The Insider

Bird's-eye View
Thanks to a fortuitous breach in Chronicle security last week, The Insider was at last able to make a long-anticipated unholy pilgrimage to the paper's tenth floor chapel of darkness, otherwise known as the executive conference room. Once inside, we stood weak-kneed before Operation Falcon, the artwork commissioned by the paper's bigwigs to commemorate their successful campaign to kill the Post..

The smell of greed and arrogance in the air was as thick as the paper's classified section. "I think I'm going to be sick," gasped one of our companions as she beheld artist Bo Newell's rather cheesy wildlife painting where it hung on the wall of publisher Dick Johnson's chat room.

Created last year and circulated in poster form to the paper's department heads, the painting depicts an eagle, the corporate symbol of Chronicle owner the Hearst Corporation, sweeping down with bared talons on a hooded falcon meant to symbolize the Post. On the left side is the Chronicle building on Travis, on the other is the former Post headquarters on the Southwest Freeway, and in the middle is the hapless victim perched on a nondescript skyscraper. Why the artist didn't put the sacrificial bird atop the Post building is unclear. Perhaps symmetry dictated the center location.

In the clouds above the murder scene is the abstract profile of yet another eagle, perhaps symbolizing the in-house god of journalism, the long-departed William Randolph Hearst. One of our witnesses likened it to the Harley-Davidson logo.

Our route to the scene of the artistic crime started with an invitation to participate in a media panel for Leadership Houston, that civic incubator for aspiring young municipal leaders. The group conducts training classes for members, including Outward Bound-type adventures that afford up-and-comers the chance to climb mountains with the likes of Kathy Whitmire, Jon Lindsay and Helen Huey. In this case, the organization provided us with a pass through Chronicle security.

The paper's guards, who were so efficient at keeping other reporters from grilling Johnson and other Chronicle executives that day in April 1995 when the Chronicle took over the Post, waved us on into the building without a second glance. After a quick tour of the newsroom, where we waved to our friends in comfortable bondage while muttering "world class" and "fabulous," it was on to the paper's eighth-floor education center for the media panel.

Curiously, the Chronicle representative failed to show for the discussion, leaving plenty of time to explore the failings of Texas's biggest and slowest daily. After the discussion ended, our strike force broke from the group and made its way to the tenth floor, where the executive receptionist graciously directed us to Operation Falcon.

As we gazed upon the painting, Chronicle president Gene McDavid popped out of his nearby office, eyed us with cheerful puzzlement and a vague inkling of recognition and affably inquired, "Where did you hear about the painting?"

Well Gene, it certainly wasn't in the Chronicle.

On the Move
With their mayoral campaigns in varying states of motion, both Rob Mosbacher and Lee P. Brown have their homes on the market, though there is a question about just how serious Mosbacher is in peddling his.

On the other hand, there is speculation that Brown is vacating his mostly white subdivision near Meyerland to stake his homestead in a more traditional area for Houston's black political elite, maybe the stately Riverside neighborhood in southeast Houston. And all we can do is speculate, since Brown did not respond to an inquiry from The Insider about his future residential plans.

A comparison of the two homes is instructive. To comply with the city's six-month residency requirement for mayoral candidates, Mosbacher earlier this year moved his family from the two-story, five-bedroom traditional on Vanderbilt in West University, where they had lived for a decade. They're now camped out in a River Oaks-area high-rise.

The Vanderbilt house is valued by the Harris County Appraisal District at $657,800, but Mosbacher's realtor is asking $987,000 -- despite the fact that the house has no swimming pool. Of course, according to the realtor listing, "This lovely home ... is located in one of the most desirable residential areas ... this is quite a family home with a great flow for entertaining...."

Maybe so, but with a price like that it probably won't be changing hands any time soon -- perhaps not before November, when Mosbacher finds out whether he'll need to remain inside the city limits on a permanent basis.

Brown seems a bit more serious about selling his two-story, five-bedroom domicile on Grape Street, where he maintained his Houston residence and paid city taxes through his years in Washington, D.C., as drug czar for the Clinton administration. The home carries an HCAD appraisal of $200,000, and Brown is asking a very realistic $225,000.

For comparison shoppers, here's a quick rundown on the residences of the other candidates in the race. No "for sale" signs have been spotted on these houses just yet, by the way.

The home of former controller George Greanias and wife Elizabeth Rice on Robinhood in the Rice University area is HCAD-appraised at $321,300, while Councilwoman Helen Huey and husband Don's Spring Branch swankienda on Monarch Oaks is appraised at $104,200. The Weaver Street abode of Councilwoman Gracie Saenz and police officer husband Eloy clocks in with an appraised value of $47,880.

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