By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
D uring his successful primary run against opponent Tom Reiser for the Republican nomination in Houston's 25th Congressional District two months ago, political newcomer Phillip P. Sudan Jr. blitzed local TV with a painfully corny ad designed to introduce the candidate to the electorate on the basis of what he is not.
As a pair of yokels pointed to a map of Africa, the voice tag proclaimed "Not the Africa Sudan!"Then came a drawing of a car. "Not your parent's sedan!"Then stick images of a man and woman. "Not Sue and Dan!"
Along the same lines, the 48-year-old attorney might want to take the divorce papers involving his first and second marriages and fashion a similar campaign pitch for use against Democratic incumbent Ken Bentsen this fall. Sudan's marital and family problems make New York City Mayor and Senate campaign dropout Rudy Giuliani's travails seem downright saccharine. After all, Rudy's significant others have never accused him of the tawdry laundry list contained in first wife Maggie R. Mackenzie's latest pleading in her continuing dispute with Sudan over the financial fallout from their divorce.
(Phil got some help from GOP jurist Eva Guzman, a Bush appointee, late last Friday. In a short ruling without explanation, Guzman dismissed most of Mackenzie's financial claims and scheduled a trial June 19 to decide attorney's fees and remaining issues. Mackenzie's attorneys say they will appeal.)
As for Sudan's political ads, imagine a stick figure drawing of a successful attorney frolicking with his receptionist in the family home's marital bed while the wife and two kids are away, an alleged situation that helped precipitate the couple's 1993 breakup. The voice on the imaginary ad could intone "Not the adulterous Sudan!"
Then there's the 1998 phone call where Sudan informs his ex-wife that he will no longer pay alimony and child support as agreed in their court settlement. Under pressure, the ex-wife signs an agreement to a one-time payment of $30,000 that she later renounces. "Not the brow-beating Sudan!"
Now focus on the divorce petition Sudan filed last year against current wife Tracy, citing personality conflicts, only to drop it shortly before mounting his race for Congress. "Not the unstable, politically expedient Sudan!"
How about this touching scene: Sudan allegedly drops Carly at Maggie's Houston house three months ago, with only the clothes on her back. He reportedly refuses to allow her to pick up her possessions, including stuffed animals, that are at his home. According to Maggie, he was angry that Carly would not stay away from her. "Not the heartless Sudan!"
Cut to a close-up of the candidate's pricey campaign headquarters in the Rice University area's Village shopping center. Then spotlight a raft of personal checks for his largely self-financed campaign.
In his latest Federal Election Commission report April 1 Sudan lists a piddling $6,846 in contributions from supporters while he lent his campaign $1.2 million in personal funds. (Phil, by the way, instructed campaign staff not to bother using his closest friends as sources for campaign donations, since he could carry the load himself.) The announcer's tagline: "Not the spendthrift Sudan!
Then, as in the first ad, a smiling, smooth-talking Phil takes front-and-center on camera to proclaim who he really is. For that he can use a script based on his own court pleadings against Maggie.
"Hi, I'm Phil Sudan, the victim of a greedy, vindictive ex-wife who is desperate for money. Don't award her a cent, but do give me your vote! After all, I've worked for some of the most admired Houstonians of our time as a lawyer, including NFL Oilers-turned-Titans owner Bud Adams and the Coastal Corporation of Saddam Hussein-schmoozing Oscar Wyatt. They loved me, you will too."
Then a pregnant pause. "In my court filings, I've issued a blanket denial of all those lies she's told about me. But even if there is a grain of truth in any of them, look at the positive side.
"Don't you want a congressman who can go to the United Nations and say, 'forget all our financial commitments? Take a onetime payment of $30 million, or we'll condemn that East River shack you occupy and bounce you out of the country right now, treaties be damned.'
"And what's the real solution to campaign finance reform? Simply make all aspiring politicians use only their own money to run for office. Why worry about soft money when you've got your own hard cash? Be your own special-interest group!"
Then Sudan can close with a quote from his campaign brochure blurb, contributed by Tracy shortly after she and hubbie dropped the dueling divorce petitions against each other last summer.
"When Phil shared with me that he was interested in running for Congress, I assured him he had my full support. Phil is a compassionate, dedicated man of integrity. He is an adoring husband and father. I know the citizens of the 25th District will be as proud of him as we are."
Until he decides to divorce you, that is.
At a time when home evaluations by the Harris County Appraisal District are skyrocketing in most areas, taxpayers might be interested in knowing how the HCAD board uses the public dollars the agency is so efficient in collecting.
When then-HCAD board chairman George Wyche took off on an eight-day trip to Detroit at taxpayer expense last August, he knew he would be resigning shortly as the city's rep on the taxing board.
He was attending the National Association of Real Estate Brokers annual convention, an event more attuned to his private role as head of G.N. Wyche Realty than his chairmanship of a tax appraisal board.
But no one questioned that public outlay of more than $2,200 Wyche spent on airfare and expenses. HCAD board members simply billed the agency for such expenses, without needing anyone's approval, even those on their own board.
The tax trustees are fond of their annual treks to the convention of the International Association of Assessing Officers [IAAO]. That organization has picked glam sites like the Disney World complex in Orlando and Las Vegas for its last two conventions, and it is aiming at Edmonton, Canada for the next confab. HCAD is one of the few appraisal districts in the country that regularly sends its board members on out-of-state trips at taxpayer expense.
Last week, the HCAD board finally voted to add a level of accountability to the directors' travel and expenses. It will now require members to submit proposed expenditures before rather than after the trips for approval by the board.
That they acted at all is partly the result of goading from Dan Hart. The appraisal district reform activist runs the non-profit Taxpayers for Equal Appraisal and maintains a Web page ( www.hcadtea.org). Hart and his wife Betty even paid their own way to the Las Vegas IAAO convention last year to keep tabs on the directors. He regularly peppers HCAD with open records requests that have made him about as popular with agency officials as a cloud of salt marsh mosquitoes at a picnic.
Asked why taxpayers need to foot the chairman's bill for a real estate convention in Detroit, HCAD chief appraiser Jim Robinson initially passed the buck.
"I think you'd need to ask Mr. Wyche," Robinson said. "He had indicated he felt he benefited from attending this, and he was a good board chairman. Very knowledgeable fellow."
Wyche did not return an Insider call for comment.
Current HCAD chair Charles Garrison, a retired Deer Park educator, says Wyche explained that the trip was a recruitment jaunt to find appraisers for HCAD, a rationale that Robinson later echoed. Neither cited anyone recruited from the jaunt.
"I really don't know the full details of what he did or why he did," says Garrison. "Not in a position to make a judgment on that."
Nevertheless, Garrison did sponsor the new restrictions that went into effect last week to bar members from out-of-state travel without approval of the full board. "This is a good change that we're making," he says.
No argument there.
E-mail Tim Fleck at firstname.lastname@example.org.