Ultimate Food

October 1, 2001 by  
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What was Your Ultimate Food Experience?

by Mimi Dinh

I’ve tasted the most delectable pizza in Rome, the best gyro in Santorini, the most exquisite escargot in Paris and the most sinful tiramisu in Venice. But my ultimate food experience was in Barcelona last summer. We were six foodies (my husband and I along with two more couples) on a journey of culinary decadence. Our mission turned out to be beyond all expectation. Each four-star restaurant we visited was more incredible than the last. On our final evening there, we encountered our most sublime dining experience yet at a posh but unpretentious French and Catalan eatery called Roig Robi. First, let’s start with their impeccable service. The maitre d’ and wait staff didn’t hover over us or interrupt us with annoying routine check-ups, yet if we so much as thought about wanting something, they magically appeared as if they could read our minds. The café’s ambience struck a balance between minimalism and opulence. If the tastefully decorated walls could talk, they’d speak of a gastronomic wonderland that delighted us with Montserrat tomato with squid cooked in garlic, warm foie gras on legumes drizzled with walnut oil vinagrette, tasty cod puffs with a dense confit of onion, authentic paella with ultrafresh seafood and succulent lobster with truffle glaze. Each dish was as artfully presented as a Gaudi architectural creation, and we just sat there and admired the food for a while before savoring each morsel with a fine Rioja wine. We ended our ensemble with mouthwatering, luscious desserts. To me, an unforgettable food experience has to work as a whole package – culinary, presentation, ambience and service. This one had it all. Top that with the company of great friends, and “it just doesn’t get any better than this,” to quote a well-known beer commercial. We all found ourselves so emotional about our memorable meal that we did not say a word to each other for a while afterwards. We were lost in the moment. In celebrating Inside Houston magazine’s “Best Chefs” issue, we asked some of the city’s serious food lovers to describe their ultimate food experience.

My ultimate food experience was a couple of years ago when my wife, Julia, and I were traveling in the south of France. We stopped for the night in St. Jean de Luz, a fishing port just north of the Spanish border. At dusk we walked around the town and found a small local restaurant serving the catch of the day. The place was simple and unpretentious, really a perfect setting, and we were probably the only tourists in the place. On this evening, the daily special was stuffed squid in ink sauce – wonderfully prepared, tender and a taste that I had not experienced before or since.

When I was 9 years old, I went to Paris with my mom. We got dressed up and ate lunch at a fancy restaurant where I tried French onion soup for the first time. It was so delicious that I can still remember the cheese baked to a golden brown and the French bread soaked with the sweet onion broth. To this day, I am still trying to find the “perfect” French onion soup in Texas.

As a native Texan, steak is one of my favorites. I remember a few years ago during a conference at the Yacht Club in Disneyworld, I had the best filet mignon at their steakhouse I ever had. I have yet to have a better steak anywhere in this state or any other.

At a small cafe visited frequently by Ernest Hemingway in Havana, I ate ropa vieja and sipped Havana Club rum. I was with my girlfriend of the time, and the romance of the city and the intimacy of the cafe were very memorable.
– Stephen Alexander Byrd, bartender/wedding consultant

Cafe Red Onion

October 1, 2001 by  
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by William Albright

Café Red Onion serves south-of-the-border cuisine, but it’s not a Mexican restaurant, as foodies will figure out from the name (white onions are most commonly used in Mexican cooking). Its culinary roots extend farther south than Mexico. Rafael Galindo — who with wife Barbara co-owns the homespun original U.S. 290-at-43rd Street Café Red Onion and the more deluxe Kirby-at-Southwest Freeway location discussed here — is from Honduras, so the fare focuses on his native Central America with some South American and even Caribbean influences thrown in just for fun.

The Galindos’ offerings aren’t all that exotic, though, especially if you are familiar with authentic Mexican food, which is subtler and less fiery than Tex-Mex. Many of the ingredients, if not the combinations they are used in, will be familiar to you, and the alternation or juxtaposition of moderately hot and delectably sweet should be a refreshing surprise.

