Business with the Unusual

Bill White steps into his own political spotlight

If so, White will surely go down in history as the Mother Teresa of the oil industry.

The candidate's relationship with Deputy Prime Minister Fares of Lebanon could also become a campaign issue. Two years ago, a Fares-endowed fund paid incoming Secretary of State Colin Powell $200,000 for a 30-minute talk at Tufts University. Fares also ponied up a $100,000 contribution for President George W. Bush's inaugural festivities. Media reports focused on allegations that the Lebanese official was trying to buy influence with the new administration.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Fares angrily responded in a statement blasting "the Zionist lobby in the United States and its agents" for "distortions and lies." Fares also opposed the U.S. government's decision to add the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militia group Hezbollah to its terrorist list in the wake of 9/11.

White faces the daunting task of building a consensus across racial and political lines.
Daniel Kramer
White faces the daunting task of building a consensus across racial and political lines.

"It is a mistake to make a comparison between the [Al Qaeda] network…which Lebanon has condemned, and Hezbollah, which Lebanon considers a resistance party fighting the Israeli occupation," Fares told Agence France-Presse. He claimed the group has never targeted Americans, a position disputed by U.S. officials as well as Fares's own Wedge Group CEO.

"I personally think the Hezbollah militia is a terrorist organization," counters White, who notes that he and Fares rarely talk politics. The candidate says his own position on the Arab-Israeli conflict is clear.

"I think I am the only non-Jew on the board of the American-Israeli public affairs committee," the candidate says. "Regionally, I've been on the board of the Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs out of Washington for six years. I think that Israel has been victimized by terrorism, period."

As for Fares, White describes him as a member of an oppressed Christian minority in a predominantly Muslim area whose dream is to create a peaceful, multireligious democracy in Lebanon.

At the moment, White is faced with a more down-home problem. He needs to find a formula that will lift him out of the likely crowded field of mayoral wannabes and into a runoff next fall. It's a task that has confounded a number of well-qualified candidates in the past, including then-incumbent Kathy Whitmire in 1991 and former city controller George Greanias in 1997.

White predicts he will disprove the pundits who say it's impossible to build a Houston mayoral campaign across political and racial boundaries.

"I think they're wrong. I think folks do not want to rehash old elections, and want to take the city to the next level," White contends. "A lot of what we can do with city government has not kept up with the growth of the city. People don't want business as usual."

In terms of Houston municipal politics, Bill White most definitely represents business with the unusual. Whether voters are in a buying mood remains to be seen.

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