Archive for June, 2014

The W Word

I am talking about watermelon. I don’t know about this. I am thinking the HPD Police Chief is a little thin skinned these days. His department is under question. Heck, there is another front page story on the HPD mess today. The Chief took offense at my pal Bill King’s column last week because Bill referenced a watermelon joke. Here is Bill’s column today:

On June 8, my column argued that before we invest any more money in the Houston Police Department, it should undergo a management review by an outside consulting firm. I based my opinion on numbers from the city that, notwithstanding the fact that the department’s budget has nearly doubled in the past 10 years and that its caseload has declined, it is nonetheless solving nearly 20 percent fewer cases.

According to records I obtained from the department, nearly 93 percent of all burglaries and 63 percent of all violent crimes go unsolved.
In 2013, HPD averaged just 1.5 arrests for violent crimes for each officer on the force.

The total number of cases solved was the lowest in six years, notwithstanding that the investigative staff has increased by 50 percent during that time.

I also noted some issues in the department’s budget that I found troubling and for which taxpayers, who will bear the cost, deserve an explanation. For example, in the past six years, the “Chief’s Command Staff” has gone from 170 employees with a budget of $21 million to a proposed 2015 budget calling for 269 employees and a budget of over $34 million.

During the same time, a new cost center – presumably, a new, recurring line item on the budget – called “Chief of Staff” was added with the proposed 2015 budget. This new cost center, with an $18 million tab, calls for 153 employees.

I also questioned why, out of 5,200 officers, only 4,100 were assigned to patrol or investigation.

These all seemed like pretty fair questions to which taxpayers are entitled answers. I expected that the department would not like these questions, but I thought, at least, it might provide some answers or an explanation.

The response I received was something I never would have contemplated in a million years. The chief complained to my editor that the column was a racist slap directed at him personally.

The basis of his allegation was that I had used as a lead-in to the story an account I first heard in business school 40 years ago about a vendor buying watermelons for more than he was selling them. As the tale goes, the vendor concluded that to make more money, he would need a bigger truck.

The point of the story is that simply throwing more resources at an unsound business model or organization will not solve its problems.
Obviously, the story could have been told about any commodity. Why it has traditionally been told with watermelons, I have no idea.

I did do a quick check on Google and found scores of references to the story in business journals and even in the popular media, including a column in the Huffington Post.

None of the retellings of the story took place in a racial context.

Nonetheless, it is true that watermelons have been used as a symbol to stereotype, insult and demean African-Americans. And I truly regret if the chief or anyone else interpreted my retelling of this story in this context because that certainly was not my intent.

Anyone who knows me and my involvement in this community and the way I have run the businesses in which I have been involved knows I would never intentionally make a derogatory racial remark or reference.

Candidly, the connection between the business school story and the racially charged use of watermelons never crossed my mind. Nor did it raise concerns from a number of editors and writers who read the column before publication.

But the incident is a powerful illustration of how we all come to the civic discourse with our own history and experiences.

It is a reminder that we all need to be more sensitive, not just to what we intend to say, but also how others may hear and interpret what we say. I certainly intend to do so.

I read Bill’s column back on June 8 and I didn’t find it racially offensive, but then I am not of the African American persuasion. I still find it a stretch but oh well.

The Tigers visit The Yard next week. Name the first Tiger pitcher to win the AL Cy Young Award.

HCC Trustee Dave Wilson doesn’t want HCC to participate in the Pride Parade. What else is news?

Denny McLain of course won the 1968 AL Cy Young award after going 31-6.

We’ve now lost three in a row. Come on guys!

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The Greg Abbott Campaign launched a Spanish language ad yesterday that ran on Univision’s live coverage of Copa Mundial during the Brazil versus El Tri match. The ad features the AG’s Latina mother-in-law and Latina sister-in-law saying in Espanol that he’s a nice fella. According to the Chron story on the ads, the ads will continue running during Univision’s coverage of Copa Mundial.

I can’t remember the last time a statewide candidate in the Lone Star State kicked off their paid advertising on Spanish language TV. We are usually an afterthought or a no thought. It is good strategy. He is on the air talking to a key voter. He’s on alone. He’s airing during the most popular sporting event of the Spanish speaking community.

He is also letting the Spanish speaking voter know that he’s married to a Latina and his familia is Latina. This is interesting. We will see where this goes.

I wonder when Team Davis is going Espanol. Here is the story on the ad and the ad itself:

This may be the best thing that could happen to Team Davis. Having to go up on Spanish language TV in the summer could very well create a buzz of sorts in the Latino community – resulting in a higher voter turnout.

