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).

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