By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
As a lawyer who works on behalf of folks like Ms. Piotrowski, I and my clients have endured the misery of the "Houston Legal Department Experience." The Piotrowski case is but one illustration of the utter contempt shown more often than not by this department toward the taxpaying citizens of Houston, not to mention the rampant incompetence that continues to cost all of us daily. These costs come not only in the lack of respect some (though not all) in the Legal Department have shown toward Houstonians (and, I suppose, vice-versa) but in real dollars. While the $148 million verdict may be the largest, it is by no means the only time in recent memory when the city has been held accountable by Harris County juries. Much like in Piotrowski, had anyone over in the Legal Department actually given a damn, our city wouldn't be in the situation we now face. By the way, Harris County juries are not generally prone to award large verdicts or even side with the plaintiff in many cases tried these days, I assure you.
Surely the Piotrowski verdict (and the hundreds of others the public never hears about) is a blazing firebrand for immediate and exhaustive reform. I have seen this city government greatly improve in most all areas over the past decades, and now is the time for Mayor Brown and members of the City Council to seize the initiative and change the way our Legal Department operates. For if they tarry too long, the day may soon come when their office furniture will be seized and sold at public auction to satisfy the multitudinous and ever-increasing judgments rendered against the city of Houston.
Congressman Bentsen Responds
As a longtime reader of the Houston Press, I was deeply disappointed by the irresponsible journalism that resulted in the publication of the article "How Democrats Routed Campaign Dollars to Religious Right Groups to Defeat Moderates" [houstonpress.com, February 27].
This article was based on the unsubstantiated claims of a single Republican political consultant seeking to further his own agenda, and it included biased wording that I cannot help but conclude was intended to mislead readers about my 1996 congressional campaign.
I was especially disappointed that I was given no opportunity to respond to these charges before they were published on the Press's web page. My office received a phone call seeking comment late Friday afternoon, February 27, 1998, and we were informed that we could respond by Monday, March 2, 1998. We were not informed about plans for earlier publication on the web page or offered the opportunity to comment beforehand. I would hope the Press would apply the same standards of journalistic fairness and principle to all its work, including that published on the Web, which was not the case with this article. I cannot help but conclude that this article represents ambush journalism at its worst.
With regard to the substance of the article, I want to emphasize several points.
First, neither I, nor my campaign, had any knowledge of the activities described or the individual making the allegations. As such, I certainly did not authorize any such activities, nor would I have. The article alleges that this supposed plot involved an unreported contribution to my campaign. That is not correct and is totally unsubstantiated. These words are clearly intended to imply coordination with my campaign that simply was not the case. No campaign contributions received by my campaign were used for such purposes, nor did I or my campaign direct the use of any funds for such purposes which would have resulted in any coordination or contribution.
Second, the article quotes the Republican consultant as claiming that the money "was funneled to antiabortion, antigay conservative groups under the guise of get-out-the-vote efforts." To our knowledge, there is no corroborating evidence to this charge to warrant its publication by the Press or a response by me.
Third, it is ludicrous in the extreme to suggest that conservative activist Steven Hotze would support my campaign or that I would ever seek his support.
I am very proud of my 1996 congressional campaign, a grassroots, shoe-leather effort involving hundreds of volunteers whose hard work and dedication brought us a 57 percent victory despite redistricting and a special December election. It is laughable that those espousing an extreme right-wing agenda would now try to claim credit for this result. And it is disappointing and disturbing that the Houston Press would give voice to such baseless claims.
Kenneth E. Bentsen, Jr.
Member of Congress
The Press responds: The payment of $25,000 from a campaign consultant working for Congressman Bentsen to Mark Smith, a consultant working for Dr. Steven Hotze in late 1996, is not unsubstantiated as Bentsen indicates. Bentsen's Democratic campaign strategist Dan McClung (see this issue's Insider) confirmed he made the payment, and Smith has canceled checks documenting the payment.
The Insider article pointed out that McClung said the money did not come from the Bentsen campaign and that the congressman was not told about the transaction in advance. Neither McClung nor Bentsen are willing to divulge the source of the $25,000, leaving unanswered the question of who gave the money and how closely they are connected to the congressman. Bentsen claims there is no documentation that the "unsubstantiated" payment was funneled to conservative groups. Smith faxed the Press copies of homophobic, antiabortion fliers attacking Dolly Madison McKenna, which he says are the products of the campaign that McClung's money purchased.