Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Turner-Whitmire dynamic

It's the key to the runoff, and perhaps the mayor's office itself.  Not the most recent news development for observant watchers, but it's been busy blogging around here for the past couple of weeks.

The mayor, the senator, and the representative 
announcing the firefighters pension agreement last month.

"My name is John Whitmire, and I'm Sylvester Turner's state senator," he said, a go-to laugh-line that landed in a sea of donors. "Everyone in my district is important, but Sylvester Turner kind of stands out."

Kind words like those -- exchanged again and again over the past 12 months in both directions -- have gone a shade past the standard "good friend" lavished by nearly every politician on their predecessors at a dais. The alliance between Turner, a powerful Democratic state representative, and Whitmire, the most senior Democrat in the Senate, say people familiar with their ties, is genuine yet politically potent and already is sculpting the local Democratic landscape.

"The moon, the sun and all the planets have come together in the Sylvester-John orbit," said Carl Whitmarsh, a longtime Democratic activist close to both men.

This is the primary reason -- beyond all the other good reasons -- why Sylvester Turner is and has long been the front-runner in the race for mayor of Houston.  It's why Noah has already picked him as his favorite, why Kuff has taken note, and why the stars seem to be aligning, as Carl Whitmarsh pointed out above.  They're both not only senior legislators in powerful chairs in the Lege (in a dominated minority party), they're also personal friends.

Earlier (in March), Turner and Whitmire claimed credit for brokering a deal between an equally dug-in City Hall and fire pension board to modify the city's pension payments. And Whitmire is expected to co-chair Turner's mayoral campaign, formalizing what has been an aggressive courting of the local political establishment by the senior senator on Turner's behalf.

To see how their long and strong partnership is shaping the race, just look at a couple of the other contenders' reactions.

"They've been allies for a long time. It doesn't surprise me that they support each other," said Turner opponent Oliver Pennington, a city councilman who is critical of the pension deal struck by the Democratic pair.

Pennington is one of two Republicans most likely to be in a mayoral runoff with Turner.  (The other is Steve Costello.)  The Democrat most likely to join Turner in the second round is Chris Bell, and Turner and Whitmire know it.

When Jim Jard, a politically connected developer, planned to align with Chris Bell, one of Turner's opponents, Whitmire "called in a chit," according to a person with direct knowledge of the interaction.

Jard is now supporting Turner.

"  'Hey Jim, Sylvester has a self-interest in fixing a lot of these problems that everyone's worried about,' " Jard recalled Whitmire saying. " 'If he's going to be mayor, who has more of an interest in getting it fixed?' "

Seems a little redundant, Whitmire's rationale.  Jard's probably not telling us everything he knows.

It's still too early to rank Pennington, Costello, and/or Bell after the odds-on favorite, and if Adrian Garcia ever busts a move, things get scrambled... but only for second place.  I remain of the opinion that Garcia is wise to stay out because he has by far the most to lose.

I just don't think Sylvester Turner is going to let himself get Laniered a second time.

Update:  This kiddie pool-depth "Where's Waldo" article -- meant to update us on Garcia's status but not telling us anything new -- from Groogan at Fox26 (who usually does a better job) contains yet another odious fundraising importance meme from a political consultant, and the most ridiculous Mark Jones quote to date.

As for the threat of losing support among influential Hispanics, Jones says rivalry driven defection among Latino leaders has become the norm.

"I think there are quite a large number of Hispanic political elites in Houston who believe if they can't be mayor or someone in their faction can't be mayor I think they would prefer that a non-Latino be mayor," said Jones.

Remind me what you think their options are again, Dr. Jones?  Latino, non-Latino and what else?

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