Fund-raising won't start till early next year, but the holiday season is the effective kickoff for the upcoming Houston municipal election campaigns. While several councilmembers are contemplating running for other positions with time still left on their three-term-limit ticker, others are trying to lengthen their political lives by leaping in the fray for either mayor and controller.
They're joined by a flock of new faces itching to start careers as elected officials. And some ghosts from campaigns past are wistfully looking to resurrect their City Hall fortunes.
Two core members of the conservative bloc on council, District F's Mark Ellis and District G's Bert Keller, plan to abandon their positions to seek at-large seats next fall, even though each still has a two-year term left in his current office.
Keller is aiming for the Position 4 seat being vacated by Michael Berry in his bid for mayor. Keller says he'll likely stay in that race even if Berry gets cold feet and tries to remain on council.
Why the move for Keller? He says he's accomplished just about everything he can for his west Houston constituents, and hopes to have a larger impact from a citywide position. "I'd rather spend my last two years filling the coffers of the other districts, working on policies for filling potholes rather than just filling district potholes."
Ellis is gearing up for the Position 1 seat now held by term-limited Annise Parker, who wants the controller position soon to be vacated by Harris County Commissioner-elect Sylvia Garcia. Although Parker coveted the interim controller appointment by council, that will likely go to retired attorney Oliver Pennington, with the stricture that he not run for the office.
Parker's bid for controller got a boost when term-limited at-large Councilman Carroll Robinson at least temporarily shelved his political ambitions in favor of an administrator's position at Texas Southern University. Taking that job meant Robinson had to decline his councilman's salary, since Texas law prohibits a paid elected official from also receiving a state salary.
Robinson's exit leaves District A conservative Bruce Tatro as Parker's main declared opponent. She needs her inner-city Democratic and gay base plus the black vote to have a shot at winning without a runoff. As the only Anglo councilmember to vote for a resolution for a commission on reparations for descendants of slaves, she stands to pick up support that African-American Robinson might have claimed.
A question mark is District H Councilman Gabe Vasquez. Even though he has one term remaining, he had been rumored to be a possible mayoral or controller contender. According to Vasquez, he has ruled out a mayoral bid and will decide over the holidays whether to run for controller.
Two first-time candidates, Sue Lovell and Jeremy Radack, represent opposite ends of the partisan spectrum that has divided council in recent years.
The 25-year-old Radack is the eldest of four sons of Harris County Commissioner Steve and his wife, state appellate Justice Sherry. Armed with a Rice BA in economics and managerial studies and a master's in business administration from UH-Victoria, Radack is running for Tatro's council seat. That's sure to spur a shootout among westside conservatives, many of whom bitterly opposed Commissioner Radack when he broke ranks with the county Republican Party on several court appointments. Jeremy will find out the hard way whether his family name is a plus or a liability in the wilds of Spring Branch.
Although the young Radack says he's been in business only two years, he claims to have successful management roles in a wastewater enterprise and an air conditioning company. He styles himself a fiscal conservative who would fit well with the council faction led by Ellis and Keller. With the kind of bravado his father has made into a trademark, Jeremy promises to outwork other candidates.
"I'll go to every person's house if I have to, and they'll know my age doesn't make a bit of difference. I'll bring youth, energy, vitality, to the office. And that energy is going to translate into more efficient government."
Radack says his upbringing by a prominent area politician has given him some insights about the media and himself.
"My family's been in politics since I was seven years old, and I had to grow up under a lot of pressure, 'cause if I did something wrong, it was very possible the papers were going to write something about it 'cause it was Steve Radack's son and it would reflect poorly upon him. So I know what it's like to have to live in the public eye."
Lovell, a Houston Democratic national committeewoman, comes from the opposite political perspective. She's planning to run for the Position 4 at-large seat occupied by Berry and sought by Keller. Lovell, a single mother and past president of the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, has worked for the Mills Corporation setting up a welfare-to-work program at Katy Mills Mall. She hopes to avoid partisan labels while stressing her years of community involvement.
"All the issues we're going to be facing are not Democrat or Republican," notes Lovell. "Infrastructure, transportation, affordable housing -- those aren't partisan issues."
If Lovell faces Keller, expect the issue of seat-jumping to come up on the campaign trail.
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"You have councilmembers who already represent constituents in the city," says Lovell, "and what you have to question is why do they want to move out of their districts to run at-large when they are only going to have one term anyway?"
Two wild cards from the past might provide new entertainment. Defeated Democratic state rep Ken Yarbrough may seek the same at-large council seat sought by Ellis, while former District E councilman Rob Todd says he's weighing a run for mayor against the likes of Orlando Sanchez, Bill White, Sylvester Turner and Berry. Todd says he's waiting for preliminary poll results, but "I'm getting increasing phone calls from all sorts of people encouraging me to look at it. It's tempting, but I want to see the numbers first."
Keller notes there's a crowd of former officials who just can't get that City Hall itch out of their system. "They listen to the talk over coffee, and they miss it," chuckles Keller. "They just want to run into the middle of a field and shout, 'Look at me!' "
Just call it the Poltergeist syndrome, after the movie about that house infested by all the stiffs who refuse to admit they're dead and move on. Our advice is similar to that of the little exorcist: "Run to the TV lights, children. All are welcome."