Smackdown at City Hall

Candidates clash in a castaway district, exes attack, and Bell wringers rumble for a final round with Brown. Voters, pick your fight.

City Hall's rumor mill also has been churning about Alvarado's romance with her administration coequal, Donald K. Hollingsworth, responsible for public safety and drug issues for Brown. Some observers question if there should be a personal alliance between Brown's top two aides.

"I'll just say my personal life is that, and I wish to keep my personal life private," says Alvarado, firmly shutting the door on the line of inquiry. "I'm single and I live alone."

According to one councilmember, "The relationship is a source of amusement, but considering the stuff that's gone on between councilmembers and other councilmembers' wives, so what?"

Alvarado started campaigning at the age of 12.
Alvarado started campaigning at the age of 12.

Before Alvarado took a leave of absence to campaign, mayoral candidate and Councilmember Chris Bell offered an ethics ordinance clearly aimed at forcing her resignation. Alvarado's campaign treasurer is Jim Edmonds, a high-powered lobbyist who chairs the port commission. Both Morris and Flores agree that the situation created at least the appearance of impropriety.

"If someone is in [Carol's] position whose treasurer is chairman of the port authority, or chairman of other agencies within the city of Houston, and funds will be contracted for in those agencies, then there's a problem," says Flores.

"It's about ethics, and I don't think Carol has any," snipes Morris. "She's made her bed, and she's going to have to lie in it. The thing that gets me is Brown knows about it and he allows it to happen."

Alvarado counters that the ethics ordinance targeted her while ignoring Flores's position as a municipal judge. Castillo and Vasquez pushed for the law, which convinced her it was just a political ploy by two supporters of Flores.

According to Alvarado, she tried to stay on good terms with both councilmen.

"After the 1999 race, I went to Vasquez and said, 'Look, you know I wasn't with you, but you're here now and I'm here, and let's make the best of this. Let's try to help each other.' " Alvarado says that agreement lasted until her candidacy. She also approached Castillo for his support, hoping he would reciprocate for her work on his campaign in 1995.

"He said he felt I was a good candidate," recalls Alvarado, "but that he wanted to support someone who would turn around and support him for Commissioners Court. Which I think was very selfish, because you'd think he would want the best-qualified person…I thought it was very self-serving."

A council colleague figures Vasquez, like Castillo, is looking to his political future.

"He's trying to build a power base for a future mayoral race. Carol wouldn't owe him diddly and has worked against him. So this is a chance for him to thumb his nose at the Hispanic leadership and possibly gain a council ally."

Vasquez counters that he supports Flores because he's the best candidate and that Alvarado has not been a good representative for the Hispanic community.

"As an executive assistant of the mayor, she's been challenging and difficult to work with," says the councilman. He admits the census effort produced better results than in previous years, although "we still came in undercounted and one of the worst cities in the country."

According to Vasquez, most of his problems with Alvarado have been behind-the-scenes conflicts over efforts to improve his district's libraries and facilities.

"It's just been difficult to get her to be a partner in getting things done," he says. "She's been more of an obstacle."

Alvarado is banking on her long-nurtured neighborhood roots to win without a runoff. Along the way, she isn't willing to criticize Mayor Brown or to separate herself one inch from the administration.

Asked whether, as councilmember, she would oppose Brown if her constituents' interests required it, she replied immediately: "I don't think I'll have to, because I don't think he's going to deprive the people in District I from any services."

Sheets of rain rippled across the parking lot of a strip center off the Gulf Freeway at Wayside, as a double-decker yellow bus rolled out on a sort of political Magical Mystery Tour of District I. Tornadoes had touched down to the east a few hours earlier, and the sky was still a threatening gray-blue. Al Flores's staff had rounded up a crowd of retirees and students for a lunch capped by a field trip through the low points of the district he hopes to represent.

South Texas native Neftali Partida, a young aide who had come from an Austin legislative assignment to work Flores's campaign, scouted the bus route in advance. He admitted shock at finding conditions reminiscent of a border colonia, a shantytown without paved streets or sewage systems.

Playing up the warts of the district is a tricky gambit for Flores, since he's politically joined at the hip to incumbent Castillo. Before playing emcee on the bus, Flores tried to shift the onus from Castillo.

"This district has been so ignored since its inception that it's like putting fingers in a dam," said the attorney. "He's done a good job with the resources that he's had, but there have been so many problems riddled throughout the district."

Flores got a business degree at the University of Houston before his time at Texas Southern's Thurgood Marshall School of Law. He touts numerous activities in poverty law organizations as well as the Idylwood Civic Association.

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