The Insider

To Run or Not to Run
Mayor Bob Lanier would like to cruise through his third and final mayoral election with no serious opponent, and save his campaign dollars to battle the anti-affirmative action ordinance that businessman David Wilson is petitioning to get on the ballot for a January referendum. But Controller George Greanias could cause an abrupt revision of that scenario if he carries through with his current stated inclination to The Insider to mount a challenge to Lanier this fall. With time running short, Greanias is mulling whether to launch an issue-based, volunteer-driven campaign that would focus on mismanagement at City Hall and the mayor's reliance on debt funding. Since he couldn't expect sizable campaign contributions, the controller would have to depend on plenty of free media to counter Lanier's ability to flood the city with paid advertising.

Nobody expects Greanias to win such a contest, but if he could take 35 percent or better against Lanier he would end a 16-year tenure in municipal office with a moral victory and a possible setup for another mayoral run in two years. Lanier, of course, won his last race in 1993 with more than 90 percent of the vote against less-than-token opposition. For Greanias watchers, the big question is whether he can overcome the well-documented Hamlet complex that's made him long on agonizing about his political existence but woefully short when it comes to taking risks.

Sidewalks Paved with Gold
Speaking of affirmative action, it's interesting to note that County Commissioner El Franco Lee's engineering and construction management firm, Espa Corp., hasn't done badly at all under the mayor's much-vaunted sidewalks construction program. Espa pulled in contractual assignments worth $302,000 for the city's fiscal year 1995. Much of its work involved sidewalk overlay supervision for Lichliter Jameson and Associates, according to time sheets signed by Espa engineer Thaddeus Lott Jr., son of the well-known HISD principal. Lee, whose firm is certified as a minority business enterprise by the city, makes $89,772 as a county commissioner. Minority contractors who haven't landed such large contracts complain that when it comes to benefits from the city's affirmative action program, political connections count as much as minority status and qualifications. "We pride ourselves on doing good work," replies Lee, "not on having political heft."

Brown's Reentry Point
Political astronomers searching the Houston skies for federal drug czar and former HPD chief Lee P. Brown's anticipated re-entry on the local scene should check the astral coordinates for Rice's James Baker Institute for Public Policy. Both institute officials and Brown representatives have expressed interest in his returning to Houston this spring as a teaching faculty member (one source says the paperwork is in the pipeline), though federal restrictions prevent Brown from openly negotiating a position as long as he remains in the Clinton administration.

Brown previously visited Houston to chat with advisers, including El Franco Lee, about a possible run for mayor in 1997. The brain trust advised him to nail down a prestigious academic post from which to rebuild a public presence here at least a year in advance of a mayoral bid. If the deal with Rice works out, he would become the only African-American with a Ph.D. in the division that includes the university's political science department. Only one catch: Harvard's Kennedy School is trying to lure Brown as a fellow, offering the less-than-tantalizing prospect of Brown's rejoining a team that includes his former boss, ex-mayor Kathy Whitmire. With an incentive like that, Rice would seem to be the logical choice.

Tim Fleck returned from vacation to compile this column. Buzz him at 624-1483 (voice) or 624-1496 (fax).

 
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