Midsummer Night's Political Dreams

Mirth and anger follow Berry's decision to run for mayor

In an e-mail to The Insider sent at a more conventional hour (6:28 p.m.), Berry reiterated his decision. He has named attorney Bruce LaBoon as campaign chair and Seitel board chairman Fred Zeidman as finance chair.

Trapped in a particular touchy position is Berry chief of staff Carl Davis, the former vice chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. Davis, a longtime player in Houston African-American politics, helped organize Berry's support among blacks and secure the endorsements of ministerial groups. He's close to Turner but is on Berry's payroll.

"I'm not going to get caught in the middle of this," commented Davis. "I'm not saying anything."

Turner makes it clear Berry will have no impact on his own effort to win the city's top job. He says his defeat in a runoff race against Bob Lanier in 1991 was nothing more than a training exercise for 2003. He cites, as the seal on that episode, the verdict against Channel 13 in the celebrated slander trial that followed stories linking him to insurance fraud.

"A short synopsis would borrow the words from the Texas Supreme Court: 'The story was false and defamatory,' " Turner says. "Put a period there.

"You're going to have experiences that you may not enjoy, but they also help to strengthen you and prepare you for the next go-round, or the next leg of wherever you're trying to go."

He's launching a charm offensive to convince former critics that he's the right man for mayor.

"I'm saying that to some of the businesspeople downtown," explains Turner. "Before you feel compelled to go out and have to find somebody, talk with the guy. You may be fighting an erroneous perception, or fighting a perception someone else is trying to create."

Calling all the bad publicity part of the "old era," Turner declares, "This is the new era, and you don't build on the new era carrying old baggage. And neither do you allow anybody to take you back to the old era. It's not productive, it serves no purpose, and you don't get very far."

KCOH/1430 AM talk show host Michael Harris says it may not be so simple for Turner to bury the past. He believes Berry's attempts to reach out to the black community might earn him African-American votes in a matchup with Turner, and that the scars of 1991 remain a liability for Sylvester.

"I like 'em both," says the commentator. "Sylvester's an old friend, and Michael's a new friend." Harris notes that Berry has been more accessible to him than any other member of council.

"He hasn't been around nearly as long as Sylvester, but Mike has shown he is pretty astute up until now. He may have cut his throat by deciding he's going to run for mayor so quickly. But hey, it's his career, and I'm not going to down him for it."

According to Turner, Berry has exploited the black community for support but is finally showing his true color. Turner says anyone receiving promises from Berry should not take them at face value.

"The only advice I would offer to anybody who is now supporting him or gets on his wagon is 'Get it in writing!' "

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