Name the three MLB franchises that have never produced a NL Cy Young Award winner?

Speaking of the World Cup, Commentary is not very knowledgeable about soccer. I know what a soccer ball is. I know what a goal is. I don’t know how many players you have to have on the field or pitch. Don’t ask me to name each position. I could probably name only a handful of soccer players past and present. I know the matches are 90 minutes long but don’t ask me why they add minutes. I would not know a Real Madrid from a ManU. I know what El Tri is. I have only been to BBVA Compass once – I was invited to watch from a suite.

You are not going to catch me dissing the most popular sport in the universe. I confess I am one of those that just pays attention during the World Cups. I am not one of those that is going to say it is boring because they have 1-0 scores. I get the excitement of the sport.

Two days ago I had to run an errand and listened to Team USA on 97.5 FM. I watched the rest on ESPN and was sitting on the edge of my recliner when Ghana got their goal and whooped it up when we came back a few minutes later.

I spend my time on MLB of course but certainly have nothing but respect for the world’s game. USA, USA!

The HFD firefighters union gave the big thumbs down to the proposed negotiated contract. It was a 93% landslide, err avalanche vote. They obviously didn’t like the deal. I am thinking the union rank and file doesn’t have lot of confidence in their president. I am hearing that they didn’t like the fact that the deal included a provision that prevented the chair of the fire fighters pension board from taking time off to do pension work. I am thinking it was kind of silly that this was in the deal in the first place. I am thinking that the rank and file would just rather wait and cut a deal with the next mayor. They definitely don’t like the current mayor.

Can somebody please ‘splain to me why Andre Johnson is unhappy? Is it because he doesn’t think we have a good QB on the roster.

The Fish, Reds, and Rockies of course have never produced a Cy Young Award winner.

Jose Altuve had four base hits last night but we still lost 6-5 to the Nats.

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Former City Council Member, political strategist, Latino activist John Castillo is no longer with us. John was a true pioneer in Latino politics here in H-Town.

John was one of the most knowledgeable individuals I ever ran across. He was a fun guy to be around. He had a great sense of humor and was one of the best at wisecracks.

He was at the forefront in the fight for City of H-Town City Council single member districts and helped draw up the original lines.

He helped usher in the Latino voter engagement effort in Harris County. He knew where to go find Latino votes.

He was an Executive Assistant to two H-Town Mayors. He headed up a few City departments and agencies. He was the consummate City Hall insider and helped get us a seat at the table in city politics.

There may have been a couple or so times when we were not on the same side in a political campaign, I don’t ever recall where we didn’t get along though. That’s the kind of guy he was.

When you go over the history of H-Town modern day politics, John was a significant figure and pioneer for sure. Here is the Chron story on John:

John Castillo, a longtime architect of Latino political involvement in Houston who served three terms on City Council and helped guide successors into the District I seat he held for six years, died Sunday. He was 75.

“John Castillo was among the early political leaders in the Latino community,” said Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez. “Along with his brother-in-law, Leonel Castillo, they paved the way for so many young people.”

John Castillo’s campaigning and influence helped propel Leonel into the office of city controller, just as he did for numerous other Latino leaders from Houston’s East Side. Leonel Castillo died last November.

Ben Reyes, known as the godfather of local Latino politics before being convicted of bribery on City Council, said the deaths of John and Leonel Castillo solidify the end of an era.

“Leonel was the heart and soul of the Latino political movement, and John was the brains,” said Reyes, who was recruited into politics by John Castillo. “The two of them set the pace for all the rest of us.”

Local leaders said John Castillo was the first in Houston to develop a strategy to mobilize Hispanic voters, train candidates and guide them through elections. They lauded his role in a 1979 lawsuit against the city that led to the creation of single-member districts and opened the door for greater minority representation on City Council. Others recalled a successful scheme to sneak dozens of false delegates wearing fake badges into the state Democratic convention in a bid to add Latino voices to the board.

“Back in the ’70s, we didn’t really have mentors,” said Marc Campos, a consultant who often worked alongside and for Castillo during his decades in politics. “We were all learning back then. He was probably the first real numbers guy we had.”

Born Juan Felipe Espinosa Castillo, the first of 17 children of John V. and Enriqueta Castillo, John Castillo was the first in his family to attend college.

Attempts to reach family members Monday were unsuccessful.

He told an interviewer for an oral history kept at the University of Texas at Arlington that his family lived east of downtown in a six-room home “in a barrio called El Alacran,” or “The Scorpion.” He said he appreciated the negotiation skills he learned living in such a large family and his parents’ emphasis on learning, paying for him to attend private Catholic schools.