The frisky pairing of warm and sugary is established at the very start of the meal. The complimentary basket of chips is accompanied by two kinds of salsa. One is red and packs some heat. The other is bright yellow and not hot at all because it’s crushed pineapple tweaked with a little non-red onion. Both are addictive.

Quesadilla-like pupusas revueltas offer a tasty introduction to Central

American cuisine. Consisting of shredded pork tenderloin mixed with Monterey jack cheese, sandwiched between two thick, pancakey corn tortillas and topped with a red cabbage slaw, they are offered as an entree with fried plantains, refried beans and rice but also make a splendid starter for a pair of diners.

Sweet and hot team up very winningly in Chicken Choluteca. Here, a boneless chicken breast is marinated in beer, flame-grilled, tucked into a roasted poblano pepper with some Monterey jack cheese, topped with a crunchy corn and fruit relish and doused with barbecue sauce in which some diced peaches cool down the dash of incendiary habanero peppers a bit. Some black beans and fried plantains complete the picture with tropical flair.

For hearty appetites, there is the Papantla Pork Steak. Accompanied by rice and beans, this sturdy dish is a large charbroiled pork steak floating on green tomatillo salsa and crowned with a thatch of grilled onions. The mellowness of the pork, the tang of the salsa and the zip of the onions harmonize in a winning combination.

Guava empanadas are listed as appetizers on the menu, but they sound like they would be good for dessert, too. I opted for a slice of tres leches cake, though. It was moist rather than sopping with the three milks that give the classic confection its name, and the lightness of the whipped icing and the cake itself was most welcome after my plateful of pork.

Enhanced with some South American and Caribbean touches, Café Red Onion’s Central American food is close enough to Mexican to seem like an old friend and different enough to offer some tasty surprises.

Ace Mart

October 1, 2001 by  
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Supplies and Demand

by Tom Lancaster

Longtime residents of Houston might remember a roller rink located at the corner of Chimney Rock and U.S. 59, but only a lucky few know the treasures now lurking inside that building. The enormous structure, which nine years ago hosted freewheeling teen-agers, now holds more glassware, china, flatware and appliances than one can imagine. It is one of three Houston locations for Ace Mart Restaurant Supply.

Gourmet cooking has become the centerpiece of entertaining at home, and for many, plastic cups and paper plates are not an option. But where can one go for a gross of shrimp forks or 50 martini glasses without breaking the bank? Ace Mart is the answer.

There is nothing fancy about Ace Mart. Those accustomed to shopping in warehouse-style stores will be more comfortable than those who stock their kitchens from upscale Galleria shops. But the wide variety of supplies within each Ace Mart store has an appeal that even the most posh retail store cannot match.

In 1975, Norman Gustafson, a real estate entrepreneur, purchased the original Ace Mart, a small warehouse in downtown San Antonio. The company quickly expanded to Austin, Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Now owned by Gustafson’s three children, Ace Mart maintains the feel of a family business despite its enormous showrooms and extensive inventory.

“Our core customers have always been smaller, independent restaurants,” says Carl Gustafson, vice president. “As we have expanded, our ability to serve larger customers and chains has increased.” But the company has not forgotten about the individual retail customer who comes in looking for the supplies that the professionals use. While Ace Mart caters primarily to restaurateurs, the public is welcome in any of its stores.

Houston’s three Ace Mart locations range from 16,000 to more than 20,000 square feet. “Each store has its own personality and character,” says Gustafson, “but the inventory is relatively consistent from store to store.” And inventory is the primary reason for Ace Mart’s success. The stores satisfy customers who cannot wait weeks for delivery or don’t want to risk shopping from a catalog.

Planning a kitchen remodel? Hosting the boss this weekend? Houston’s gourmet set has learned that a trip to Ace Mart is the key to entertaining like a pro.

Ace Mart is located at 5811 Chimney Rock, 3500 I-10 in The Heights and 6700 I-45 South in Gulfgate.

