Covert Aid for Lee Brown?
So far, former police chief Lee P. Brown's mayoral bid has yet to make itself official, and probably won't until May, when the Rice professor's academic responsibilities are fulfilled. But at least one reliable source indicates that Mayor Bob Lanier may not wait to begin giving Brown covert aid, including the services of his top political operative, Dave Walden.
Walden denies any intention of working for Brown, but also acknowledges that he's a good Lanier soldier and follows his commander-in-chief's orders. Given Dave's history of denying moves he later made (such as his short-lived work with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and subsequent return to City Hall), that denial almost counts as a confirmation.
Although Brown leaves no doubt he's running for mayor, he diplomatically claims his top priority is finishing his commitment to Rice. He allows that he'd be delighted with any help Big Bob can offer and would welcome Walden with open arms.
Brown also claims to have no worries about the imposing list of downtown types supporting Rob Mosbacher or Mosbacher's early lead in campaign organization. "No, none whatsoever," says Brown, who offers this bit of wisdom: "People that will be supporting me will support me." Those folks, avers the undeclared candidate, include the Three M's: philanthropist John Moores, Gallery Furniture's Jim McIngvale and shopping center king Jerry Moore. Now if Brown can just get that big L on board ....
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Invasion of the Mosbaggers
Mosbacher Energy should be well represented on the Houston municipal ballot next November, assuming Representative Ron Wilson doesn't manage to derail term limits and lengthen mayoral residency requirements. Not only is Rob Mosbacher, the company's president and CEO, a declared candidate for mayor, but the firm's senior engineering technologist Annise Parker plans a third run for City Council this year, aiming at the at-large Council seat that is being vacated by another mayoral wannabe, Gracie Saenz.
Parker, an openly gay Montrose community leader, impressed political observers with a gutsy campaign for an at-large City Council seat in 1995, finishing just behind eventual winner John Peavy and his runoff opponent, Katherine Tyra. Parker also ran and lost in 1993 in District C to incumbent Vince Ryan.
Mosbacher and Parker may work for the same company, but don't expect them to run as a team. Parker makes it clear they are hardly political soul mates.
"I'm regularly asked, 'How's your man doing now that he's running for mayor?' " says Parker, "implying that we have similar platforms and similar beliefs. Frankly, I have no idea, because he's never expressed any interest in city issues."
Parker says she's not criticizing her boss, "since he does pay my salary ... [but] I do think it's better to have candidates who have a track record on city issues. And that's one of the things I think I bring to the table."
Some Mosbacher opponents have floated a rumor that as mayor he would support spousal benefits for unmarried city workers who have live-in relationships, be they gay or straight. Parker shoots down that speculation, pointing out that Mosbacher Energy does not provide that kind of coverage for its own workers. When Mosbacher addresses an upcoming Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus power brunch, he may have some explaining to do.
Mosbacher has been a major backer of term limits; Parker opposes the concept. But she is also against the Wilson bill to stretch the limits for city incumbents. "I don't like term limits," she says, "but the citizens of Houston voted and enough is enough. I don't like the idea they're using an 11th-hour push to overturn them."
Rob and Annise aren't the only likely municipal candidates with a Mosbacher Energy connection. Councilmember Chris Bell, who is up for reelection, is married to a former Hot Flash from Mosbacher's band, Midlife Crisis and the Hot Flashes. Alison Bell is no longer a backup singer, but she is still an insurance administrator at Mosbacher Energy.
Never Forgive. Never Forget.
Jon Lindsay may be a state senator now, but it seems he still has scores to settle from his days as Harris County judge. Into the troubled waters of the current legislative session, Lindsay has dropped a number of legislative mines, including a bill that would permit county commissioners to hire outside counsel, effectively undermining the authority of county attorneys.
The bill continues the legal war that Lindsay waged against former county attorney Mike Driscoll for two decades. After Lindsay insisted on appointing outside lawyers for his toll-road projects, Driscoll sued and won a court victory upholding his right to oversee the legal work. Lindsay struck back via a friendly legislator, who sponsored a bill specifically allowing commissioners to appoint toll-road counsel; the bill eventually became law. But Driscoll didn't surrender on other fronts. Instead, he launched another court battle to retain supervision over tax collection efforts, a legal action that continues under recently elected county attorney Mike Fleming.
Behind Lindsay's bill, some county government observers see the hands of the downtown law firm Mayor Day Caldwell & Keeton and its county operative, Bob Collie. Mayor Day provides counsel for Metro and the port commission; if commissioners could hire outside counsel, the firm would be a logical source.
