An Historic Night in Houston

Political Animals

An Historic Night in Houston

By Richard Connelly


Annise Parker

Annise Parker made headlines all over the world with her convincing win in Saturday's runoff election.

And not just because she was a Rice graduate, as she joked in her victory speech.

The George R. Brown Convention Center room was rocking as Parker finally seemed comfortable enough, now that she had won, to publicly embrace the historic nature of what happened.

"This election has changed the world for the lesbian, gay and transgendered community, just as it is about transforming the lives of all Houstonians for the better," she told the rapt crowd.

For all of its joyousness — and perhaps, just a touch too much self-satisfaction from supporters about how open and accepting Houston is — the overall celebration Saturday night was relatively low-key.

Police were expecting raucous street demonstrations in Montrose — at least to the extent they had plans that included some barriers to divert traffic — but there was no equivalent of a Harvey Milk parade.

Maybe that's because of the candidate herself, who's certainly no firebrand (despite a well-done victory speech).

And maybe it's because she's been very clear on the problems she'll be tackling. The budget, HPD and Metro are all high on her list; none of them are very sexy, and handling them will require, as she told reporters later, saying "no" to a lot of people and agencies who will be pushing their own budgetary requests.

But all that pain is still to come. Saturday was a night for celebration (except in Portland, Oregon, where the sad headline was "Portland No Longer Largest U.S. City With Gay Mayor"). The inauguration in January will be another such occasion.

After that, the novelty will wear off pretty quickly, we're guessing.


Suing the Homeless
Lawyer fights a downtown church

By Mike Giglio

Clients at The Beacon, a downtown day center for the homeless, received a strange visit recently during the afternoon's free lunch: attorney Andy Vickery, who held a press conference to announce that he and other lawyers will be representing both them and The Beacon.

Christ Church Cathedral, which runs The Beacon, was recently sued by a neighbor who alleges that the "derelicts" it assists have become a public nuisance, destroying the value of his business and property in the process. So the church has taken the unusual step of hiring a lawyer and public-relations firm to defend itself in and out of court.

"It's unique that a homeless organization would be sued. Especially during the season of giving and compassion," says the church's new PR man, Jay Hickman.

Personal injury attorney Harry C. Arthur, who filed the suit, runs his practice and owns offices in the Marine Building across the street. He claims the 400 or so clients The Beacon attracts daily from Friday through Monday are scaring away tenants and clients.

"If this was Skid Row like in New York City, or Skid Row like in Los Angeles and you come down and feed these people, that's one thing. But this isn't where people normally stay and sleep. And the thing that attracts them is the church," Arthur tells Hair Balls.

According to Arthur and neighbor Deborah Keyser — another lawyer who recently wrote a letter in support of the suit — The Beacon's clients regularly sleep, litter, go to the bathroom and use drugs on and around their property, especially after The Beacon closes at night.

"No matter how good your intentions are, when you are affecting someone's peace — that's what a nuisance is," Arthur says. "If all you do is feed them, you encourage them to stay on the street. And I'm afraid that may be kind of a little bit what's happening. They don't have any incentive to do anything."

Arthur says the problem has greatly increased over the past year as more and more people have arrived to access The Beacon's services. By summer, The Beacon was reporting a 20- to 30-percent increase in clients, which its director Tracy Burnett credited to the worsening economy. But Arthur believes the new clients are being bused in from elsewhere.

"I think they've always been homeless," he says. "I don't know that the economy has anything to do with it...I guess maybe a little."

The unemployment rate in Houston is now 8.6 percent, up from 5.3 percent at this time last year.

Anthony Love, director at the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County, likens Arthur's actions — which call for $250,000 and a court injunction to shut down The Beacon's services — to "suing a hospital for having too many sick people" and says it could set a dangerous precedent for shutting down other homeless services in the city.

Says Vickery: "I guess the bottom line is that homelessness is a problem. It's a significant problem. But The Beacon didn't cause homelessness. And we're working like crazy to be part of the solution."

Spaced City

Beer Garden Battle
La Carafe's plans stymied by city

By John Nova Lomax

About three months ago, we reported exciting news for downtown drinkers who also liked to light up. La Carafe was planning to expand into the vacant lot next door. The addition was to be in the form of a beer (and wine) garden.

Back in 2008's Best of Houston® issue, we awarded the handful of already existing tables on the sidewalk outside the venerable bar's front door "The Best Place to Smoke and Drink."

In defense of that pick, we cited the "prime view of the skyline" and the chance to bathe in the sweet sounds of the bar's killer juke, and even trotted out a quote from late columnist Sig Byrd, who once called Congress Street that "old, crowded, tired avenue once so proud, so bright with gaslight and hearty laughter."

And we rejoiced that more people would soon be adding their hearty laughter to that tired avenue, people smoking and drinking in the beer garden outside of La Carafe.

Apparently the City of Houston has other plans.

Although Carolyn Wenglar owns both La Carafe and the vacant lot in question, she has been told that patrons would not be allowed to carry drinks from the bar to the tables on the lot. Wenglar told Hair Balls that the narrow space between the two properties is a city-owned alley, and to cross that alley with booze in hand would bring on the Mayan Apocalypse two years early, or — perhaps more likely — be in violation of Texas liquor laws, and thus have held up her permit.

"I just don't understand," Wenglar says. "I own both properties. And you'd think they would want the chance to make money off my expanded business."

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