Running Mates

Michael and Nandy Berry are world-class charmers. But what's really behind those two smiles?

Turner laughs at the claim, insisting that he told Berry only that running for mayor was not a "wise decision" and that reneging on his pledges "will come back to haunt" him. Turner pauses. "Tell me, do you view that as a threat? I don't view that as a threat."

According to Berry, the conversation ended with Berry saying, "I'm not going to be scared off, intimidated or bullied out of doing what I believe is the right thing."

The issue of veracity emerged in the early stages of the campaign. Berry's team made an issue of the failure of several Sanchez supporters to pay their property taxes on time. As it later developed, the Berrys hadn't paid their HISD taxes for the previous year. The Chronicle quoted Berry as blaming his wife for what he called a onetime mistake. The candidate says that's a distortion of what he meant.

Unconventional couple: Nandy earns the money, pays 
the bills and cooks the meals.
Daniel Kramer
Unconventional couple: Nandy earns the money, pays the bills and cooks the meals.
Berry announces for mayor: In his campaigns, the 
candidate plasters the city with signs.
Daniel Kramer
Berry announces for mayor: In his campaigns, the candidate plasters the city with signs.

"I'm the one in public life and I'm the one who has to take the blame and responsibility, and I do," Berry says.

The problem with that explanation was that the Sanchez campaign then documented previous late payments by the Berrys on their taxes, and produced copies of the penalty checks signed by Michael rather than Nandy.

A former associate is not surprised that Berry would cast Nandy in an unflattering light to get off a political hook.

"There's no one that Michael would not stab in the back to get what he wants," says the source. "Not even his wife. The only type of relationship he develops with anyone is people from whom he can gain something."

After winning his city seat, Berry immediately distanced himself from colleagues by announcing he would refuse his council salary. According to Berry, Nandy suggested the move as a way of showing he was serious about cutting wasteful city spending.

"The public applauds the fact I don't take a vehicle allowance and I don't take a salary," says Berry. "And a lot of public officials ridicule that fact." He says public office should be a sacrifice and that officials should stop using their positions "to feed their egos and to feed their sense of being the king."

His rejection of his city paycheck may have gotten good play, but it did not enhance the newcomer's relations with his colleagues, all of whom continued to receive their salaries. Berry's next shocker -- that he was running for mayor after only five months on council -- also did nothing to further his influence with the other councilmembers.

Councilman Mark Ellis says that announcement was the point when Berry ceased to be a serious factor at City Hall. "I turned to him at the council table and said, 'You're not going to get anything passed in your first term,' " recounts Ellis, the conservative council leader who spearheaded the successful property tax rollback in recent years.

Berry asked Ellis what he meant.

"You don't understand human nature, do you?" Ellis says he answered. "There's 14 other egos sitting around this table, and they aren't going to want to feather your cap to further your political career."

In his initial year on council, Berry failed at one effort to roll back the tax rate, while causing problems for fellow council conservatives. They had worked out deals with the Brown administration to get the mayor to agree to other budget initiatives, like an increase in the homestead exemption for the elderly and disabled.

By dropping in his budget bomb without clearing it with the others, Berry embarrassed colleagues and put them on the spot. Either they honored their commitments to the administration, or they risked antagonizing their own constituents.

Ellis says Berry had also not done his homework on a tax reduction proposal, to show how the budget could still be balanced. "Michael came in and just said, 'We're going to cut the tax rate one cent.' Everybody looked around the table and said, 'Okay, where's it going to come from?' "

True to Ellis's prediction about Berry's effectiveness, of nearly 90 amendments offered by the freshman for this year's budget, only four passed.

"Nearly half of the budget amendments put forward by 14 members of council came from him," says Councilwoman Annise Parker, a candidate for city controller. "We politely debated for a while, and he was losing, and we got tired of it. So we bundled all the remaining Berry amendments and killed them by a wide margin."

According to veteran Parker, councilmembers win votes if they have great ideas that command instant support, or they take the time to talk with colleagues and convince them.

"He's bright, he's handsome, he's very articulate. I don't know that he rubs his colleagues the wrong way," Parker says. "He just doesn't take them into consideration."

After he announced for mayor, Parker recalls, Berry began speaking more at the weekly council "pop off" sessions where members air concerns. At the end of one particularly long-winded Berry presentation, Parker and Councilwoman Carol Alvarado looked at each other and then intoned sotto voce into their microphones, "Paid for by the Michael Berry for Mayor campaign."

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