By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Black and Brown and Green All Over
The biggest factor in Lee P. Brown's unexpectedly large lead over Rob Mosbacher in the November 4 election was the sizzling turnout in predominantly African-American precincts, where Brown won 90 percent or better of the votes. That result no doubt shocked Brown's early critics, who had questioned his ability to kindle enthusiasm among fellow blacks.
African-Americans, who traditionally make up less than a quarter of the city's electorate, may have accounted for more than one-third of the citywide total in the mayoral contest. How much of the black turnout can be credited to Brown is a pivotal question that won't be settled until the runoff ballots are counted on December 6. Contributing to the first-round outcome was a confluence of campaign muscle and cash from PACs backing affirmative action and the city bond issue, plus an apparently illegal handout promoting a "slate" of seven African-American candidates that was distributed at selected black-dominated voting precincts.
The banner black turnout forced two white incumbents who had expected to win outright into runoffs. In the race for the at-large Position 3 seat, Chris Bell faces Richard Johnson, an aide to Councilman Michael Yarbrough and one of the purported architects of the black slate. In District F on the southwest side, Ray Driscoll now has to get past Dionne L. Roberts, an African-American law student and political unknown who apparently benefited from her inclusion on the slate.
The slate also included Brown, at-large Position 5 hopeful Dwight Boykins, at-large Position 3 challenger Andrew Burks and District B incumbent Yarbrough. Only Boykins and Burks failed to win outright or make a runoff (although Burks fared much better than expected against incumbent Orlando Sanchez), and the two Position 5 candidates who survived the November 4 voting, Carroll Robinson and Elizabeth Spates, are also black.
The slate tactic was particularly effective in the little-publicized at-large Council races, says Bell consultant Nancy Sims, who also works for Mosbacher. As Sims notes, the slate handouts lacked the disclaimer required by law that would identify the organization responsible for them, and the workers who passed them out at black churches on the Sunday prior to the voting and at polling places on election day refused to say who had employed them.
An official with the Brown campaign says Johnson sought contributions from the mayoral candidate to fund the slate, but was rebuffed. Brown, the official says, did not give his permission to be included on the slate handouts.
(Johnson, who's widely known as the brains behind indicted Councilman Yarbrough, did not return an Insider inquiry concerning the slate.)
Black-oriented radio station KMJQ/Majic102-FM also played a big role in turning out the black vote, laying down a barrage of pro-affirmative action advertising paid for by the Real Civil Rights Initiative PAC. The station also ran its own get-out-the-vote drive, encouraging listeners who needed help in getting to the polls to call in for rides.
The Real Civil Rights Initiative purchased more than $28,000 in advertisements on the station. Communications consultant Leonard Childress, who was a member of Kathy Whitmire's mayoral administration and a high-placed backer of Sylvester Turner's failed 1991 mayoral effort, contributed $32,050 to the Real Civil Rights Initiative, which accounted for the bulk of the PAC's funding.
With affirmative action now retired as a front-line issue, the big question for both Brown and Mosbacher is whether black voters can be coaxed to the polls in large numbers again for the runoff. Much of the responsibility for duplicating Brown's first-round showing will rest on Kenny Calloway, a veteran behind-the-scenes operator known for the stylish hats he usually sports.
The brother of former councilman Al Calloway and an aide to County Commissioner El Franco Lee, the publicity-shy Calloway runs a get-out-the-vote program second to none in Houston -- at least when the money is available to hire "volunteers" to work the polls and go door-to-door in "flush teams" rousting out voters on election day. Calloway's headquarters on Lyons Avenue in the Fifth Ward is little more than a warehouse where the gunpowder of the trade -- material for yard signs, door hangers and push cards -- is stored.
Calloway has been a fixture on the local political landscape since the 1970s, but his reputation took a dip after his vaunted street organization failed to deliver for Craig Washington in the Democratic primary five years ago, when Washington was dislodged from his 18th Congressional District seat by Sheila Jackson Lee. Washington had no cash, and Calloway's "volunteers" don't work for free. Nowadays, with Calloway patron El Franco Lee unchallenged in the county, Calloway's machine is rarely exercised and requires lots of money to have an impact.
"If you have enough money," says one white political consultant, "Kenny will do a great job. Otherwise...."
On November 4, Calloway must have had more than enough ammunition for his assignment. While the final totals aren't in on how much Calloway's business, Politico, reaped from the Brown campaign and the city bond effort, fragmentary figures are instructive. For the month of October, the Brown camp paid Calloway's operation $16,000 for field work. At the same time, Rebuild Houston/Together, the PAC backing the bond issue, paid Calloway $25,420 to work the black vote. Politico combined with phone banker Dan McClung's Campaign Strategies, which also worked for the bond issue and the Brown campaign, to produce the 90-percent-plus margins in black precincts for Brown, the bonds and affirmative action.