Black and Brown and Green All Over
The biggest factor in Lee P. Brown's unexpectedly large lead over Rob Mosbacher in the November 4 election was the sizzling turnout in predominantly African-American precincts, where Brown won 90 percent or better of the votes. That result no doubt shocked Brown's early critics, who had questioned his ability to kindle enthusiasm among fellow blacks.
African-Americans, who traditionally make up less than a quarter of the city's electorate, may have accounted for more than one-third of the citywide total in the mayoral contest. How much of the black turnout can be credited to Brown is a pivotal question that won't be settled until the runoff ballots are counted on December 6. Contributing to the first-round outcome was a confluence of campaign muscle and cash from PACs backing affirmative action and the city bond issue, plus an apparently illegal handout promoting a "slate" of seven African-American candidates that was distributed at selected black-dominated voting precincts.
The banner black turnout forced two white incumbents who had expected to win outright into runoffs. In the race for the at-large Position 3 seat, Chris Bell faces Richard Johnson, an aide to Councilman Michael Yarbrough and one of the purported architects of the black slate. In District F on the southwest side, Ray Driscoll now has to get past Dionne L. Roberts, an African-American law student and political unknown who apparently benefited from her inclusion on the slate.
The slate also included Brown, at-large Position 5 hopeful Dwight Boykins, at-large Position 3 challenger Andrew Burks and District B incumbent Yarbrough. Only Boykins and Burks failed to win outright or make a runoff (although Burks fared much better than expected against incumbent Orlando Sanchez), and the two Position 5 candidates who survived the November 4 voting, Carroll Robinson and Elizabeth Spates, are also black.
The slate tactic was particularly effective in the little-publicized at-large Council races, says Bell consultant Nancy Sims, who also works for Mosbacher. As Sims notes, the slate handouts lacked the disclaimer required by law that would identify the organization responsible for them, and the workers who passed them out at black churches on the Sunday prior to the voting and at polling places on election day refused to say who had employed them.
An official with the Brown campaign says Johnson sought contributions from the mayoral candidate to fund the slate, but was rebuffed. Brown, the official says, did not give his permission to be included on the slate handouts.
(Johnson, who's widely known as the brains behind indicted Councilman Yarbrough, did not return an Insider inquiry concerning the slate.)
Black-oriented radio station KMJQ/Majic102-FM also played a big role in turning out the black vote, laying down a barrage of pro-affirmative action advertising paid for by the Real Civil Rights Initiative PAC. The station also ran its own get-out-the-vote drive, encouraging listeners who needed help in getting to the polls to call in for rides.
The Real Civil Rights Initiative purchased more than $28,000 in advertisements on the station. Communications consultant Leonard Childress, who was a member of Kathy Whitmire's mayoral administration and a high-placed backer of Sylvester Turner's failed 1991 mayoral effort, contributed $32,050 to the Real Civil Rights Initiative, which accounted for the bulk of the PAC's funding.
With affirmative action now retired as a front-line issue, the big question for both Brown and Mosbacher is whether black voters can be coaxed to the polls in large numbers again for the runoff. Much of the responsibility for duplicating Brown's first-round showing will rest on Kenny Calloway, a veteran behind-the-scenes operator known for the stylish hats he usually sports.
The brother of former councilman Al Calloway and an aide to County Commissioner El Franco Lee, the publicity-shy Calloway runs a get-out-the-vote program second to none in Houston -- at least when the money is available to hire "volunteers" to work the polls and go door-to-door in "flush teams" rousting out voters on election day. Calloway's headquarters on Lyons Avenue in the Fifth Ward is little more than a warehouse where the gunpowder of the trade -- material for yard signs, door hangers and push cards -- is stored.
Calloway has been a fixture on the local political landscape since the 1970s, but his reputation took a dip after his vaunted street organization failed to deliver for Craig Washington in the Democratic primary five years ago, when Washington was dislodged from his 18th Congressional District seat by Sheila Jackson Lee. Washington had no cash, and Calloway's "volunteers" don't work for free. Nowadays, with Calloway patron El Franco Lee unchallenged in the county, Calloway's machine is rarely exercised and requires lots of money to have an impact.
On November 4, Calloway must have had more than enough ammunition for his assignment. While the final totals aren't in on how much Calloway's business, Politico, reaped from the Brown campaign and the city bond effort, fragmentary figures are instructive. For the month of October, the Brown camp paid Calloway's operation $16,000 for field work. At the same time, Rebuild Houston/Together, the PAC backing the bond issue, paid Calloway $25,420 to work the black vote. Politico combined with phone banker Dan McClung's Campaign Strategies, which also worked for the bond issue and the Brown campaign, to produce the 90-percent-plus margins in black precincts for Brown, the bonds and affirmative action.
