Undiscovered Country

A few things we've learned as the November 4 election draws nigh, pertinent information that may be overlooked by the League of Women Voters:

(1) It's all over between Helen Huey and Bob Lanier. Six months ago, Huey was calling Lanier "one of the best this city has ever seen." But a few weeks ago, as Council debated the wording of the referendum to abolish Lanier's affirmative action program for city contractors, she icily accused the mayor of pulling the "ultimate bait and switch" on voters; in turn, Lanier accused Huey of reversing position on the issue -- she backed him two years ago when he sought to increase the city's goals for women- and minority-owned businesses -- simply to gain an advantage in the mayoral race.

That launched a snippety exchange that sounded like the last gasp of a disintegrating marriage. But you can't blame Huey for being testy. She's one of the few members of Council with a serious record of accomplishment, yet she hasn't been able to buy a break since she started running for mayor. The westside Republican vote she was counting on seems to have drifted to Rob Mosbacher, Lee Brown appears to have the unofficial blessing of her old flame Bob, and she was running somewhere just ahead of Jean-Claude Lanau in the last Chronicle poll. Such are the rewards of hard work.

(2) Weaselboy's having a baby. Yes, in what's surely the first birth announcement ever made via a campaign commercial, Lloyd Kelley informed much of southeast Texas this week that he and his wife are in a family way. Certainly that's reason enough to re-elect the man controller, and irrefutable proof that there's no truth whatsoever to that rumor about him being gay.

Congrats, Weaselboy!
(3) Rob Mosbacher is one of "us." Well, maybe not you, but he's apparently one of me, at least according to the mailing I and other Republican primary voters (okay, I do it every once in a while) received last week.

"Rob Mosbacher is the only candidate for mayor who shares our conservative values," the brochure reveals in prefacing one of those handy comparison charts lining up Mosbacher against George Greanias (who seems to be the only obstacle in Mosbacher's path before he can commence his public vivisection of Lee Brown).

Aside from injecting an unprecedented note of partisanship into a nonpartisan contest, the Mosbacher brochure is pretty tepid stuff as far as "negative campaigning" goes, and I'd be stunned if the crypto-Lee Atwaters managing his campaign can't come up with something much nastier before Mosbacher is given his third and ultimately unrefundable ticket back to the private sector.

Yet last week's mailer did cause something of a stir, simply because it pointed out that both Greanias and Brown favor "extending benefits to same-sex domestic partners of city bureaucrats." (Emphasis added.)

That's basically true -- Brown and Greanias are on record in support of the city providing benefits to the domestic partners of its employees, although it's a safe bet Council won't be undertaking that issue in the next mayor's term-limited lifetime. You can also safely assume that neither Brown nor Greanias has ever dismissed each and every member of the 20,000-plus city work force as a bureaucrat.

But Mosbacher's "values" hold that the policewoman, the fireman and the traffic engineer are all bureaucrats. And there's nothing more inimical to "our" way of life than a bureaucrat, unless it's a bureaucrat with a same-sex domestic partner.

If only they'd had the dumb luck to be sired by a daddy who could make them president of a multinational energy company, these worthless bureaucrats could be contributing something useful to the economy. Or running for mayor.

(4) The city's Minority, Women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program is not an anti-poverty program. It's not even necessarily aimed at the disadvantaged. In fact, it sometimes helps if the beneficiary is already successful. These hard facts of life were revealed last week by no less an authority than Bob Lanier, after the Aviation Department finally released a list of the people angling for the MWDBE share of a ten-year contract for food and drink concessions at Bush Intercontinental Airport. Among the names were Zinetta Burney and Peggy Foreman, law partners who already collect delinquent taxes for the city as MWDBE subcontractors, and state Senator Rodney Ellis, whose Apex Securities is a MWDBE underwriting bonds for the city and other local governments across the state. (Ellis told the Press last week that he's not a party to the airport bidding, although his sister, former HISD trustee Melody Ellis, is, and he'd be more than happy to provide her with some capital if necessary.) Others on the list included former councilmen Anthony Hall and Ernest McGowen, who, like Ellis, were on Council when the city's original affirmative action ordinance passed.

The proposed MWDBE partners in a competing proposal included money manager Gerald Smith, who's on the board of the Greater Houston Partnership, and the Reverend Kirbyjon Caldwell, who as pastor of Windsor Village Methodist Church wields considerable influence beyond his base in southwest Houston. Smith and Caldwell already manage concessions at Hobby Airport.

These and other insiders are not representative of the average minority contractor, and their inclusion on the airport bid proposals is hardly the blanket indictment of the MWDBE program that critics claim it to be. Yet Lanier's defense of such arrangements is unlikely to win over voters who may be undecided on Proposition A, which would amend the city charter to abolish the program.

"We don't need poor people for this one," said the mayor, in explaining that it takes a certain amount of wherewithal to be cut in for the kind of spoils available from the airport concessions. "We need successful people."

So if they're already successful, why do they need the special advantage conferred by affirmative action?

Perhaps the mayor ought to try another, less convoluted argument. Something like, nothing's perfect.


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