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.

The charge that he's a handpicked Castillo front man riles the candidate.

"It's amazing how they can say that," counters Flores. He says he considered a candidacy for years, and made up his mind while he was vice president of the Idylwood group. "There's no handpicking anywhere. I decided to run for this seat because I'm the best candidate."

Still, most City Hall people apparently got their first look at him on the arm of Castillo.

"He's a very nice man -- we serve on the Midtown Redevelopment Authority together," Alvarado says. "But he's very quiet, and I've never known him to have political aspirations."

"John wants to be the person who anoints this guy?" Morris snaps. "I don't think that's gonna fly. God bless his heart, I'm sure the guy means well, but to get handpicked by John, who's under investigation right now? That doesn't smell right."

Flores, unlike his two opponents, is staying neutral in the mayoral race, saying he respects all the candidates and can work with any administration.

In contrast to the political animal credentials of Alvarado and Morris, Flores hopes his political inexperience will be a plus.

"People that I talk to throughout the district don't care about politicians. They're really sick of politics. I'm not a professional politician -- I'm a professional problem solver…When it's all said and done, and when the smoke clears, is it just more politicizing of issues, or is it getting out there and getting things done?"

Through the rain, the tour bus rolls slowly down narrow streets that can hardly handle a garbage truck, much less this motorized behemoth, a passenger jet on wheels. Tree branches scratch the second deck, as Flores points out the sights: a concrete ditch decorated with gang graffiti near Ingrando Park; an abandoned sewage plant whose tanks brim with a thick green pudding; ramshackle houses with mattresses and tires dumped along the streets in the old Harrisburg neighborhoods; access roads so rutted in the Clinton Drive industrial park that distribution companies are moving out, taking trucks and their jobs with them. Viewed cumulatively, it is a stunning, depressing vista.

"In the fourth-largest city this just shouldn't be accepted," Flores tells his captive audience. "I'll work hard to make sure to ring the bell loud enough to show we need enough funds in this district to take care of some of these major infrastructure problems."

What Flores doesn't comment on is the preponderance of Alvarado campaign signs in the poorest neighborhoods. They are inside residents' property lines rather than spiked by campaign workers on public medians or plastered on vacant buildings. Her years of religiously attending neighborhood meetings and working these heavily Democratic precincts seem to be paying off.

The tour concludes in the Shadow Glen subdivision just north of the East Freeway, an area that was inundated by up to eight feet of water during Tropical Storm Allison. Street after street of gutted houses has been transformed into an instant trailer park, with new mobile homes purchased by grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in each front yard. Every few houses, residents wave to the passing bus from their perches in lawn chairs or sofas resting in open garages.

One element is missing. There are no political signs for any of the candidates to be seen throughout the flood zone. Wherever the benighted residents of Shadow Glen are looking for salvation, it doesn't seem to be the District I council race. Maybe they've learned from experience.

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