We managed to snag Calloway by phone after the election, and, true to form, he refused to pose for a picture and pleaded to be left in the shadows. But he cautioned against putting too much stock in the notion that Brown benefited unduly from the presence of the affirmative action referendum on the November 4 ballot, arguing that Brown may actually have carried affirmative action to victory.
"When you talk about turning out the black community, if anything, I think that the fact that you had a high-profile black person running for the mayor's seat probably gave them a lot of help," Calloway said.
Looking to the runoff, Calloway predicted that those who still think that Lee Brown is too boring a personality to motivate blacks to take a second trip to the polls will get another surprise on December 6.
"In the black community, substance is going to win over," Calloway said. He acknowledged that Brown had to overcome some initial doubts among blacks because he's not from Houston and lives in Meyerland rather than one of the traditional wards that have produced most of Houston's black elected officials. "But once they got a chance to see the whole field and get educated about 'em all," Calloway added, "the substance won over."
So if substance wins, how do you explain Sheila Jackson Lee, Kenny?
After a burst of laughter, Calloway darted back into the shadows with a quick, "No comment. Good-bye."
...And Look Out for the GOPstapo!
Houston may be bucking the national trend against affirmative action, but the city's right in step with another fad: Jews who've seen the conservative light and are vigorously attacking their co-religionists who still count themselves as liberals.
Edward Blum, who spearheaded the unsuccessful effort to abolish Houston's affirmative action program, is a Jew and reformed liberal who has likened affirmative action to the racialist philosophy of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. But Blum's rhetoric pales next to that of Harris County Republican Chairman Gary Polland, who really got personal while delivering a speech in Washington, D.C., in late September, at least according to New York magazine.
"The liberal Jewish community is the enemy," the magazine quoted Polland telling an audience at the "Toward Tradition" conference, which was organized by a Seattle-based alliance of conservative Jews and Christians. Polland went on to call liberal Jews "the intellectual backbone of everything that's wrong with this country."
We can only assume that Polland was regaling the crowd with his Louis Farrakhan impersonation -- or else he's been reading too much Mein Kampf for his own good.
Chicago: Expect the Unexpected
While home to a few adventurous artists, the Pilsen neighborhood near downtown Chicago is populated mostly by low-income Hispanics. It's definitely not charted on the uptown social map. That's why the last new neighbors Pilsen residents probably expected were Houston multimillionaire H. Roy Cullen and his wife, Mary, who have established a Windy City pied-a-terre, with the accent heavily on the "terre."
The Cullens, who are longtime arts patrons and philanthropists, are renting the top floor of a three-story apartment building from a family characterized by neighborhood activists as quasi-slumlords. The couple is definitely making an impression: Pilsen's Al DiFranco tells us he and his neighbors are having trouble adjusting to the lavish parties that the Cullens have been throwing.
The affairs have brought a stream of expensive cars and distinctly upscale guests into the neighborhood, including members of the city's consular corps and Mayor Richard Daley Jr. himself. The neighbors, of course, are not included on the guest lists.
A consulate official who was invited to one Cullen soiree had to double-check the invitation to make sure the rather forbidding address was accurate. For sure, the Cullens' part-time domicile at 731 West 18th in Pilsen wouldn't be mistaken for the Huntingdon, the River Oaks high-rise for Houston's ruling class. Rents run about $500 per apartment in the area, and a funky little bar in the same block as the Cullens' building was the site of a Halloween shooting that left three people wounded and one dead.
Exactly why the Cullens have established a Chicago presence remains a mystery. An Insider phone call to H. Roy's Houston office was not returned, and a member of the Cullens' extended family claims to be in the dark about what they're up to in Chicago.
Since the owners of the Cullens' residence, John Podmajresky and his son, have extensive holdings in Pilsen, DiFranco suspects the Houstonians may be buying into a gentrification effort in a neighborhood that's within walking distance of Chicago's downtown district.
On the other hand, Mrs. Cullen may be simply trying to return to her roots. Born Mary Ellen Garcia into a family of seven children in California, the future Mrs. Cullen was, in her own words, "Miss Poor Poor" and managing a Chicago restaurant when she met H. Roy in Vegas in 1971. Mary quickly married Roy, whom she described to a Houston Post reporter in 1979 as "lots of fun," and moved into his River Oaks mansion, which was already populated by five children from Cullen's previous marriage.
Do your civic duty and call The Insider at (713) 624-1483 or (713) 624-1496 (fax), or e-mail him at Insider@houstonpress.com. And have a nice day.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.
- Game Control: Just How Overwhelmed Have The 2015 Houston Texans Been?
- Report: Antiabortion Law Leads to Longer Wait Times at Clinics
- Harden 2.0: How James Harden Became Houston’s Biggest Crossover Sports Celebrity