TLCQ 2013: Robert Gallegos

In the Fifth installment of the 2013 Texas Leftist Candidate Questionnaire, we hear from Robert Gallegos, candidate for Houston City Council District I.

Please note: Responses have been received directly from the candidate, and have been posted verbatim from the email received. This is done out of fairness to all candidates. Publishing these responses does not constitute an endorsement, but will be considered during the endorsement process.

TL: What is your name, as it will appear on the ballot?

RG: Robert Gallegos

TL: Are you a current or former elected official? If so what office(s)?

RG: No.

TL: As a political candidate, you clearly care about what happens in certain levels of government. In your own words, why is government important?

RG: Government is the vehicle by which we have a civilized society. In the broad sense, different forms of government are believed to achieve certain order for a country, state, or city. More to the point City Government provides for public safety, public health, services such as water, trash pick-up, infrastructure (streets, sewers, drainage, building codes), parks, libraries, and governing ordinance for the order and public safety of its residents. City government is the most basic and primal governing body that guides and provides for the quality of life of a community or more specifics the collaboration of several communities within a geographic boundary. To put it simply, city government is where the rubber meets the road in providing for the quality of life of the residents of a city.

TL: If elected, what is your top priority in office for the upcoming term? Describe how you plan to accomplish it.

RG: District I is one of the oldest Districts in the City of Houston. My top priority is quality of life. I have a three prong plan to provide for a better quality of life for the residents of District I.

–Infrastructure – District I has some of the oldest infrastructure in the City of Houston. I will work to direct Rebuild Houston Funds collected in District I, to be invested in the decaying infrastructure.

–Public Safety – I will take the lead in working with the Houston Police Department and Houston Fire Department to insure the safety of the residents in District I. I have worked with HPD and HFD for many, many years on a volunteer basis and as the President of my Civic Club.

–Quality of Life – I will address air pollution issues of District I, which is the home to the Port of Houston and investment in the future of our children and the youth of District I by working to increase after school programs and summer programs. More money needs to be directed to inner city council districts for our youth, which directly affects the quality of life of the entire family and communities.

TL: With the exception of city government and some other select businesses, Houstonians can still be fired for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender because we do not have a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance for general employment. This lags behind other Texas cities such as Dallas, Austin, and Ft. Worth. Do you support a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance for the city of Houston? If not, please explain why. If so, please explain how you would work to pass such a measure.

RG: Yes, I support a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance for general employment. I am an open gay Latino man who has always worked for equality for all individuals regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation.

TL: There have been an alarming number of complaints filed against officers in the Houston Police Department, accused of unwarranted police brutality towards citizens. A disproportionate amount of this violence occurs in minority communities, and in the vast majority of these cases, officers have gone unpunished. As a result, these incidents cause a cycle of mistrust between Houstonians and the very officers sworn to protect them. What can you do to increase oversight of the Houston Police Department, and help ensure that these incidents do not continue?

RG: First, I want to say the majority of Houston Police Officers are men and women who go in harm’s way to protect and serve the residents of the City of Houston. They are honorable men and women doing an excellent job. I am not naïve and living in the East End my entire life, I have witnessed unwarranted police brutality. As within any organization or business there should always be accountability and to that end I support a Citizens Review Board with subpoena power and substantial authority to insure proper oversight and action when a fair and complete investigation has been conducted. Houston has reached a size in which we may need to explore creating an elected position of Public Advocate. The job of the Public Advocate is, most fundamentally, that of a watchdog, ensuring that all citizens receive the City services they deserve and have a voice in shaping the policies of their government.

TL: What makes you the best candidate for this office?

