Votes Are Down: What This Means for Candidates

December 7, 2011

Runoff elections are usually plagued with the same problems: low turnout, apathy in the news/media, and less funds for the candidates to get their names out.  This Houston runoff election has low turnout, not a whole lot of media coverage, and not much money coming in.  So what makes this election unique?  It is just how low the turnout is this time.
Only 13% of registered voters voted in the general election.  Although it was projected that 8% (75,000 people) would vote in the runoff, it is now projected that the turnout will actually be about 50,000.  Only 15,690 people voted early in person with another 7,340 by mail.  The 2009 runoff had roughly 152,000 people.  Although there was a mayoral runoff in 2009, and that will usually bring out more voters, 50,000 votes is nothing when you consider the positions at stake here. 
So what does this mean for the candidates?  Let’s take a look at the races:
District A:
The Trini Mendenhall Sosa Community Center on Wirt is most likely where all the early voters in District A voted.  This location only received 1,868 votes so far.  In 2009, CM Brenda Stardig received 9,273 votes in the runoff with 16,382 total votes.  It doesn’t look like the numbers will be anywhere close to these numbers this time around. Stardig has $81,023 on hand, and challenger Helena Brown has $4,409.  I don’t believe that the cash on hand will necessarily predict the winner here.  Stardig grew up in District A and has many friends in the area who will vote for her no matter what.  They will also come to the runoff to vote for her.  It has yet to be seen if Brown’s supporters are as enthusiastic to come back.  Although people either love Stardig or hate her (and not many people are willing to change their mind either way), it is surprising that she hasn’t spent more money lately. 
District B:
Alvin Byrd (raised $23,700 with $6,027 cash on hand) received a lot of grassroots support.  Although Jerry Davis (raised $37,350 with$29,435 on hand) raised more money, Byrd (barely) beat Davis in the general election.  Money may not play a role in this election.  It is really a matter of who can bring out more voters.  With the turnout so low, both candidates will have a long couple of days ahead of them.
At-Large 2:
Andrew Burks has been running for office since the 1990s.  Although there is some name recognition there, I don’t think it is enough to beat Kristi Thibaut.  Low voter turnout or not, I think Thibaut is going to pull through despite the fact that Burks beat her in the general election.  I think some of Thibaut’s support went to Jennifer Pool and a few other candidates.  With them no longer in the race, Thibaut will likely prevail.
At-Large 5:
Both CM Jolanda Jones and challenger Jack Christie raised and spent about the same amount of money.  I believe low voter turnout will impact this race more than the others.  Those going out to vote in the District A race will likely pick Christie, while those voting in the District B race will likely back Jones.  Past that, we will see many strong Jones supporters coming out as well as strong Jones opponents.  The Jones opponents might not be Christie supporters, but they will vote for him.  At this point it becomes a battle of who turns out to vote.  This one will probably be very close.


Predictions for the November 2011 Election

November 4, 2011

Now that Election Day is right around the corner, here are my guesses as to who will win.  Keep in mind that this is not a list of who I want to win.  It is a list of who I think will win.

Kevin Simms
Amanda Ulman
Dave Wilson
Fernando Herrera
Annise D. Parker
Jack O’Connor

I think Mayor Parker will win reelection.  Although there are many people who will gladly vote for anyone else, there are still plenty of people who are excited to continue voting for Parker.  As of November 3rd, early voting was down by 23%.   This shows that people might not be as excited to rush out to vote for Parker, but it also shows that people aren’t excited to vote against her either.

District A:
Brenda Stardig
Helena Brown
Bob Schoellkopf

CM Stardig will likely win again.  Although Brown raised more money than a challenger to an incumbent is expected to, beating an incumbent is so difficult, and I don’t think Brown did enough.

District B:
Kenneth Perkins
Kathy Blueford-Daniels
Phillip “Paul” Bryant
Alvin Byrd
Jerry Davis
Charles A. Ingram
Bryan Smart

It is really difficult to predict who the front runners are in this one.  There will be a runoff, but I don’t think anyone can predict at this point who will be in that runoff.

District C:
Randy Locke
Josh Verde
Ellen Cohen
Karen Derr
Brian Cweren

I think Cohen pretty much has this one locked up.  The only thing standing in her way is the fact that she and Derr might split votes, causing a runoff between Cohen and Cweren.  Even with a runoff, I think Cohen will win.

