Springtime for Bob

Lanier worship reaches an apogee at the mayor's million-dollar bash

During the discussion, one reporter slipped off into the crowd and found room at the inn, not to mention a perfectly cooked filet and an abundance of fine wine, with some rather bemused architects and engineers. The other, still toe-to-toe with Walden, threatened to play Gandhi and go limp rather than voluntarily leave, raising the rather humorous prospect of a reporter being dragged like a sack of flour out of the Galleria.

Apparently Walden had a similar thought. "I am not so stupid as to throw you out and cause a scene," he conceded, before barking at his subordinates, "Let him stay, but don't stand there talking to him." For the rest of the night, while his fellow scribe made merry with Lanier cronies, the lonesome journalist played dunce in a corner with the hardworking waitstaff.

The reason for the media's banning became apparent after dinner, when Long introduced "Encore Mayor Bob Encore," (sic) the latest production from onetime That Was the Week That Was girl Nancy Ames and husband Danny Ward, who had fused their creative talents with those of Foley's vice president Linda Knight, a charter member of Elyse Lanier's Ladies Who Lunch Bunch.

Culled from a list of "hallmarks of the Lanier administration," according to Ames, the series of vignettes starred a fake TV reporter, introduced as "Michelle Smith," who was "live from the streets of Houston." Smith rushed around the stage urgently "interviewing" citizens who, overcome by the healing powers of Bob, couldn't help but burst into paeans to the First Couple, scored to a variety of pop standards.

"No other mayor could ever take me away from our guy," crooned the self-dubbed Bob Lanier Fan Club, consisting of Nellie Connally, the widow of Governor John and a neighbor of the Laniers at the Huntingdon; Rima Corral, the wife of Fire Chief Eddie Corral, whom Lanier stood staunchly behind during his Ethics Committee grilling last year; Lanier staffer Helen Chang and Warner Cable flack Pam Thorne, whose company was awarded a sweet, long-term franchise from the city under Lanier.

All multiculturally neat and tidy, the quartet shimmied and threw kisses to the audience. "Well, it's pretty clear that Mayor Bob has the women's vote," a breathless Smith reported.

A plump man, lyric sheet in hand, then moaned on for a while about "Everything's like a dream in Houston, Texas, with Mayor Bob in charge of City Hall," which prompted ersatz corespondent Smith to bleat, "Thank you very much. That's the kind of information we're looking for."

That was followed by a rainbow gaggle from the Houston Children's Chorus depicting kids who, under the twinkling eye of Mayor Bob, have eschewed a life of crime to eat all their vegetables and get plenty of sunshine and fresh air.

Too young to have absorbed the hard facts of civic life, the freshly scrubbed cherubs, in their reworking of the chestnut "Side by Side," nevertheless were able to encapsulate the business-political alliance that makes such evenings necessary: "We're happy today/ 'cause we can play/ by Bob's side," they sang.

"Well, it looks like term limits are the only limits for Mayor Bob," was reporter Smith's astute analysis. "He's got a whole new constituency growing up in Houston."

But the showstopper was the tribute to Houston's finest, who in the real world earlier in the day had dispatched a couple of overworked officers to grouse to City Council once again over the administration's failure to grant them a pay raise. But at BobFest, there would be no petulant police. Lanier -- who left the Council meeting early to doll up for his fete -- was treated to the nearly criminal perkiness of two actors dressed as cops crooning, "Happy days are here again / the cops are on the streets again / you can see us on the beat again / happy days are here again."

Thankfully, Elyse appeared to hose things down before someone got hurt and to introduce the man who by then, of course, needed no introduction.

"Me sing?" she stammered upon hitting the stage. "I just learned how to speak."

Her husband's pending speech was to be the predictable self-congratulatory celebration of (supposed) safe streets, revitalized inner city neighborhoods and diversity, so it was left to Elyse to provide the only genuinely charming moment of the evening -- and perhaps the only sincere one.

"Thank you for supporting us as a couple," gushed the newly coifed first lady. "We couldn't have done it without your time, your energy -- all your money! -- and your emotional support."

Elyse also demonstrated that she can appreciate the realities of power. She described the mayor's job as one of the best elected positions in America -- especially with Houston's strong mayor form of government.

"If you like the mayor it's great," she observed. "If you're not crazy about him, it's not so wonderful."

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