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Interview with: Anthony W. Hall Jr.
Interviewed by: David Goldstein
Date: May 29, 2008
DG: Today is May 29. We are in a conference room in the offices of Anthony W. Hall, Jr., in Houston's City Hall Building. My name is David Goldstein and we are conducting this interview for the Houston Oral History Project. How are you today, Mr. Hall?
AWH: I am doing fine, David. How are you doing?
DG: Great. Normally, we start at the beginning with where you were born and all but for the record, you are currently the Chief Administrator for the City of Houston?
AWH: I am currently the Chief Administrator, that is correct.
DG: What does the chief administrator for the City of Houston do?
AWH: That is an interesting question. Some of everything. The job of the Chief Administrative office essentially is to be the chief operating officer, more or less, in the business context for the mayor. It is an appointee of the mayor, a selection of the mayor. I usually say my job is to make certain the trains run on time.
DG: Well, that is a big job. Now, let's go back and start at the beginning. Where were you born?
AWH: I am one of the rare ones. I am actually a native Houstonian. I was born here in Houston, Texas, in what was then called the Houston Negro Hospital. It is now Riverside General Hospital. A little different mission but there are not a lot of folks _______.
DG: And that was September 16, 1944?
AWH: That is correct.
DG: And what are your earliest memories of Houston?
AWH: I grew up in Houston in a time when public schools were segregated and much of life in Houston was segregated, but I grew up with the support of a community that pretty much nurtured us so that I didn't recognize this time when I was growing up that I suffered any disadvantage frankly. I was fortunate enough that my mother was a public school teacher and I had good teachers in my classes and so I think we were very well academically prepared. At that time, there were just a host of community activities for kids and young people supported and fostered in the communities where we lived. And so frankly, we did not have much opportunity to recognize that there was any disparity. Those revelations came from me a little bit later in my school career.
DG: Where did you live? What neighborhood?
AWH: I lived in what is called South Union. It is the area now that is immediately east of the Dome stadium, of the Astrodome complex across 288. When my mother first built that house there, the 610 South Loop was not there. I went to the first 4 grades of elementary school in Angleton, Texas, because my mother taught there. My mother's family is from Brazoria County which is sort of adjacent to us here. And moved to Houston when she started to teach in the Houston Independent School District. I would have been, I think, in the 5th grade. And went to elementary school 1 block off of 610 and Scott Street which was called Sunnyside Elementary. The school has subsequently moved to Belfort Street but kind of grew up kind of in that neighborhood and elementary school. But then went to junior high we called it then. They call it middle school now. It was 6th through 9th grade. Actually in 3rd ward. And then went to Jack Yates High School.
DG: What did you do for fun when you were a kid?
AWH: I did what most kids do. We played football in the backyard and baseball in the vacant lots. We didn't have established parks in those communities then as now. My mother died 1-1/2 years ago but there is a city park now 1-1/2 blocks from where I grew up. It wasn't there when I was growing up so we would play ball in the vacant lots. There were 3 swimming pools available to us when I grew up and they were not close to my house so I did not do those kinds of things regularly. One was the YMCA on Wheeler and Emancipation Park and Finnegan Park in Fifth Ward. Emancipation is in Third Ward and Finnegan Park with a public pool so that is what most of us - one of those three - is where we learned how to swim.
DG: What was your best sport?
AWH: You know, that is not what I am proud of. I was not considered much of an athlete. I recall that in junior high school - junior high school started in 7th grade, 7th, 8th and 9th grade - I remember going out for football because we obviously played a lot of football in the backyard and in the vacant lots and after about 3 or 4 days, the coach put his arm around me and said I probably ought to stick to academics because, at that time, I hadn't had my growth spurt so I wasn't big, I wasn't fast, I wasn't particularly talented, and so it was a challenge. I wound up participating in a very unusual sport in high school. We had interscholastic shooting competitions in high school and college on indoor ranges. You used 22 rifles. It was part of the ROTC program. But the shooting competitions were actually in the high school intercollegiate sports, both in high school and the college that I went to. And I actually participated actively in those and used that as my opportunity to gain an athletic letter.
DG: What did you want to be when you grew up?
AWH: When I left high school and public school, my full intent was to become the first black general from Sunnyside, Texas and that was my aspiration through college.
DG: So take me through the chronology then. You graduated from Jack Yates High School?