About the Autho

The Buzz by Roseann Rogers

October 1, 2001 by  
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1. Wining and dining with a national food writer. John Mariani, food and travel columnist for Esquire magazine, restaurant columnist for Wine Spectator magazine and author of several food-related books, was the special guest at the Remington Grill at the St. Regis Hotel. The evening was inspired by his latest cookbook, “The Italian-American Cookbook: A Feast of Food From a Great American Cooking Tradition.” Remington Grill executive chef Toby Joseph created a multi-course menu from the book for all the guests to enjoy. Pictured (l to r) are: St. Regis’ Susan Ward and John Mariani. Photo by: Kim Coffman.
2. Former WWF superstar takes over the Houston airwaves. Shawn Michaels is big and bulky, but he’s also a really nice guy. Better known to wrestling fans as “The Heartbreak Kid,” he?s no longer in the WWF ring but is still wrestling. Actually, he’s formed his own wrestling school in Texas. As busy as he might be, he came by KRBE to talk on the radio about his new ventures. Pictured (l to r) are: KRBE’s Maria Todd and Shawn Michaels.
3. The Society of the Performing Arts hosted its 2001 Ball, “An Enchanting Evening,” at the Double Tree Hotel on Post Oak Boulevard. All the proceeds from the annual gala benefited the SPA. Cartier not only provided gifts for all the guests, but stunning models strutted their stuff during the cocktail reception wearing an array of Cartier jewels. The event raised more than $450,000, a new record for the fundraiser. Pictured (l to r) are: Honorees Dick and Belle Johnson and chairpersons Steve and Leticia Trauber.
4. Local little girl hits the big time! Skye McCole Bartusiak has three feature films and two television movies to her credit. Her latest release will be “The Affair of the Necklace,” featuring Academy award-winning actress Hillary Swank, Jonathan Pryce and Christopher Walken. The other two feature films are “Riding in Cars With Boys” with Drew Barrymore and “Don’t Say a Word” with Michael Douglas. The two television movies are “Beyond The Prairie II,” which was shot in Austin, and “Firestarter Part 2.” I first met Skye a couple of years ago after she worked with Mel Gibson on “The Patriot.” This talented 10-year-old definitely is on her way to becoming a big star. Pictured (l to r) are: Skye McCole Bartusiak and Pat Richardson on the set of the made-for-television movie “Blonde.”
5. Gotta have the shoes! Velvet Slipper, a new specialty boutique in Uptown Park, opened its doors with a fun and festive fashion show. Owner Vivian Wise cleverly created a runway where you could only see the models from their knees down. Wise is a native Texan who recently closed her store of the same name in Boulder, Colo., to relocate to Houston, where her family resides. Among the lines she features are Badgley Mischka, Moshino, Graye and Dolce Gabbana. Pictured (l to r) are: Cathy Borlenghi and Vivian Wise.
6. The Sweetwater Country Club celebrated the sport of golf at a recent meeting of the National Association of Catering. To get into the spirit of things, the director of catering decided to really dress the part. She sported a costume made out of fake grass with golf balls. Pictured is: Sweetwater Country Club Director of Catering Amber Fraser.

Ah, Dallas … Ya Gotta Love ‘em. Well … Maybe Not…

October 1, 2001 by  
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In Your Face

by Roger Gray

Ah, Dallas … Ya Gotta Love ‘em. Well … Maybe Not…

My cover story on the natural inferiority, in every area except their imaginations, of Dallasites versus Houstonians drew a long letter from one Chadrick Roberts. Despite the improbability of that name, I want to respond directly.

