The Great Decolorizer

As a student radical in the late sixties, Ed Blum fought for affirmative action. Now, as a middle- aged neocon, he wants to destroy it.

In 1980, Blum met and married the former Lark Pollack, and they bought a house next door to Stone and his wife. The couples became fast friends.

Stone introduced Blum to Commentary magazine, full of the writings of former liberals who moved first to the center and then to the right. "At that point, my politics were still center-left but moving," remembers Blum. "The effect of that magazine moved me further and further to the right and engaged me again in public-policy debate. Engaged me so much I started subscribing to more conservative magazines."

Ed Blum, once a leftist student activist, had been reborn as a Republican investment broker.

Eventually, the Blums moved from Braeburn Valley to an apartment on Bissonnet, inside the Loop. They found themselves part of the 18th Congressional District. Years before, the 18th had been designed to elect a black woman, Barbara Jordan, to Congress. In 1990, it was still considered one of the most liberal districts in Texas.

Even so, when Blum voted that year, he was stunned to find that the Republican Party had not fielded an opponent for incumbent Craig Washington. "That pissed me off," recalls Blum.

On a number of foreign-aid votes, Washington had taken positions that struck Blum as anti-Israel. "Then comes the votes on the supercollider, the space station, and the wacky votes, the Ron Paul-type votes," says Blum. "And then no votes, like, 'I'm not here today.' A lot of these wacky things got on my nerves."

Blum called the county Republican Party headquarters to ask whether anyone intended to run against Washington in '92. Then-county party chair Sherry Johnson tried to explain the facts of political life: Since a Republican was unlikely to win the seat, party leadership didn't want a serious candidate to challenge Washington, lest the competition energize Washington's supporters. "What happens countywide?" asked Johnson rhetorically. "Our county judge, our district judges have a harder time. So leave him alone."

Blum stewed on that advice and rejected it. He filed for the primary, and was shocked to find that a pharmacist from M.D. Anderson Hospital, C.L. Kennedy, had also entered the race as a Republican. The two became companions on the lonely election circuit. "Business is not so great when you're in a primary running against Craig Washington," laughs Blum. "People asked, 'Who is this fool?'" Blum beat Kennedy, then faced Washington in November.

True to Johnson's prediction, Washington roused himself for the campaign and appeared in three debates against Blum, who had little money but found himself with a passel of almost fanatical volunteers. The most memorable moment of the campaign came during a debate before the Heights Chamber of Commerce, when Washington put his head down and pretended to sleep during Blum's closing statement. "That is just quintessential Craig," says Blum.

The campaign put Blum's political theories to the test. First, he block-walked the white precincts of the 18th District, "where you could say, 'I'm running against Craig Washington,' and you're a hero. I could have been a skinhead, and it wouldn't have mattered."

Blum was less prepared to handle black neighborhoods. "You knock on a door, and a 38-year-old woman opens it with a baby on her hip," he remembers. "You introduce yourself as Edward Blum running for congress, and she asks you what you can do to help her grandbaby. I was speechless. I had no idea what to say to her. Probably mumbled some cliche or aphorism and went on to the next door."

As expected, Washington won easily. Blum decided that if he were to change America, it wouldn't be as an elected official.

During the campaign, Blum noticed with increasing frustration the difficulty of campaigning in a district that had been designed by computers to enhance black voting strength at the expense of neighborhood unity. Even armed with maps and lists of registered voters, Blum and his volunteers struggled to determine which houses were in the 18th District and which weren't. "We weren't confused once or twice," Blum says. "We were confused hourly."

Blocks with identical dwellings and income levels were separated strictly on the basis of race. Blum was offended: He believed American political representation should be based on geography, not race.

A few months after the election, a New York Times article reminded Blum of the problem. He read that the Supreme Court had found that a winding, snake-shaped district drawn by North Carolina to elect a black representative might harm voter interest; the court had sent the case back to the state for trial. The article, says Blum, was "the big event, the thing that said, 'Here's your calling, are you going to grab it?'" He figured that the North Carolina district was no more gerrymandered than the 18th.

He considered a lawsuit, and invited over for dinner some political friends he'd made during the campaign. The party included lawyers Doug Marcum and Stephen Katsurinis, insurance salesman Al Vera and businessmen Ed Chen and Bill Calhoun. "We had Ninfa's fajitas, drank tons of beer and wine and talked about this," Blum remembers. Assignments were handed out. Marcum studied case precedents, and Katsurinis got the precinct maps. When the group reassembled a few weeks later, they decided they had grounds for a suit.

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