The Insider

Bad Dadditude
Mayoral candidate Rob Mosbacher flaunted his big-money backers and raised more than a million bucks at a Galleria gala last week. By contrast, likely contender Lee P. Brown is still ensconced in the grove of academia and has fired hardly a campaign shot -- until now.

A memo of suggested "talking points" recently circulated to the Brown inner circle and anonymously faxed to The Insider gives a taste of where the ex-chief's campaign may be headed and who he figures his main competition will be: "When the going gets tough," according to the memo, Brown "won't be looking for Daddy to help, he'll look in the mirror."

You can be sure that the daddy in question isn't the one who sired Helen Huey or George Greanias, but rather is former Commerce Department secretary Robert Mosbacher Sr., who not only employs his son but has enthusiastically raised money for his campaign.

Brown, who's still on the faculty at Rice University, denies writing or even approving the memo. But he chuckled when the document was read to him, and seized the chance to describe his life as a self-made man who hasn't asked for anything from his "daddy" since he left home at 17.

"I went to college on my own with no help from anybody," declared Brown. "I was getting up at five in the morning, going to a restaurant and washing dishes, coming back at noon and night and washing dishes, and the floors in the morning. That's the environment I come from."

Brown declined to comment directly on Mosbacher's family connections, but the undeclared candidate allowed that he'll have plenty to say on the issue once he hits the campaign trail. You suspect he won't be alone in that endeavor.

While Brown apparently won't be turning to his old man for advice, he may have a father figure of sorts in Mayor Bob Lanier, whose still-unpublicized role as Brown's No. 1 backer is becoming more obvious by the day. Lanier reportedly was jazzed by results of a survey taken for him by Louisiana-based pollster Mike Baselice and Associates, which showed Brown whuppin' up on Mosbacher by 30 percentage points in a head-to-head match.

Lanier also joined in the Mosbacher twitting last week at a 50th birthday party downtown for Congressman Tom DeLay, telling the audience he was using the occasion "to declare my candidacy for the mayor of West University," the little city within the big city that Mosbacher only recently vacated to qualify as a Houstonian.

If he's serious, Lanier might want to check out a lovely house on Vanderbilt Street. Although it's yet to be listed with area realtors, we understand it's empty.

Stockman Chronicles: One Story Begins ...
Like a B-movie monster that returns for endless sequels, recently ousted 9th District congressman Steve Stockman was once again rallying the troops on Passover evening at the Houstonian Fitness Center. About 30 Stockmanites (including three Hispanics and one black man!) showed up to be deputized as voter registrars for Steverino's next jihad: unseating Democrat Ken Bentsen in the 25th Congressional District.

According to one attendee, Stevie's new crew seemed more conservative and blue-collar than Stockman himself, who in his latest incarnation as a Galveston "banker" strutted into the Houstonian in charcoal gray dress slacks, blue oxford button-down shirt and conservative blue striped tie. While some in the crowd wanted to rap about abortion and militias, Stockman made clear they were there to learn how to register mainstream Republicans in Bentsenland. "This district," as he called the 25th until the county voter registrars left and he could get explicit about his target, would be a tough nut to crack. "[Victor] Morales won in this district," Stockman observed in a "can you believe it?" tone. Grumbles rose from his workers. One man interjected a loud "yuck."

Stockman then used a hand-drawn pie chart to show his followers the number of registered voters in the 25th, how many vote in off-year elections and the percentage of votes that should go to Republicans. "In the 25th, there is only a 49.5% Optimal Voting Republican Strength," said Stockman, who henceforth used the acronym OVRS. He pronounced it "orifice."

If more Republicans are registered, the orifice will get bigger, lectured Stockman, who suggested that the neophyte registrars hunt for unregistered voters at their churches and outside Randalls. (Apparently Fiesta and Kroger are too proletarian.) Stockman also recommended that his supporters go door to door in the most fertile Republican precincts, and above all wear "Vote Republican" pins on their lapels to avoid registering Democrats.

Several members of the audience protested that strategy would bring out the vote of "soft Republicans," the sort who supported Dolly Madison McKenna, a moderate deemed "worse than a Democrat." The hard-core thought a better plan would be to register voters at Pasadena gun shops, where more reliable supporters might be found, but Stockman nixed the idea.

By the way: In case Stockman's interested in establishing a residence in the 25th District, he might want to check out a lovely house on Vanderbilt Street in West U. Although it's yet to be listed with area realtors, we understand it's empty.

... And Another Ends
In another Stockman-related development, The Insider has dropped a libel suit filed against the then-congressman after we visited his campaign office-cum-residence outside Friendswood last June in pursuit of the elusive boys of Political Won Stop, the consultancy raking in bucketfuls of Stockman campaign cash. Our pro bono attorney David Berg worked out a settlement statement with Stockman's lawyers, but after they agreed to it, Stockman never signed the papers.

Here's an excerpt anyway: "Congressman Stockman withdraws his claim that Mr. Fleck assaulted campaign workers and caused his wife Pattie to be fearful for her safety. Mr. Fleck wishes to assure Congressman Stockman that he does not claim a right to enter the Stockman residence and will not attempt to do so uninvited."