AWH: I was very fortunate. I graduated from Jack Yates High School. I was very fortunate. I received the E. Worthing Scholarship and, at that time, this was 1962, so a long time ago - the scholarship was $4,000, $1,000 a year. I elected to go to Howard University in D.C. and it paid for, in my first year, it literally paid for the entirety of my education, and actually with a little bit of money back. I mean, it paid for books and everything. That changed during the course of my attendance at Howard, so that that was not the case 4 years later. It actually more than doubled the cost of going to school which makes the increasing costs of education a reality for me having lived through that. But I went to Howard, continued to participate in ROTC, and both in high school and college, rose to become what they called battalion commander but in other words, the senior officer at my high school and I did the same thing at Howard, and graduated with a degree in economics in Howard in 1967. And accepted a regular Army commission in the Army and went in the Army as a regular Army second lieutenant. And I chose infantry so I was an infantry officer.
DG: I am curious on a couple of things. You said as a young boy, you weren't really aware of segregation because of the cocoon of your community. Surely by the time you graduated from Jack Yates, you certainly realized . . .
AWH: Oh, certainly did, and recognized that there were distinctions. But again, because we lived, went to school in a segregated environment in reality, the interaction in many, many ways, was not something that you focused on. Probably my first real interaction was we had drill teams at ROTC and that kind of thing but the sports teams for instance did not play against each other when I graduated from high school. We started integration in Houston, supposed integration of the public schools in Houston in the 1st grade and it hadn't gotten to the 12th by the time I had graduated, to high school by the time I had graduated. But we did compete in drill teams and that kind of thing. And, of course, our ambition was to be the best in the city. And some of those competitions, we actually won. And so, because the interaction was so limited to begin with and when you could compete on the same level, it didn't give you any true sense of inferiority, if you will at the time. Fortunately or unfortunately, it depends on one's perspective, I went to Howard in 1962 and much of the student activism for the Civil Rights Movement started there. Snick started there, Stokeley Carmichael was in school there and so quickly I got introduced to the stark distinctions and frankly became, for a period, a student activist in that until I was admonished by my parents that if I did not pass my grades, and I say that because Howard had, at that time, mandatory attendance, and they would not excuse you if you got arrested and put in jail for 2 days from classes and that happened to me and so I quickly abandoned my demonstrating career. Because then, the mantra was you would get arrested. I mean, that is what you did.
DG: Well, that was the second thing I was going to ask. To go to Howard University which was the incubator for a lot of the black ______ during that era, and to choose sort of Army ROTC which was sort of, I guess, the opposite extreme.
AWH: Well, not really, and that is an interesting concept and it is something that is important to explore just a little bit because during this time, most American institutions did not offer any measure of fairness and equality. There were several institutions most prominent in America that tended to do that more than others. The military frankly was one of them. I don't mean to suggest that it was discrimination-free but it is the reason you found during the Vietnam War that such a high percentage of the senior noncommissioned officers in the military were African American or minorities, and it was because it was a place they could go during that era and the promotional criteria and all was more objective than it was in civilian life. Some of that occurred in the postal service. You will find a number of college graduate blacks who graduated from college but would go to work at the post office. And it was because they would get paid the same pay, they could get promoted in a mollocum of fairness and I use those two examples as examples of institutions, so you would find ROTC was very, very popular during that time in historically black colleges. Some of the larger units were in historically black colleges. The Vietnam War occurred shortly after that obviously and that then produced some of the reflection, some of the debate about that but I would suggest to you that that phenomenon exists even today.
DG: While you were at Howard, did you keep in touch with what was going on in Houston during that time?
AWH: Oh, yes, I would come home.
DG: What was going on in Houston while you were getting educated at Howard?