Castillo credited his father’s involvement in starting a local autoworkers union as his first introduction to politics, but said his interest and skills solidified over the seven years it took him to pay his way through the University of Houston as a mathematics major.

Lifetime achievement

As he was graduating, he worked on the campaign of Lauro Cruz, the area’s first Mexican-American state representative. He also was instrumental in the campaigns of Roman Martinez, Mario Gallegos, Tina Reyes and Ben Reyes, earning him a Hispanic Heritage Award for Lifetime Achievement from Mayor Annise Parker in 2010.

“I had the pleasure of sitting next to him at the council table,” Parker said Monday. “He was a calm, patient man who had excellent institutional memory. Though he faced legal difficulties, he never wavered in his commitment to the people of Houston.”

Shortly after taking office in 1996, Castillo was accused along with two other councilmen in a bribery scheme to influence a city contract for a convention center hotel project. Two federal trials ended in hung juries and the prosecutors dismissed the charges in 1999.
The scandal, which led to the conviction of Reyes, did not deter District I voters from twice re-electing Castillo to City Council.

‘He was a gentleman’

Rob Todd, a former councilman elected the same year as Castillo, said he appreciated his professionalism, even when Todd voted against the hotel contract at the center of the FBI investigation.

“He always worked with me. He never took it out on me,” Todd said. “He was a gentleman.”

He chuckled as he remembered Castillo’s first term and his immediate ability to lead while Todd and other freshmen still were learning the ropes.

Former councilman James Rodriguez said Castillo did not hoard his institutional knowledge, sharing it freely with the campaigns he supported and leaders he mentored.

“On several occasions he had set aside time to go over and help me out on the city budget,” Rodriguez said. “I had a leg up out of all the other candidates.”

Even before Castillo was elected to office, a decision that divided the Latino political establishment that did not want to lose one of their best men behind the scenes, he wielded significant authority.

“If you wanted to get something done with an elected official, it was best to go to John first and get his blessing,” said state Rep. Carol Alvarado, who said she respected Castillo even when they were on opposite sides of an issue. “He had a way of being the intellectual voice of every campaign, and once he was at City Council, he was seen as very statesmanlike.”

After a failed bid for Harris County Precinct 2 commissioner in 2001, Castillo slipped into a quiet, personal life, friends said.

Funeral arrangements by Crespo Funeral Homes are pending.

I for one appreciate John’s contributions to our community and our politics.

No MLB question today.

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Props go to the Spurs for putting it on the Heat in five. So much for “The Decision” getting seven someday.

The Chron has a story today on the financial costs of Guv Dude’s security detail. Some folks want Dude’s campaign to reimburse the state for security detail expenses for his political trips. I have to disagree. We have to accept the fact that the Governor of the State of Texas is a high profile position. Paying for security goes with the territory.

There was a story in yesterday’s Chron Sports Section about the recent success of the ‘Stros and sharing the credit of sorts. The story mentions the 2009 MLB Amateur Player Draft and the ‘Stros passing on Mike Trout – one of the best players in the game today. How many teams passed on Trout that year?

There is also a story today about campaign funds Sen. Wendy Davis is raising outside of the Lone Star State and she really doesn’t want to talk about it. I don’t know why. I don’t think it is that big of a deal.

It is too bad Speaker Boehner and Sens. McCain and Graham are whining about how The President is handling Iraq. These whiners voted for us to go to war with Iraq and The President was opposed. We’ve come a long way from searching for weapons of mass destruction and from Colin Powell’s “you break it, you own it.” I don’t know if Americans give a rat’s arse about Iraq these days. Heck, we may even have to cut a deal with Iran.

Believe it or not, 24 MLB clubs passed on picking Mike Trout, the 25th player taken in the 2009 draft of course.

Those of us watching the ‘Stros yesterday learned about the double switch DH rule. Don’t ask me to ‘splain it to you.

As of this morning we have a better record than seven MLB clubs. We have the day off then go to D.C. for two.

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On the 13th

Commentary got some feedback yesterday on my two cents on the 2014 campaigns here in the Lone Star State. Nobody said we were in good shape. Somebody said Latinos were being taken for granted. Here is more from the Tribune on their poll:

The biggest contrast found in the poll is between the candidates for governor: Republican Greg Abbott is viewed favorably by 45 percent and unfavorably by 25 percent; Democrat Wendy Davis is favorably viewed by 34 percent and unfavorably viewed by 40 percent. Put another way, Abbott’s ratings are 20 percentage points more favorable than not, while Davis’ are 6 percentage points more negative than positive.

