The Good, the Bad, the Imprisoned

Houston's best politicos were not always the ones elected -- or the ones who stayed in office

Best Antidote to the Good Ol' Boys

Kathy Whitmire: The co-holder with Louie Welch for most consecutive terms as mayor (five), she routed the good ol' boy developer clique with the backing of a progressive coalition of moderate whites and minorities in 1981. The only woman to serve as mayor worked wonders for the city's image by appointing the first black police chief, Lee Brown, and by guiding the city through its worst economic downturn since the Depression.

Best U.S. President from Houston

George Bush: Well, he was the only one, so there wasn't much competition. He brought the 1992 Republican Convention to the Astrodome in Houston, but it nominated a loser.

Best Congressman

Albert Thomas: Working with Senator Lyndon Johnson, this legislative meat cutter excelled at slicing the pork on the House Appropriations Committee and sending it all back home. He helped corral the Johnson Space Center for the Clear Lake area, a development that polished the city's futuristic image and produced the best publicity any town has ever received from beyond the atmosphere: "Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed."

Strongest of the Strong

Bob Lanier: This developer went from playing power broker behind the throne of mayor Louie Welch to municipal king after Kathy Whitmire pissed him off. He ended Whitmire's reign, killed her monorail plan and spurred redevelopment in the inner city, even though the primary beneficiaries were the gentry. Lanier dominated City Council as few have before him, never losing a vote of consequence and reducing the 14 members to rubber stamps. Wife Elyse virtually created the role of mayoral first lady, launching a Houston image campaign with the immortal slogan "Houston, Expect the Unexpected." Under Lanier's iron fist, it hardly ever happened at City Hall.

Biggest Feet in Mouth

Former mayor Louie Welch's comment to what he thought was a dead mike during his unsuccessful comeback campaign against Kathy Whitmire in 1987: "Shoot the queers." Gay activists responded with campaign T-shirts featuring bull's-eyes.

Doddering councilman Frank Mann characterized challenger Eleanor Tinsley's supporters as "queers and odd wads." Apparently there were a lot of them, since Tinsley won and went on to a distinguished career on Council.

Biggest Prude

Councilman Rob Todd: He could pass for an entry in an Elvis impersonator contest with all that doo-wopped hair, but deep inside the District E representative burns the soul of a Church Lady. Rob, once described by colleague Jew Don Boney as a funny, funny guy, has fulminated against the evils of sex boutiques selling edible underwear, opposed allowing shock rocker Marilyn Manson to perform at a city-owned facility, and dismissed Bill Clinton's oral fixations and fibbing as typical of Democrats. If Rob weren't so righteous, you might think he was just severely repressed.

Runner-up: Anti-porn activist Geneva Kirk Brooks, who exposed a bunch of Houston Lighting & Power workers who had hired the infamous Salad Sisters for a stag party performance at a company warehouse. She reveled in playing the videotape over and over to anyone who would watch. Unfortunately Rob wasn't around back then.

Best and Worst Councilman at the Same Time

Ben Reyes: Can anyone serving federal time for bribery and conspiracy make a best politician list? In the aftermath of the feds' Hotel Six sting that led to Reyes's and former port commissioner Betti Maldonado's convictions, it's easy to forget how Reyes virtually created Hispanic politics in Houston and held his own on City Council as perhaps the best wheeler-dealer for nearly two decades. Never mind that he was fooling us with that phony Purple Heart in Vietnam stuff all those years and had the worst midlife crisis in Houston political history. When Ben was good, he was very good, but when he was bad, he stank out the house.

E-mail Tim Fleck at tim.fleck@houstonpress.com.

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