Lee P. Makes Like Bill C.
What do the administrations of President Bill Clinton and Mayor Lee P. Brown have in common, other than the fact that Brown was once Clinton's drug czar?
Both, in their first 60 days in office, decided to address issues involving sexual orientation: Clinton, the question of gays in the military, and Brown, the banning of discrimination against gays in city hiring.
Clinton got a political black eye from opponents in Congress and the military for his efforts and eventually wound up instituting the "don't ask, don't tell" approach that some gay activists have claimed is as repressive and unfair as the old system of selectively busting gay individuals caught outside their closets.
Brown's executive order should fare better than a similar effort at City Hall in 1985, when councilmembers approved an ordinance forbidding discrimination against gays, only to see it rolled back by a petition drive and referendum campaign masterminded by religious conservative Dr. Steven Hotze. Brown's internal directive is not subject to approval by City Council or a petition for a referendum, although Hotze and his associates are reportedly mulling over a petition campaign to force a citywide vote on an ordinance specifically denying gays the status of a protected minority.
Brown's intentions in issuing the anti-discrimination order may have been the best, but the mayor apparently has problems even doing the right thing right. Annise Parker, the first openly gay citywide elected official, was left out of the loop in the mayor's decision and found out about the move after the fact -- from Republican Councilman Joe Roach, no less.
During her campaign, Parker supported an anti-discrimination order and received 57 percent of the vote over opponent Don Fitch to win her at-large Council seat. She expected Brown to institute an executive order at some point, but admits she "was caught a little flatfooted" by the timing of the mayor's announcement. No first-term official likes to appear uninformed on a matter of vital importance to a core constituency.
Brown has also apparently not found it necessary to canvass gay community leaders in his search for an unpaid liaison to the gay and transgender community. He has already narrowed the field to two candidates, say Council sources: Baker and Botts attorney Michael Eastus and Lane Lewis, a former social worker and Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus president, and the current manager of Pacific Street nightclub.
The mayor is also raising some eyebrows in the Hispanic community with his choice of Nick Rivera for communications director. Rivera is a former New Yorker of Puerto Rican extraction who served as Channel 48-KTMD Telemundo promotions director for five years before leaving under strained circumstances. In appointing Rivera, Brown said his new hire "has been heavily involved in Houston's Hispanic community." That's news to veterans like state Senator Mario Gallegos and Brown campaign consultant Marc Campos, who say they had never heard of Rivera.
Carol Alvarado, the highest-ranking Hispanic on Brown's transition team, says she was not consulted on Rivera's hire and has no idea who recommended him for the job. Several veteran flacks had already turned down the position because of the relatively low salary, in the mid-$50,000 range, and the poor job security that goes with working for an official who has to run for office every two years. Perhaps the mayor was just getting a little antsy to fill a job nobody seemed to want.
As police chief, Brown had a history of playing his administrative cards close to the vest. Several advisers say he's yet to take to heart the necessity of consulting councilmembers and drawing them into decisions on issues where they have a special interest. One reason Brown's predecessor Bob Lanier was able to thoroughly dominate Council was his political savvy in giving members what they wanted in exchange for down-the-line support of the mayor's programs.
With Brown presiding over a 14-member Council divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats, he'll be taking his allies for granted at his own peril.
Public works director Jimmie Schindewolf leaves the city at the end of the month, but he may have a worthy successor in the patronage department. A public works tipster tells The Insider that Waynette Chan, the mayor's unofficial staff coordinator, has steered a plum public works assignment to an old friend.
Since Brown now requires his signature on all city hires above pay grade 29, utilities maintenance division director Fred Perrenot submitted a request to hire an experienced out-of-state engineer to formulate plans to downsize the division. Instead, Brown had already approved hiring, on an acting basis, Larry Bryant, a pal of Chan's when she was public works customer service division director during the Lanier administration. Perrenot apparently learned of the move when he received a copy of the mayor's appointment letter naming Bryant to the position. Our source claims Bryant is a good engineer but does not have experience in strategic planning such as downsizing.
Mayoral aide Joe Weikerth responds that it was director Schindewolf who signed a recommendation that Bryant's promotion be approved. Weikerth says Chan raised the issue of getting a pay increase for Bryant and asked him how Schindewolf should go about getting it approved. "That was her only involvement with me," says Weikerth. "Behind the scenes, I can't tell you."
As for the top job in public works, City Hall sources say Jerry L. King, deputy general manager at Metro Transit Authority in charge of mobility engineering projects at the agency, is among the front-runners the mayor is considering to succeed Schindewolf as director.
Jew Don's Favorite Hobby
Mayor pro tem Jew Don Boney may be a City Council member first, but he also owns a private business called BSR Consulting, which has been paid to work on city-related elections. In fact, BSR received $12,000 last November from the Rebuild Houston/Together political action committee that supported the city bond issue, a proposition that Boney had voted in Council to put on the municipal ballot.
Contractors who stand to benefit from the construction work generated by the bond issue were major contributors to the Rebuild Houston war chest. In his official capacity, Boney will also help set the spending priorities for the bond money. Rebuild Houston also contributed funds and conducted joint get-out-the-vote efforts in support of the much more controversial and closely contested referendum on the city's affirmative action program, which Boney has championed since he was elected to Council in 1995.