“She remains relatively unable to move one of the core constituencies that people thought she would move, and that is women,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. “She is not really making any progress with Hispanics. The campaign is either not succeeding or they have not yet begun to fight.”

Henson said Abbott’s numbers weakened slightly with women and with Hispanics from the February UT/TT Poll to this one, but said the attorney general is maintaining overall positive grades with both of those groups.

“Abbott is in a very good position with his base,” Henson said. “His coalition is in place, and he’s doing well enough with the groups that are supposed to be the prime components of the Davis coalition — Hispanics and women.”

Kuffer really doesn’t agree with the above. Check out Kuffer here: http://offthekuff.com/wp/?p=61115.

Maybe, maybe not! Show me otherwise. More and more folks are starting to grumble openly. That is healthy.

Commentary was asked to be on a noted local radio show to discuss the campaigns. I declined because as Mom would say……well you get the picture. I don’t need any grief in my life right now.

The Rays are in town for three. When did the Rays join the MLB?

Commentary was opposed to going to war against Iraq back in 2003 and my position hasn’t changed. We never should have gone there. We lost a lots of lives and spent a ton of money. Now the President is being criticized for the f__ked up situation over there. The President didn’t create the mess and I don’t know if he has any good options at this point.

I say give a truckload of RPGs to Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham and send their arses over to Baghdad to help out. Those two are the biggest complainers, critics, and whiners – plus they voted to go there in the first place.

The Rays of course started MLB play in 1998

Commentary and Dante got to exchange low fives with Drake last night at The Yard. It was pretty cool. He was wearing a ‘Stros jersey – the numero 24. Dante said that was because he was born on 10/24.

Oh yeah, we won last night on a Chris Carter walk-off dinger in the bottom of the ninth. Jon Singleton also had an upper deck dinger to right. 33,000 plus showed up last night so I guess that means we have more believers. It has been fun for sure lately.

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Commentary has said it before. I don’t have a dog in the hunt involving the proposed vehicle-for-hire ordinance. I have just been watching the folks speak about it at City Hall.

Yesterday’s debate took an unusual turn. The measure was delayed until July 30 and in the meantime Council Members Larry Green and Brenda Stardig are going to get the parties – Yellow Cab, Uber, Lyft, and Limos – together for a mediation of sorts. The mediation initiative was hatched by Council Members Dwight Boykins and Dave Martin. From what I could hear the Mayor and Council member Steve Costello opposed the move.

I find it kind of odd that a measure that was put on the agenda by the Mayor, developed by the regulatory folks in her administration, has now been snatched away by City Council. They will take it from here.

There obviously isn’t a sense of urgency. Yellow Cab and the Limos are already doing business and so is Uber – illegally.

Happy 90th Birthday to President Bush 41 and be careful jumping out at 10,000 feet!

The World Cup starts today. The U.S. of A. hosted it in 1994. Who won the NL MVP Award in 1994?

Here is what my friend former Land Commissioner Garry Mauro said about the Wendy Davis campaign shake up:

“The conventional wisdom was the campaign wasn’t going anywhere and Wendy couldn’t win. She had to shake up the campaign and change the narrative.”

Before anyone gets mad at Garry for being honest, let me remind you that Garry has run and won statewide and the folks in charge of Team Davis haven’t.

Here is from the latest UT/Tribune poll:

“Abbott remains strong and this, in a lot of ways, confirms the strategy that we’ve seen from his camp: Leave well enough alone,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the UT/TT Poll. “The Davis campaign seems to be not able to reverse the trend.”

Abbott has the support of 44 percent of the voters surveyed. Davis had 32 percent, Libertarian Kathie Glass had 3 percent, the Green Party’s Brandon Parmer had 1 percent. Another 3 percent chose “someone else,” and 17 percent said they had not formed an opinion.

And here is Burkablog on the shake up:

All I can say is, “It’s about time.” The Davis campaign has been a disaster. Precious days have been lost. Even so, money keeps coming in. Davis will be well funded for the fall, but she needs a staff that is better prepared on state issues.

Democrats have already started describing the Republican slate as the “Abbott, Patrick, Paxton ticket.” There is always a “be careful what you wish for” component to these races. Patrick in particular is a very shrewd operator who has widespread support from the conservative base. He is a dangerous opponent. Democrats who underestimate him do so at their peril.

