Last week Houston voters re-elected Annise Parker as the city's mayor by a wide enough margin that no runoff was necessary. According to the Los Angeles Times (which noticed), Parker defeated her main rival, attorney Ben Hall, by 57 percent to 27 percent, which even apolitical types recognize as an old-fashioned country ass-whuppin'.
But this was also Parker's third time to be elected to Houston's highest office, and thanks to term limits she'll be well on her way to a senatorial or gubernatorial campaign in a couple of years, some think. Meanwhile Hall, an attorney whose tax troubles were successfully exploited by the Parker campaign, hardly emerged as her heir apparent, despite his words "you haven't seen the last of Ben Hall" in his concession speech.
So to whom might the Bayou City turn for leadership through the latter half of this decade? The field is literally wide open, with only the usual allotment of ambitious policy wonks and green City Council members jockeying to move up in the municipal ranks at the moment. It might even be time to consider an outsider -- in fact, someone whose nickname is already "Houston's unofficial mayor."
How does Mayor Bun B sound?
Laughable, according to the popular Houston rapper, whose latest album Trill O.G.: "The Epilogue" came out Tuesday and who performs at the Houston Symphony's "Houston In Concert Against Hate" Anti-Defamation League gala Thursday night at Jones Hall.
"Too many skeletons in the closet, lol," Bun told Rocks Off recently via email.
But what about those skeletons? Certainly Houston voters have proved they can be a tolerant lot, and Bun B the OG rapper now has plenty of company in his bio, with Bun B the Rice University comparative-religion professor, Houston Symphony collaborator and trusted friend/adviser to Houston's existing mayor, who asked Bun to sit on her task force to combat texting and driving in April of this year. People have certainly run for mayor with fewer credentials than that.
UGK's lyrics frequently criticized the guns and drugs that were rife in their hardscrabble neighborhood, while Bun and late partner Pimp C were never shy about celebrating the psychotropic indulgences that temporarily removed them from their grim surroundings. But they also never backed down from a fight, and never, ever rolled fake. Surely many voters would flock to a candidate like that, not to mention someone who understands the finer points of grippin' grain and switchin' lanes.
One of Houston's leading political analysts says that kind of street cred could be invaluable in a mayoral campaign.
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"I think one way for him to embrace the image is to use that as a way to create a real, visible narrative of what's happening out there, and letting people know that these problems need to be addressed, and he is a good person to do it," says Dr. Brandon Rottinghaus, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Houston. "A traditional politician may talk about those issues, but maybe hasn't lived it, where in his case he has lived it and it gives him some credibility in a way doesn't give credibility to a traditional politician."
Rottinghaus likens Bun's hypothetical campaign to that of someone like former Minnesota Gov. Jesse "The Body" Ventura, who in ran as the same kind of brash, outspoken maverick he was for years as a popular WWF wrestler, where he often played the "heel." Ventura's straight-shooting message connected with Minnesota voters, and he served four years in the state's highest electoral office.
"The campaign ads he ran were all about how he was gonna wrestle the opposition, and it was time for a change in Minnesota, and he had kids with little Jesse Ventura action figures who were pummeling the competition," says Rottinghaus "So they made that image work for them."
Imagine Bun handing out tiny wood-grain steering wheels at campaign stops. Sadly, there's also one big, unfortunate reality of politics: it's boring. Many duties involved in governing a large city like Houston consist of drudgery like enduring long council meetings and haggling with other city officials about various budgets, because there never seems to be enough tax money to go around. If people are already calling Bun Houston's unofficial mayor, Rottinghaus suggests, why mess with a good thing?
"Maybe the best kind of use of his time is to kind of be the unofficial ambassador of Houston," he says. "It strikes me that that kind of activity is probably as valuable if not more valuable than actually campaigning [and] governing in an office. Maybe it's the case that being the kind of unofficial ambassador gives you the freedom to choose the things you want to work on, and maybe gives you more impact for the time you put in."
Bun B performs with the Houston Symphony at the Anti-Defamation League's "Concert Against Hate" tomorrow night at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, also featuring narrator Alfre Woodard. The baton drops at 8 p.m.; see houstonsymphony.org for ticket info.
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