The Insider

Lee P. Makes Like Bill C.
What do the administrations of President Bill Clinton and Mayor Lee P. Brown have in common, other than the fact that Brown was once Clinton's drug czar?

Both, in their first 60 days in office, decided to address issues involving sexual orientation: Clinton, the question of gays in the military, and Brown, the banning of discrimination against gays in city hiring.

Clinton got a political black eye from opponents in Congress and the military for his efforts and eventually wound up instituting the "don't ask, don't tell" approach that some gay activists have claimed is as repressive and unfair as the old system of selectively busting gay individuals caught outside their closets.

Brown's executive order should fare better than a similar effort at City Hall in 1985, when councilmembers approved an ordinance forbidding discrimination against gays, only to see it rolled back by a petition drive and referendum campaign masterminded by religious conservative Dr. Steven Hotze. Brown's internal directive is not subject to approval by City Council or a petition for a referendum, although Hotze and his associates are reportedly mulling over a petition campaign to force a citywide vote on an ordinance specifically denying gays the status of a protected minority.

Brown's intentions in issuing the anti-discrimination order may have been the best, but the mayor apparently has problems even doing the right thing right. Annise Parker, the first openly gay citywide elected official, was left out of the loop in the mayor's decision and found out about the move after the fact -- from Republican Councilman Joe Roach, no less.

During her campaign, Parker supported an anti-discrimination order and received 57 percent of the vote over opponent Don Fitch to win her at-large Council seat. She expected Brown to institute an executive order at some point, but admits she "was caught a little flatfooted" by the timing of the mayor's announcement. No first-term official likes to appear uninformed on a matter of vital importance to a core constituency.

Brown has also apparently not found it necessary to canvass gay community leaders in his search for an unpaid liaison to the gay and transgender community. He has already narrowed the field to two candidates, say Council sources: Baker and Botts attorney Michael Eastus and Lane Lewis, a former social worker and Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus president, and the current manager of Pacific Street nightclub.

The mayor is also raising some eyebrows in the Hispanic community with his choice of Nick Rivera for communications director. Rivera is a former New Yorker of Puerto Rican extraction who served as Channel 48-KTMD Telemundo promotions director for five years before leaving under strained circumstances. In appointing Rivera, Brown said his new hire "has been heavily involved in Houston's Hispanic community." That's news to veterans like state Senator Mario Gallegos and Brown campaign consultant Marc Campos, who say they had never heard of Rivera.

Carol Alvarado, the highest-ranking Hispanic on Brown's transition team, says she was not consulted on Rivera's hire and has no idea who recommended him for the job. Several veteran flacks had already turned down the position because of the relatively low salary, in the mid-$50,000 range, and the poor job security that goes with working for an official who has to run for office every two years. Perhaps the mayor was just getting a little antsy to fill a job nobody seemed to want.

As police chief, Brown had a history of playing his administrative cards close to the vest. Several advisers say he's yet to take to heart the necessity of consulting councilmembers and drawing them into decisions on issues where they have a special interest. One reason Brown's predecessor Bob Lanier was able to thoroughly dominate Council was his political savvy in giving members what they wanted in exchange for down-the-line support of the mayor's programs.

With Brown presiding over a 14-member Council divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats, he'll be taking his allies for granted at his own peril.

Job Fair
Public works director Jimmie Schindewolf leaves the city at the end of the month, but he may have a worthy successor in the patronage department. A public works tipster tells The Insider that Waynette Chan, the mayor's unofficial staff coordinator, has steered a plum public works assignment to an old friend.

Since Brown now requires his signature on all city hires above pay grade 29, utilities maintenance division director Fred Perrenot submitted a request to hire an experienced out-of-state engineer to formulate plans to downsize the division. Instead, Brown had already approved hiring, on an acting basis, Larry Bryant, a pal of Chan's when she was public works customer service division director during the Lanier administration. Perrenot apparently learned of the move when he received a copy of the mayor's appointment letter naming Bryant to the position. Our source claims Bryant is a good engineer but does not have experience in strategic planning such as downsizing.

Mayoral aide Joe Weikerth responds that it was director Schindewolf who signed a recommendation that Bryant's promotion be approved. Weikerth says Chan raised the issue of getting a pay increase for Bryant and asked him how Schindewolf should go about getting it approved. "That was her only involvement with me," says Weikerth. "Behind the scenes, I can't tell you."

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