District D:
Wanda Adams
Larry McKinzie

CM Adams will most likely win reelection. 

District E:
Mike Sullivan

District F:
Al Hoang
Hoc Thai Nguyen (Nguyen Thai Hoc)
Peter “Lyn” René

I predict CM Hoang will win.  Even if a District F resident is incensed with Hoang’s job (which many definitely are), the presence of two other candidates to choose from will render a splitting of votes, causing Hoang to win.

District G:
Clyde Bryan
Oliver Pennington

Although CM Pennington is an incumbent, many people in District G know Bryan.  Still I don’t think that enough people are upset with Pennington’s performance to change their vote.  Let’s not forget that Pennington beat four other people in 2009 and won with 59.10% of the vote.

District H:
Patricia Rodriguez
Edward “Ed” Gonzalez 

CM Gonzalez will likely win again. 

District I:
Leticia Gutierrez Ablaza
James Rodriguez 

CM Rodriguez will likely win again.

District J:
Mike Laster
Rodrigo Canedo
Criselda Romero

Laster raised the most money.  Although this district is considered a “Hispanic-Opportunity District,” with only 17 of registered voters with Hispanic surnames, I don’t think being Hispanic automatically predicts a win here.  I think Laster will win.

District K:
Pat Frazier
Larry Green
Alex Gonik

Simply, Green has the money and the endorsements.  While that doesn’t always predict a win, I think it will in this case.

At-Large 1:
Stephen C. Costello
James Partsch-Galvan
Scott Boates
Don Cook 

This is a hard one to say.  CM Costello is the one behind the Rebuild Houston drainage fee, and I think most voters know that by now.  Although many are angry about it, let’s not forget that it did pass by the voters in the last election.  Even when you take away the number of people who originally voted for it and are now against it, there are still many who support the fee and who support Costello.  Couple that with the fact that Boates recently stated that he “‘ joined both parties this year as part of this run for office.'”  It’s fine if someone is a moderate (actually that might not be a bad thing at all), but his poor choice of words and the fact that it will be difficult to make headway with either party might cause a clear opening for Costello to win again.  I am fairly confident in many of my predictions, but I really won’t be shocked if Costello loses. 

At-Large 2:
Kristi Thibaut
Elizabeth C. Pérez
Andrew C. Burks, Jr.
Gordon R. Goss
Bolivar “Bo” Fraga
Eric B. Dick
Jenifer Rene Pool
M. “Griff” Griffin
David W. Robinson
Roslyn “Rozzy” Shorter 

This is another one where it is really difficult to predict.  I think there will be a runoff that includes Thibaut, but I am not sure who will be in it with her.  Maybe Robinson, but then again, let’s not discount the fact that for the last couple of months you couldn’t drive anywhere in Houston without seeing an Eric Dick (illegal) sign.  In the end I think Thibaut will win. 

At-Large 3:
Melissa Noriega
Chris Carmona
J. Brad Batteau 

CM Noriega will likely win.  I think those who supported her last time still support her today. 

At-Large 4:
Louis Molnar
Amy Price
C. O. “Brad” Bradford 

I don’t see CM Bradford losing his seat.  He has lots of support from both sides of the aisle and hasn’t done anything that the majority of voters would find alarming. 

At-Large 5:
Laurie Robinson
Jolanda “Jo” Jones
Jack Christie
Bob Ryan 

I really think Christie will win this time.  I think enough people are mad an CM Jones and want her out.  With Christie as the clear front runner with Jones, I think it will end up being just a battle between them with Christie winning. 

City Controller:
Ronald Green

Early Analysis of At-Large 5 Race

October 1, 2011

Jolanda Jones
Jack Christie
Laurie Robinson
Bob Ryan

Out of all the races this election cycle, this is one of the few where I just cannot predict what will happen. 

Jolanda Jones:
Jones certainly has name recognition, but it is for less than ideal reasons.  Although she keeps getting cleared of wrongdoings, her name is constantly in the paper and on the news because of various scandals.  Although it was a close race between Jones and Christie in 2009, Jones prevailed. 

Jack Christie:
In 2009 Christie was the clear frontrunner with Jones.  So if you were a voter who was completely angered with Jones’ performance, then you voted for Christie.  I can’t say that this is the case this time.  He got in the race late, and people might not remember his name from two years ago.  It has yet to be seen if his entering so late will hurt him.