Boney was hired to work for Rebuild Houston by Lanier's then mayoral chief of staff Dave Walden, who took a leave of absence to ramrod both the bond issue and affirmative action efforts. Boney also worked as a consultant in county judicial races two years ago. Quantum Consultants' Nancy Sims, who hired Boney then, says she cannot recall a previous situation in which a City Council member doubled as a political consultant in a city election.
Boney denies the payments to his company amount to a conflict of interest. "I've checked with an attorney, and there is nothing illegal or unethical about my making a living as a consultant," says the mayor pro tem. Boney claims his work for Rebuild Houston amounted to a nonpartisan get-out-the-vote effort.
Of course, that's all a matter of definition. Perhaps Jew Don means that first he got out the votes, and then he drove them to the side that was paying him.
New York and Houston politics have lately been intertwined, and Mayor Brown continues the trend with his billing as special guest at a fundraiser for New York senatorial candidate Geraldine Ferraro in River Oaks March 2. The event is being staged at the home of former Rob Mosbacher supporters Neal Manne, a Susman Godfrey attorney, and his wife, Nancy McGregor, a former counsel for the CIA and FBI. To snuggle up to Ferraro and hobnob with Brown, attendees are asked to shell out a contribution somewhere between $500 and $1,000.
During the last mayoral election, New York mayor Rudy Giuliani endorsed Mosbacher, while predecessor David Dinkins weighed in for Brown, who served as police commissioner in the Dinkins administration. Dinkins showed up at Brown's inauguration, and told The Insider he was delighted to use it as an excuse to avoid Giuliani's swearing-in for a second term back home.
If recent political history is any indication, Republican members of City Council will be countering Brown's pro-Ferraro tilt with a fundraiser of their own for incumbent GOP New York Senator Alfonse D'Amato in the near future.
How Dare You Take My Perks?
A former top bureaucrat at the University of Houston system claims former lieutenant governor and dollar-a-year chancellor Bill Hobby unfairly ousted her two years ago, and wasn't even enough of a gentleman to provide a golden parachute to soften her fall from academic grace. Former senior vice chancellor B. Dell Felder has filed a federal suit in Houston accusing Hobby of firing her to deflect criticism from himself over the handling of the school's public TV station, KUHT-Channel 8.
Felder was among the last of the top-ranking UH officials to be ousted in a purge that took down chancellor Alexander Schilt and campus president Jim Pickering. Felder has since become vice president of academic affairs at California State University at Monterey Bay.
Felder claims that her support for long-distance learning programs at the UH-controlled Channel 8 brought heat on Hobby from professors who feared that a reliance on televised classes could result in faculty and staff reductions. According to court papers, while Hobby told Felder he supported her efforts, Hobby "was vacillating with respect to the station improvements and distance-learning programs as a result of strong protests made by faculty members to him and the board of regents." Hobby called in Felder and demanded her resignation on January 5, 1996, states the suit, saying, "she was not appropriately discharging the duties of her office."
Felder's suit alleges that, in addition to stifling her freedom of speech and damaging her reputation, Hobby denied her the same generous terms of departure afforded other top system bureaucrats. "Motivated by the intent to retaliate against Dr. Felder ... defendant Hobby caused Dr. Felder to be denied payments and benefits which otherwise would have been paid her consistent with system policies and past practices." The pleading contrasts the treatment of Felder with that of former chancellor Schilt, whose ouster was cushioned with a two-year leave of absence, one of those years at full pay and the other at three-quarters salary. Schilt also received free use of system and university facilities, an automobile, payment of accrued value in an executive life insurance policy and other cash benefits, according to Felder's suit.
Hobby was unavailable for comment, as was Dennis Duffy, the UH system attorney handling the case.
Felder's attorney, Houston lawyer David Lopez, says his client filed suit earlier this month after lengthy negotiations with UH officials over a cash settlement stalled. Lopez says one hurdle to a settlement was that the UH board of regents had caught heat because of the excessive goodies they approved for Schilt and Pickering, and took a hard line with respect to a settlement with Felder and future bureaucratic litigants.
"Ironically enough," chuckles Lopez, "one of the folks that appears to be the strongest voice [on the board of regents] in objecting to potential litigation and individual claims is my buddy trial lawyer [John] O'Quinn. I guess so long as it's being paid to him and his clients, it's all right."
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Angels Among Us
Former Houston Post editor Gerald Garcia is back in town -- and for a change, he's interested in shaping the minds of young journalists rather than just canning them. Garcia, the captain at the helm when the paper sank in 1995 and an executive with a reputation for cutting staffs and closing papers, recently called Ted Stanton, University of Houston's associate director of undergraduate studies for the communications department chairman, to inquire about possible teaching positions.
Stanton says the chat never got beyond a general discussion of the positions for which A&M graduate Garcia might be academically qualified, and Stanton has no plans to bring the self-nicknamed Angel of Death on board anytime soon.
Good thing. We'd really hate to see the Daily Cougar closed down and its assets sold to the Hearst Corporation.
Have a juicy tidbit? Call The Insider at (713) 624-1483 or (713) 624-1496 (fax), or send him mail the electronic way at Insider@houstonpress.com.