I haven’t been following every twist and turn of the Houston Mayor’s race, but this latest revelation was simply too hard to resist.
In Mayoral candidate Ben Hall’s latest TV ad, he reveals that his true opponent in the race isn’t current incumbent Annise Parker, but perhaps it’s any government authority that has ever existed since the dawn of governance? Decide for yourself…
I hate taxes, but my feelings toward the IRS aren’t much different. How about yours? Mayor Parker was kind enough to tell you the IRS and I’ve had some disagreements over my taxes. But, she just forgot to mention that right before those disagreements started we had sued the IRS for over nine million dollars, and won. Now, think that’s a coincidence?
It’s no secret that most Americans (and definitely most Texans) don’t enjoy the act to paying their taxes. But the point of taxes is not to love them or hate them. It’s to pay them. Thus why we view tax payment as an obligation. I don’t happen to love taking out the trash or cleaning my bathroom, but they are things that I’m obliged to do. The same is the case for a community, large or small. Most voters understand that taxes have an important purpose. That tax money goes to protect the citizens of Houston through our brave police and firefighters. They ensure that we have clean water to use, and that our children can attend school. Whatever your opinion of the current state of Houston’s streets and infrastructure, it wouldn’t even be built if not for the tax payments of citizens from previous generations.
Of course nobody is perfect. It’s probably safe to assume that many Houstonians haven’t always paid their taxes on time, or exactly the way they need to (count me in as one). Everyone makes mistakes. Hall has owned up to those mistakes, and paid most of his past due taxes. But boasting about being a “former deadbeat” does not instill confidence in most people that Hall can run a major city effectively. One would hope that a candidate running for a place in city government would at least recognize the value of taxes, even if that particular candidate doesn’t always enjoy paying them on time. And winning a lawsuit against the IRS may prove Hall to be a good lawyer, but it doesn’t qualify him to be the Mayor of our nation’s fourth largest city. I can’t see how this ad will prove to be a smart move for the Hall campaign, unless he’s decided to abandon the Mayor’s race, and run for TEA Party chairman.
So far in his campaign for Houston’s top job, candidate Ben Hall has had his ups and downs… most notably some issues with the wrong type of social media, timely payment of taxes, and a dispute over what exactly counts for residency. But it’s quite possible that the biggest problem with Hall’s Mayoral strategy has less to do with him, and more to do with how his chosen base of support is rapidly declining.
Houston Chronicle reporter Bill King took a look at shifting demographics in the city’s core African-American communities. Here’s what he found…
“The principal reason that Turner and Locke lost their mayoral bids was a dramatic decline in African-American turnout in city elections.
I looked at the election results in five key, predominantly African-American precincts from around the city. In the 2001 election when Brown faced a stiff challenge from Orlando Sanchez for his third term, the turnout in the general election in these five precincts averaged just less than 30 percent.
For the runoff between Brown and Sanchez, the turnout actually went up to almost 37 percent. The five precincts produced more than 5,600 votes, and Brown won more than 95 percent of those votes.
In 2003, when Bill White, Orlando Sanchez and Sylvester Turner squared off in the general election, the turnout in these precincts was about the same as the 2001 general election, but Turner got only about 80 percent of the vote compared to Brown’s 95 percent.
This was the decisive factor in Turner not making the runoff. With him eliminated, turnout in the runoff in these precincts dropped by almost half to just 17 percent.
In 2009, Locke was unable to motivate African-American turnout or rack up the margins that Brown achieved in 2001. In the 2009 general election and in the runoff, turnout in these precincts was only 15 percent, with Locke winning about 84 percent of the vote.
From just these five precincts, Turner got 1,650 fewer votes in 2003 than Brown did in the 2001 runoff. In the 2009 runoff, Locke got a staggering 3,300 fewer votes than Brown did in the 2001 runoff. The significance of this drop in vote totals is highlighted when you consider that Locke lost by fewer than 9,000 votes citywide.”
First off, I do want to state that it’s not unfair to just assume that all African- Americans will vote for a candidate based solely on race. That is of course a stereotype. But it is fair to asses that each of these candidates campaigned heavily in the African- American community… so much so that they probably saw them as their “base of support”. By all indications, the Hall campaign is following a similar path.