Laurie Robinson:
Robinson is the other candidate in the race who has a good chance of at least making it to a runoff.  She already has many endorsements and is quickly gathering name recognition.

Bob Ryan:
I don’t know who he is, and I cannot find a website for him.  So I can’t really analyze his presence in the race other than to say that without a website (or one that is hard to find) at this point is probably bad news.

If the election was today, I really don’t know what would happen.  Will Christie and Robinson split votes, causing Jones to prevail?  Will Jones’ name recognition (regardless of the fact that it was bad press) cause her to win after all?  Or will (maybe most likely) Jones and either Christie or Robinson make it to a run off?  We will probably need to wait until closer to the election to really analyze this further.  I think it is still too early for this one.

It’s $3 Million…Can you Hear Me Now?

July 24, 2011

In a city where we’ve had to look for new ways to collect taxes, increase fees, and decrease services, we have been told that every penny counts.  Then shouldn’t $3 million count considerably?? 

Mayor Parker recently barely secured enough votes to approve a new wireless contract that would save $3 million.  AT&T is the current provider for city cell phones and emergency communications.  Parker has been trying for a while now to switch the contract over to Sprint to save $3 million.

Sure, there are a few detriments to consider: Sprint is not a Texas company like AT&T, Sprint might not have the  infrastructure and personnel support needed during disasters like hurricanes as AT&T does, and Parker’s former campaign treasurer is a registered lobbyist for Sprint.

So with all of these items to think about before approving the new contract, what was the main concern with Sprint?  They are not a union like AT&T!  $3 million is on the table here, and that is what council members are concerned with?  Council members approve contracts for the city all the time, and I can’t remember a time where members tried to go with another company based only on whether or not they are a union.  It is time for them to wake up and hear from their constituents that we need to take a serious look at our finances and cut every place we can.

How the council members voted:
FOR (approving the change from AT&T to Sprint):
Anne Clutterbuck, Stephen Costello, Sue Lovell, Oliver Pennington, James Rodriguez, Brenda Stardig, and Mike Sullivan

AGAINST (voted to keep the AT&T contract):
Ed Gonzalez, Melissa Noriega, Wanda Adams, C.O. Bradford, Jarvis Johnson, and Jolanda Jones

Jolanda Jones Raised How Much?!

July 19, 2011

Council Member Jolanda Jones raised $113,586.22 in the last six months for her campaign.  She raised more than all of her announced challengers combined.  This is in the midst of allegations that Jones violated city ordinances and used her city office to conduct her personal business.  
Recently the Office of Inspector General (OIG) referred her ethics case to the DA for review.  Mayor Parker said that Jones’ situation has been a distraction in a difficult time for the City, so hopefully referring the case to the DA will allow many people to shift their focus back to more important things.
Furthermore, the former city scheduler of Jones recently said that Jones used to take her law firm computer to city hall have a city employee (on city time) schedule her law appointments.  I can understand bringing a non-city computer to the office.  If her employees needed to schedule city appointments, they might have to use another computer to check her other calendar to make sure appointments don’t conflict; however her city employees should not set law appointments on city time.  No wonder she wanted to increase the budget for her staff.  They are doing two jobs!  Now keep in mind that this employee was fired in 2008, so who knows if there is some vendetta here, but in light of the allegations against Jones, this is certainly one worthy of investigating. 
It is important to note that these complaints are just allegations right now, and she has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing; however, I still cannot fathom how she raised so much money!  I know I talk about her a lot in this blog, but her actions make me outraged.  There are so many people in Houston who would make great council members, but instead we have someone who is making a mockery of the seat. Spending our money to try to install showers in city council bathrooms, spending our money to buy pink paint for her walls and pink chairs, and spending our money to do her personal business is not someone I want in office.

