The Insider

A source in the Saenz camp says the councilwoman believes she can angle her way into a runoff contest with Mosbacher, based on her probable standing as the only major Hispanic contender. In that Saenz scenario, Mosbacher would vacuum up the votes of west-side Republicans while the black vote would be splintered between Brown and possibly Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee or state Representative Sylvester Turner.

Campaign Strategies's Robert Jara discussed a possible bid for Commissioners Court with Saenz a year ago and gives her good odds to make a mayoral runoff. For starters, Saenz would likely corral most of the Hispanic vote, which Jara estimates at roughly 12 percent of the city electorate. Saenz would then need to add some other elements to that base.

"She's held citywide office, which hardly anybody else who is running, with the exception of Joe Roach, has done," says Jara. "And she's a woman. So when you get all those factors in, she could be a viable candidate."

At least one ostensible Saenz ally, however, is not encouraging her ambitions. Saenz went to the mat in the messy fight to get attorney Vidal Martinez appointed to fill Betti Maldonado's pumps on the Port Commission, but Martinez believes the councilwoman is headed for an unpleasant wake-up call.

"I think it's a suicide run," he says. "I've told her that directly, and so have a lot of us."

Saenz overestimates her name identification among voters, Martinez opines, and is banking on a Hispanic vote that hasn't been a meaningful bloc in any previous mayoral contest.

Martinez figures money also poses a serious obstacle for Saenz. He estimates $600,000 is the minimum a candidate would need to secure "a place at the table," with $1.5 million required to win a runoff. But Saenz, he notes, "hasn't ever raised more than $90,000 or so, and that was in her third try when she was an at-large incumbent."

Martinez adds that if Saenz does wade into the contest, he and other Hispanics will have to give her some money "to keep her from embarrassing herself."

Meanwhile, Martinez singles out state Senator John Whitmire as a potential mayoral wild card, noting that Whitmire could count on the support of fellow Democrats and law enforcement types, as well as close pals state Senator Mario Gallegos and Congressman Gene Green.

"There are a lot of people in this town who owe things to John Whitmire," reasons Martinez. "I wouldn't dismiss the likelihood of someone like him sailing in from the darkness into this race."

Rush to Charter, Part II
As it turns out, last week's item in this space revealing the intra-campus bickering over the University of Houston's new charter school barely scratched the surface of the acrimony.

In a letter since obtained by The Insider, Katy Greenwood, the distance learning coordinator at the university's College of Technology, let it all hang out to UH board chairman Eduardo Aguirre Jr., right down to a plea to remove the charter school from oversight by administrators on UH's main campus.

Greenwood accused campus administrators, particularly provost John Ivancevich, of undermining the charter school, which was proposed by College of Technology staff and was initially set to open in September with 200 students from kindergarten through the fourth grade.

"Due to negligence, non-responsiveness and political maneuvering by the University of Houston (president and provost)," wrote Greenwood, "the project is in dire danger of not being carried out or carried out in ways unintended by the proposers."

Greenwood indicated that UH administrators feared retaliation by Governor George Bush, who has made charter schools a centerpiece of his education agenda, should UH's charter plans never bear fruit. She cited a September 27 emergency meeting called by UH president Glenn Goerke with College of Technology administrators.

"Goerke was angry and upset," wrote Greenwood. "[He] said that funds would be taken away from the university (by the governor) if we did not carry through on the charter and if we did not start up by January 1997."

As the rush began to get the charter's doors opened by January, the original notion of the project as one that could serve as a blueprint for public schools gave way to a vision of "an elite, gifted and talented program, to showcase the university (and the provost office)," Greenwood told Aguirre.

Greenwood's final analysis of the politics behind the charter school effort was equally biting. Observing that interim administrators have created a decade of chaos on the main UH campus, she concluded, "These 'interims' are usually 'wannabes' and want to make a mark, an impression on higher authority, regardless of financial cost, or human cost."

In the Zone
In the January 2 Insider, we wrote that the two wealthy cronies of Mayor Bob Lanier who led the charge against zoning, Billy Burge and Holcombe Crosswell, live in "highly regulated and privately policed River Oaks." Burge is indeed domiciled in River Oaks, but during the 1993 battle over the proposed zoning ordinance, Crosswell actually resided in a posh, zoned Piney Point subdivision that may be more restrictive, if less expensive, than River Oaks.

But Crosswell -- who's been rumored to be considering running for mayor, along with several thousand others -- has now moved to a townhouse on Potomac Street in west Houston, right down the block from the original Z-man himself, former councilman Jim Greenwood.

Isn't it great the way Houston is growing?

The Insider is available at 624-1483 or 624-1496 (fax), or by e-mail at Insider@houston-press.com.

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