So what is happening that so many African-Americans are moving out of the central city, and even out of Houston city limits altogether?
For poorer citizens, the reason is simple… gentrification. Houston’s historically black neighborhoods are being rapidly torn down and replaced by an upper income, young adult class. People that used to live in 3rd ward or 4th ward can no longer afford to be there. If they own property, they are under immense pressure to sell so that developers can build the type of housing that suits the “new urban” clientele. As a result, many African-Americans are leaving Houston proper for suburbs like Pearland and Missouri City, because it’s what they can afford. NPR covered this trend in 2012 where State Rep. Garnet Coleman discussed the alarming rate at which the city is changing.
Of course the way to confirm these trends is to take a look at the census records themselves. In 2000, the city of Pearland had 37,640 people, and was 5.3% African- American… or about 2,000 people. But by the 2010 census, Pearland’s overall population had exploded to 91,252, and the African- American population swelled from 5.3% to 16.4%… or about 15,000 people. That means the city of Pearland gained a net number of 13,000 African- American residents between 2000 and 2010, a disparity that’s probably grown larger now that it’s 2013. Of course Houston’s overall population, and it’s African- American population both increased during the decade as well, but by much smaller margins than the rate of growth seen in Pearland. It’s fair to assume that as newer residents moved into Houston, some of the people already in neighborhoods like 3rd and 4th Ward were priced out. Many of the newer citizens coming in don’t share the same cultural, communal or political alliances as those there previously.
Now for richer citizens like Ben Hall, other factors are at play. He certainly can afford to live anywhere he wishes, but he chose to build a home in Piney Point Village. That could possibly be because the tax burden is lower, or just because it’s an area where many wealthy people choose to live. It’s not fair to speculate on Mr. Hall’s reasons for that choice, but it’s worth recognizing that many others have chosen a similar path. Either way, it’s fair to say that it’s a decision that many have made over the last 10 years. And if assertions turn out to be true, that’s not a good indicator for the Hall campaign.
Well, it’s an interesting way to introduce yourself to voters, I suppose. “I’m Ben Hall. A poor country boy who is surprised and fascinated by the gifts God has given me, because I clearly don’t deserve them. I finished college in three years because I thought I’d run out of money. I finished the seminary and Ph.D. program at Duke University and then I got my law degree at Harvard… oh and $130,000 in debt. Then I came to Oz: Houston. I’d never seen a more beautiful city. I practiced law here at Vinson & Elkins, then Mayor Bob Lanier made me Houston City Attorney, and that’s when I saw the real opportunities we had to keep this a robust and magical place to live. But we have some serious economic challenges coming, and we need to prepare for them.
But we can’t get there by hiding the truth, Mayor Parker.” We’ll talk soon.”
“Oz”? A “robust and magical place to live”? I guess I’m confused as to which truth Mr. Hall is trying to tell Houstonians here. First off, this ad is well-produced, and it displays some of Mr. Hall’s best qualities. He loves Houston. He knows how to communicate effectively. There’s nothing wrong with either of those things. I also think the team did a great job discussing his background, though I’m not sure why it was so important to state that he went into debt from going to Harvard. Rule number one of any good interview: don’t ever present a challenge that isn’t immediately resolved. Hall says he was in debt, but never thinks to mention that he paid it off? Awkward moment there.
Another main criticism… constantly referring to the city’s “magical” qualities. Houston is a wonderful place, but our city’s problems don’t get solved through magic. In order to be a viable candidate for Mayor, Mr. Hall will eventually have to move away from all of the sweeping, inspiration rhetoric, and start getting real. The city’s problems aren’t going to get solved by simply electing another person as Mayor.
And as before, that’s my greatest criticism of not only this ad, but the Hall campaign thus far. He speaks a whole lot about the city, but very little about what he, specifically, could do to make the city better. Hall’s got plenty of grand visions, but Houstonians are going to need some details.
So on that “we’ll talk soon” promise… can we start now? Some of us are tired of waiting for Ben Hall’s details to magically appear.
