The Insider

Dave's Stocking Stuffer
To paraphrase another Bob (Dylan, that is), Bob Lanier can't help it if he's lucky. It now appears there's a good chance that businessman David B. Wilson may be leaving a giant gift for Lanier under the towering Christmas tree that the mayor and his missus lit up last weekend outside of City Hall. Wilson, who's been spearheading the petition drive to force a referendum to repeal the city's affirmative action programs, told the Insider last week that he's seriously considering folding the effort -- even though he thinks he may have secured the needed 20,000 voter signatures to call an election. (Wilson says his volunteer effort has thus netted more than 22,000 signatures, of which about 12,000 have been verified as belonging to registered voters). If Wilson does throw in the towel, he'll be sparing Lanier from expending any of his political capital in defending a program that's generated its share of controversy.

So what's the deal, Dave? Wilson says he's dead-set on running for mayor again two years hence (he got 9 percent of the vote against Lanier last month), and thinks a divisive election on affirmative action "will kill me in '97." He's also less than sanguine about the chances of his Houston Civil Rights Initiative's winning voter approval. "It appears this won't pass in the city of Houston without some serious money behind it," concedes Wilson, who professes to have already dropped about $20,000 of his own money on the petition drive and his last mayoral campaign. But Wilson hasn't been totally overcome by the spirit of giving: he says he's going to file a complaint against Lanier with the city's Public Integrity Review Group over the Municipal Collections Inc. collections contract. The odds of the PIRG's actually acting on it, of course, are about as long as Wilson's shot in the last election.

SOP for PIRG Is SOS
Speaking of the PIRG, it seems that toothless oversight group is a bit shy about explaining how it does its gum-beating job. Last January, the Press filed an Open Records request with the city's legal department as part of an attempt to determine exactly how the PIRG investigates allegations of wrongdoing by city employees. But somewhere along the line, the Houston Police Department, which operates PIRG, decided that was none of the public's business and appealed the request to the state attorney general. Moving at its usual glacial pace, the AG's office finally got around to ruling on the appeal last month, directing the city to hand over the requested information.

It is our duty to report that among the previously top-secret tidbits we gleaned from the PIRG's two-page Standard Operating Procedures document are such sensitive investigative techniques as "establish whether crime/event occurred," "examine crime scene and recover pertinent physical evidence," "secure and analyze pertinent support documents" and "locate and interview complainant(s) and/or witness(es) and interrogate possible perpetrator(s)." Who says HPD isn't on the cutting edge of crime fighting?

Bitter End
The mud wrestling for the at-large Position 3 seat on City Council was reaching epic proportions prior to this Saturday's runoff between David Ballard and Orlando Sanchez. First came the anonymous flier faxed around town late last week, which at a quick glance appeared to be an announcement from the Ballard camp of the candidate's impending endorsement by one of the first-round losers, lawyer Chris Bell. That is, until you read the text, which declared that "after several weeks of negotiation, the Ballard campaign agreed to pay off Chris Bell's approximate $13,000 campaign debt" and concluded, "The Ballard campaign is proud to have acquired the Chris Bell endorsement."

Sanchez claims he knows nothing about the fax, but we got ours from a Sanchez campaign worker with a track record for issuing press releases attributed to the other side. While Bell says he's talked to Ballard's fundraisers about his political future, he's adamant that he's received no money or a commitment to pay off his debt. His endorsement, he says, was made for ideological, rather than financial, reasons. "What's really funny about this is that if they think I'm so shallow that [money] was going to control my endorsement, why was Orlando trying so desperately to get it?" In fact, Bell says, Sanchez even went so far as to ring up his wife's employer, Republican Rob Mosbacher, to ask him to call Alison Bell in an effort to head off his endorsement of Ballard. Sanchez admits contacting both Mosbacher and Alison Bell in hopes of snaring Bell's endorsement, but he denies Bell's allegation that he asked Mosbacher to call Bell's wife. "I make my own phone calls," sniffs Sanchez.

This week Ballard showed up on a feeder of the Katy Freeway, where he conducted a news conference in the shade of one of Sanchez's "five o'clock shadow" billboards to air charges that his opponent had failed to follow campaign finance law by disclosing the sources of payment for his high-profile freeway signage. Asked why he waited until five days before the vote to go public, Ballard delivered this transparent line with wide-eyed innocence: "Frankly, we were hoping he would step forward to do the right thing."

Sanchez said he hadn't been billed yet for the billboards, so he wasn't obligated to list their cost as an expense on his campaign reports. State law appears to support his contention.

The Insider stands ready to receive your calls at 624-1483 or 624-1496 (fax), or just yell real loud if you're driving past on the West Loop.

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