White Man's Clock here at Slampo's Place.) We'd digested the earlier media reports on the disclosures, but scanning the reports our own bad self left us with a greater appreciation of Gene Locke's role as the chosen candidate of Houston's loose-knit establishment (as much as anything is really "established" in Houston) of insider lawyers, civil engineers, old-school developers and contractors, port interests and so forth. It's quite a distinct branding for a black guy from East Texas who initially came to public attention (sort of) when as a student activist at the University of Houston he was tried and acquitted on a hoked-up charge of inciting to riot. (What this all says about Our Town or Our Post-Racial Future or life in general we'll leave to journalists who get paid for that sort of nut-scratching; we're working strictly on a volunteer charity basis here, and while we're at it we might as well note that we have no horse in the race as of yet--we're in the undecided column between Locke and Annise Parker but listing slightly toward the controller, although if, say, Anne Clutterbuck were to temporarily abandon reason and declare for mayor we'd have to reconsider all options. )

The individual players who as of mid-July had forked over the maximum $5,000 to Locke run right along the Bob Lanier-Ned Holmes money-raising axis: the former Mayor Bob himself and his loverly Missus, the port commissioner (that is, $5k each); longtime port and hospital power/developer/banker/erstwhile potential mayoral candidate Holmes and his Missus; Meredith Long, whom we believe is traditionally identified as a "gallery owner," so we'll go with that; former Houston city attorney, Metro attorney and and Andrews Kurth big hat Jonathan Day and the Missus Day; investor Fayez Sarofim, father-in-law of the Lanier stepdaughter; Herbert Stewart of Camden Property Trust; lawyer Dan Arnold, formerly of the Metro and hospital district boards; John Nau of Silver Eagle Distributors, Kase Lawal, chairman and CEO of CAMAC* (also a port commissioner, as well as a board member of the Houston Airport System Development Corp., at least as of 2007, according to Houston's new leading information source, Texas Watchdog), and Kamaru Lawal, CFO of CAMAC (no relation, of course); engineer James Dannenbaum and his wife; ubiquitous GOP moneybags and homebuilder Bob Perry and wife; JSG chairman James Simmons and his Missus; Rockets owner Les Alexander; Astros owner Drayton McLane; celebrity lawyer (that is, lawyer-of-choice for local celebrities) Rusty Hardin, etc. and so on. (We noticed that Helen Chang, head of Mayor White's Office of International Affairs and Development, also anted up $5,000--of this we know not what to make. And, in what we can only interpret as a gesture of daughterly love, newly acclaimed mystery author Attica Locke made two donations to her dad totaling $700--ain't that sweet? )

Among the large institutional investors in the Locke campaign were the political arm of Landry's, purveyor of indigestible seafood and downtown Ferris Wheel rides ($3100); the PACs of the Andrews Kurth law firm, where Locke is a partner, and the Lockwood, Andrews, Newnam engineering firm, which both gave the maximum $10,000; substantial contributions from the PACs of the Teamsters and Longshoreman's locals; $5,000 from the PAC of Charles Hurwitz's MAXXAM; $5,000 each from the Fund for the Future and the Centerpoint Energy PAC, and $6,500 from the PAC of the Vinson & Elkins law firm, one of whose partners represents that Houston Airport System Development Corp. in its legal quest to remain unaccountable to the public (as detailed by Texas Watchdog).

Notable but somewhat less generous contributors were Oliver Luck, president of the panhandling Houston Dynamo (formerly the 1836---we think it's a soccer team, or maybe a lacrosse outfit), who could spare but a mere $1K; Jason Yoo, the Korean-American beneficiary of affirmative action whose JDDA Concession Management received that no-bid extension of its lucrative food-concession contract at Bush Intercontinental two years ago ( also good for a single grand); and a $2,500 chip from the campaign fund of Beverley Woolley, the westside GOP state rep.

Despite the big-money bent of the Locke effort, there were two humble $100 contributions that caught our eye, one from a Jim Westmoreland. Could this be the former councilman of the same name who lost his seat after it was revealed that he allegedly had privately joked that Intercontinental Airport should be named "Nigger International" when the city was considering naming the facility after Locke's old friend, the late Mickey Leland? The other was from Taylor Branch of Baltimore, Md., the former Texas Monthly writer who won a Pulitzer Prize for one of his three-book series on Martin Luther King and who must have known or interviewed Locke during his agitatin' days (days, we needn't add, that appear to be long past ... ). Perhaps there's a slogan in this: "Gene Locke, Bringing Together White Folks of Diverse Backgrounds and Interests." Or something.

UPCOMING: MORE OF THE SAME, Plus CORRECTIONS, UPDATES, ADDENDA, ASIDES And TENUOUSLY RELEVANT DIGRESSIONS (that is, if we can ever finish perusing Parker's July 15 report, which is almost as long as Thomas Pynchon's last novel).

*Claimed to be "the largest black-owned business in the world" in this 2006 Ebony profile.