But firm partner Jonathan Day, who provides advisory counsel for Metro, denies that the firm is supporting Lindsay's move. "We are not involved in this legislation," insists Day, "and we are trying hard to steer clear of any involvement in it." A source in county government is more cynical about Mayor Day's position: "I think there's a chair being warmed up at the commissioner's table with Day's name on it."
Besides Lindsay's historical enmity toward the county attorney's office, the state senator also has personal reasons to undercut Fleming. The former assistant county attorney was one of the two Driscoll subordinates who piloted a suit to remove Lindsay from office. (The suit died when the judge left voluntarily.) In a punishing deposition, Fleming gave Lindsay no quarter, repeatedly forcing the then-judge to admit he had lied in public statements concerning his associations with a band of corrupt developers and about his use of campaign funds to purchase a boat for his son.
So far the only county official supporting Lindsay's bill is his successor, County Judge Robert Eckels. Neither Lindsay nor Eckels returned a phone call from The Insider, but Fleming says Eckels told him he backed the bill "because it is consistent with his philosophy." Commissioner Steve Radack, a Fleming ally in his recent election victory, says he has no problem with the way the county attorney's office is working, and doesn't think the bill is necessary.
Fleming calls the Lindsay legislation "a bad bill" and vows to testify against it if it reaches the hearing stage. Asked why Lindsay is pushing the bill now, Fleming replies tersely, "I don't know. I don't see that it has come from this Commissioners Court." According to Fleming, the bill would allow the Commissioners Court to hire a second lawyer -- or law firm -- "and would really work as a duplication of services. So that's the problem I have with it: that you would just have lawyers up there second-guessing the legal advice and work that we're providing."
If Fleming does journey to Austin to testify, he may have to get in line, since the bill, as worded, threatens the political base of every county attorney in Texas. The county attorneys have a powerful lobbying organization which can be counted on to fight Lindsay's bill.
Driscoll's former senior assistant, Terry O'Rourke, cautions that while the current bill may go down in flames, it is likely only Lindsay's first shot. "This is not going to be the end of this," predicts O'Rourke, who claims that the downtown law firms and big contractors who do business with the county have always sought through Lindsay to minimize the role of the county attorney. After all, Lindsay's victory on the toll-road counsel issue was accomplished through a rider tacked on to another bill that sailed through in the chaotic last days of a legislative session -- a bit of history that just might repeat itself.
It's Not Easy Being Greanias
Former controller George Greanias continues to play coy about a possible mayoral bid. When the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus newsletter announced its upcoming brunch with declared candidate Mosbacher, the article also mentioned that Greanias, a previous speaker, wasn't a candidate this year. That provoked Greanias to call former HGLPC President Terri Richardson, advising her not to count him off the ballot just yet.
Contacted at his perch at the law firm Zimmerman Axelrad Meyer Stern & Wise, Greanias now says he'll make a decision soon, and if he runs, will stay in the race no matter what happens on the term-limits front. Greanias, as you might expect, opposes any effort to let Mayor Bob have another term.
Among the factors Greanias is weighing are "logistical issues and making sure that our family continues to run smoothly." A complicating factor is his wife Elizabeth's medical condition. She is battling Parkinson's disease, a situation that Greanias describes as "not life-threatening but life-altering." The former controller is also sounding out potential contributors for a campaign budget of approximately a half-million dollars. Since he has plenty of name recognition from 14 years of city service, Greanias figures he won't need the million or more that a lesser-known candidate would require.
Sounding like a candidate chafing to hit the trail, Greanias offers this preview of future campaign speechmaking: "The issue is not going to be, who's going to undo the mayor's programs? The real issue is, who will people trust to be at the table on their behalf as that work gets done?"
Since Hamlet, er, Greanias has a history of navel contemplation, Insider readers are urged to suggest an appropriate day for him to end his "to be or not to be" debate. One wit offered April 1, the 50th anniversary of the death of Greece's King George II. "Now there's a holiday you want to commemorate," chuckles Greanias, who's Greek. "A family that got deposed in a revolution." Then there's George's own 49th birthday on April 20. Any other suggestions will be forwarded to that large Trojan horse under construction behind City Hall.
To dispose of all that dirt collected during spring cleaning, call The Insider at 624-1483, fax him at 624-1496 or e-mail Insider@houston-press.com.
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