Is This Guy Too Smart to Be Mayor?

Bill White hopes brains and big bucks will get him elected

"It was in some ways a very hard decision because I cared very much for Bill, and I'm a tremendous fan of his. But I didn't want a public life, and that was not something I really knew when I was in law school, when I was falling in love with him."

Establishing a family also became an issue.

"Bill was happy with the idea of having children," says Carol, "as long as I recognized and understood that they would be my responsibility and that he was going to continue working at the same pace that he was. I think that was naive of him. I think that he has probably been a lot more involved in child-rearing than he thought he would be himself."

To prepare for politics, White spent two decades 
building ties to neighborhood groups.
To prepare for politics, White spent two decades building ties to neighborhood groups.
White has had extensive business success, but one 
venture continues to plague investors.
Daniel Kramer
White has had extensive business success, but one venture continues to plague investors.

White, now the father of teenagers Will, Elena and Stephen, remembers it somewhat differently.

"Fatherhood has been one of the great things of my life, but I think Carol probably thought the way that I worked and threw myself and energy into every project and getting out there trying to help people get things done, that I wasn't a family-centered type of person who ever wanted kids…That was a misreading."

Carol later married and then divorced Chuck Neelley, who had been at UT law school with her and Bill. She's an attorney now in Taos, New Mexico.

White and his ex remain good friends, and she recently visited Houston with her daughter for a weekend of block-walking with his campaign workers.

By the time Bill and Carol divorced, White had met a young lawyer named Andrea Ferguson, a Memorial High School grad who attended UT years after he graduated. He encountered his future wife during the corrugated-box litigation, when Andrea was on the other side of the table at depositions. She was the second woman to make partner in what is now Locke Liddell & Sapp. "We'd been friends and I tried to set her up on dates with friends," recalls White. "She went with Carol and I on camping trips and we got to know each other."

Unlike Carol, Andrea does not shun the limelight, nor does she miss the practice of law.

"I loved the firm, loved the people, loved the bankers I mainly represented. But it was not a passion for me, so when I left I didn't miss the substance of it."

As for the possible role of Houston's first lady, which Elyse Lanier largely invented and Lee Brown's wife, Frances, despised, Andrea is a good soldier. "I love my husband, I want to support him, I'll do whatever."

The second Mrs. White is also an author. She has an unpublished novel about "a Martha Stewart type who is always counting the number of dishes going in the dishwasher. Her husband commits a gray-area wrong and she falls from social grace and finds a surprising strength."

Mrs. White says the book lacks passion. She shelved it in favor of writing a novel aimed at teenagers, which she hopes to see published in the coming year. By then, she may have a whole new realm to mine for literary inspiration.

Steve Susman sits in his dining room on the 23rd floor of the Huntingdon, recounting his shared history with Bill White while occasionally slipping scrambled egg morsels under the table to his insistent King Charles spaniel, Otis.

Morning haze drapes the skyline of the city, looming beyond a wall-length window. Susman is the visual opposite of his former partner -- a dark, brooding, magnetic man whose face bears the sculpted features of a tougher-than-nails trial lawyer.

Bill Clinton hired Susman Godfrey when he was Arkansas attorney general to represent the state in antitrust litigation. Susman had met the future president, but White had not.

That changed in early 1991 when White was part of a small group of influential Democratic activists who attended a Clinton precampaign speech. He became point man for Susman Godfrey in raising money for Clinton's campaign.

Susman laughs. "My first wife, Karen, always said, 'Goddamn it, you should never have let Bill deliver that money for the firm [to Clinton]. You should have done it yourself, and then you would've gotten a big position.' " At the time, Susman replied that he liked his life and had no desire to go to Washington.

After Clinton won, many supporters began angling for government appointments. Because he was one of the earliest big fund-raisers, White was in the running for deputy energy secretary, along with Gary Mauro, then Texas land commissioner and a Clinton pal. Accusations of political use of his office took Mauro out of the running, and White got the post under Hazel O'Leary.

At DOE, White primarily focused on oil and gas matters, traveling extensively in the Caucasus region of the newly liberated former Soviet republics. He negotiated for pipeline rights-of-way and the closing of the damaged Chernobyl nuclear plant.

After three years, White resigned from his post and returned to Houston in 1996. He would renew an old acquaintance with Issam Fares, who is now the deputy prime minister of Lebanon.

Years earlier, Susman had represented Fares and Wedge Group in a lawsuit. "I just happened to get Bill White as the associate to work on the case with me," says Susman. "Through working on the case, he got to meet Mr. Fares. Mr. Fares was very impressed with Bill and liked him. That's Bill's connection to Wedge and Issam Fares." After White returned to Houston from Washington, the Wedge Group CEO position opened up and Fares asked him to take the job.

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