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During an investigation of former county judge Jon Lindsay's campaign finances in 1992, Holmes wired himself with a hidden microphone for a chat with Lindsay at the judge's office. Holmes now wonders how the current crop of candidates will be perceived in future situations when they might have to investigate a major campaign supporter.
"I didn't have any ties," says Holmes. He even refused to later endorse Clements, the man who had appointed him to his job. "You all speculated that I went over and was wired when I interviewed Jon Lindsay on his matter. Would you think someone with close ties to someone would have the intestinal fortitude to do that?"
And even if they did, Holmes believes, the district attorney's authority would be weakened by the appearance of cronyism. Had Lindsay been a major Holmes backer, Holmes says, people would have automatically assumed that he was pursuing a halfhearted investigation. "While it may be absolutely false," says Holmes, "the appearance there makes some people believe it, and thus harms the credibility of the office."
Holmes also believes that the long-running feud between Commissioner Radack and Judge Eckels is taking precedence over a concern for the independence of his office.
"Stafford's running because Radack's getting him to and Fleming's pushing him," contends Holmes. "It's Eckels supporting Y and Radack supporting Z. I don't think it makes a tinker's damn who it is from their perspective. I don't think it's any secret that Radack can't stand Eckels, and it probably works the same way the other way around."
Radack is assisting Stafford "in any way he asks for me to help," the commissioner says. "Raising money, helping him with volunteers, with my own time, and [I] certainly have financially assisted him as well."
But he claims he simply responded to the candidate's appeal, and is not acting out of any extended feud with the county judge.
"I think it's kinda funny that people try to say there's some kind of a political war between me and Eckels," snipes Radack. "If you're going to have a war, it would be fair to have a worthy opponent, and I don't consider him as being one."
As for battlefield predictions, Radack has only one.
"I don't know who the next D.A. is going to be," says the commander of the sign brigade, "but I can tell you it's going to be one hell of a runoff."
In recent months former Houston Sports Authority chair Jack Rains has charged that county government is controlled by a circle of self-enriching good ol' boys centered on Radack, who is pushing Stafford.
"It does not surprise me at all that the people who are employed by the county and contract with the county in a major fashion are supporting the county insider, Mike Stafford," comments Rains. "That's the way the clique operates."
Rains is backing Lykos, who has promised to vigorously prosecute public integrity cases.
Stafford denies that he's a tool of anyone's, including the contractors and politicians who are backing his campaign.
"I think they are concerned with having good government, having somebody in there that has demonstrated an ability to run a large public law office," says Stafford. At the same time, he acknowledges he has worked with most of them before. "I think they've all directly or indirectly had dealings with me on big projects where they know I can get things done."
At least one fellow candidate doubts Stafford will be as easily manipulated as some of his supporters might think.
"I never knew Stafford before this race," says Leitner. "I have gotten to know him pretty well during this race, and I have been nothing but impressed by Stafford as a person. I think that whatever the motives are of the crew that put him up, I think they chose the wrong person. I don't think Stafford would ever be the kind of puppet I think they want him to be."
Holmes recalls that when he announced his resignation, he told the Houston Chroniclehe would not get involved in the race to replace him "unless some nincompoop ran." According to Holmes, Stafford called him and said, "Look, I'm being speculated as running for D.A., and I want to tell you personally that I'm not running for D.A. just because I don't want you to have to take a position because some nincompoop's running."
Asked about it, Stafford says, "He's right. I called him. Then I changed my mind." He didn't say whether he changed it about running, being a nincompoop, or both.
It's 30 minutes before a Pachyderm Club campaign forum in west Houston, but feisty Pat Lykos is already pumped. "Ask me more questions," she demands of an interviewer, working out on her issues like a boxer bashing a punching bag. If enthusiasm were the sole criterion, the curly-haired, bespectacled Lykos would have the race sewn up.
Lykos likes to have the last word, and she generally gets it. She's a former cop ("Angie Dickinson was a policewoman; I was an HPD officer") and jurist who comes across in private more like a salty yellow-dog Democrat than a lifelong Republican. Her heritage is Greek, but she doesn't revel in it. "If you want to hyphenate me," she declares, "just call me a Texan-American."