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Saturday, October 04, 2003

Will the real Bill White please stand up? (And explain yourself!)

The Houston Chronicle article  is entitled "Scheme to confuse voters in mayor's race is thwarted," but that assumes voters can figure out what the scheme actually was — which, from all the press coverage so far, would be asking a lot!  Neither KTRK 13 nor KHOU 11 add significantly to the Chron's story (the former's just running an AP feed anyway, which has also been picked up by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Washington Times).   

The 'real' Bill WhiteWhat seems to be clear and undisputed is that a woman named Brenda Flores — variously described as a city-hall gadfly, an activist, and a crackpot — who, among other things, runs a website called HouSnitch.com, located someone named "William White" from a Houston low-income housing project, Acres Homes, and persuaded him to sign papers she provided to enter him into the Houston mayoral race.  Her means of persuasion was a sham transaction in which she gave him some $1200 in cash for a straw hat, perhaps along with some other perqs like a steak dinner and travel cash to lie low.  Her original intention was apparently to file those papers before the registration deadline for the mayor's race and thus inject confusion into the voters' minds between this ersatz candidate and the "real" (that is, high-profile you-know-him-from-his-TV-ads) candidate Bill White.

It also appears to be agreed by all involved that she had a change of heart and never filed the signed papers, having been persuaded not to during a visit to her home by the real-candidate Bill White, Congressman Chris Bell (D-Houston), and Metro board member Janie Reyes just before the filing deadline.

Finally, it appears that two days after the registration deadline, real-candidate White wrote Ms. Flores a check for $5000.

Sylvester TurnerBeyond those facts — odd as they are themselves — everything else seems to be in dispute.  According to an account posted by someone named George Strong on his website — the reliability of which I certainly do not vouch for — Flores claims that the money she paid the ersatz William White originated as part of a $2600 cash payment to her (with another $2400 promised for later) by a campaign consultant working for rival Sylvester Turner's campaign, one Doris Hubbard.  But Hubbard claims the payment was for some sort of "early voting" organizational efforts in Spring Branch where Ms. Flores lives, not for campaign dirty tricks.  Turner, meanwhile, is denying any connection, but insinuates that real-candidate White has given in to extortion.

Strong's website purports to quote two fairly long "statements" of some sort that appear to be from real-candidate White and from Congressman Bell.  Again, I have no clue whether they're authentic; they're certainly amusing, and make Ms. Flores look like even more of a kook than does her own website — which is now filled with acknowledgements that she's been involved in dirty politics on someone's behalf.

Orlando SanchezAccording to the Chronicle, real-candidate White acknowledges payment of the $5k, but denies that it was a quid-pro-quo for Flores not filing the ersatz William White's candidacy papers; instead, he says, Ms. Flores had contacted Congressman Bell several times to say she "had been threatened" and feared retaliation if she didn't repay the money she'd gotten from the Turner campaign consultant (presumably Hubbard).  The Chron quotes White as saying, "So, I relied upon the judgment of an experienced and credible person," presumably meaning Bell, as to whether Ms. Flores really felt threatened.  Ms. Flores claims to have used the $5000 check to repay, via one Dennis Kaim, the $2600 cash she'd received from the Turner campaign — which leaves one wondering where the balance of that check is supposed to go!

Charles Kuffner calls it "the strangest story I've seen all year," and Kevin Whited opines that "any politician who finds himself drawn into schemes that involve writing checks to people like Ms. Flores is a fool."  Stephen Bates also is blogging about the story, but admits that he's confused too.  For my money, this local soap opera certainly makes the "Mrs. Wilson affair" seem cut and dried by contrast.

From what's presently known or reasonably inferable, it appears that the bad guy (by imputation from his consultant's actions, even if it was without his knowledge) is Turner.  It looks like his campaign was approached by a crackpot with a scheme for spreading some mayhem and decided to throw some seed money at it, hoping to maintain plausible deniability.  Personally, I frankly don't much care if that's true or not — it'd be a cold day in hell before Turner would get my vote for dogcatcher, and I think he'll end up running third in the election, leaving Sanchez and White in a runoff whether he's tarred with this attempted hoax or not. 

But I am very, very troubled by the still-open questions regarding real-candidate White's participation in this.  If the memo purportedly dictated by him, as it appears on Strong's website, is genuine, then it looks as if he responded to a tipoff by patiently talking Ms. Flores out of her dirty trick before it was sprung — appealing to her as a good Democrat, stressing his own campaign talking points, reasoning together with her — which would be fine, even admirable, on his part. 

But why the money, Bill?  "Congressman Bell told me to" ain't gonna cut it as an adequate explanation, and indeed tends to make you look worse!

  • If you were the target of this crackpot's scheme, why would you feel obliged to get her off the hook with the Turner campaign consultant? 

  • Why wouldn't you just tell her to go to the police if she was being threatened?  Or why didn't you go to the police? 

  • And why did you give her more than — indeed, almost twice as much as — she claims to have ever gotten from the Turner campaign consultant, or to have paid back?  Were you just being casual — sloppy — with cash? 

  • Were you buying silence? And if so, why?  If you're the victim of a dirty trick, why not expose the trickster (or her financiers, anyway)?

  • Even if you felt sorry for her personally, do you think making a donation to her in her personal capacity was a proper use of campaign funds?

As I've posted in comments on various other websites and mentioned here as well, I know Bill White personally:   He was a year ahead of me at Texas Law School and I worked for him when he was editor-in-chief of the Texas Law Review.  From that experience, I can vouch that he is brilliant and hardworking.  I have many friends among his former law-practice colleagues at Susman Godfrey.  And I've never had any reason to doubt either his honesty or his judgment.   

For all of those reasons, I'm withholding judgment on this strange story.  But Bill — you got some more 'splainin' to do if you want my vote, my friend!  I'm hoping that there are key facts that are as yet unrevealed but that will make this all make more sense, and make your part in it, in particular, more understandable.  I'm hoping that because at best right now, this looks like a case of abysmal judgment on your part.   

Maybe Monday night's televised mayoral debate will shed some light.  This weird story has certainly upped my own incentive to watch it!

Posted by Beldar at 10:37 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

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