RG: I was born, raised, attended public schools and worked in District I. District I has been my lifelong home. I have a passion to serve the citizens of District I. Public service is in the very fabric of my being as evidenced by over 20 years of civic engagement I chose to run because I believe that I have a unique and diverse experience to bring to the table of Houston City Council. I have the skill set to make that happen. We are only as strong as our weakest link. I believe that my neighborhood development skills will build a stronger Houston neighborhood by neighborhood. My vision for Houston is neighborhood oriented for strength, stability and security. I understand District I, its history, its present and what the residents of District I want for a better future. I served as Community Liaison for Commissioner Sylvia Garcia serving both Houston City Council District H and I. I have more experience working with multiple government bodies, City of Houston, HGAC, State of Texas, TexDot, and the cities of Jacinto City, Deer Park, Channelview, Baytown, and Pasadena than any other candidate in this race. I understand the development of District I, home to the soon to be operative East End Light Rail line, home to the Port of Houston, and the economic development to the ever changing District I.

TL: When not on the campaign trail, how do you like to spend your free time?

RG: Thank you for this question as it is a chance to be reflective. I am a blessed man by having family and friends that I share an enjoyable and fulfilling life with. But in thinking about this specific question and reflecting over the past 20 years, aside from my commitment to work out at the gym, my off time has been filled with civic engagement. Below is a review of my commitments in my off time.

–President of Houston Country Club Place Civic Club (HCCP) for 15 years and active in the Civic Club for over 20 years; Secured new sidewalks along Lawndale; worked on No Parking On The Grass ordinance for Houston Country Club Place; Fought the Solid Waste Department to approve recycling for HCCP; Garnered support for protesting a liquor licensing renewal for a troubled local establishment near his neighborhood.

— Founder, Organizer, and First President of the Greater Eastwood Super Neighborhood 64/Lawndale Wayside Super Neighborhood 88; The Super Neighborhood Council meets once a month to address issues and concerns that affect the area’s neighborhoods. The Super Neighborhood has provided a strong voice for these neighboring Civic Clubs.

— Rallied support from East End Civic Organizations (Magnolia Park/Pineview Civic Club, East Lawndale Civic Association, Idylwood Civic Club, Houston Country Club Place Civic Club, Eastwood Civic Association, Oaklawn Fullerton Civic Club, Second Ward Super Neighborhood, Greater Eastwood & Lawndale Wayside Super Neighborhood, East End Chamber of Commerce and East End Management District.) to weigh in on METRO’s plan to construct a massive 12-block-long overpass on Harrisburg Boulevard for the light rail line. These civic organizations formed the East End Rail Subcommittee and helped convince METRO and newly-elected Mayor Annise Parker to approve an underpass, that protected historic Harrisburg Blvd. and encouraged future economic development.

— Chair, Historic Rufus Cage Educational Alliance (HRCEA). Organized and secured a united letter of support from East End Civic Organizations, Washington Ave Super Neighborhood 22, Greater Heights Super Neighborhood, and Glenbrook Valley Civic Club to save the historic Rufus Cage School, and convinced Mayor Parker to accept the school property from HISD. Now the city and HRCEA are working to find interested parties that will renovate and convert the school building to a performing arts community center that will benefit the education and promotion of the arts for the youth in District I.

— Submitted a request to the City of Houston for the first Railroad Quiet Zone for District I. Phase 1 of the Quiet Zone is Telephone Rd to Polk Ave and Phase II is Polk Ave to Navigation. The Quiet Zone will keep trains from sounding their horns unless there is an emergency.

— Secured letters of support from community elected officials and District I Civic Clubs for construction of a pedestrian bridge over Brays Bayou at Mason Park. As a result, the Houston Parks Dept submitted these letters of support to TxDOT for a grant to construct the pedestrian bridge. A pedestrian bridge over Brays Bayou will provide easy access for pedestrians, connecting the north and southside of the park.

— Assisted the founder and first president in the creation of the Downtown Super Neighborhood.

— I have been a delegate to every Democratic Precinct Convention in the past 20 year.

— I have been a delegate to the Democratic Senate District 6 Convention for the past 10 years.

Thanks to Mr. Gallegos for his participation.

