Friday, August 23, 2013

Still waiting for that shame to show up

Lisa Falkenberg at the HouChron on the disintegrating civility in the mayoral tilt.

Already, (Ben) Hall and (Annise) Parker are trading jabs about everything from personal income to the definition of a debate. I'm sure allegations of illegal campaign signs will be next, especially with prospective also-ran Eric Dick in the mix.

But I was most interested in asking Hall one question: What the heck are you doing?

Given that Parker is a relatively well-regarded incumbent who managed to avoid major scandal and any resounding cries of incompetence, why is Hall running? Why throw good money - mostly his own - after bad odds?

"In fact, the odds are that I'm going to win," Hall responded, making it clear that he also disagreed with my "ludicrous" assumption that Parker is generally doing a good job. He most often mentioned her "pension fund neglect" and "mismanagement of assets" in the budget, and her silence on the problems in Houston schools.

You guessed it: God is his co-pilot and political adviser.

As to his reasons for running for mayor, Hall explained that he wants to give voters a real choice. It was a decision he made several years ago, he said, but he had to pray for God's guidance in choosing the right time and to give his reluctant wife "a spirit of acceptance" about the idea.

"Several years ago", but apparently not two, when Roy Morales nearly forced the mayor into a runoff, and not four when Gene Locke did so. Hall seems to have the same problem with the words that come out of his mouth that Greg Abbott has with his Tweets; neither are thought all the way through. Here's the reveal...

When he visits "the barrios and the bayous and the neighborhoods," Hall said, "I don't see where she gets her votes. She made 50.04 percent against no significant competition last round. She's gotten no more popular over the last two years." (For the record, the Chronicle reported 50.08 percent.)

Hall believes part of the problem may be Parker's "strident" leadership style, a bit of which he's experienced during his few private encounters with her. The first time they met, at a University of Houston event, Hall said, the two shook hands and he recalls the mayor saying " 'It's nice meeting you. I'm going to whip your ass so bad that you'll never run for public office again.' " At which point, Hall said, "I immediately told my friend, 'My goodness, I now know what's wrong with the city.' "

Hall then described a later exchange after the Juneteenth Parade. After introducing himself again, Hall says Parker responded, "I'm glad you keep introducing yourself to me because I keep forgetting who you are."

Asked whether Hall's recollections of the exchanges were accurate, Parker spokeswoman Sue Davis said in a statement: "Ben Hall needs to man up. The mayor did not use those exact words and she certainly didn't curse. But it's not surprising that Mr. Hall's response to a confident woman leader is to call her names. Yesterday, Mr. Hall sent out a public statement calling the mayor a liar. What kind of leadership is that?"

Well somebody is certainly not telling the truth. The truth probably does not rest entirely with one account or the other, either.

"Strident" is actually one of the nicer words I would use to describe Madam Mayor. To say that a Dale Carnegie continuing education course would be well worth the investment is understating her case.There just aren't going to be any charm offensives launched out of City Hall in this cycle.

Sue Davis is one of the few consultants who is worth a damn in this city. She's also my neighbor (we live in the same precinct). So I want to say this as nicely as I can, because I like her and respect her: this is poor service to your client, Mayor Parker. Turn down the flames. Stop trying to demonstrate who's the bigger dick in the race. One Dick is one too many already.

Personal attacks are not addressing the legitimate challenges to Mayor Parker's record, aren't increasing voter interest in the election, will NOT boost your vote tally. There is a considerable body of evidence that this sort of thing reduces all those, and worse yet, it gives the appearance that Mayor Parker simply wants to run out the clock on the campaign. Stonewalling the debates to the bare minimum in number and in who gets to participate, discussion in 'forums' that focus on issues that aren't the most pressing (such as crime for example), and other stalling tactics do not serve the best interests of Houstonians.

The underlying assumption here, of course, that it is the intention of Mayor Parker's campaign to serve the citizens of Houston in a positive manner, so perhaps my premise is flawed. If the ad hominem continues, I'll have to revisit and revise it. Back to Falkenberg for the finish.

I have to say, the not-cursing claim was a great disappointment. It seemed kind of an Ann Richards-on-a-Harley thing to do. The "man up" response was even less inspiring.


When I asked how Hall believes he differs politically from Parker, a fellow Democrat, he said: "I think I am a futurist. I don't think she has that skill set. For me, elemental government is balancing the budget. That's elemental. For her it seems to be an accomplishment."

Hall does seem a formidable politician. In a conversation, he'll use your first name a lot. He's loyal to the script. His oscillation between insulting Parker and then pledging the "positive campaign" mantra could use a little grease. But he's a likable guy with an inspiring rags-to-riches story. His name, Ben Hall, conveniently rhymes with "for all." He's had a bit of trouble paying property taxes on time and he spent too much time living in Piney Point.

But I do believe he genuinely wants to make Houston a better place. And whether or not he wins, he's already made this a better race.

Ben Hall runs strange ads and is just too 'revival minister' for my taste. He's also being managed by Republicans, which ruins his credibility as a Democrat. But Falkenberg is correct; for all of the Hall campaign's unfocused dream-state qualities and inability to find an issue that resonates (hint: it ain't pensions, no matter what Bill King says) there remains a large window of opportunity that Parker and her team have left open to exploit. She is simply not a pleasant and decent enough person in word and deed for her management skills to overcome.

She's like that boss who brags about meeting every quarterly projection even as the workers in his department -- or her company -- tell you what an asshole that guy is. That act may still pay dividends in the corporate world, but if the voters reward similar behavior in the public sector, we'll only get more of it. And we have far too many assholes in both worlds as it is.

So on the theory that Ben Hall is the lesser asshole... he's winning.

There are other people running for mayor who aren't assholes at all, and they deserve consideration from an electorate that would be motivated by that quality. Their only chance to make that case, and for the voters to make that choice, is in the first round in November. So I hope they choose wisely.

In the meantime I'll keep waiting for Godot humility to make an appearance. Respect, empathy, and kindness are not weaknesses. Only Republicans think that.

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