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Monday, October 06, 2003

Mayoral debate leaves $5k crackpot payoff unclear

I was pleased that the first and third questions in tonight's televised Houston mayoral debate had to do with the Brenda Flores mystery — although I wish the questions had been more direct and pointed.

Sylvester Turner made what sounded like categorical denials that he or his campaign had anything to do with Flores.  But I was left wondering whether there were some Clintonesque evasions:   "We did not pay her to find another Bill White" would fit with the Chronicle's report that the cash payment was ostensibly intended to be in connection with some sort of "early voter organization" in Spring Branch.  "We didn't pay her $5000" would fit with the Chronicle's report that the Turner consultant paid $2600 now, with another $2400 to be paid later.  "Was the campaign authorized to give her anything? No." — that's equivalent to "someone from my campaign gave her money without my authority."  However, Turner did multi-zing White by asking several times why he made a payoff instead of directing Flores' claim of "threats of retaliation" to the police.

Bill White tried to softly pound Turner, but lacked convincing answers about his own role.  He insisted that "we haven't accused any other campaign," but repeated that "a plot was thwarted" and that "people should ask why there was a plot."  His evasions frankly left me very disappointed:   "This woman has cancer.  My first instinct is to protect the vulnerable."  Oh, puh-lease, Mister Bill!  Does your campaign fund many other medical charities?  "We protected a person who came forward with information to help voters avoid being tricked."  Nuh-uh, sir, the person you paid off was the very person who by her own public admission concocted and almost executed the "plot that was thwarted"!  At least according to the Chronicle account, she didn't "come forward"; instead, you got a "tip" that the plot was in the works, and you took along Congressman Chris Bell and Janie Reyes because they were supposedly "buddies" of Flores and you thought you would need their help to get her to acknowledge the plot and then to persuade her to drop it.  You claim the payment you made "wasn't hush money because the plot was thwarted long before"; so if it wasn't hush money, what was it, and why was it more money than Flores had actually gotten from the Turner campaign consultant and more than she paid back?

In short, White answered none of the questions I posed in my original post.

Let me be very clear:   I'm not accusing Bill White of anything dishonest, corrupt, or unethical.  I'm accusing him of being foolish, of being an easy mark, of writing a check — if not for "hush money," then in his words "to put this whole thing behind us" — to someone who probably ought to be in jail herself instead of being rewarded.  That was exactly the wrong thing to do.  It smacks not only of bad judgment, but, frankly, panic.

I'm very disappointed.  What I wanted to hear from Turner was, "Someone connected with my campaign tried to finance a dirty trick, and when I found out, I immediately fired her."  What I wanted to hear from White was, "I made a stupid decision to throw money from my campaign fund at a problem — after it was solved — and I regret having done that.  I lost sight of my principles and laid down with the dogs for a moment, but I'm up and I'm brushing off the fleas." 

Instead — nothing but evasions.

UPDATE (Mon Oct 7 @ midnight):   Here's the Chronicle's debate coverage, headlined "Alleged scheme takes center stage at debate."  The story unfortunately has no new reporting on the actual facts of the Brenda Flores tale.

Posted by Beldar at 07:49 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

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Comments

(1) kevin whited made the following comment | Oct 7, 2003 8:49:41 AM | Permalink

It's a shame the woman is sick, but much as I've wondered on my blog about whether or not donators to Orlando's campaigns really knew they were funding so many dining expenditures at fancy restaurants (which just doesn't look good to me, as a past donator), I also wonder why Bill White thinks it's okay for his campaign to fund someone who is a rumormongering sleaze artist and possibly an extortionist. Presumably, people who donated to Bill White so he could "make a difference" for Houston didn't think they were contributing to this woman's sleaze site.

I agree with you -- I'd like to hear some answers from Turner and White. And I'd REALLY like to know more about Congressman Bell's role.

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