Make like The Insider, and don't postpone your summer vacation waiting for indictments from the federal grand jury weighing the evidence in the City Hall sting. Our intelligence indicates none will be forthcoming before late next month, at the earliest. The feds reportedly are convinced that time is on their side as more leads surface, and they're in no hurry to harvest the politicos silently thrashing in their net.
With God on Her Side
If you haven't gotten your copy of the recently distributed Betti Maldonado vs. the FBI newsletter, let us provide the crib notes. In opening the self-penned four-page broadside, our lame-duck port commissioner announces that she's recruited some heavyweight artillery to deal with the G-men who entangled her in their investigation of alleged corruption at City Hall. "It's not easy to fight the FBI, but I have a higher power," Maldonado reports. No, she's not talking about Mayor Bob Lanier. "I have an inner resource [God] that can handle anything," she declares. "Anything!"
Maldonado must be feeling the power, because in addition to squaring off with the FBI, she's been doing battle with the Chronicle. Last week, we reported that Attorney General Janet Reno has claimed the paper was wrong in reporting a rift between the FBI and the local U.S. Attorney's Office over the investigation. Now Maldonado is alleging in her newsletter that the Chronicle has published "misquotes and misstatements attributed to me" and is "creating a negative perception of city government and everyone alleged to be involved in the FBI investigation."
Not content to critique the paper's coverage, Maldonado went proactive and met with Chronicle news managers several weeks ago. According to her newsletter, Maldonado received assurances that the paper's writers would stop describing her as "the central figure" in the City Hall probe. "There were many more people involved with the FBI agents before I was introduced to them," wrote Maldonado, who went on to suggest that her own nominee for "central figure" is suddenly out-of-sight (if not out-of-mind) former councilman Ben Reyes. Maldonado also wrote that the Chronicle "admitted to having never interviewed me" about the sting. Of course, she didn't mention that she had previously refused to discuss the particulars of the case, severely limiting her attractiveness as a story subject.
Maldonado's politicking with the Chronicle brass paid off with somewhat mixed results. After her visit, the paper issued a rather cloudy page two "clarification," reporting that a July 2 article "incorrectly characterized" conversations between Maldonado and the two FBI undercover operatives in the sting. (How the Chronicle could make such a unequivocal declaration is unknown, given that it, like all the other media in town, hasn't been briefed by the undercover agents with their version of the conversation.) The clarification went on to explain that Maldonado never said that the campaign cash she helped the FBI offer to several councilmembers was explicitly linked to the suggested wording for the downtown hotel contract she wanted Council to approve.
Maldonado's visit led the Chronicle to assign a reporter who had not written previously on the sting, Claudia Kolker, to do an in-depth interview with her for a piece that ran on July 21. In one respect, however, Kolker's story seemed to make the "clarification" issue a whole lot murkier. Kolker quoted Maldonado as confirming a statement that appeared in the Press' original account of the sting ["Coffee with Betti and the FBI," by Steve McVicker and Brian Wallstin, May 16]. In the Press story, Maldonado attorney Dick DeGuerin described how Maldonado handed the contract clauses to Councilman John Castillo, then told him, "Here's an envelope to put that in" after an envelope bearing $3,000 was passed to Castillo. If that's not explicit linkage, it's pretty darn close. (The Press quoted DeGuerin as saying that Maldonado produced the cash-filled envelope from her purse; in a subsequent letter, the lawyer said the envelope was produced by one of the undercover agents, who gave it to Maldonado to give to the councilmember.)
"We made mistakes, and we wanted to acknowledge that," says a Chronicle editor of the paper's decision to give Maldonado a story. But the editor expressed irritation that Maldonado turned what was supposedly an off-the-record meeting into grist for her own fledgling journalistic efforts. After her interview with Kolker, Maldonado kept calling the paper with more suggestions for the story, becoming, according to the editor, "a total pain in the ass." Next time maybe they should just make room at a computer terminal and just let Maldonado tap out her own story.
With El Franco on Her Side
Sylvia Garcia, the Democratic nominee for county attorney, is getting some high-octane backing that may level the county playing field with Republican Mike Fleming. GOP County Commissioners Steve Radack and Jerry Eversole have backed Fleming from the start of the assistant county attorney's campaign, with Radack throwing a VIP fundraiser for Fleming at the commissioner's home. Now Democratic Commissioner El Franco Lee has stepped in to give Garcia a helping hand. Lee called County Attorney Mike Driscoll's second-in-command, Marsha Floyd, and prevailed upon her to give Garcia a tour of the county attorney's offices. Garcia welcomed the chance, since a mimeographed handout had circulated among Driscoll's staff claiming Garcia is planning to clean house if she takes over. Garcia claims that's not the case, and says she would analyze the staffing situation over a six-month period before making personnel decisions. During the tour, Floyd and Garcia made a point of dropping by Fleming's office in the County Administration Building, but Fleming had checked out shortly before to attend an unspecified meeting.
Meanwhile, Garcia tells us her staff at Municipal Courts had to sort out a recent snafu by City Controller Lloyd Kelley's minions that resulted in 50 municipal court judges getting late notices on their annual $235 membership fee for the State Bar of Texas. The notices warned that if the fees weren't promptly paid, the judges would lose their right to practice law in Texas. When the controller's staff sent the $3,525 check to cover the fees, they neglected to include the paperwork from municipal courts specifying whose memberships the money covered. Garcia assistant Anna Otero, an attorney herself, received one of the late notices and hastily mailed a duplicate of the invoice to the State Bar, allowing the municipal judges to keep their bench privileges.
Four More Years?
UH's Chris Wlezien and Bob Erikson are forecasting a narrow win for President Clinton in November. Using a formula combining economic indicators and voter approval ratings, the two political scientists were within a tenth of a percentage point in August 1992, when they correctly predicted Clinton's victory over George Bush. This time around, they had to jiggle their formula, since economic figures and approval ratings are not available for the third quarter of the year. To compensate, the pair instead relied on the Commerce Department's index of leading economic indicators and projections of approval ratings. In the forthcoming issue of American Politics Quarterly, Wlezien and Erikson peg Clinton's winning percentage at 54.6 over Republican Bob Dole. Of course, their projection was made before the possibility of a third-party challenge from Ross Perot or Dick Lamm appeared likely.
The Insider is available by phone at 624-1483 or 624-1496 (fax) or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.