AWH: Well, it was during that period, because the Civil Rights activism, particularly on college campuses, spread across the whole country. And it was a time of some tension here in Houston that probably lasted longer in Houston than it did in most other major American cities. It had to do with the political leadership in Houston and this is a dichotomy, too, because we were held up for a time as the nation's example of police brutality, police oppression, and that is when the TSU riots took place. And so obviously I was following those issues during that era. At the same time, that incident at TSU and another that happened on Dowling, at Black Panther party headquarters, if you take those 2 incidents away, there was not the commensurate violence in Houston that existed in other cities. And part of that was due to the civic leadership. There are stories that are legend today. My wife was a student here in Houston at Texas Southern during that era and was marching and she tells the story of marching down at the theaters in an effort to integrate the theaters because at that time, minorities had to sit in the balcony. You could not sit on the main floor of the movie theaters. And that, as they were marching, somebody came out and asked them what they were marching for. They said, "We are marching to have equal access and equal rights," and they said, "What are you talking about? Come on in." The story of Lyndon Johnson running for president of the United States and not wanting to have the embarrassment that the Houston Bar Association in the largest city in the state was segregated. And my understanding is it got integrated in 1 week. There is a strange dichotomy in Houston's history with regard to those issues and life in Houston for young people like me who were growing up. So, on one hand, you can say that you can be proud of some of the things that happened in Houston, maybe not for the right reasons but for some of the things that happened, and you can be so disappointed with this legacy of police brutality because it was the public political issue in Houston all the way through the 1980s.
DG: In some of the other interviews we have done for this project, we talked with people who came from the east and moved to Houston for opportunities, and their friends in the east would say, "How can you go to Houston?" because of the perception of police brutality but more so because of the question of it is the south. They ride horses down there, they carry guns in their pickup trucks and all that.
AWH: Yes, we used to laugh about it.
DG: Having started here, gone to Howard, did you hear those kind of comments from people?
AWH: Oh, absolutely. In fact, we would be aggressive about perpetuating those things. In fact, as absurd as it sounds because during that time, the energy industry and oil and gas and the west and south was not as well known today, communications were not quite what they are today so that now, it is almost one world, let alone one nation. It wasn't the case then. Vernacular and wording was different and a good deal of exposure to those issue but we used to joke that . . . guys would look at you first and believe it . . . we'd say, "You know, there are certain places, man, back home where it is illegal for women to wear 3 inch high heel shoes," and they would look at me and say, "Why?" "They may punch holes in the ground and oil comes up," and there were guys who believed that, believed that you had oil wells in your backyard and all that kind of stuff. But obviously, that dissipated. I mean, it was just simple lack of any familiarity with what life was like down here. The thing that impressed us most is that we did not have some of the physical living circumstances as northeast cities and we had some pride with that. A low income area in Houston did not look like a low income area in the northeast because we did not have row houses, we did not have concentrations of poverty in that sense. A low income area in Houston generally still included detached single family houses. They were shotgun houses we called them. And so, they wouldn't have been viewed the same way physically. I am talking about the literal living circumstance was probably the same but probably not because there was not the level of concentrated violence in those places. I mean, many of us have grandparents and all who lived in those houses and who were probably some of the most stellar citizens in the community. So, you had a whole different revelation of a number of things. Well, I actually brought, we and some friends, brought some friends from Baltimore here with us for Christmas our first year in school and they were so impressed with the differences. One thing we have is space and just that made a big difference for the way people lived and what they did.
DG: You had a distinguished career in your service in Vietnam. You rose to the rank of captain. You have a Purple Heart and 3 bronze stars. Can you share with us briefly your experiences, when you got sent over and what you did?
AWH: It is not something most people who were in Vietnam talk about much at all. War is a terrible, terrible thing. I had served in Berlin, Germany, for 1-1/2 years before I went to Vietnam. And the stark reality of war is a sobering kind of thing. I mean, watching people die on either side. Obviously, painfully on your side. I was an infantry company commander in Vietnam and part of your responsibility is to write the immediate family of young soldiers usually 20 years old or so who got killed. And it is still today the hardest job I have ever had. You start those letters 20 times. You just start them and could not get the first sentence written, because you write a mama, and explain to her how she will never see her son live again. It is a tough deal. The Vietnam War was a tough thing. And it has made a profound impression on me. I am not a dove, I guess, in the classic current political description of that but it is my observation that the people who are most hawkish today on war are the people who never served. The people who have served are the most cautious about doing that.
DG: I think that has been born out through history. To the nonmilitary who might be listening to this, the bronze star is an award for valor, it is for bravery in the field. Would you care to share with us how you earned 3 of them?
AWH: Well, 2 of them were for valor, 1 of them was for distinguished service, as I recall or something like that. My perspective on it is I was providing leadership and doing my job. They write it up in a good deal more glorious terms.
DG: It is an easier letter to write, I am sure.