Chad, babe, sweetheart, you are proving my point. Your initial observation that “people in Big D care little or nothing about Houston…” echoes my observation that Dallas is a self-obsessed echo chamber seeing all other, even larger cities as somehow inferior. Your points in order:

Economy. No, Chad, the Houston economy has passed Dallas in both growth and job creation, according to the…ta-da …Dallas Morning News.
Environment. Yes, we do have the industry that you so despise, and yes, it has created pollution problems. So why is Dallas almost as polluted and under almost equally strict EPA mandates to clean up? Physician heal thy own ozone.
Airports. D/FW is bigger and almost indecipherable. Offsite parking for D/FW usually is somewhere near Mesquite.
Population. You persist in that Dallas trait of including Fort Worth in any comparison. Ask Fort Worth if they consider themselves part of “DFW.” I’ll tell you the answer, NO! (I have, tastefully I think, left out the bovine references that would accompany that response).
Skyline. Philip Johnson, the dean of late 20th century architects called Houston one of the most architecturally open and beautiful cities in the world. Dallas lines its buildings in neon lights. The prosecution rests.
Rail. I believe I complimented Dallas for moving ahead on that. But you don’t have Tom DeLay.
Cowboys. Yes, they have a great record, but they each have their own personal probation officer as well.
Humidity. Yes, we have it. And Dallas had almost two straight months of over-100-degree days last summer. That, my friend, is a toss-up.
Second-Tier City. You have the temerity to call Houston a second-tier city? In the area of the arts alone, Dallas comes off as a better-dressed San Angelo.

Chad, I know it’s hot up there, and that contributed to your fevered response. Just take a break somewhere cool…like the Galleria you guys Xeroxed from ours…that…well, OK…we copied from the one in Italy.

Oh, Rod? We Need Your D.C. Address. These Books Came for You …

Well, just as our own Mr. Paige goes to Washington to help the entire nation get its educational act together, we learn from a study of textbooks that HISD’s science books have sometimes silly, sometimes egregious, errors. One has Newton’s first law wrong, another shows the Statue of Liberty in reverse, and still another identifies Linda Ronstadt as a silicon crystal — OK, a really big silicon crystal. At least those fundamentalist loons in Kansas had the guts to do this kind of thing intentionally.

How Many Aggies Does it Take to Correct a Book? That Depends … How Big are the Pictures?

As mentioned, there have been problems with school textbooks. Specifically, the Texas Education Agency has been stung by critics for science texts that contain silly, sometimes serious, errors. So being composed of the astute bunch of rocket scientists it is, it decided to get some help. The TEA has signed a contract to have an outside panel of experts read the books and make sure they don’t get anything wrong. Who are these Einsteins, you ask? Why the faculty and students of Texas A&M. Aggie public school quality control…at last, an argument for vouchers. ih

Houston Food Bank

October 1, 2001 by  
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Houston Food Bank

by Paula Murphy

For most of us, planning a simple family meal after a busy day is a dreaded task. You have to pick a menu, shop, prepare and then clean up. But for the thousands of Houstonians who go to bed hungry each night, such a “burden” would be a blessing.

Fortunately for those in need, the Houston Food Bank provides food to Houstonians who would otherwise go hungry. Since its inception in 1982, the non-profit organization has distributed more than 250 million pounds of food to the greater Houston area. To put it into perspective, the Food Bank provides the food that feeds between 8,000 and 10,000 people each day.

But the Food Bank does more than just provide food. It is looking toward a healthy future for our community. “To fully fight hunger, you have to do more than just hand out food,” says Food Bank Executive Director Brenda Kirk. “You must give knowledge, skills and guidance to make a lasting impact. Our goal is to help people realize that whether you have plenty or are in need, good nutrition is essential.”

To this end, the Houston Food Bank has instituted a number of nutrition-conscious programs. Through the strong support of Houston’s produce industry and Texas Fresh Approach, a partnership with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice that dedicates surplus prison farmland to growing fresh fruit and vegetables for the hungry, the Houston Food Bank is the national leader in the distribution of fresh produce, providing 7 million pounds of nutritious fruits and vegetables to the needy each year.

This fall, the Food Bank will bring Kids Cafe, the nation’s largest nutrition education program for children, to Houston. The after-school program, a partnership with the Boys & Girls Club, is a collaboration of area chefs, dietitians, students and volunteers that provides nutritious meals in safe surroundings, food safety and nutrition education and hands-on instruction to help create healthy lifestyles. The after-school snacks and regularly scheduled hot meals are prepared on-site with the help of the kids, all overseen by registered dieticians.

