Tag Archives: Ben Hall

Houston Mayoral Candidates Discuss The Arts

The first major forum in Houston’s 2015 campaign season may have been all about the Arts, but it was lacking in drama.

Candidates hoping to replace Houston Mayor Annise Parker tested the waters of election season on some previously untested issues for local politics.  Rebecca Elliott of the Houston Chronicle has the story…

Houston’s mayoral candidates were full of praise for the city’s arts scene Wednesday, when they appeared at a forum together for the first time, though most said they would not support raising taxes or allocating new city funds to support arts and culture.

The forum hosted by four city arts groups – Houston Arts Alliance, Houston Museum District, Theater District Houston and Miller Outdoor Theatre – featured seven of the candidates vying to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker and kicks off a series of similar interest-specific events leading up to November’s election.

The relatively conflict free event at the Asia Society Texas Center drew a standing room only crowd. It opened with statements from each of the candidates, who then went on to answer three arts and culture-related questions.

The first addressed the city’s recently implemented cap on arts funding from hotel occupancy tax revenues, about 19 percent of which are set aside to fund city arts organizations. Two years ago, City Council passed an ordinance capping the city’s arts and culture spending through this revenue stream, prompting criticism from some of the grantees.

Four of the seven candidates – former congressman and City Council member Chris Bell, former mayor of Kemah Bill King, businessman Marty McVey and state Rep. Sylvester Turner – said they do not support the cap. The other three – City Council member Stephen Costello, former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and 2013 mayoral runner-up Ben Hall – did not come out directly in favor of the limit but said they would want to further review it once in office.

The H.O.T. tax was a big topic of debate, though none of the candidates went into much detail about what it actually is.  For every hotel room night rented within the city of Houston, a percentage of taxes paid for the room go to support state and local arts, culture and tourism efforts.  Many in the arts community (especially those that rely on funds from the tax mechanism) feel that the maximum 19% of the tax revenue spent on Arts and Culture should be adjusted to a higher level.

Here’s a percentage breakdown of Houston’s Hotel Occupancy Tax (H.O.T.)

Another chief point of debate concerned current Mayor Annise Parker’s Arts and Culture Plan… an as yet undefined set of directives for how to foster growth of the city’s Arts community.  Given that the physical plan doesn’t exist yet, it’s no surprise that candidates couldn’t commit one way or the other.

But once an actual plan is put forth to Council, this is a question well worth revisiting with the Mayoral candidates, and those running for City Council.

All in all, there wasn’t much firm commitment in this first forum for the candidates.  They discussed how much the like art, and want to support it if elected.  But very few stark differences were realized on Wednesday night.  The only clear winner from Houston’s first ever Arts Forum was the Arts community itself.  Even if concrete solutions aren’t on the table just yet, at least the community knows that it has a voice in local government.   We know that if enough of us care about the future of the Arts in Houston, area politicians will have to pay attention.

The ‘runner-up’ for who won tonight’s forum?  All of the candidates.  They had a chance to test out their speaking skills in front of an attentive audience, while not having to approach more divisive campaign issues that surely lie ahead.

It will be nice to see how the discussion continues, and what ideas are realized from the coming Cultural Plan.

Oh and 1 added bonus… we even got to discuss the forum (and other fun topics) on today’s Houston Matters show.  So be sure to check that out as well.


Chron: Sheriff Adrian Garcia Certain To Run For Mayor

The clock is slowly ticking on towards the Houston municipal elections.  But one area that has seen significant action is the race for Mayor. This week, another major candidate has made moves that are sure to shake up the race.  Theodore Schleifer of the Houston Chronicle reports that all the signs point to an impending announcement from Garcia…

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia is sending every possible message that he intends to run for mayor this year, aggressively increasing his political operations and signaling to some close advisers and backers that a campaign may be imminent.

Garcia, under the Texas Constitution, would have to resign as a county official immediately upon declaring his candidacy. That presents Garcia, who watchers expect to immediately move to the field’s top tier if he joins the burgeoning mayoral fray, with a fateful decision: Does he step down as the county’s top Democratic officeholder to make a bid that would make him either Houston’s first Latino mayor, or politically unemployed?

“At the end of the day, it’s like standing at the craps table, placing the bet – and you could walk away with nothing,” said Garcia confidant Greg Compean.


Perhaps most tellingly, county sources say, is that Garcia’s top staff at the Sheriff’s Office are looking to jump as they eye other county positions that would give them a landing place beyond Garcia’s tenure and vest them in the county’s pension system. Garcia’s top lieutenant and close friend, Armando Tello, left last month for a lower-profile post in Precinct 6, and other executive officers currently are scoping out other opportunities.

“He’s running,” said Hispanic Chamber of Commerce head Laura Murillo, who once considered her own bid for mayor. “He’s getting ready to make his announcement very soon.”

Murillo is not in Garcia’s inner circle, but several of the sheriff’s other allies confirmed a bid is all but inevitable.

Sheriff Garcia joins a growing field of possible candidates… including State Representative Sylvester Turner, former Congressman and City Council member Chris Bell, current Council Members Stephen Costello, Jack Christie and Oliver Pennington, Ben Hall, Bill King and Orlando Sanchez.  Crowded doesn’t even begin to tell the story here, but it’s important to note that some candidates have more potential than others.  From the pillars of potential money and name ID, Garcia presumably sits in the upper echelon of contenders right out of the gate with Sylvester Turner.  Though there is certainly nothing to stop Ben Hall from bank rolling his own massive campaign, as we basically saw from 2013.

Side note… are there any women interested in running for Mayor? Any??

By far, a Garcia run will have the most immediate impact on local politics.  As Dos Centavos points out, his resignation as County Sheriff could mean a substantial roll back of the Progressive policy agenda that has been actualized in recent years.  Would a more Conservative Sheriff dismantle aggressive Mental Health reforms and LGBT protections in Harris County law enforcement?  That remains to be seen.  But those fears aside, there is no doubt that Garcia is a most worthy candidate to lead the city of Houston.

Brains and EggsOff the Kuff and Texpatriate have more on this fast-moving development.



(Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.  Photo credit:  harrisdemocrats.org


A Different Vision: Ben Hall

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.”

Of course many of the things Mr. Hall mentioned are being enacted by the current administration… most notably a recent (and hotly-contested) Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone established to help improve Memorial Park.

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.