The race for Mayor of Houston is big business. Whether that be from the standpoint of running the government equivalent of a $5 Billion dollar corporation, or from the nearly $2 million dollars needed to wage a credible campaign, having a serious shot at winning the office takes some serious commitment.
When I first met Ben Hall back in April, that serious commitment was on full display. He spoke with careful eloquence and clear conviction about why he was entering the Mayor’s race. He proved to be very knowledgeable about the Bayou City, and spoke of how he’s been disappointed in the work of “the incumbent” over the past 4 years. Hall offered little in the way of specifics, but his vision for the city was truly grand. I knew that Mayor Parker had drawn a real challenge for the 2013 elections.
That was then, and this is now. Ben Hall has not lived up to a very promising first impression. Instead of offering a different vision for the city, he instead chose to berate the incumbent as “small-minded”, when in reality it is Hall’s campaign that has proven to be so.
While Hall has spent his time being small-minded, Mayor Annise Parker has mostly done the work of the city in an admirable fashion. After four years of weathering a difficult economic storm, Houston businesses are doing better than any place in the nation. This is partly due to the good fortunes of Texas’ strong energy sector, but make no mistake, the city would be in a worse position if not for Parker’s dedication and meticulous planning. Programs like Hire Houston First gave contracts to local businesses in a time that they were needed the most, helping to quicken the Bayou City’s lift out of the Recession. Parker led major trade missions Brazil and Turkey, planting the seeds for important economic opportunities in the city’s future. Though we may not see all of the progress yet, the Rebuild Houston initiative created a long-term, fiscally responsible plan to fix city streets, and decrease debt. None of these things are paying immediate dividends, and none of them can be held up as some shiny political prize. But the long-term investment in Houston is going to make for a better city, and Parker is doing it the hard way. She’s tackling big issues, one day at a time and seeing how we can make things better.
For all of the things she’s tackled head-on, there are still a host of issues where Annise Parker has been far too risk averse. Texas Leftist is hopeful that her third term will finally bring some significant legislation to protect GLBT citizens from discrimination, and to address the troubling discriminatory practices within Houston’s law enforcement agencies. But for 2013, Annise Parker has proven that she deserves to win reelection. I look forward to what the 3rd term brings.
In the Seventh installment of the 2013 Texas Leftist Candidate Questionnaire, we hear from James S. Horwitz, candidate for Houston City Council At Large Position 5.
Please note: Responses have been received directly from the candidate, and have been posted ver batim 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?
JH: James S. Horwitz
TL: Are you a current or former elected official? If so what office(s)?
JH: I have never held, or run for, public office before.
TL: As a political candidate, you clearly care about what happens in certain levels of government. In your own words, why is government important?
JH: In today’s time, there is an often-repeated metaphor for the role government should play. Some people believe government should stay out of most issues, whereas many others believe the government should be a key player in most issues. Disagreeing with both of these premises, I believe that government should be a referee in our society. The government should be an arbiter of disputes in our society, as well as the provider of certain invaluable services. In the case of the City of Houston, this includes our general welfare, utilities and protection.
TL: If elected, what is your top priority in office for the upcoming term? Describe how you plan to accomplish it.
JH: My top priority is to listen to my constituents, hear their concerns, and try if reasonable to help them. For example, recently, I took my son up to Boston as he continues his collegiate education. While on the plane, I struck up a conversation with the flight attendant—who is based in Houston. She told me that FAA regulations required her to occupy the gateway between the terminal and the plane for hours at a time, sometimes in the grueling heat. The City of Houston controls the air-conditioning in the gateway. They could turn it on for the benefit of the staff required to be in there. Just listening to this Houstonian has brought this issue —adding fans and air conditioning to airport gateways— to my attention, and it is one I will argue to be implemented. I am sure there are countless other issues that Houstonians have that I can learn about. In addition, strengthening public transportation, developing an comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT people as well as expanding recycling service to all corners of the city are major concerns of mine.
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.
JH: I strongly support a non-discrimination ordinance, domestic partnership agreements and same-sex marriage (including a symbolic resolution by the City Council supporting it). Recently, Mayor Parker announced her intention to make this issue a priority for her possible third term. If elected, I will work closely with the Mayor to pass this ordinance out of the City Council, as well as strongly support a charter amendment to achieve this action.