The Honorable Annise Parker Mayor of Houston 901 Bagby Street Houston, TX 77002
Dear Mayor Parker,
I am writing to propose that you and I share our contrasting ideas and vision for the future of this great city through a series of debates.
Three debates should be held after Labor Day but prior to the start of early voting and three additional debates after the start of early voting and before our November election. Too much is at stake for us not to share our plans for Houston with her citizens, and I hope you agree promptly to debating six times this fall.
I have instructed my staff to contact your campaign staff to begin discussions on the details.
To be clear, I fully support Mr. Hall’s call for some Mayoral debates. This election is important to Houstonians, and they deserve to hear contrasting visions for the city. But six debates, especially three packed in during early voting, seems overly excessive. It smacks of desperation from the Hall campaign if they are trying to rely so heavily on undecided voters. As the percentage of early voters continues to climb… 30 percent voted early in the last Mayoral election and a whopping 58 percent in 2012, the thought of having some last-minute debate shocker save the day isn’t very feasible. Hall needs to start sharing with voters the specifics of what he can offer the city of Houston, and why he would be a better choice than the current administration. If Facebook troubles weren’t enough of an indicator, it’s time for the Hall campaign to think quality over quantity.
There’s a substantive difference between gaining a first impression of someone on camera or in print, versus a face-to-face interaction. I think most would agree that the latter is always preferred. Even if it’s a brief contact, you’re just able to gather a world of information from someone when you see them with your eyes, and hear them with your ears. I was reminded of this last week in meeting Houston Mayoral Candidate Ben Hall. As a relatively new Houstonian (especially from a political standpoint) I don’t know much Mr. Hall’s time as City Attorney. But in one meeting with him, it’s clear that he is vastly knowledgeable about Houston. He understands the city’s struggles, needs, and perhaps most importantly, its aspirations.
Hosted by the Harris County Democratic Party (though important to note that all municipal races are non-partisan), Hall was introduced by chairman Lane Lewis, and then gave a broad-ranging speech about why he is challenging the present incumbent. Throughout the talk, Mayor Annise Parker’s name was never actually mentioned… Hall was able to focus the audience on his ideas and on what he called “a different vision” for the city of Houston. He started off by answering the question that was on everyone’s minds… why run for mayor now, in 2013?
“We decided long ago in America that we would not have dynasties. We chose to elect our leaders, as opposed to anointing people for some term. We are offering the voters an option to decide which is the better way forward for the city of Houston. That’s the privilege and right of voting in a Democratic society, and I welcome and embrace it. That’s why I have chosen to run this year.”
He went on to speak of bold and aggressive plans to create a dynamic downtown, and bring real private investment back to the city of Houston. He commented about several investors that have already approached his campaign and are interested in bringing upwards of 2 billion dollars in for downtown and East End retail. He also doesn’t agree with the present incumbent’s fee and tax system…
“We cannot continue to proceed under the present revenue scheme of this administration, and I offer a different way forward. As opposed to penalizing the domestic population with excessive fees, we should bring more businesses into Houston that can generate revenue, and not only cover the cost of city services, but help all of us rebound into a glorious and prosperous future. For the sixty percent of city properties that are under-performing in terms of revenue, wouldn’t it be better to negotiate a tax advantage, tax incentive, tax rebate, or even consider enterprise zones? That’s a win-win for the city of Houston, as opposed to losing money on these properties like we are right now. The task of a mayor must be more than simply balancing a budget. It must be to look for sustainable ways for the city’s continued growth.”
He did acknowledge that Houston has seen impressive growth and economic prosperity over the past few years, but chose to view this fact in comparison to other Texas cities, citing state-wide growth as the reason for this.
One thing is for sure, Ben Hall proved that he knows and loves the city of Houston. Though his talk was certainly enjoyable, he still lacks specifics of how he would go about achieving several of his ambitious goals. How would downtown and the East End generate the funds for these massive retail centers? Are we going to get rid of the voter-approved drainage fee for citizens, and let somehow encourage private businesses pay the tab? It was very open-ended as to how he wants to pursue such grand ideas. He did however promise to reveal more details as the campaign progresses. As the good news keeps on coming for the Parker administration, he will need a strong, deliberate, and detailed platform to run on. I for one will be watching closely.