Winning Ugly

Don't ask how, but the city made a good move

It's probably not a great idea for a city government to do business with a developer of low-income housing if that developer is the subject of an FBI probe that may bring down Dallas's mayor pro tem.

So it's likely a good thing that Houston didn't lend developer Brian Potashnik $2.3 million, as it planned to do at one time.

But how it reached that decision shows the city bureaucracy is still a wondrous thing to behold.

Approval of the two loans to Potashnik was on the agenda of City Council's Housing Committee November 15; the meeting ended before they reached the item, so discussion was rescheduled for November 21. Between those dates, committee chair Shelley Sekula-Gibbs was asked (by a Houston Press reporter) whether she knew about the FBI investigation.

It turns out she did, and had asked the city's director of housing, Milton Wilson -- all the way back in June, when a deal with Potashnik was first proposed -- to respond to her concerns about the Dallas matter. She never heard back from him.

"We have had some very ill-conceived, ill-advised relationships with…affordable-housing developers in the past, and we should be scrutinizing these things very carefully," Sekula-Gibbs says. "It really bothers me that we were not given more detail on this project."

Wilson says he didn't get back to the councilwoman because the proposed deal was dead, and had been dead since shortly after it first came up. (This all concerns the arcane and Byzantine world of HUD, so just accept the fact that both the housing projects in question have already been finished.)

Just to make things more confusing, the mayor's office tried to resuscitate the deal after its demise. Aides there wanted to redirect money to the project partly because the city had placed some Katrina evacuees in the apartment complexes.

So, as far as the council's Housing Committee was concerned, they were still being asked to get in bed with Potashnik and weren't getting any response to their concerns about that potential hookup. Wilson, however, says he would have told the committee to ignore the item if they had reached it at the November 21 meeting.

The official judgment for the city: full scores for the final result, but no style points awarded.

Coming in Small Packages

Whoever said there's no such thing as bad publicity hasn't met Enrique Iglesias.

Iglesias, a singer listed in the pop- culture dictionary under "Latin heartthrob," was in Houston last month to promote his new cologne. He spent a few minutes chatting with Press Night & Day editor Steven Devadanam, and was obviously in a playful mood.

When asked what was next on his quest to help men score, he said, "The next product I'm gonna put my name on is extra-small condoms…I can never find extra-small condoms, and I know it's really embarrassing for people -- you know, from experience. Hopefully people won't be ashamed when I step forward."

Most people clearly got the idea Iglesias wasn't exactly serious when they read the exchange in Devadanam's Been There, Done That column on October 20. "It was obvious to me that it was said in an extremely joking manner and he was being sarcastic," says Liz Embry, the PR rep for Foley's, which staged the event.

But newspapers like the Hindustan Times, the Melbourne (Australia) Herald Sun and (somehow) the Cleveland Plain Dealer didn't get the joke. Nor did countless entertainment Web sites.

"Enrique Iglesias Admits He Has Very Small Penis" was the headline on the British site Entertainmentwise.com. Another Web site from England, FemaleFirst.co.uk, breathlessly told readers, "Enrique Iglesias has shocked his female admirers -- by announcing he wants to release his own range of extra-small condoms."

A PR firm in England -- where they are obviously obsessed about dick size -- put out a press release on behalf of the rubber-maker Trojan, highlighting a poll that said 68 percent of women agreed "size doesn't matter" and 89 percent said "they would opt for smaller rather than 'too large' if they had to choose."

Iglesias's people, as they say in the biz, could not be reached. Embry says she hasn't heard anything from them one way or the other since the item came out.

But if the condom deal happens, expect the ads to feature Iglesias singing that old Pete Townshend classic, "A Little Is Enough."

Vote or Your Kid's a Nerd

School districts have gotten awful clever about getting supporters to the polls in bond elections. Deer Park ISD, for instance, had an item in its November 8 referendum funding new turf and a scoreboard at their football stadium. So setting up early-voting booths at district football games is not a bad idea, if you're the kind of person in favor of spending tons of public money on high school football fields.

Alvin ISD almost went Deer Park one better. Parents of students at Hood-Case Elementary received flyers inviting them to "Fall Academic Night" November 3, which would feature choir performances, games and refreshments.

"AND," the flyer continued, "don't forget to cast your vote in the bond election. If you come and vote that night, your child will earn the right to wear jeans on Friday, November 4th!"

Wearing jeans to a school that requires standardized dress? We can imagine the pressure the kids put on Mom and Dad. Rumors began swirling that the district would take down the names of all who voted that night, and if a kid showed up in jeans and his parents' names weren't on the list, it was detention time.

"You can't give people goodies to get them to vote," says Alvin resident Michael Payne, who protested the event.

Scott Haywood of Texas's Secretary of State office agrees. "It could be considered bribery," he says.

Alvin school district spokesperson Shirley Brothers says the plan "got nipped" before it got started. "It was a little overzealousness on the principal who thought she was going to do that," Brothers says.

A parent notified the administration of the flyer. "I was like, 'Pick me up off the floor,' " Brothers says. "My exact words were 'How stupid is that?' "

Administrators attended Fall Academic Night to assure parents the offer was no longer valid.

"Everyone got to wear jeans the next day," Brothers says.

And, maybe not coincidentally, the district's bond proposal passed. Early voters supported it by 2-1.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Mostly P

Everyone needs a cause, and Timothy O'Brien, a grad student at the University of Houston, has his. It's bathrooms.

Or the lack of them, to be specific. O'Brien is steamed that most of the bathrooms at UH's Agnes Arnold Hall are available only to "funded grad students," meaning those working as teaching assistants. Regular ol' grad students like O'Brien have to go all the way down to the first floor to relieve themselves.

You think O'Brien is taking this sitting down? Think again. He's filed Freedom of Information Act requests trying to get to the bottom of the policy.

He's as serious as only a history grad student can be: "They're continuing to give [bathroom] keys to a favored class," he says. "When people put barricades in front of me to get my education, I will knock that barricade down." And piss on it for good measure, if he could.

UH officials say it's a security issue. O'Brien says it's "totally humiliating" to have to ask for a bathroom key when he attends grad seminars on the upper floors.

"I'm studying African-American history about people getting hung and all that injustice, and they're doing the same thing, even though it's minor," he says.

Yikes. At least he threw in that "even though it's minor." You gotta have some perspective.

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