Houston's Choice for Mayor

Black Guy, Rich White Guy, Lesbian or Hispanic Republican

Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for everyone except Roy Morales, they don't live in the city. So they don't have to be appealed to.

But when every candidate is busy agreeing with each other, you're going to be enduring a pretty tedious campaign.

On the other hand, at least they agreed to stop meeting for debates.

Candidate Annise Parker, either adamantly refusing to make the UH Cougar hand signal, or not knowing how to do so.
Courtesy Annise Parker campaign
Candidate Annise Parker, either adamantly refusing to make the UH Cougar hand signal, or not knowing how to do so.

3. There Is No Overriding Issue in Houston This Year

In a sense, you can't blame the candidates for agreeing with each other so much — there's just not that one Big Enchilada issue out there requiring a bold position.

No team owner is demanding a new palace to keep him in town; that issue won't come up for another ten or 15 years (When we will again bend over and give the relevant team owner whatever he wants, if we can possibly get to his office through all that crowded, amazing commercial development surrounding Minute Maid Park, Toyota Center or Reliant Stadium.)

Metro's light rail continues to inspire untold bandwidth meticulously describing how it's a white elephant, but again, no one is listening.

Crime is crime, pollution needs to be addressed, developers shouldn't build high-rises in rich neighborhoods but can build them anywhere else, traffic needs to get better, yadda yadda yadda.

"We need a monorail," says one observer who wants anonymity, referring to the epic Bob Lanier-Kathy Whitmire race.

No one's proposing a monorail, though. So the bickering among the candidates is at the margins. Again: Boooorrrring.

Here is Peter Brown's campaign describing his huge win at a recent debate: "Throughout, Brown returned to a clear philosophy underlying his ideas: making government more efficient and effective — doing more with less."

Here's Annise Parker's campaign: "My goal as Mayor is to make sure we have the best trained, best equipped and best paid police officers in the state...To that end: I will protect the police department budget in this economic downturn."

Gene Locke: "Transportation is about choices. Houstonians should be able to choose between driving on uncongested highways and traveling on efficient mass transit, including buses, commuter rail and light rail."

Gee, let's attack those ideas: No!! Do less with more!! Who needs police? What about my choice to travel on a congested highway?

Like it or not — and there are plenty of people who grumble endlessly that Bill White got a free pass on criticism for his administration — Houstonians are simply not worked up about anything in particular.

You could go back to the 1950s, the '40s, the '20s, and people would be bitching about crime and traffic. Those are chronic default concerns when there is no big issue.

While each candidate has a specific program addressing the various concerns, there's not really a whole lot of difference between the platforms. And if you want to insure a sleep-inducing campaign, that's a must.

4. No One Has Much Money to Spend Campaigning

The economic crunch has hit the political world, even in relatively well-off Houston. Checkbooks that once would be opened are now being held back on pleas of poverty.

The big players are still in the game, of course. But when the outcome is so uncertain, not everyone's leaping on uncertain bandwagons.

It looks like $5 million or so has been spent so far, observers say, with a lot of that coming from Brown financing himself. That's compared to $10 million or so spent during the last open-seat election in 2003.

It took a very long time for television ads to get on the air, with Locke being last of all. And even once they started, they didn't exactly blanket the airwaves. Any Houstonian with a halfway-lively clicker finger could very well have missed any of the spots.

There is a school of thought that says even more ads wouldn't make much difference if the candidates all seem the same and no one is being aggressive for fear of backlash.

As generic as the ads have been so far, it's easy to agree with that assessment.

Campos thinks the phenomenon is not limited to Houston this election cycle.

"I was just interviewed by an out-of-town reporter doing a wrap-up of off-year elections," he says, "and he told me throughout the major cities having elections it's the same. People are just worried about the [national] economy, and they're not focused on local elections. And none of the candidates has the kind of money they're used to seeing in a campaign."

More money might make for a more exciting race, but maybe not, as the next point shows.

5. None of the Candidates Think It Would Be the End of the World If Their Opponent Got Elected

Think of some of the Houston mayoral races of the past: Orlando Sanchez taking on Lee Brown in the rare re-election contest; Welch, the epitome of the old-school Houston, facing a damn modern woman like Kathy Whitmire; a hard-core Republican like Robert Mosbacher trying to win in a Democratic city.

Ain't nothing like that going on now.

"It's a very strange mayor's race. I think it's truly because of the similarity of the candidates," Sims says. "There's no one to really set themselves apart and fire passion because you don't want them to be mayor. I mean, if you look back on it, that's been the case for years — there's always been one side or the other that could get extremely passionate for one reason or another. But here you have three kind of, you know, nice, boring people."

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