It was a full house at Walden Country Club recently when Houston mayoral candidates Tony Buzbee and Bill King appeared for a forum.
It was an unusual air for the ladies of the KARW. Typically, a favorite has emerged long before the requisite forum is held. But Wednesday, Aug. 28, the crowd seemed undecided. Members sported attire with one or the other candidate’s name. Both candidates were accompanied by large groups of young staffers.
The men roamed from table to table seeking support. Buzbee was driven to deliver his platform. King decided to seek friends. Buzbee worked the room like he was greeting old friends. King seemed he was meeting new ones.
Buzbee was visibly irritated when asked why he chose to run against a popular mayor, that possibly his strategy for this election was a good opportunity to become better known to voters.
“Do you think I would spend $10 million just to get my name out there?” he bellowed. “I don’t even understand your question.” When prodded, he admitted he has not spent $10 million – yet. He also announced that he was “ahead in the polls, by at least 20 points” and that the “firefighters did the polling.” And that every time [current Houston Mayor Sylvester] Turner loses a point, Buzbee is the one who gets it. Consequently, he had decided not to bash King any longer.
King, on the other hand, carries a more elegant air. He had supporters in the audience in T-shirts and buttons but as the forum went on, it seemed a Buzbee crowd; they nodded, smiled, applauded. Buzbee, a multi-millionaire attorney who is self-funding his campaign, generated energy.
Justin Lurie was emcee. Lurie ran last November for the congressional seat vacated by Ted Poe and lost to Dan Crenshaw. He asked questions for more than an hour.
Buzbee: The City of Houston is broken. They can’t even pick up the trash on time (Kingwood has predominantly private trash service).
King: Residents in Kingwood pay $100 million in taxes each year to Houston and get zero back. “They can’t even dredge the river.” (The city is contributing to dredging and just announced millions toward new flood gates in Lake Houston).
Buzbee: We spend $41 million a year just on the libraries and have more staff working at the library than people using the library. The homeless use it for shelter.
King: We need zero-based budgeting.
Buzbee: “I don’t trust METRO!” Metro wastes a “ton” of money and can’t even make a city bus stop safe. They run buses with no one on them. Turner, who is “spending $10 million in city money on this,” is part of the MetroNext bond issue and his face will be on all their buses soon.
King: “I am 100 percent against more light rail!” King alleges that taxpayers spent billions so far on light rail and there are less riders today than ever (Metro disputes this). He also is against MetroNext.Bipartisan tendencies
Both said they have histories of bipartisanship, with Buzbee declaring, “This is easy for me! I’m an Independent!” King told the crowd to look at his website for the list of ‘diverse’ endorsements and Buzbee said he attends two-to-three African-American churches every Sunday.
Umm, they are both big “NO’s!” King said he has a suggested charter amendment to prevent any candidate from taking more than $500 from a contractor which caused Buzbee to side glance and say, “What about Linebarger?” a reference to King’s long relationship with the powerful law firm (so much for leaving King alone.) “They have given me zero,” King said. Buzbee then loudly stated, “I am not taking campaign contribution AT ALL. Period!”
Buzbee: “Absolutely banned! Billions are spent on lobbying, Bobby Singh is one – he has 22 contracts with the City of Houston. Cindy Clifford is another. She has $755 million in contracts with the city and she threw a birthday party for the mayor’s daughter and is regularly seen at sporting events and the like with the mayor. “Stopping all that will be my crowning achievement!”
King: He stated he will ban his staff from meeting lobbyists at City Hall.
Buzbee: “I did the math to figure out the real cost of Prop. B. It is not that much and it is a shame the firefighters had to go to the voters to get a raise. Don’t tell me we don’t have 1 percent in the budget to give them a raise.”
King: “Prop. B has always been a dumpster fire. Turner could have resolved this. I can fix it in about 20 minutes.”
Buzbee: I have a detailed plan on my website.
King: “It is a vexing problem.” He then told the incredulous crowd he saw homeless families living on Northpark near the 7-11 (There are neither on Northpark.)
Both agree the city needs more police officers, that taxes are too high (and that Turner is against the first and the cause of the second.) Both say traffic is a big issue. King somehow managed to tie this into Turner trying to take funds from the Lake Houston TIRZ which he claims he stopped from happening (Actually negotiated by Councilmember Dave Martin and others.) Both dodged a question on regulating Houston’s oil and gas industries over climate change. They both think Confederate statues are not a problem high on their priority lists.
They danced with words. They sidestepped and occasionally they stepped on each other’s toes. How delicate the path is to run for conservative votes without bashing the other.
“As a Marine, others have asked me, ‘How can you take on an entrenched mayor? I want to take the City of Houston to a higher level and I will do that,’” Buzbee said.
“During the last election, I almost beat Turner,” King said. “Not enough of the registered voters in Kingwood vote. Be sure you vote this time!”