Saturday, October 24, 2009

Final Wheeze-Off: The Tie Goes to ... Roy Morales!

Our lightly edited card from the grand finale of mayoral debates, broadcast on Channel 11 Saturday night: We scored it a four-way tie, six-way if you count the two potted plants strategically positioned on-stage, nobody much gained or lost at all (at all), which means the big winner was Roy Morales, the least polished public presence and most un-mayoral looking and sounding of the quartet. But, if anyone was watching (and they probably weren’t), Morales did manage to cleanly and clearly cement his position as the distinct “none of the above” alternative to the other three. And he got on TV! Again! The question for Morales is not of course whether he can miraculously slide into a runoff but how high into the double digits he’ll place (there won’t be a kingmaker role in his future, though, because a sizable percentage of his voters won’t bother to return for an all-liberal Democrat runoff). So let’s see how it went down, by candidate:

Morales: Revealed that as a youngster he had been “beaten up” because, as he put it, “of the color of my skin.” Hmmm. Morales looked to be the second-lightest-complected candidate on the platform, after the overly made-up Annise Parker, so we’re wondering whether he meant other Mexicans were pummeling him because he looked too white, or what. Anyway, Morales obviously has sharpened his elbows since, as evidenced by the clean and relatively cogent poke he threw at Peter Brown over his council vote to assist a development in which his wife is an investor and the digs he took at Gene Locke over his Metro connections and (for instance) his pledge to create a new “flood plain manager” position for the city. Morales was the only one to clearly pledge to oppose extension of benefits to the same-sex partners of city workers (although Brown didn’t seem too enthusiastic over another voter referendum on the matter), a position not to be underestimated as a vote-getter in some limited quarters, and was most forthright in support of the city’s participation in the feds‘ 287(g) (although Parker crisply reiterated her standard no-BS position, the correct position as far as we’re concerned). He also got in a sweet and true plug for making English the dominant language in public schools (which it ain’t, at far too many). Morales’ big problem, aside from the fact that nobody’s given him any money to go on TV, is that he just doesn’t project in person. He did, however, manage to not look like a cute lil’ chipmunk with nut-stuffed cheeks––maybe it was the lighting.

Locke: No longer wants to “dehonkify” the University of Houston, or any other locale, for that matter. “In fact I love honkies ... I love all people, let me make that clear, but especially honkies,” Locke intoned. “Especially honkies who live in Kingwood, Clear Lake, River Oaks, Memorial, and west Houston and have a history of voting Republican. Sometimes I feel like a real crack-corn honky myself, like when I look at all the powerful, influential honkies who have given me money for this campaign, or when I’m up here with these other fine honkies––that includes you, too, Roy, mah honky.” Nah, he didn’t say that, not at all. We actually forgot most of what he said in a response to a panelist’s question about his call to “dehonkify” UH back in his long-past student firebrand days and whether a white candidate, having made a similar past comment about blacks in 1969, would have gotten off as easily as Locke appears to. But Locke basically shrugged it off, good naturedly, and acknowledged that at age 62 he’d learned to “measure my words.” (We know the dehonkifcation thing, if it ever got traction, would hurt Locke out in Kingwood and Clear Lake and so forth, although we personally hold to the LBJ dictum on such matters, pronounced by Johnson when [after being informed that someone or other, possibly a prospective appointee, had a wayward lefty past] he declared that anybody who wasn’t a commie or a fellow traveler back in the 1930s probably wasn’t worth a poo.) Locke’s deft swatting away of the pesky question underscored his real strength as a candidate: He looks and sounds more like a mayor than his opponents. (Yes, yes, this is a whatchamacallit, a phallocentric view, so discount it if you’d so prefer.) He gives off a little of the slick country lawyer––just enough, not too much––and Houstonians of all races and nationalities generally dig that schizz, in small doses. Scored solidly in the debate when he was closest on recalling the city’s current property-tax rate of .63875 and relating that his own tax bill was a “monster” and “in excess of $5000.” Big problem for Locke (aside from the really big one, that being that Anglo Dems who ordinarily could be counted on to back a black candidate are mostly with his two honky opponents) is that he has the least to say of all four––there’s “opportunity” and “diversity” surrounded by little puffs of vague rhetorical smoke––and his campaign seems to consist of retailing promises––or commitments, as he calls them––to all the various outfits that have endorsed him. Just today we read in the Pakistan Chronicle, our sixth- or seventh-favorite southwest Houston weekly publication, of Locke’s endorsement from the 80-20 PAC (Asian-American types) and his pledge to them: “This endorsement is like a contract with you all, to serve your needs and resolve your issues.” Jesus, he’s contracted. That one we didn't make up. (By the way, you know there’s one mighty nuke of a commercial waiting to drop on Locke if he makes it into a runoff––the one about his $640-an-hour fee charged to the Houston-Harris County Sports Authority.)