Houston’s $4 Billion Budget

June 23, 2011

Houston City Council voted on the budget for the next fiscal year.  The general funds budget ended up being about $1.8 billion, and the overall budget is $4 billion ($2.2 billion is for the enterprise funds like airport and water utilities that usually generate their own revenues through user fees).  All members voted in favor of it except Mike Sullivan and Anne Clutterbuck.  Here are the highlights :
Items Cut:
–  Total of about $100 million less than the current fiscal year.
– Largest cuts were to HPD and HFD (Note: I’m sure no one wanted to do this, but most of the budget is allocated to these departments, so there was no way to significantly reduce the budget without touching these two departments.   No officers or firefighters were laid off).
– Mayor Parker cut eight pools and seven community centers, but private donations of $350,000 are keeping the pools open.
– Layoffs of 747 city workers.
– Reduction of library hours.
Amendments that Failed:
– Council Member Wanda Adams introduced an amendment to increase each council member’s office budget.  The current office yearly budget is $382,432, and CM Adams wanted to increase it to $392,222.  She said she is getting 67,000 more constituents after redistricting.  Council Member Jolanda Jones said that they are elected to be responsive to their constituents.  I agree, but many (not all) council offices seem to just push you to call 3-1-1 instead of their office.  Or if you do call their office, they just give your information to 3-1-1 to “handle” your concern.  My thought is start doing actual constituent casework, and then we’ll talk about budget increases.  Council Members Adams, Jarvis Johnson, and Jones voted in favor of the amendment, but it failed. 
– Council Member Stephen Costello introduced an amendment to look into the lack of grocery stores in poor communities.  The amendment called for an establishment of guidelines for loans or grants, giving priority to projects in underserved communities.  While this certainly is an important issue, especially for those living in these areas, there are bus stops by many grocery stores in Houston, so it’s not like there is absolutely no access.  Mayor Parker pointed out that state law covers development deals; however the city has been known for approving development deals with grocery stores before.  This usually happens with tax incentives and not loans.  I’m ok with tax incentives in some regards but not with giving loans to companies.  Do we want to become the federal government?  This amendment ended up being pulled by CM Costello.
Problems for the Future:
– The budget defers tens of millions of dollars.  A deal with the police pension board allows the city to put off $17 million in pension contributions for three years.  A deal with the firefighters union allows the city to put off about $10 million in lump-sum payments for firefighters who leave the department.  This will be paid over four years instead.
– The red light camera issue has not been resolved.  If the red light camera company sues to recoup their money, or even if they make a deal with the city, we are taking about millions and millions of dollars here.
The budget also calls for a Long-Range Financial Management Task Force to recommend how to address the unfunded liabilities, pensions, debt, and other obligations.  The task force will include two council members, an appointee by the mayor, and representatives from the finance department, labor unions, pension boards, and controller’s office.  I’m ok with this idea, but shouldn’t the council members, pension board, and controller’s office have already been working on how to address these problems??  I guess they haven’t, but at least they are now.  Also, the budget includes no property tax increases.  It also doesn’t tap into the reserve account nor does it borrow money to pay for pensions (like Bill White’s budget did).

Jolanda Jones Violated City Ordinances

June 9, 2011

The Office of Inspector General determined that Council Member Jolanda Jones used her position as an elected official to solicit clients for her private law practice after volunteers passed out fliers at an event urging people to never speak with the police unless they talk to a lawyer first (see flyer here).  CM Jones said that she did not break any rules because she was acting as a private citizen and was invited to the event as a lawyer, not a council member.
The flyer does not mention that she is a council member, but it does provide her council office number to report misconduct.  This is where the conflict of interest comes into play.  If her office receives information about police misconduct, there is nothing her staff members can do.  It needs to be reported to Internal Affairs within HPD.  So what did she intend her staff to do with the information if someone called her office about misconduct?  Refer them to her law office? 
She also instructed her staff members not to meet with OIG investigators, which means that she is in violation of failing to cooperate and interfering with the investigation.  The most egregious allegation against her, however, is that she used her city staff on city time (TAX DOLLARS) to notarize documents for her law practice, fax legal papers, and drive her to court hearings (related to her private business).  She allegedly did this before expressing her concern to city council that slashing council’s office budgets by 10% is too much because their employees are essential.  I agree that they are essential in making sure the city runs properly, but driving her around on the city dime is not essential.  In fact, it is illegal!
Mayor Parker recently stated that she does not believe CM Jones should face criminal charges, although that is left up to City Attorney David Feldman.  Mayor Parker said that CM Jones will need to face city council to determine if she should be reprimanded, censured, or even impeached.  I agree that she should face impeachment by city council, but I don’t agree with Mayor Parker that she should not face criminal charges.  It is not as if there is one minor mistake here.  She is a lawyer and should have a better grasp on the law and, therefore, know that what she did violated ordinances.  But do you really need a law degree to know that city workers should do city tasks??  It seems like she made a series of poor choices and inappropriate behavior. How can someone with disregard for the law be the one to create it?