Arena Love

The establishment's attack dog is muzzled, so far

Those selfless civic-minded citizens who are determined to build a new basketball arena must be pretty confident these days.

We can tell they're confident not just because they're flush with cash and have bought off or co-opted every possible opponent, as our Tim Fleck noted last week (we can almost hear Bob Dole croaking "Where's the outrage?" as we watch local GOP chief Gary Polland go arena-crazy this fall).

No, the best way to tell that the arena boys are feeling secure is that they haven't unleashed their favorite attack dog, the Houston Chronicle. At least not yet.

It's been a while since the Chron threatened Houstonians by saying the Rockets are certain to leave if the arena vote doesn't pass. Sure, they don't have any actual cities that are on record as saying they want to build an arena to take the Rockets away, but that's never stopped Houston's Leading Information Source before. We're sure the paper still has a fanciful architect's rendering or two lying around of proposed arenas in Louisville or Oklahoma City.

Last year, when Houston Aeros owner Chuck Watson (and Polland) were vigorously fighting the vote, we got to read endless columns bashing the hockey owner. "Watson's Proposal Way Out in Left Field," columnist John Lopez wrote about Watson's idea of converting the Astrodome for hockey. "Sour-Grapes Stomp Proposed in Dome?" colleague Fran Blinebury agreed the next day.

The days leading up to the election also saw stories saying the proposed NFL stadium might not be feasible unless the arena passed, and yet another front-pager about NBA commissioner David Stern saying the Rockets would leave unless they got a new building.

(When the vote failed, columnist Lopez chimed in with a column headed "Might As Well Kiss the Rockets Goodbye," wherein he noted that voters had somehow seen fit to approve bonds for a new courthouse and port expansion, but not a basketball arena. "If the arena vote truly was only about money, then why did this happen?" he wailed, adding, "The Rockets are gone, even if no one will come out and say it.")

With no one to demonize, the Chronicle instead is pouring out the love in an effort to get the arena.

Here's a sampling of headlines from the front page of the Metro section recently:

September 15: "Rivals Become Dynamic Duo for Downtown Arena: Enron's Lay, Reliant's Jordan Join Forces" (In which a by-the-book cop reluctantly teams with a rebellious rule-breaker to solve a big case. And in the end, to become friends.)

September 16: "Aeros Owner Reverses Stand, Supports Arena Deal" (It was a "stunning reversal," according to the story.)

September 24: "Fan-Friendliness the Plan for Arena: Enron Field Providing Inspiration for Renderings to Be Unveiled Today" (Does that mean the upper levels of the arena won't be adequately air-conditioned?)

October 6: "Focus of Pro-Arena Ads: No New Taxes/ With No Ticket Levy as Part of Deal, Opponents Lack Rallying Cry This Year" (Take that, you opposition bastards.)

October 10: "NAACP, Ministers Back Arena: Rockets Promise Jobs for Minorities, Women" (Everybody loves it!!)

October 17: "Arena-Backers Promote Plan to Group of Hispanic Leaders" (Well, we're still working on a few stragglers.)

That last story, by the way, featured four quotes. The first: "By having our Hispanic community come out in force for issues like this, it empowers us. It's very important to be able to say the Hispanic community made a difference, and we are exactly in that position." Meaning, we guess, that a pro-arena vote is a civil rights victory.

The person being quoted? Celina Garza-Ridge. A board member of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority, which will control the project.

Next to be quoted was City Councilman Gabriel Vasquez: "When you consider that our community will get 30 percent affirmative action, that our youth will be taken care of through youth outreach programs and our neighborhoods will be taken care of as well, this is a really good deal for Houston and this is a really good deal for the Hispanic community."

There was yet another glowing quote before a negative word was heard (kind of): "Humberto Barrera, president of the Mexican American Sheriffs Organization," the Chron wrote, "was critical of Hispanic leaders, not the arena plan. "I think Hispanic leaders should be more concerned about issues like pay raises for teachers, health care and public safety, than building arenas for rich entrepreneurs,' Barrera said."

Those damn Hispanic leaders.

Radio Ga Ga, Part II

Rumors and unrest continue to swirl at KTRH-AM. The latest to make its way around the newsroom is that general manager Marc McCoy, who has triggered much of the unrest, is on the way out. Neither McCoy nor station owner Clear Channel returned phone calls, though.

A recent listen to the city's dominant news-radio station produced this gem October 13: "Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman came to South Texas today to tour colonias and criticize George W. Bush, but our Austin bureau chief, Darrell Azar, has the rest of the story," the anchor intoned.

Had Lieberman been guilty of a Gore-like exaggeration?

Here was Azar: "Lieberman said that Governor Bush had never even visited a colonia. But Bush's Secretary of State Elton Bomer says, "We don't believe a 15-minute photo op at a colonia helps anyone.' "

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