The Outsider

Weird Power Trip
The world-class pyrotechnics have turned to ash, the world-class traffic jam has dispersed and the world-class mountain of garbage has been collected, but a burning question about Houston Industries' Power of Houston '97 celebration remains: Just what the hell were we celebrating?

We figured it was just another round of bread 'n' circuses bestowed on the rabble by Bob and Elyse, and when we put the question to Parks Department spokeswoman Susan Christian, she did nothing to disabuse us of the notion.

"We did it pretty much to celebrate the power of Houston and to market Houston," explains Christian, who coordinates events for the city. "And we did it for the people."

We wouldn't argue that most of "the people" did appear to enjoy the spectacle, whether or not a million of them actually elbowed their way downtown to see it, as organizers claimed. As for the marketing benefit, the Power of Houston cost taxpayers a bundle -- eight different city departments worked to stage the event -- and while the mayor's special parks fund will receive a small portion of the gate receipts, the total cost will far outstrip the revenues.

The millions Houston Industries spent to have its name attached won't defray the total, either -- every cent of the money was funneled through the nonprofit Parks Board to JW Productions, which produced the event as part of Great Tastes of Houston. Still, Christian says, the exposure was well worth the expense.

"There is no way we can pay for this kind of marketing," she says, citing the blip on cable television's Discovery Channel about the event and continuous coverage on the Houston Chronicle web site.

The folks at home certainly got the message, which may not burnish the city's global image but will help Houston Industries. The parent of HL&P is locked in a battle for the hearts, minds and pocketbooks of energy consumers and has been fighting to stave off deregulation and encroachment by such circling sharks as Enron. Unlike its energy sources, Houston Industries's glitzy public relations (subsidized, no doubt, by ratepayers)is renewable, and sources say plans are already under way for repeat performances through 1999.

That may overlap with plans for the city's celebration of the new millennium, which are already in the formative stages. Just how formative is a matter of dispute -- some vendors are already griping that JW Productions has the inside track and that they're going to get shut out of the party, which will probably be worth millions to the producer. Since the contract will be for services, it won't have to be competitively bid. The deal, the vendors claim, has already been done.

"That's wrong," responds Christian. "There has been no decision on anybody."
Christian says that talks about the millennium celebration have been going on for more than two years, though the only record she handed over in response to a request from the Press was a general two-page proposal from the Houston International Festival written in 1994. Christian had indicated that at least two more comprehensive proposals had been submitted, but later said she'd been mistaken. "There has been a lot of discussion," Christian says. "Nobody has brought anything concrete to me. Nothing in writing."

Asked if decisions about the city's millennium hoedown shouldn't be left to the next city administration, Christian says that may end up being the case.

"I'm just trying to do what's best for the city," she says.
Yes, we believe in the power of Houston, and we believe in the power of Susan Christian.

The Only Candidate with Long-term Memory Loss, Too
As far as we know, Lee Brown is the only mayoral candidate who's boasted of having "top-secret security clearance" from the U.S. government, an accreditation dating from his service as President Clinton's drug czar. Lately, Brown's been touting another unusual credential for the office: He's the only candidate to go on record claiming to have been the target of gunfire.

Brown's campaign apparently deems this an especially important entry on the former police chief's lengthy curriculum vitae, and is including it in the routine biographical thumbnail found on all of Brown's news releases.

"As a police officer, [Brown] twice came under gunfire from suspects he was investigating or apprehending," according to a release last week that otherwise was devoted to the candidate's "seven-point economic development plan."

This assertion piqued our curiosity, so we asked the Brown campaign for a few specifics on the ex-chief's experiences as a human target. Unfortunately, the candidate who once had access to classified material was a bit fuzzy when trying to recall the details, and we had no luck verifying the incidents with the San Jose, California police department, where Brown worked as a patrol officer in the 1960s before going on to better-paying deskbound work.

"He doesn't remember the specific dates, and he even had trouble remembering some of the years," said campaign mouthpiece Don Payne. But Brown did recall that both incidents happened in San Jose, and that one of the shots was fired his way in 1966, Payne said.

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