The Insider

"I want to see a candidate in the race who's going to work for Houston, and not someone who's looking for a job title or they're term limited and that's something they're having to do out of political necessity," says the Democratic senator. "And I'm looking for somebody that doesn't have to move into the city to run."

Well, that seems to eliminate just about everyone running, except perhaps for George Greanias. But for some reason we don't think Greanias is Whitmire's dream candidate, since his initials aren't J.W.

God Bless That New Ballpark
The future downtown home of the Astros won't be completed for several years, but 25 Hispanic cleaning women are counting their lucky Madonnas for the leverage the new ballpark gave them in a sexual harassment complaint brought on their behalf against Drayton McLane's Astrodome USA by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

The EEOC announced a settlement agreement with the Astrodome operator this week for an undisclosed amount. The settlement resulted from the women's complaints of harassment by a crew supervisor employed by Astrodome USA. Each woman will receive between $15,000 and $30,000, hardly a fortune, but sizable enough considering their near-minimum wage earnings as part of the Dome's janitorial crew.

Perhaps in recognition of the volatile political environment surrounding the downtown stadium proposal, top Astrodome USA officials, including president Mike Puryear, personally handled negotiations with the EEOC. The government lawyers were not shy about emphasizing the likely negative publicity that could result from a lengthy trial if the complaint were allowed to go to court.

Hispanic politicians and community leaders generally supported the stadium proposal, and the minority vote is credited with giving it a narrow victory in last November's countywide referendum. The last thing stadium proponents needed was a protracted legal fight pitting low-income Hispanic women against McLane's organization.

Houston EEOC director Harriet Ehrlich says that after the settlement was hammered out several weeks ago, the complainants threw a party and "lighted candles to the Virgin of Guadalupe." Maybe they should have burned a few for the Ballpark at Union Station as well.

Big Face on the Highway
"Judge for Yourself" proclaims the large billboard on I-10 just west of the Loop, which prominently features a smiling Robert Eckels and two similarly contented schoolchildren. Okay, is it an early campaign advertisement for the county judge's 1998 re-election bid?

No, says Northwest Academy head Dr. Glenn Holzman, who explains that the private school chose to put Eckels's mug in view of one of the busiest freeway interchanges in town because he's an alumnus (Class of '75) and thus a logical symbol for its recruitment program. Still, one political type who ogled the sign wonders whether it recruits more voters for Eckels than students for the school.

Texas Ethics Commission counsel Karen Lundquist says there's nothing in the state election code that would prohibit a corporation or nonprofit from using the likeness of an elected official in advertising, if its use isn't tied directly to a campaign effort.

Eckels, who claims to be the school's highest-profile grad, considers the endorsement his "gift" to the school, and he likes what he sees when he drives past the billboard.

"When they took the picture," he allows, "I thought I needed a shave. But it looks pretty good."

Eckels is indeed planning to stand for re-election next year. He's also on the board of the Houston Christian High School, which has not yet been established.

"We're going to have to raise money for that," he says, holding out the prospect of more billboards featuring his face in the future.

Wedding Bells
Who says life doesn't provide unexpected silver linings amid very dark clouds? Take, for example, state District Judge William "Bill" Bell, the Harris County jurist under fire from the state Judicial Conduct Commission for alleged improper contacts with lawyers. Bell's testimony during last month's commission hearing was brought into question when one of those lawyers, Holly Williamson, produced a tape of a conversation that seemed to contradict the account the judge gave under oath. The commission hearing adjourned at that point but is tentatively scheduled to resume June 17, when the tape will be entered into evidence and Williamson will offer more testimony.

But at least Bell's attention is being distracted by more pleasant concerns. Recently the judge's friends and some political supporters received a surprise wedding invitation from Bell, announcing his marriage on June 28 out in Laredo. Just to be safe, do you think the bride should tape-record the wedding vows?

Call The Insider at 624-1483 or 624-1496 (fax), or reach him by e-mail at

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