There's a substantive difference between gaining a first impression of someone on camera or in print, versus a face-to-face interaction. I think most would agree that the latter is always preferred. Even if it's a brief contact, you're just able to gather a world of information from someone when you see them with your eyes, and hear them with your ears. I was reminded of this last week in meeting Houston Mayoral Candidate Ben Hall. As a relatively new Houstonian (especially from a political standpoint) I don't know much Mr. Hall's time as City Attorney. But in one meeting with him, it's clear that he is vastly knowledgeable about Houston. He understands the city's struggles, needs, and perhaps most importantly, its aspirations.
Hosted by the Harris County Democratic Party (though important to note that all municipal races are non-partisan), Hall was introduced by chairman Lane Lewis, and then gave a broad-ranging speech about why he is challenging the present incumbent. Throughout the talk, Mayor Annise Parker's name was never actually mentioned... Hall was able to focus the audience on his ideas and on what he called "a different vision" for the city of Houston. He started off by answering the question that was on everyone's minds... why run for mayor now, in 2013?
"We decided long ago in America that we would not have dynasties. We chose to elect our leaders, as opposed to anointing people for some term. We are offering the voters an option to decide which is the better way forward for the city of Houston. That's the privilege and right of voting in a Democratic society, and I welcome and embrace it. That's why I have chosen to run this year."
He went on to speak of bold and aggressive plans to create a dynamic downtown, and bring real private investment back to the city of Houston. He commented about several investors that have already approached his campaign and are interested in bringing upwards of 2 billion dollars in for downtown and East End retail. He also doesn't agree with the present incumbent's fee and tax system...
"We cannot continue to proceed under the present revenue scheme of this administration, and I offer a different way forward. As opposed to penalizing the domestic population with excessive fees, we should bring more businesses into Houston that can generate revenue, and not only cover the cost of city services, but help all of us rebound into a glorious and prosperous future. For the sixty percent of city properties that are under-performing in terms of revenue, wouldn't it be better to negotiate a tax advantage, tax incentive, tax rebate, or even consider enterprise zones? That's a win-win for the city of Houston, as opposed to losing money on these properties like we are right now. The task of a mayor must be more than simply balancing a budget. It must be to look for sustainable ways for the city's continued growth."
Of course many of the things Mr. Hall mentioned are being enacted by the current administration... most notably a recent (and hotly-contested) Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone established to help improve Memorial Park.
He did acknowledge that Houston has seen impressive growth and economic prosperity over the past few years, but chose to view this fact in comparison to other Texas cities, citing state-wide growth as the reason for this.
One thing is for sure, Ben Hall proved that he knows and loves the city of Houston. Though his talk was certainly enjoyable, he still lacks specifics of how he would go about achieving several of his ambitious goals. How would downtown and the East End generate the funds for these massive retail centers? Are we going to get rid of the voter-approved drainage fee for citizens, and let somehow encourage private businesses pay the tab? It was very open-ended as to how he wants to pursue such grand ideas. He did however promise to reveal more details as the campaign progresses. As the good news keeps on coming for the Parker administration, he will need a strong, deliberate, and detailed platform to run on. I for one will be watching closely.