Peter Brown: He likes to speak Spanish. He’s passionate about recycling (said so twice, so maybe he’s super-passionate.) Didn’t sound as wheezy and raspy as he does around the council table or has at previous encounters. A nice tan. Looked hale and vigorous, as if he could pass for 65. Status as newly acclaimed poll front-runner certified by panelist's query about whether he’s “buying” support in the black community, theme of a recent Lockean radio ad tailored to African Americans. (Brown avoided answering the question but in the wrong way––he called attention to himself avoiding the question, so we had to strike him down 3-4 points). If he said the noisome word “blueprint” even once, we missed it, so we’re giving back the 3-4 deducted points. Hit back rather forcefully at Locke’s role as “dealmaler” and lawyer to the Sports Authority in structuring the now-stressed debt for our nice sorta-new stadiums. “I was a bad bond deal,” said PB. “When I’m mayor we’re not gonna have any of these, quote, ‘deals.' " (So we guess if Brown had been mayor back in ’97 or ’98 he would have employed his amazing powers of prognostication to foresee the subprime debacle and stand athwart these dealings, which means he’s way overqualified to be a mere big-city mayor.) Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job in masternig the art of being a veritable political Rorschach. Right where you need to be.

Parker: Likes to speak Spanish, too, but can’t reel it semi-trippingly off the tongue like PB (and shouldn’t try). Was way too smiley and squinty and sort of faded into the woodwork for the first half of the encounter. Relegated to a sidebar “response” in the Locke-Brown exchange over PB’s alleged purchase of black support, thus appearing to be reduced to a Morales-like irrelevancy. Rallied in the second half, though, with succinct and substantive (or appearing to be substantive––same thing) spiels on 287(g), air quality, flood control, the city’s use of borrowed money to satisfy pension obligations, etc. Parker’s a pro and managed to get off decent-sounding and thoughtful answers during the limited time allowed––not easy to do, as Morales and Brown proved. However, her "sincere," speaking-from-the-heart closing, recalling the old hard-workin' days in Spring Branch, etc., didn't work for us––sounded forced and tinny and definitely was not a deal-closer. Also lost points when she couldn’t recall how much she’d paid in city property taxes––come on, make a ballpark stab––and probably turned off considerable numbers of conservative voters, if there actually were any watching, with her generally favorable but still-cautious embrace of same-sex-partner benefits (although she has “no current plans” to seek a referendum on the question). We respect this as a heartfelt and honest position, probably honoring a commitment to core supporters and dancing with those that brung ya, touching close to home, etc., but there's something to be said for nuance.

So: We still think it’ll be Locke and Parker in a runoff, with the black vote (and what else?) breaking monolithically for Locke and Parker beating the bushes to get her diehards to the polls, but either of those two and Brown wouldn’t surprise, and in any case it’ll be close, 3-5 points separating the three but Morales doing better than expected (just think if he had the money and polish and telegenic good looks of a Rob Mosbacher––he’d be a cinch for a runoff he’d lose).


Anonymous said...

I usually like your stuff. This, though, reads like it was written for the Houston Press. It's not up to your usual standards; it's just snarky.


I liked it fine.