Hey, it was too much of a dump to rate a return visit.

Proving Again That Oil and Politics Mix
Texas Democratic Chairman Bill White -- an ace fundraiser for Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign and former undersecretary of the Energy Department -- is joining the black-gold rush in the Caucasus. White and other prominent Texas Democrats hope to be among the first Westerners to begin transporting crude out of the oil-rich coast of Azerbaijan, a task made difficult by the near-stranglehold that neighboring Russia maintains on most exit routes.

In 1995, while White was at the Energy Department, Clinton contacted the Azerbaijani leader directly to ask for help in breaching the Russian roadblock. After White left his energy post, he and Lan Bentsen, son of former Treasury secretary Lloyd Bentsen, immediately founded Frontera Resources and went into Azerbaijan and the neighboring state of Georgia. Lloyd Bentsen is also an investor in the venture, as are some of White's old associates at law firm Susman Godfrey.

White naturally worries that some might view the undertaking as exploiting his service in the Clinton administration. "After leaving the administration I've been careful, or leaning over backward, to avoid mixing personal business interests and my civic involvement," he says. Still, he acknowledges, he is indirectly working on access to the same market that Clinton attempted to open.

In any case, surely the Texas Democratic Party, last chaired by chain-smoking country lawyer Bob Slagle, has never boasted a chairman with White's global business connections and Washington influence. It's just one more sign that the Democratic romance with big money is still in hothouse bloom.

Stinking Up the Clubhouse
If you thought the Parks and Recreation Department was having trouble running its Hermann Park rock garden, ["Rocks in Their Heads," The Insider, April 25], check out the Memorial Park Tennis Center. For most of the last five months, an array of empty food refrigerators and a yogurt machine full of foul poop at the center's "Loopers" snack bar have sat unused but sucking up city-paid electricity while thirsty hackers and joggers have to settle for water fountains.

The concessionaire at the tennis center is Trendsidea Inc., owned by Burke McConn, a nephew of recently deceased former mayor Jim McConn. More than a year ago the parks department took the food and drink bar management from club pro Jim Schmidt and handed it over to Trendsidea without taking competitive bids. The contract signed with McConn did not include penalties for nonperformance or even specify a minimum amount of revenue to be paid to the city, only a percentage of whatever sales occurred.

Trendsidea began marketing expensive yogurt and fruit "power drinks" to a clientele that seemed more inclined to Gatorade and trail mix. Business dwindled, and McConn seemed to lose interest in the concession, which began closing early and failing to stock the bar.

Last November, Sara Culbreth, the park department's deputy director of administration, began fielding complaints about Trendsidea's nonperformance. She finally tracked down McConn, who seemed loath to return phone calls. He told her he was unhappy with his contract and wanted a long-term deal in order to continue at Memorial Park. Yet at the same time that McConn was talking to Culbreth, he also signed another six-month pact for the concession with parks golf operations supervisor Roy Witham.

"Roy apparently knew about the problems, but he didn't know I had gotten the calls," says Culbreth. "I didn't know he was working with Burke to get a new agreement in place."

By late February, Culbreth says she was receiving new complaints that McConn had all but abandoned the food and drink bar. When she got him on the phone, she pressed McConn about whether he intended to honor the recently signed pact, and he finally said he did not. They agreed to mutually terminate the contract, but after the city legal department drafted a termination letter, McConn never surfaced to sign it.

Culbreth now says that she can do nothing about the concession until the pact expires May 11. After that date, she hopes to find someone to run the concession until parks officials decide how it will be handled long-term.

So why not simply unplug the equipment abandoned by Trendsidea and dramatically cut the tennis center's monthly electricity bill, which currently tops $600?

Culbreth pauses to consider. "Yes, it's still plugged in," she admits. "Some of the equipment has got some supplies in it that are not mine that I guess I could throw away, or put all in one and unplug the others and clean them out. Or else they would begin to smell."

Sorry Sara, but the deal already stinks to high heaven.

One Taste Before WeDie
All-news Channel 51 is about to metamorphose into another one of those godawful home shopping channels, and it can't happen soon enough to suit the folks who do public relations for some Houston restaurants. They tell us the chefs who appeared on the station's Texas Today afternoon show were routinely dunned by program manager Joann Crassas for meal tickets to their restaurants.

"Since KNWS-TV 51 is giving you the opportunity to advertise, we request two $50 gift certificates for donations to Houston nonprofit organizations," reads the contract pushed on the chefs. The clause ignores the fact that Channel 51 was at least ostensibly doing news, rather than advertising, and that hitting up guests for free meals strikes some as, well, a little unethical.

"I think it's almost sinful," says Teresa Byrne-Dodge, editor and publisher of the bimonthly My Table. "I think the blurring of that line [between news and paid appearances] is very upsetting."

Not to worry. Texas Today went off the air at the end of the month after Channel 51 was sold to Global Broadcasting. The sale also ends owner Doug Johnson's pathetic "all news" operation, providing him a $40 million payoff on his original $10 million investment. But nobody who knows media ever said the good guys always win.

Feed The Insider by calling 624-1483 or fax him your delectables at 624-1496. He can also be reached by e-mail at Insider@houston-press.com.

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