Operation Frontline is a program of the national hunger-awareness group Share Our Strength and will be implemented locally through the Food Bank and its member agencies. The unique program mobilizes chefs and dietitians to teach individuals the cooking and nutrition skills needed to make healthy choices on a low-income budget, leading them to better health and self-sufficiency. “With these programs in place, Houston will be a healthier place to live,” says Kirk. “Feed people through knowledge as well as food, and they will succeed.”

For more information, to make a donation or to become a volunteer, call the Houston Food Bank at (713) 223-2700, or visit the Web site at www.houstonfoodbank.org

Caroline Wright – first female CART racing announcer

October 1, 2001 by  
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The Accidental Announcer

Caroline Wright didn’t plan on being the first female racetrack announcer in CART racing. Yet it seems that her entire career has led her to this point. And Houston is all the better for it, as we get to enjoy the fruits of her labor this month at the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston, where she will co-anchor the event with Bruce Flanders.

Wright?s career started on radio in San Antonio, but she got to Houston “as quick as could” via rock radio station KLOL. In 1992, she started racing as a hobby and turned professional in 1996. The transition from radio to racing was a natural one because she found many parallels between the two. For instance, both are volatile industries that are promotion-heavy, and both are marketing tools and an advertising medium.

To date, Wright has notched 34 victories as well as 26 other podium finishes and has set 16 lap records. She also spends some of her time coaching Ferrari owners and has even coached the chairman of Enron Broadband, Ken Rice.

It wasn?t long after her entry into racing that Wright discovered that very few individuals involved in the racing world knew how to deal with the media ? something Wright already considered second nature. Throughout her racing career she has helped to justify the money that sponsors spend on racing by enhancing the image of her sponsors and by driving sales as well as racecars. She has helped her sponsors find new business partners and leverage new business relationships.

Asked why she located to the Houston area, she says she wouldn?t have it any other way. And Houston is becoming quite a hub of racing activity.

Wright offered as an example one of her clients. Bobby Sak is the son of Trans Am driver Don Sak. Bobby drives for Grand Sport Racing located in Hitchcock just south of Houston. This season, both Don and Bobby have donated the space on the hood of their racing cars to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. As a direct result of media exposure surrounding their efforts, a missing child was reunited with her father less than a month after her image was featured. Watch for Don Sak at the Grand Prix this month ? this time the face of a Houston-area missing child will be featured on his car, and with some luck, the effort will prove equally effective.

Then there is Kelly Bradley, a Corvette enthusiast who has purchased a World War II blimp base south of town. While researching the property, he discovered that John Mecom, a prominent figure from Houston?s past and owner of the original Warwick Hotel, used to test his Corvettes on this same land. Mecom owned three out of the five original Grand Sport Corvettes ever built for racing. Bradley now plans to build a permanent racing facility called Grand Sport Speedway in the very same location.

Wright?s love of racing, as well as those in it, is apparent. In fact, her husband, Jay Wright, a NASA engineer, is a former driver. Sadly, Jay?s driving career was cut short in 1993 when he was paralyzed in a racing accident. However, he has remained very active in contributing to the sport and has been instrumental in changing car designs to increase safety. Additionally, he has designed a more affordable helmet restraint system that would help reduce neck injuries and also has been instrumental in changes to the rules so that others won?t suffer a similar fate.

So what?s the big deal about Wright announcing a CART race? Well, most announcers must wait their entire careers for an opportunity such as this. But also it signifies a new, modern era for Houston. We can boast proudly that our city was the first to have a female racing announcer. It differentiates Houston?s race from the rest.

Asked if all of the attention is intimidating, Wright?s answer is simple. “It?s just like being in my living room,” she says. “If a race is on the television, I can?t help but commentate it. The only difference at a race is that there are 100,000 other people listening in.” Count us among those who will be listening and enjoying the racing insights of Caroline Wright.

