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The Insider

Sanchez to the Rescue
With Mayor Lee Brown on the verge of suffering his first defeat in a City Council vote last week, a strange political bedfellow provided some temporary relief.

Much to the glee of Brown Council opponents Rob Todd and Joe Roach, the mayor's hastily planned Summer Youth Program and its controversial mix of area churches and city dollars seemed headed down the tubes. Michael Yarbrough had gone out of town and taken his knee-jerk pro-administration vote with him, and usually trusty Carroll Robinson indicated he was against the mayor's proposal.

May Walker, Brown's assistant for youth affairs, had tried to shape a program in 30 days to provide $10,000 outlays to ten area churches so they could utilize their facilities for youth activities (in parts of town where no other such facilities were available). The choice of some congregations and the issue of separation of church and state immediately generated Council opposition. The first time the matter went to Council, it was delayed a week, and it looked like a goner when it came up again last Wednesday.

In stepped Councilman Orlando Sanchez, generally counted in the administration opposition, with a saving tag that delayed the vote on the ordinance for another week and gave the mayor a chance to win over wavering councilmembers or dispose of the program in some face-saving fashion. Sanchez had been out of town the previous week on a Norwegian sister-city junket representing Houston, and under Council rules was the only member who had the power to delay the vote.

His action brought pleas from Todd to reconsider, along with the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that Sanchez had perhaps had too much vodka to drink on his Scandinavian sojourn and wasn't thinking straight. The councilman refused to release the tag, and the summer youth program limped on for another week.

Sanchez offered an explanation for providing an unlikely helping hand for Brown. When he got back from Norway, he says, Walker called him and asked for his support. Although the councilman indicated he was likely to vote against the program, she asked him to read a packet of information she provided before making a final decision.

Sanchez says he felt compelled out of fairness to the administration to at least give Walker the courtesy of reading the information she provided before casting the killing vote. He told Walker he would tag the item, and repeated the pledge to mayor pro tem Jew Don Boney after the meeting began.

When Sanchez did tag it, he recalls, "There was all this commotion going on because I didn't know everybody wasready to kill the damn thing."

Sanchez finds laughable the suggestion that he was doing some favor to the mayor for a payback. "I've never done administration favors on items," he insists. "But I can't just say, on a whim, because I'm conservative, screw this program, it's for kids. I can't make a determination until I've read the material."

Fellow Republican Roach says he was surprised Sanchez would help Brown, and he says that Sanchez has repeatedly told people he's planning to run for mayor in the future against the incumbent.

Sanchez claims to be mystified by that comment. "I haven't told anybody that," he claims, demonstrating that the opposition to the administration, at least in this case, is not working off the same page. "I think," says Sanchez, "that Joe has a vivid imagination."

Unlike Roach, who is in his final term as a councilman, Sanchez is in his second term and can run again for his Council seat. The financial aspect of challenging an incumbent is also a prohibitive factor, allows Sanchez. "It takes a couple of million bucks in the bank to run for mayor," he says, "and I've only got about $20,000 in my campaign account."

Memo to Mayor Brown: Here's a councilman who might merit some additional care and feeding.

Let Ned Pick Up the Tab
Of all the locations to hold a public meeting of the Houston Port Commission, the San Chicago Camp on the King Ranch south of Corpus Christi doesn't spring to mind as the most likely candidate.

But the camp happens to be commission chairman Ned Holmes's leased rancho getaway, so when the commission members and port staff headed for a three-day retreat last February, Holmes volunteered to host the group at his own expense, including paying airfare for staff members.

The Chronicle sent a reporter, Jenalia Moreno, to cover the "public meeting," though Holmes opined that she made the trip largely because she had family in South Texas. The retreats don't really create much news and rarely draw observers, according to the chairman, but he was happy a reporter was present to ascertain that nothing sinister was going on.

Port Commissioner Chase Untermeyer, who did not go on the outing, sees nothing wrong with letting Ned pay for the retreat. "That's commendable," says Untermeyer, "because I can see the Port Commission might have come into some criticism if, at public expense, it had met in a fancy place far away from the usual meeting place. That's the advantage of having a generous and blessed chairman."

Asked why the governmental body of the Houston port needed to journey to South Texas for a summer-camp-like meeting, the chairman explained that just any hotel complex in the area wouldn't do for what he had in mind.

"One of the things I have observed over the years is that if you have people out of town, their focus and concentration is better," explained the chairman. "And if they are out of town in a hotel with a zillion phones all over the place, it's not the same as if they are out of town in a place where there are not phones all over the place." The San Chicago Camp, says Holmes, qualifies as the latter.

With a millionaire-developer chairman around to pick up the tab, perhaps the commissioners should set their sites on Hawaii or Fiji next time for a real retreat from the daily rat race.

Invisible Judicial Hopeful
The decision by President Bill Clinton's appointments team to pass on Houston attorney Ruben Guerrero for a federal judgeship would seem to have set the stage for the quick nomination of another local lawyer, Keith Ellison. But a colleague of Ellison who was interviewed by the FBI as part of the vetting process reports that the G-men had some pointed questions about Ellison's suitability for the bench.

Judging from the FBI's queries, this source surmised that someone had complained that Ellison's wealth and River Oaks address might make him an inappropriate nominee for a judgeship whose jurisdiction includes some of the poorest, most heavily Hispanic counties of Texas.

"I've heard they asked a lot of people whether somebody who lives in River Oaks could ever relate to the kind of people I'd be seeing on a docket in Laredo or Corpus," says Ellison. "They asked several people whether I was familiar with life on the other side of the tracks."

Given the anger by Hispanic leaders over the tanking of Guerrero's candidacy and the fact that wealth is not usually considered a disqualification for federal judges, one of those interviewed by the FBI wondered if some of Guerrero's backers weren't trying to poison Ellison's well.

Ellison has his own complaints about the process, which shows little sign of progress toward an actual nomination by Clinton. Once nominated, the attorney would then need approval by the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee.

"I just don't know how much longer I'm going to be able to hang out," says Ellison. "It's been 18 months and has had a devastating effect on my practice, and I'm not sure I'm halfway there. I'm not mad at anybody, but as a sole practitioner I just can't do this."

Ellison says it's difficult to accept new clients when he's uncertain whether he'll be there to represent them next year. If the nomination isn't settled by the time the current Congress ends in December, the lawyer indicates he may shelve his judicial ambitions and get on with his legal career.

Heard a good rumor lately? Give The Insider a call at (713) 280-2483, fax him at (713) 280-2496 or e-mail him at insider@houstonpress.com.


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