The Insider

The Road Not Taken (Again)
State Representative Sylvester Turner's latest mayoral tease ended abruptly this week at his downtown law office, but not before he had managed to squeeze the lemon for one last cup of sweet-and-sour media coverage. In an anticlimax similar to his 1995 campaign tap dance and ultimate fadeout, Turner revealed that he had decided 1997 was not his year to run for mayor.

It's a sound bit of logic, supported by polls commissioned by Turner consultant Peck Young and others that show Turner still glowing with residual negative radiation from his 1991 campaign and his resulting libel suit against Channel 13, which was covered in molecular detail by cable's Court TV.

On the plus side, Turner managed to lure Channel 11 into two Sunday evening news stories, one with sound bites hinting he might not run and one where he seemed to be storming toward a candidacy to avenge his 1991 runoff defeat at the hands of Bob Lanier and Channel 13's Wayne Dolcefino.

In the mixed-bag category was Channel 26's advancer on the morning of the news conference. It featured reporter Lloyd Gite meticulously detailing Turner's problems in that 1991 contest, including the fact his now-ex-wife Cheryl had accused the candidate in an affidavit of "cheating" on her, as Gite put it.

Among those at the no-news conference were HISD trustee Ron Franklin, the lawyer who piloted Turner to a courtroom victory in the libel suit against Channel 13, which is now under appeal by KTRK. When Franklin slipped into the conference room before Turner made his announcement, one reporter jokingly asked Franklin whether he had dropped by because of the possibility his client might be libeled again. Franklin gestured at an ABC mike propped up on the table in front of Turner's chair and quipped, "With that mike right there, you never know."

Also on hand was Marc Campos, the operative who helped Lanier win an overwhelming share of the Hispanic vote in the 1991 runoff, then fell out with the mayor when he was called to testify for Turner during the trial of Turner's suit and gave testimony that wasn't to Lanier's liking.

Turner acknowledged to reporters that while he had won a jury verdict in the libel trial, the verdict "did not and could not turn back the hands of time" to before the 1991 runoff. He did not mention that the verdict also failed to expunge the negative image of him that persists among city voters in 1997.

While Turner vowed to be a force in the upcoming mayoral election, particularly against the expected November initiative to do away with the city's affirmative action programs, his decision provides one more boost for former police chief and declared candidate Lee Brown. Linda Brown, a public relations consultant with ties to both Turner and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, expects the race to turn on how well each of the handful of candidates gets out his or her vote. An affirmative action referendum in November, says Brown, would likely help Lee Brown by provoking a massive black turnout.

Unless Congresswoman Lee gets into the mayoral race, Brown would seem destined to get the 90 percent or better share of the black vote that Turner received in 1991. A poll conducted for Brown's campaign by the Washington-based Lester & Associates shows him with an 87 percent positive rating among black voters and leading Rob Mosbacher 89 to 3 percent among that segment of the electorate. The poll showed Turner with a 38 percent negative rating among the overall electorate, compared to Brown's 11 percent.

Asked whether electing an African-American mayor this year is a priority with him, Turner countered that the mayoral contest is about "ideas, not race."

Brown was his normal obtuse self, refusing to admit that the departure of a major rival for the black vote constituted good news. He smothered a query about whether he intended to seek Turner's endorsement with this non-response: "I want all the support I can get, the support of all Houstonians." Zzzzzzzz....

In another indication that the field for the mayor's race may be set, several sources report that consultant Dan McClung of Campaign Strategies, who ran the phone bank operations for Kathy Whitmire and Lanier, will shortly join the Brown campaign. Since McClung had been committed to work with state Senator John Whitmire in a Whitmire mayoral bid, his enlistment by Brown indicates that Whitmire will not join the fray for mayor. (McClung was in Louisiana on a fishing trip and unavailable for comment by our deadline.)

Turner didn't indicate which of the current field of candidates he favors, but did take a jab that seemed to be aimed at both Brown's and Mosbacher's emphasis on public education issues in their early campaign speeches.

"They are not running to be superintendent of HISD," sniped Turner. "This is not about TAAS tests. It's about being the mayor of Houston."

In the case of Turner's news conference, however, it was all about not being the mayor of Houston.

Parks Fall Guy?
When contacted by The Insider last month, Sara Culbreth, deputy director of administration for the city's Parks and Recreation Department, was quick to blame the mishandling of the Memorial Park Tennis Center food and beverage concession on Roy Witham, the department's director for golf, tennis, and fitness center operations ["Stinking Up the Clubhouse, Parts 1 and 2", May 1 and May 22].

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