VIOLENCE and Houston Schools

October 1, 2001 by  
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VIOLENCE and Houston Schools

What are Houston-area schools doing to combat gun-related violence on campus?

by Suzanne Boase

The frantic call went out about 10:15 a.m. one day last April: student shot at Kleb Intermediate. Within seconds, Klein ISD administrators sounded a “Code Blue” to hold students in their classrooms as sheriff’s deputies swarmed the northwest Harris County campus. Terrified parents raced to pick up their children and take them out of harm’s way. Reporters and photographers from every media outlet in town hurried to the scene as well.

We learned the heartbreaking facts just a short time later. Thirteen-year-old Elizabeth Trevino, an eighth-grader, died at a local hospital after committing suicide at school, shooting herself in the head in an upstairs restroom. She was discovered by a teacher, who climbed over the top of a bathroom stall to try and save her, but it was too late. A handgun and suicide note were found next to her body.

Deputies and the news media began to investige to determine where Trevino had gotten the gun and how she had gotten it into the school. It was later determined that the weapon belonged to Trevino’s late father and had been locked away. Trevino somehow got the gun and hid it in her backpack. The tragedy prompted a review of security measures by Klein ISD, but as administrators from several local school districts including HISD point out, even the most stringent security measures aren’t a guarantee anymore against violence. It’s a sobering truth that leaves more and more parents afraid as they cart their children off to school each day.

Those fears certainly won’t be calmed by the comments of one local judge. Early this year, state District Judge Mike McSpadden, while sentencing an HISD student to five years in prison for killing a classmate, said if this district is a role model, “then God help the rest of the nation.” McSpadden was referring to then Secretary of Education nominee and former HISD Superintendent Rod Paige and the praise he had received during his confirmation hearings for leading one of the top urban school districts in the country.

McSpadden’s comments were made during a hearing for 16-year-old former Deady Middle School student Estanilao Balderas in the October 1999 stabbing death of Samuel Avila. Avila was stabbed in the head with a screwdriver while at school. The judge criticized HISD for failing to protect Avila and other students.

Despite such high profile crimes and criticism, there is some good news as students begin the new school year. According to local administrators, school violence is decreasing in the Houston area. HISD spokeswoman Carmen Gomez says violent crime fell in the 2000—01 school year from the year before.

Gomez attributes the drop to several policies and programs HISD has implemented during the past few years. One of the most important: a zero tolerance policy for weapons or violence. “A student with a weapon will be expelled, put in an alternative school,” says Gomez.

That tougher weapons policy was installed just two months after the chilling massacre at Columbine High School near Denver on April 20, 1999, a massacre that claimed 15 lives, including the two gunmen. The murders, the aftermath of which was played out in front of a horrified national television audience, forever changed the way school districts around the country handle security and respond to violence, including HISD. Paige, who was then the district superintendent, said at the time, “The safety of our children and our employees has always been the top priority. The tragedy in Littleton, Colo., should serve as a reminder that schools must do everything reasonable and possible to be places of safety and comfort for all who enter their doors.”

Gomez says every HISD school has an emergency preparedness plan with multiple scenarios, “all the way from weather to weapons, bombs, etc., there are several steps as far as each specific incident that we would follow.” The district also has its own police department with close to 200 officers and a special response or SWAT team trained to rescue students and staff in an emergency. Says Gomez, district officials actually had the idea for the response team before the Columbine massacre but quickly accelerated its implementation following the incident. “It showed how much we do need something like that,” she says.

The district also has created security councils composed of administrators, teachers, parents and students to review individual schools and recommend improvements. Other Houston-area school districts have moved quickly as well to improve safety and reassure anxious parents that everything possible is being done to protect their children.

But another unfortunate fallout from the Columbine tragedy is even harder to prevent — an increased number of threats directed at schools, especially around April 20, the tragedy’s anniversary. Districts now take those threats much more seriously. For example, the Columbia-Brazoria School District received an e-mail on its Web site last April threatening to bomb the school on the day of the Columbine anniversary. West Columbia police used dogs to search every campus on April 19, and extra officers remained on campus overnight and all day on April 20 as a precaution. “When schools get a bomb threat, you can’t assume it’s a prank,” says Columbia-Brazoria Superintendent Cole Pugh. “You have to take it as seriously as you possibly can.”