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?
JH: I would work closely with the Houston Police Department to help the department conduct internal investigations of its officers. Unfortunately, these incidents have been going on since I moved to Houston in my teens in the 1960s. At that time, racist and corrupt police officers generally got a free pass from the City Government and Herman Short, the Chief of Police. However, today, I would like to think the situation has improved. I do believe that Mayor Parker and HPD Chief McClelland have been doing great work to punish brutality and oppression from HPD officers. I am reminded most vividly of the case of Andrew Bloomberg, a HPD officer recently acquitted of the videotaped senseless beating of a minor. After the verdict, both Parker and McClelland stood firm in ensuring Bloomberg would never again have a job with the Houston Police Department. Still, there are issues we must deal with to stop these miscarriages of justice.
TL: What makes you the best candidate for this office?
JH: Many people may agree with my positions more than any other candidate. For example, I am the only candidate in this race who, in a recent election dialogue of the League of Women Voters, unequivocally supported a non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT people. I am the only candidate to go on-record supporting the pending Wage Theft ordinance in the City Council. There are countless other issues such as this one, where I stand alone in my position. While the other candidates in this election certainly have many honorable personal characteristics, I believe I have distinguished myself from them on the issues. If you agree with me on the many issues I have discussed on my website, “horwitz4houston.com,” then I believe I am the ideal candidate for you to support.
TL: When not on the campaign trail, how do you like to spend your free time?
JH: I have a big family, and thoroughly enjoy spending as much time with them as I able to do so. I was extremely lucky, many years ago, not only to marry my amazing wife, Deborah —who raised our two sons, Geoffrey and Noah, with me— but to marry into her great family.
In the 21st century, indoor sports isn’t that big of a deal in many American cities, or throughout Europe. Millions of attendees take in Soccer, Baseball, American Football or other large sporting events within the confines of an indoor facility where they don’t have to worry about temperature or inclement weather. You go to the game and have a great time.
But 48 years ago, that wasn’t the case. No one had ever thought to hold what most considered an “outdoor sport” like football, and put it indoors. No one did, until Houston did it. On April 9th, 1965 with the President of the United States, the Governor of Texas and a host of other major dignitaries in attendance, the Harris County Domed Stadium–the Astrodome– opened its doors to the general public. And with that opening, the world of professional sports changed. Here’s more from Jere Longman of the New York Times…
The Eighth Wonder of the World, as the Astrodome was nicknamed, with its 200-foot-tall roof and nine-acre footprint, became the most important, distinctive and influential stadium ever built in the United States.
It gave us domed, all-purpose stadiums and artificial turf and expansive scoreboards. It gave us seminal respect for women’s sports when Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs at tennis in 1973. It gave us the inventor of the end zone dance in 1969, Elmo Wright of the University of Houston. It gave us the first prime-time national television audience for a regular-season college basketball game, with the famed 1968 meeting between Houston and U.C.L.A.
Whether you’re in Houston or New York, passions run high when people discuss the future of the famed Astrodome. The fate of the historic structure will be decided this Fall by Harris County voters, which is why many have turned to some interesting news this week. In the inaugural poll for the 2013 municipal elections, KHOU/KUHF found that 45% of voters surveyed favor the bond issue to save the dome (and raise property taxes to do it), 35% are opposed and 20% are still undecided. By most accounts, this is viewed as good news for supporters of the Astrodome, because they have less people to convince than the other side. Plus with less than one month to go before early voting, there is still no formal opposition to the bond measure.
Which leads to this impressive video released by The New Dome PAC… a political action committee founded specifically to help with the bond measure’s passage. The video finally details the County’s plans for the Dome in a way that even average voters can understand. It’s a big first step in this process. Texas Leftist formally endorses Proposition 2… the plan to save and update the Astrodome. As an exhibition hall, the Astrodome conversion would turn Reliant Park into the largest Convention Facility in the state of Texas, and one of the largest and most interesting in the country. All in all, a good plan.
The Astrodome ‘changed the game’ of the 20th century, but it’s up to Harris County voters to see it live in the 21st century.
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.