The Insider

It's the Private Schools, Mayor
We normally don't critique what appears on the Chronicle's op-ed page, but several readers directed our attention to last week's Sounding Board column by editorial board member David Langworthy (headlined "Life in White-bread land is not so bad"), in which Langworthy offered a woeful personal account of how the sorry state of HISD middle schools led his family to relocate to The Woodlands so his stepdaughter could get a decent education. "It's the schools, mayor," wrote Langworthy, who claimed the last straw was an advisory his family received from Lanier Middle School offering clothing tips to prevent incoming students from being targeted by gangs.

Inner-city booster Bob Lanier was so steamed by the column that he devoted a portion of his next day's "state of the city" address to a reply, and later chatted up Langworthy by phone. What really steamed our correspondents, however, was their inside knowledge that once Langworthy moved to The Woodlands, he and his wife didn't put his stepdaughter in the Conroe ISD, as his column would seem to imply, but instead enrolled her in the exclusive John Cooper private school. And Langworthy's two sons by a previous marriage also didn't attend HISD, but rather the even more exclusive St. John's School on the edge of River Oaks. In fact, the stepdaughter had been turned down by St. John's before Langworthy headed north. As one critic sarcastically put it, "Ask him the real reason he decided to get out of Dodge."

So we did. Langworthy insists he moved to The Woodlands with the intention of putting his stepdaughter in the public school system, but "it turned out that her natural father had a friend who was on the board of the Cooper School, and there was an opening." That institution, naturally, was preferable to even the HISD-superior Conroe schools. As for his sons, Langworthy recounts how he tried to enroll one of them at River Oaks Elementary, an HISD Vanguard school. The boy qualified, but Langworthy says the school informed him that "since he was white and male he went to the bottom of the list, and if he went to a Vanguard school he'd have to go out to southeast Houston somewhere." Maybe Langworthy will get around to explaining all this in his next Sounding Board offering.

The Two-fer Coupon Is No Good Here?
This town's not big enough for two Anthonys. That, at least, seems to be the contention of Tony Vallone, who is suing fellow restaurateur Anthony Russo over Russo's use of his own first name. Vallone claims that Russo, by operating his bistro-style Cafe Anthony on Montrose and his Anthony's Pizzeria in Clear Lake, is infringing on the Vallone-registered trademark of Anthony's, Vallone's tony restaurant in Highland Village. According to Vallone's suit, Anthony's has suffered "irreparable harm and damage" due to Russo's "fraudulent and deceptive use of Anthony's trademark." Anthony's, Vallone claims, "receives numerous requests for lunch and dinner reservations in response to Cafe Anthony's advertisements" (which appear in the Press, among other publications). And some customers even try to redeem Cafe Anthony coupons at Anthony's, Vallone lawyer Lee P. Wood told Russo in a pre-lawsuit letter.

Vallone did not respond to a request for comment, but Russo, who's operated his Montrose cafe for two years and has had his Clear Lake location for five, is perplexed. "I don't know why he's picking on a little guy like me," says Russo. "That's my name, and I have a right to use my name." Russo says he doubts many people confuse his eateries with Vallone's, and what confusion there is cuts both ways: "I have people call me sometimes and ask, 'Is this part of the Vallone family?' And I say, no, it's the Russo family." A hearing on a temporary restraining order requested by Vallone was scheduled for this week.

Caution: Hatchet Men Back at Work
The ranks of Bob Lanier's enforcers were reinforced recently with the return of one old henchman and the hiring of a new one. Dave Walden came trekking back to City Hall from an abortive sojourn as Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison's state office director, having found that Kay prefers to do her own needlework. Walden will likely return to his old role of tying political loose ends on the mayor's big picture projects, like negotiations for new sports stadia and the inner-circle fight for the downtown hotel. Joining him in the Lanier scrum is former city councilman Al Calloway, who used to reside in County Commissioner El Franco Lee's backroom before entering elective politics. Mayoral spokeswoman Sarah Turner says Calloway will also have weighty assignments, such as being the liaison to Houston Crackdown, an anti-drug program created during the Kathy Whitmire era that's apparently still around. For the life of her, Turner couldn't recall what either Walden or Calloway will be making. City personnel director Lonnie Vara later revealed Al's salary to be more than $69,000 annually, not quite twice what he took home as a councilman. Vara said the paperwork on Walden hadn't arrived from the mayor's office. But we figure Dave will somehow get his.

Just Trying to Help
Those funny guys over at the Jerry Dumas campaign for state Senate continue to amaze and amuse with their broadsides at opponent Jon Lindsay in the 7th District GOP primary. Most recently, Dumas has offered "to help Lindsay clear his name" by providing him a free polygraph to test the truthfulness of accusations that he had accepted bribes from a contractor pal while he was county judge. Dumas also helpfully volunteers to provide and pay for a handwriting expert to peruse a contract purporting to show Lindsay accepted $5,520 from the sale of a piece of land by the same contractor. Lindsay has admitted signing the contract but says a second signature indicating he accepted the money is a forgery. And if those gifts go unclaimed, next week Dumas is expected to offer Lindsay a free injection of sodium pentothal. What a guy!

Party of the People
Under chairman David Mincberg, the Harris County Democratic Party has a track record for putting more slugs in its own feet than in Republicans. The latest casualty is Michael Moon, a Dallas operative brought in by Mincberg at $2,500 a month to run this spring's party primary. Moon didn't last long -- he was forced to resign after just three months on the job. The precipitating incident was a squabble with Mincberg over a returned filing-fee check from Alvin Roy, a last-minute challenger to incumbent Garnet Coleman in state House District 147.

While a bounced check is a justification for disqualifying a candidate, Roy claimed that his bank had made an error and he had the funds to cover the draft. Moon says after checking with the bank, which confirmed Roy's story, he redeposited the check rather than remove Roy from the ballot. That angered Mincberg, who called Moon in the following week, demanded his resignation and then bounced Roy off the ballot. Other sources say Coleman was also angry at Moon, since having an opponent would put the brakes on his plans to devote the next few months to serving on the transition team for incoming state Democratic chairman Bill White. Coleman denies having anything to do with Moon's ouster and says he even offered to help him find another job. Roy, who had filed suit over his removal from the ballot, has now been reinstated by the party. Moon should be so lucky.

Drop a dime on the hypocrites, malefactors and other disturbers of the commonweal by dialing 624-483 or 624-1496 (fax).

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