The Insider

One Publisher, One Vote
Readers of the Chronicle's October 19 editorial backing Rob Mosbacher Jr. for mayor may have noticed that the paper's endorsement was hardly, how shall we put it, ringing.

There may be a good reason for that apparent lack of conviction, other than a general inability to feign excitement over Mosbacher: According to our sources, five of the newspaper's 13-member editorial board voted to endorse George Greanias, with four supporting Lee Brown and four for Mosbacher. But one of those Mosbacher voters was publisher Richard J. V. Johnson, who, in the best tradition of a banana republic despot, unilaterally gave the paper's nod to Mosbacher.

The day after the endorsement, in the paper's weekly Sounding Board column, op-ed page chief Frank Michel gamely tried to explain how the editorial board decides on its endorsements. "We arrive at our decisions as many ways as a deliberative body of 13 opinionated people can," wrote Michel. He didn't explain that one of those ways is the publisher dictating the winner if it suits his fancy.

It all brings to mind that equally tepid Houston Post endorsement of Clayton Williams over Ann Richards for governor in 1990, when publisher William Dean Singleton overrode the all-but-unanimous support of his editorial board for Richards.

The Chronicle's endorsement of Mosbacher included the rather curious declaration that the next mayor "must be not only a staunch defender of the city, but also able to reach out to suburbanites in a way that makes them feel connected but not threatened."

Exactly how former police chief Brown and ex-controller Greanias might "threaten" suburbanites was left unexplained. Most likely, the threatened suburbanites in question are those in Dick Johnson's River Oaks social circle, for whom a black man or a Rice University egghead are equally scary when compared to Robert Mosbacher Sr.'s well-scrubbed little heir from West U.

Newark: Expect the Unexpected
Long before she hooked up with Mayor Bob, Elyse Lanier made her living as a jewelry saleswoman who served as her own mannequin, lunching at Tony's draped in those clanky David Webb chains, earrings and pendants always in fashion among the blue-hair set. Admiring matrons would literally buy the goods off Elyse's neck, ears and jacket.

The mayoral wife's penchant for carrying and flashing the gaudy stuff may have come back to haunt her on October 7, when a team of thieves pulled a bump-and-grind routine on Mrs. Lanier as she and City Hall aide Dave Walden were checking through the metal detectors at the Newark airport. The mayor, having gone on ahead, was not present when one man jostled his wife from the rear. As Mrs. Lanier turned to confront the jostler, an accomplice grabbed her bag off the metal-detector conveyer belt and made off with at least $590,000 in jewelry, according to Newark authorities. The Lanier entourage was preparing to board a Continental Airlines flight to return home from New York, where the mayor had been honored by an association of bond dealers.

Lanier spokeswoman Sarah Turner would not confirm the dollar value of the stolen jewelry or whether it was insured. Since Mrs. Lanier received several consignments of jewelry from David Webb's New York office a few years back, it is possible that the baubles snatched in the heist might not have been from her personal stash.

"It's creepy," Turner said of the Newark robbery. Mrs. Lanier, she added, was "disconcerted for several days afterwards."

In addition to the identity of the robbers and the value of the stolen goods, at least one other mystery remains: Given his reputation, we can't understand why mayoral hatchet man Walden was unable to pursue and kill the bad guys and return the bag between his clenched teeth to Mrs. Lanier.

Houston: Expect the Unexpected
There are also unexpected on-the-job hazards for state appeals jurists, and 14th Court of Appeals Judge John Anderson discovered a new one as he worked late one recent Sunday at the court offices adjoining the South Texas College of Law. While taking a break from his toils, Anderson somehow managed to lock himself in the men's toilet, where he remained for six hours until an HPD officer, dispatched after Anderson's worried wife phoned police, sprang the judge from his cell.

A courts tipster claims the judge unsuccessfully tried to escape by using a stapler to carve a hole in the bathroom door. Anderson didn't respond to The Insider's request to explain the circumstances of his temporary incarceration, or why he might have been packing a stapler in the john.

Waste and Wastewater
As the Greater Houston Wastewater Program closes the lid on its massive overhaul of the city's sewer system, it appears that a not-inconsequential sum of taxpayers' dollars has been flushed down the toilet in ensuring that the program reached the Lanier administration's goals for participation by Minority, Women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise contractors.

The Wastewater Program is a $1.7 billion federally mandated project, privately managed for the city by engineering giants Montgomery Watson and Brown & Root. Befitting such a large undertaking, the Wastewater Program has its own affirmative action bureaucracy, the Small Contractors Development Program, whose mission is to help MWDBE contractors compete for wastewater construction contracts. To that end, Montgomery Watson has billed the city $2 million annually for SCDP's budget since 1993.

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