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It's not like they are inherently dull people with no tales to tell: Locke did indeed fight against the establishment back when that took some balls; Parker was an out lesbian back when being so meant making yourself a target for abuse and ridicule; and Brown...raised a family in Briargrove. (Back when Briargrove was the mean streets, maybe?)
But it just so happens that the public face they all present is stolid, nose-to-the-grindstone, no-drama get-the-job-done-edness. And that doesn't make for fireworks.
Yeah, we know it's a sign of Houston's maturity that such things as gayness or blackness aren't even much of an under-the-radar issue. No one's sending out stealth mailings talking about how Locke's daughter is named Attica, or Parker is trying to impose her homosexuality on innocent schoolkids, or Brown is an out-of-touch rich guy.
But wouldn't it be more exciting if they did? Maybe not those specific kinds of stealth mailings, but if your biggest differences are biographical, exploit that stuff.
Locke ad: Yes, We Can (Too): U2's "City of Blinding Lights" plays as clips show the old Obama headquarters across from The Breakfast Klub, now festooned as it is with the "Hope" mural surrounded by Locke signs. Lovingly focus for a long time on the Obama mural. Then focus on it a bit more. Keep it there. "We are the change that guy said we could be" is your slogan. Fade to black. Black as in Obama.
Parker ad: The L Word: This ad runs exclusively on ESPN, TNT and during Jimmy Kimmel Live! Neve Campbell and Denise Richards douse their naked bodies with champagne in a clip from Wild Things as a husky female voice-over asks, "Are you ready for Houston's first lesbian mayor?" A fast crawl on the bottom of the screen lists all the financial reforms Parker has instituted as controller. For the gay guys watching, we guess.
Brown ad: I'm the White Guy: In distorted slow-motion, clips of Al Sharpton and Rosie O'Donnell, both screaming about something, fill the screen. Cut to shot of Brown sitting with his (white, straight) family listening to Clint Black and George Strait (subtle, eh?). Close-up on Brown as he ponders ruefully just what is so wrong with the kind of America we all loved watching in Leave It to Beaver, (Note: Might need to substitute another sit-com so as not to seem to be endorsing Parker.)
Do that, and you'd have a lively mayor's race. Instead we just have people running on the issues, and not making personal attacks or flagrant appeals to identity politics, and we've got dullness.
2. Policy Differences: Good Luck Finding Any
Not only are all the candidates low-key, they really don't disagree with each other all that much.
"I've moderated something like 14 forums, and there are just twitches of differences between the candidates," Sims says.
What makes it worse is that the positions they all share are basically a belief that the status quo isn't so bad in Houston. Each one has their little tweak or two they'd make, but no one is attacking the White administration for running things into the ground, or yelling that it's time for a change.
No one has found an issue that sets them apart from the others. Locke has tried to say the other two are part of the city government, but no one is seeing him as some outsider who's going to make wholesale changes.
As for the other two, they've tried to talk about Locke's work with the agency that built the city's sports facilities, but that too is not anything that's sticking.
"There's no clear-cut going after one another," Campos notes.
Debates, in fact, got so boring that the candidates agreed to cancel a whole bunch of them. When candidates get bored hearing themselves speak, you know it's a crisis of torpidity.
Media accounts of the various forums that have been held don't get very far in their attempts to make the events interesting.
Here is an actual opening from one Houston Chronicle story:
Mayoral candidate Gene Locke suggested the Houston Police Department get out of the jail business to put more officers on the street during the latest in a series of debates Monday, while one of his opponents, City Controller Annise Parker said she believes the Metropolitan Transit Authority is "cannibalizing" its public bus system for light rail.
Those comments were among the livelier statements made before a packed house at the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians' facility in southwest Houston during a two-hour face-off moderated and televised by KRIV Fox 26 News.
"Cannibalizing"?!?! Is that some secret code to appeal to the black-hating voters?!
Alas, no. And if you've ever wondered what it's like to see a reporter throw up his hands in utter despair, look no further than the "Those comments were among the livelier statements" in this story. We can only assume the note to his editor saying, "I tried, goddammit" got deleted before it hit print.
Not to mention, "Hey, you try making this stuff sound exciting."
The Houston-area blogosphere is filled, of course, with angry, passionate people screaming that the city faces a crushing slate of problems demanding immediate tax cuts, the banning of anything resembling planning, and more tax cuts, mostly to get rid of rail projects.
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