That’s what several parents at Humble ISD’s Creekwood Middle School did last April. Just before the anniversary of Columbine, someone posted an Internet hit list naming several students. It scared Cheryl Cummings and other parents so much they kept their children home from school. “I left my son home for protection,” says Cummings. “You just never know.” Humble ISD responded with additional security patrols by local law enforcement.

In fact, most Houston area districts routinely take extra precautions around the Columbine anniversary, from police patrols to student searches. They also recognize that our schools have forever changed. Gone are the days when weapons were rare and violence was limited to the occasional fistfight.

Two More Jeers, er, I Mean, Years! Yeah, That’s It…

October 1, 2001 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Two More Jeers, er, I Mean, Years! Yeah, That’s It…

Houston has another election coming up, and this time we are choosing who will run our hometown for the next two years. The big fight is the mayor’s race. Right here at the top let me state that race should have nothing to do with it. And let me also state with absolute clarity that I am for the re-election of Lee P. Brown.

First, under his leadership Houston has been spared the problems of other cities such as Belfast and Jerusalem. Note how rarely armored cars patrol our streets, and count the days since last you had to flee tear gas. Genoa and Seattle held economic conferences and had to call out the riot police. When Houston held its economic summit the affair was so dull and stilted it was called “the Lee P. Brown Memorial Conference,” even though Brown was nowhere around. Now that’s a peacemaker.

Brown first came to the mayor’s job in 1997 by defeating Rob Mosbacher, as have most Texans. The mayor was re-elected in 1999 by turning back the dual juggernauts of Jack Terence and Outlaw Josey Wales IV. Even though no one had ever heard of the two candidates, between them they garnered 33 percent of the vote. It only shows the power of the resume. This time he faces two council members, Orlando Sanchez and Chris Bell, who are both running on the platform, “Anybody But Brown,” and that they are.

There are some who say that our mayor is carrying a lot of baggage, but those of you who have seen him leaving on his weekly trips know that he has aides to do that for him. As for the nickname, “Out of Town Brown,” picky, picky, picky. Speaking of airports, have you noticed that huge color photograph of Mayor Brown greeting us as we depart Bush Intergalactic Airport for our city? No other mayor had the self-confidence to duplicate Mao Zedong. We have to respect leadership, even when we have to pay for it.

There are those who questioned the mayor’s trip to South Africa accompanied by aides and two bodyguards. I’ll give you the honest explanation: because it’s there. Some even wonder about Brown taking locution lessons and charging the $1,200 bill to the taxpayers. If you have ever heard the man speak, you would not question that expense.

These are minor matters and not worthy of debate. The real problem facing Houston is who hid the plug for the city’s drain? As for city finances, oh, sure, some of you nervous Nellies like to point out that, even though the city has been taking in record revenues, we still keep dipping into other funds to pay the bills. But according to the City’s Department of Smoke and Mirrors, we ended last year under budget by $6 million, even though the city spent $14 million more than originally planned. That’s because City Hall took in $20 million more in taxes than expected, and if that’s not keen fiscal foresight, I don’t know what is.

The Department of Public Works and Engineering has come in for some second-guessing because its employees have been grossly inflating the number of potholes they dig. And, yes, there has been some criticism of their dumping unused asphalt at the end of the day because they were supposed to have used it all. As for all other citizens’ complaints such as broken water pipes, backed up sewage and crumbling curbs, they are simply the signs of a busy city. And about the $6.5 million spent for road plans that were never used, well, that’s close enough for government work.

Frankly, much too much has been made of the city’s financial and infrastructure woes. The fact that any private company in Houston that cooked the books this way would go belly up, not to mention undergo a stockholders’ revolt and scrutiny from the SEC, is immaterial. Just look at the big picture; think Olympics 2012!

In the meantime, I think it is evident that Houston voters really have but one choice in the upcoming mayoral election. Move to Belfast. ih