The Insider

An Election-Day Tale of Two (or Three) Cities
There may have been a great historic moment for Houston race relations sometime on the evening of December 6 as Lee Patrick Brown edged past Rob Mosbacher to become the city's first African-American mayor. But if you blinked, you missed it.

The day's balloting was without surprise: Most blacks voted black, most whites voted white, and the Bob Lanier money-raisers and strategists who worked for Brown just did their jobs in grinding out a businesslike six-point victory over once-and-perhaps-future West U denizen Mosbacher. The post-balloting gatherings were also distressingly predictable: While Brown's much-delayed victory speech emphasized the city's Technicolor diversity, election night for the most part played out in stark tones of black and white.

Our Election Day swing began early, with an unannounced afternoon visit to get-out-the vote king Kenny Calloway's nerve center on Lyons Avenue in the Fifth Ward. Calloway, working closely with Brown consultant Dan McClung, spent the day monitoring -- and occasionally goosing -- the turnout of the crucial black vote for Brown.

Entering the wood-frame headquarters of Calloway's Politico, one had the feeling of having stumbled onto a paramilitary operation, where the soldiers were armed with cell phones rather than weapons. Several workers stepped forward defensively when we entered the premises, relaxing only slightly after learning the uninvited intruder was a journalist. Calloway himself was ensconced in an upstairs room. After a brief consultation with him, an aide who identified himself as Lee, and who resembled a slightly smaller version of former Lakers forward James Worthy, returned with a polite but firm eviction notice.

"Mr. Calloway is a very, very busy man right now," Lee explained. "Perhaps if you call back later and make an appointment...."

As we left, Carl Ritchie, an Austin lobbyist who had been a gubernatorial aide to Ann Richards, was hurrying in from ramrodding the "flush teams" and sound trucks plying the southeast side of town for voters who hadn't yet made it to the polls. Ritchie reported that the turnout seemed to be on track, an observation borne out by final estimates indicating that blacks accounted for more than 30 percent of the total vote, just as they did in the first-round election on November 4. Since Brown's margin of victory was less than 16,000 votes, the Calloway-directed final push may have made the difference between a narrow win and a late-night cliffhanger.

As the polls closed, we shifted into a more upscale gear and headed for River Oaks. The king may not have been quite dead and the successor hailed, but the power was definitely hissing out of the Huntingdon condo tower. Completing a karmic circle that began with a 1989 Christmas party at which the local media was introduced to the premayoral Laniers' lifestyle, first lady Elyse played hostess to a motley crew. It included Brown campaign operatives, Lanier administration types, a few TV reporters preparing their live shots for the 10 p.m. news and the odd Lanier crony or two, such as former Metro chief Billy Burge and lawyer Kenny Friedman. You got the feeling more people were invited than showed.

The gathering had a forced gaiety about it, infused as it was with the realization that the Laniers' six-year run as the lord and lady of City Hall was down to a few weeks. At least Bob and Elyse get to keep their money and their residence in the clouds.

For a number of administration functionaries, the sentence is far grimmer. Their days of dining on Tony's at Home beef and casserole, the election-night menu at Casa de Lanier, had dwindled to a precious few.

"There's a lot of melancholy here," observed one administration intimate with a large degree of understatement.

At least ex-police chief Harry Caldwell kept his sense of humor. Upon getting off the slow-motion elevator that conveys guests to the Huntingdon penthouse, Caldwell asked where he might find "His Lame Duckship." After political scientist Richard Murray called the election for Brown on the basis of exit polling, Caldwell cracked, "If that police chief can get elected, this one's going to run for office, too."

Meanwhile, the outgoing mayor spent much of the evening in his study, propped up in his classic feet-on-the-desk pose and watching the five TV screens that conveyed intermittent election results -- along with the Rockets-Mavericks game from Mexico City. Lanier seemed more contemplative -- and less expansive --than usual. Despite the endlessly percolating reports that Lanier will run for this or be appointed to that, this night just might have been the requiem for his short political career.

As the returns rolled in, the mayoral wife gave some first-time visitors a tour of the digs, revealing those over-the-top details that will undoubtedly make the Lanier lair legendary to future generations. Among the items worthy of note were the color TV set up for viewing inside Elyse's office-sized closet; the now-infamous shampoo bowl in the exercise room that she touted in House and Garden magazine as de rigueur for vanquishing bad-hair days in Houston; and those silk-canopied dog beds for the couple's King Charles spaniels. And how many folks do you know who have a bronze head of themselves sitting on a pedestal off the entranceway to their domicile? Mayor Bob does.

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