By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
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By Sean Pendergast
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The call came late in the evening, when I was dead to the world, but I quickly snapped to when that familiar voice came through the answering machine. It was Elyse. We hadn't talked since our beer-fueled trip to Kingwood last spring, when she had single-handedly turned the tide of opinion up there in favor of her husband. Now she had an offer: Would I like to drop by the Huntingdon for an "exclusive" one-on-two interview with her and Bob, just in case the Press was putting together a retrospective story on the "Lanier years"?
"We've had just about every journalist in town over, but Bob has been enjoying the coverage so much that we thought we'd even let you in for an interview," Elyse explained. "And besides, Bob's sort of been at loose ends since the Brown xx inaugural, and to tell you the truth, he's had a little trouble getting to sleep at night. So how about it? Please?"
How could I refuse? It wasn't long before I was at the Huntingdon, where I followed Elyse's precise instructions about entering the building without being seen and taking the service elevator to the penthouse. A few minutes later, I was seated in the ex-mayor's study, enjoying an Olde English "800" ("I remembered that's your 'brand,' " said Elyse) while the formerly first couple shared a tall Frappuccino. Bob was leaning back in his chair, his outsized cowboy boots propped up on his desk. "He looks just like a real Texan, doesn't he?" Elyse observed admiringly. After some small talk about the Bob memorabilia scattered about the condo, the interview began:
Houston Press: Before we really get started, I just want to tell you, Bob, that you've been the greatest mayor in Houston's history --well, maybe the greatest mayor in the whole history of Christendom -- right up there with Fiorello LaGuardia, Richard Daley, Boss Tweed, Sam Yorty, Victor Schiro, Titus Flavius.... And I think I speak for the entire Houston news media when I say that.
Bob: That's my sense of it.
Elyse: Bob's the absolute greatest!
HP: And Elyse, as first lady, you'll always be number one in our hearts....
Elyse: Thank you so much!
Bob: She's done a lot for the city.
HP: So true, so true. And the glamour -- I mean, the hair, the makeup, the jewelry.... And Elyse, you haven't been looking too shabby yourself.
Elyse: Thanks so much!
HP: I mean, Bob, compared to what's-her-name, your predecessor whose name escapes me at the moment ...
Elyse: Oh, my God! Yuck! Can you believe the way she horned in on the spotlight at Brown's inaugural?!
HP: ... you people brought a real sense of style to City Hall. Ya'll just oozed glamour, till it ran down your chins and dribbled on the table.
Elyse: Didn't we!
HP: Enough of this fawning chatter, however. I'm truly sorry, but now it's my sworn duty as a journalist to ask you some really hard-hitting, unpleasant questions, stuff that might make us all uncomfortable ....
Bob: Fire away!
Elyse: But be kind!
HP: Well, some people -- not me, but some people -- would say that you've been an incredibly lucky son of a bi ... uh, son of a gun, Bob. "They" -- and forgive me, but I'll be employing this phony journalistic device throughout this interview --say you've back-loaded the city with a level of debt that could be hell to pay for your successors, in the event that the local economy takes a turn for the worse. Of course, that will never happen, so forget I asked.
Now, let's to turn to crime --the same anonymous critics who've carped about your fiscal policies also note that while Houston's crime rate has indeed dropped precipitously since what's-her-name, your predecessor, left office, it's dropped all over the country, and for you to take more than marginal credit for the local decline is like the rooster claiming his crowing brought the sun up. So here's my question: Wouldn't you agree that people who say that are jerks who have no idea what they're talking about?
Bob: That's my sense of it, totally. Luck had nothing to do with it.
Elyse: "They" just don't get it!
HP: I couldn't have said it better myself, even if you were paying me. Well, let's go on to tough question number two: Some people -- maybe the same, possibly nonexistent people I referred to in tough question number one --have said that cronyism and insider dealing were rampant in your administration, and that the ethical tone you set left a lot to be desired --going back to your appointment of Betti Maldonado as your "NAFTA liaison" while she was also being paid by the Mexican government, and your administration's awarding of what amounted to an exclusive franchise for a downtown casino to a partnership that included your friend Charles Hurwitz. And these same long-winded blowhards go on to point out that you've never really owned up to any sort of responsibility for the fact that four people -- that's four, count 'em-- stand indicted on federal charges of taking bribes while they were on City Council -- a Council that you presided over as mayor --for a project that your administration pushed. Wouldn't you agree that people who would say that are just nay-saying pinheads?