The internal shakeup of the Davis campaign is in part a result of tension between the longterm objectives of Battleground Texas and the ability of Davis herself to identify a path to victory. Battleground is focusing on the future: turning Texas blue in 2016, 2018, and beyond. Davis must focus on the here and now. It’s silly to worry about 2016 in this election cycle. It can’t become an either/or proposition. Davis HAS to win now.

I have written earlier that this is probably the weakest Republican ticket in the post-2000 era. Abbott is a strong candidate, but Patrick’s ability to run the Senate has yet to be demonstrated, and Paxton, who has suffered from high-profile legal problems, could prove to be an embarrassment. Sid Miller is a disaster waiting to happen as agriculture commissioner. It’s hard to imagine him in a statewide office. The Democrats can only wait and hope for a meltdown by Republicans, but this is clearly their best opportunity in a long time.

Burkablog and Garry are as experienced as most in Texas politics. They know what they are talking about. The folks in charge need to step up their game. We are up against a weak field so there should be no excuses.

Here is from the ‘Stros website after last night’s win:

Astros manager Bo Porter began his postgame press conference Wednesday by stumping for left-hander Dallas Keuchel to make his first career All-Star team.

“If he’s not an All-Star, what is?” he said.

Keuchel, to his credit, isn’t worrying about any such accolades despite another terrific performance in which he held the D-backs to one run and four hits in eight innings and rode a pair of Chris Carter homers to his eighth win of the season, 5-1, at Minute Maid Park.

Jeff Bagwell of course won the 1994 NL MVP Award in the strike shortened season.

Commentary and Dante will make it to The Yard this evening and Drake will be there. In fact, our section is called the Drake Section – cool. Oh, I snagged a Jon Singleton foul ball last night – my fifth of the season.

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This is way overdue. I am talking about naming a school in honor of my former boss Governor Mark White. He had guts and courage. Here is what the Chron E-Board says today:

Not long after he signed the Texas Education Reform Bill in 1984, then-Texas Gov. Mark White came home to attend a meeting of the Houston Federation of Teachers.

“When he walked into the building, the stewards treated him like a rock star,” said then-elementary school teacher Gayle Fallon who today is the union’s president. “He got a standing ovation walking in the door and was mobbed walking out.”

Because he has long been considered one of Texas’ most innovative governors in education policy, a broad-based coalition is petitioning the Houston Independent School District to name a new west Houston elementary school, “Mark White Elementary School.”

HISD trustees on Thursday are expected to vote on the issue. We urge them to suspend the policy that says district schools can only be named after the deceased. The board did this recently in honoring its longtime superintendent Billy Reagan.

Texas public schools were considered abysmal in the early 1980s, when then-attorney general Mark White, a Democrat, was elected governor on a platform that promised to raise teacher salaries and improve schools. He soon appointed a Select Committee on Public Education headed by Dallas billionaire H. Ross Perot.

Working with Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and House Speaker Gib Lewis, White transformed the committee’s recommendations into law. For the first time ever, Texas had statewide testing standards, and students who didn’t make the grades could not participate in sports. There were class-size limits, early versions of pre-K, teacher competency exams and a pay raise for teachers.

Funding the reforms and that pay raise required a tax increase. That hike, coupled with the beginning of our state’s transformation from blue to red, ultimately led to White’s failure to win reelection in 1986.

White, 74, today remains a vociferous advocate for criminal justice and immigration reform and often lobbies on behalf of his top passion, education.

One person who has seen his own name etched on schools, federal buildings and airports, George H.W. Bush, supports the cause on behalf of his old political rival. We give the last word to President Bush:

“White … worked tirelessly to improve our educational system, with great success; and having a Houston school bear his name would be fitting recognition of his contributions.”

Yeah, we paid the price in November of 1986, but we did what we had to do.

In 1986, the ‘Stros won the NL West. Who came in second in the NL West that season?

I was at The Yard last night and was absolutely stunned when I checked twitter and saw that Majority Leader Eric Cantor was getting his arse kicked. #EatingTheirOwn then started trending. All I can say is they will be heading far right in the 2016 GOP Prez Primary.

Ride sharing, Yellow Cab, Uber, and Lyft will supposedly get it settled today over at the City Hall Annex. All bets are on.

Here is what Ken Hoffman of the Chron said yesterday:

“It’s crazy talk, but I’m saying the Astros make the playoffs THIS YEAR.”

I am not going there – yet – but they are playing better than all but three AL clubs if you ask me.

The Reds came in second of course in the NL West in 1986 – 10 games behind the ‘Stros.

The ‘Stros are at home for five. Dallas Keuchel is on the mound tonight. Come on out to The Yard!

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