Houston's Choice for Mayor

Black Guy, Rich White Guy, Lesbian or Hispanic Republican

It's late October in Houston. That means, of course, the weather's nicer, the Texans are sucking, the Rockets haven't flamed out yet. Typical October.

There are some things going on this month you might not be aware of, though. One, there's a mayor's race going on. And two, it's the weirdest fricking mayor's race in years.

Houston's mayoral politics have fallen into a pretty standard pattern: Once every six years, there's an open race for mayor, full of sound and fury; then two meaningless re-election campaigns by the incumbent until term limits force him or her out.

The three candidates at a debate, where the gloves no doubt came off...to shake hands in a friendly and dull manner.
The three candidates at a debate, where the gloves no doubt came off...to shake hands in a friendly and dull manner.
FEEL THE EXCITEMENT!!! Or, you know, change the channel.
Jingdan Chen
FEEL THE EXCITEMENT!!! Or, you know, change the channel.

So the only excitement generally comes every six years. Except this year.

Bill White can't run for re-election, so the chance to be mayor for (presumably) the next six years is there for anyone to take. Usually that means a spirited, high-profile campaign full of ugliness, false charges, boneheaded mistakes, all that sort of fun and hilarity.

Houston, after all, has had some colorful mayoral campaigns, term limits or not.

Who can forget Wayne Dolcefino torpedoing, via a friendly leak, the runoff campaign of Sylvester Turner with a ­Hollywood-esque faked-death insurance scam with dark undertones? (The libel suit tied up courts for years.) Or Louie Welch saying into an open microphone that his cure for AIDS was to "Shoot all the queers"?

This year, there's an ostensibly flammable mix of candidates: A black guy, a rich old white guy and a lesbian.

So you have to ask yourself: Why is this year's race so goddamn borrring?

"I've been watching [mayor's races] since 1981 and I've never seen anything like this," says political pro Nancy Sims. "It's a very strange mayor's race."

Marc Campos, another longtime politico, can only shake his head in disbelief at how low-key, nice and under-the-radar the campaign has been. Not only is no candidate really attacking another, he says, they're not even promoting themselves.

"There's no outreaching going on," he says. "I haven't gotten a single piece of mail from any of the campaigns, and I'm definitely the kind of person they should be targeting — I vote in every election."

(We guess, since you likely haven't been paying any attention, that you need an introduction to the key players. They are: City Controller Annise Parker, former city attorney Gene Locke, and City Councilman Peter Brown. Together they generate all the charismatic star power of Roy Morales, the über-longshot Republican who's also running, kinda.)

The strange race will likely lead to a very, very strange election night: No one will have any idea what the outcome will be. There won't be just the usual hedging about turnout and other factors, there will be widespread throwing up of hands and saying, "Me, I got no idea." No one's taking any polls — or at least no one's releasing, even by leaks, any poll info — so as voters go to the booth the majority of them might still be classified as "undecided."

Whether that means they'll go and eventually force themselves to pick someone, or stay home and at some point later discover "Oh yeah, there was a mayor's race today," no one knows.

What we do know is that 2009 will go down as one of the most remarkable open-seat mayor's races in a long, long time. And it's not exactly the "entertaining" kind of remarkable, either.

What's causing the ennui? Let's take a look at five key factors.

1. The Public Personalities of the Candidates: Dull, Duller & Dullest

Let's reflect for a minute on just what we have here: A corporate lawyer, an architect and an accountant-type.

Now, if you had Michael Clayton, Howard Roark from The Fountainhead and...and...and some heroic, dashing accountant, you'd have yourself a race. Instead you have three people who pretty much, at least in public — and that's all that counts, of course — fit the stereotype.

They've fought against it, of course. Locke's TV ads featured his Afro'd self as he fought The Man back in the '60s. (We can imagine the discussions on just how long to leave that Angry Black Man image onscreen — determining what was the magic amount of time to a) give Locke street cred but not b) scare away elderly white folk.)

Parker's TV ads featured her fraternally patting cops on the shoulder as they investigated what looked like it might be an incredibly gruesome triple murder in a Heights bungalow, perhaps offering to throw out the damn rule book and chase down the perp herself if that's what it took.

And Brown? His commercials were virtual aerobics videos, as he vigorously showed just how energetic elderly architects could be in their endless pursuit of a bold new plan for Houston.

Still, none could escape the facts: Locke sounded like a guy telling a board of directors about an exciting new court ruling that gave the go-ahead to limiting their liability in slip-and-fall tort cases; Parker had all the electricity of a CFO struggling with a PowerPoint presentation on new tax law; and Brown seemed to be in a 1950s classroom film entitled Architecture: Gateway to Excitement!

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