The Parker Legacy

With political campaigns raining down upon the city of Houston, most everyone is focused on one date in the immediate future… November 5th 2013. A mere 6 weeks away (4 weeks for those smart enough to remember how critical Early Voting is in Harris County), the candidates barely have time to think about much else, as every word they say and place they go is influenced to sway voters.

But sometimes in the midst of all the craziness, something reveals that long-term goals are still very important. Take this exchange between Houston Mayor (and incumbent mayoral candidate) Annise Parker and the Texpatriate blog…

T: What was one ordinance you authored that has now become law?

AP: There have been so many! I would highlight our Hire Houston First initiative.

Hire Houston First gives a preference to companies bidding for city contracts if they hire local workers. It keeps our tax dollars working at home – when we hire Houston workers, they spend their earnings here, supporting other Houston businesses that can hire even more workers. In its first year, we certified 617 companies and awarded more than $139 million of city business under the Hire Houston First program, sustaining more than 6,000 jobs. Today, there are 944 firms that have been certified under Hire Houston First.

That’s a big deal for Houstonians who have been struggling since the recession. I understand what it feels like to suddenly not know how you’re going to make ends meet. When I was growing up, my father invested all his savings to start a fishing camp on the Gulf Coast. It was his dream, and it was a success – until one day a barge knocked down the only bridge to the peninsula where we were located. It wasn’t his fault, but my dad went broke. I can still see the worry in his eyes. It took a long time for our family to get back on its feet. And I know there are a lot of families like that in Houston today.

I am proud of Hire Houston First because it’s making real progress for Houston families.

From reading this, it’s pretty clear that Mayor Parker views Hire Houston First as not only good government policy, but a central part of her legacy as the city’s chief executive. She wants the “Parker era” to be remembered in part for this program, and how it, in her view, helped to bring Houston out of the Recession. Most people would agree that it’s a pretty good pick too, as Hire Houston First touches the lives of thousands of Houstonians through small business investment. The program also proves that government doesn’t always have to “get in the way”, but can be a true partner with the private sector to build up the community.

Barring unforeseen disasters, she may also be remembered as one of the most effective consensus builders in the city’s recent history. A prime example of consensus was the passage of changes to Chapter 42, Houston’s development code. Parker was able to take opposing sides that have argued over this issue for more than a decade, and create a compromise both could live with.

Beyond actual municipal legislation, Parker has managed to forge impressive common ground with Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and the Commissioner’s Court. With Commissioner’s Court being a majority Republican body, they clearly don’t agree with Parker on all issues. But she’s done a very good job at staying out of their way, and trying not to stoke as much controversy as her predecessor Bill White. Unlike county and state elections, Texas municipal elections are non-partisan, and Parker has used that fact to great advantage. Fruits of this working relationship have been wide-ranging, from the deal and on-time construction of the Dynamo Stadium to much more efficient cooperation of city and county jail procedures.

Much could still be added to the Parker legacy, as one more election night (and possible run-off) will determine whether she is granted a 3rd term as Mayor. Regardless of whether or not she is granted that term, it is the hope of this blog that the Mayor will use what time she has left to advance causes for equality. I’m with fellow Blogger Brains and Eggs and firmly believe that the time to push for equality is NOW. Demonstrated leadership in other Texas cities, New Mexico and across the country make true equality of Houston all the more imperative. And with proper public attention, City Council members are now being asked to weigh in on these issues. Parker’s common-sense style of consensus building has worked for some of her other achievements, and it would work just as well in this fight. She is uniquely skilled for this moment in Houston history. For even the most overtly cautious politician, all signs for progress seem to be converging upon the Bayou City. One could even argue that it’s the right move to encourage and unite portions of the Mayor’s base that have become apathetic in recent years. In other words… a move toward equality would likely strengthen Parker’s chances at reelection, not damage them. 

As outlined in this post, Mayor Parker has had many accomplishments… but until a firm push is made on LGBT equality, her legacy for the city of Houston will be incomplete.