DG: When did you come back from Vietnam and what led you to the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at TSU?
AWH: Well, that was later. I came back from Vietnam in July of 1970, as I recollect, and at that time, young captains were . . . I had a regular Army commission and so I had a minimum 3 year commitment in the military. If you were a regular Army officer, a little bit different than most officers in the military who are considered what is called Reserve officers, you did not have a finite tour. I had a minimum commitment because of the ROTC service and the acceptance of the regular Army commission. That was my minimum commitment. The relevance of that is that you had to "resign" to get out. It wasn't like I had a termination date, I had to submit my resignation papers. And I did that when I got back for 2 reasons: one, I got shot in Vietnam and young captains were looking at what they called a 1 year turnaround time in Vietnam at that point. In other words, you would go over there for 1 year, you come back here for 1 year, you go back for 1 year. And typically at that time, you did not go back in the same role. And what I mean by that is the first time I went over, I was actually commanding a company in an American unit. We were all American troops. They would alternate that so that I could have looked forward to that second tour as an advisor to what they called an arvon unit which was an army of Vietnam, and that was not as appealing to me to go back. But I guess the main impetus was that my family, because I had been shot, was absolutely horrified at the notion that I would go back over there for another year. And I suppose my concern, what I enjoyed most about the military was being in charge and being in command and I did not have a deep appreciation for staff jobs and that kind of thing. And I got promoted very fast. I stayed a second lieutenant only for 1 year, a first lieutenant for 1 year, so I was a captain in 2 years to the day that I went in the Army. And I could look to stay in that rank for a period of time. That was just the reality of it. And I would probably have a host of staff jobs. That was not as appealing to me as what I had been doing. And so, I submitted my resignation. And after a while, with some help, got them to accept it because they did not accept my resignation initially. And I went to work for a county commissioner, a person who had gotten elected, had just gotten elected as a county commissioner in county government, and I went to work as what some people would say was one of the first three persons to work in an, if you will, executive level capacity in Harris County government. Barbara Jordan is generally credited with being the first.
DG: And what did you do in that . . .
AWH: I worked as an executive assistant to Jamie Bray who was newly elected as the county commissioner in one of the 4 precincts here, and I did budget stuff and community relations and all kinds of things like that.
DG: Forgive me if I have drawn an unfair conclusion but that seems like a pretty radical shift, to go from the leadership roles in a life or death situation to an administrative assistant in county government. Was it a tough adjustment for you?
AWH: No, it wasn't at all in the sense that because it was kind of groundbreaking . . . Barbara Jordan had worked for the county judge. The county judge here at that time was a guy named Bill Elliott and he had kind of broken the mold by having a black person to work in an executive capacity. And then later, John Peavy worked for him. But at that time, a county commissioner had never hired a black person to be in an executive role where they provided you a car and you actually went around and distributed money. And I actually did budget work because I had a degree in economics. They thought that I knew something about budgets, so I got assigned to do some of that kind of work in is office. So, it was a source of some pride for the community that we were making some progress. I've got to tell you that I did that only for one year before I announced for the Texas Legislature. So, almost 2 years to the day that I got out of the Army, I was sworn in to the Texas Legislature.
DG: And what led to that decision? Why did you want to serve in the Legislature?
AWH: Because of that involvement. I had been involved. I was president of the student council at Jack Yates when I graduated. I had been president of my freshman class at Howard. I had been active and I think that is born out of the activism, community activism of my mother who had been president of, they called it _______, the president of a sorority and she had been president of what was then a segregated teachers association. I think they called it the Texas Classroom Teachers but it would have been the Houston if it . . . my mother had been fairly active. She was president of the Mission Society at a church, one of them for 40 years. And I think that is what kind of instilled that kind of concern for involvement with community. And I was 27 when I got I think elected to the Legislature. I think it was 28 when I was going in. 27. And when you are 27 and you've got a college degree, the degree is in economics, you think you know the answers to everything. That has tempered over the years but I thought I could solve most of the problems in the world if people would just hear!
DG: I remember 27. What district did you represent?
AWH: At that time, the number was district 85. That was the legislative district number. The numbers have changed but it is the district that Al Edwards . . . the boundaries have changed, too, but essentially, the district that Al Edwards represented for such a long time and Boris Miles for the last term in that race that Al Edwards and he just switched up again on.
DG: What were the issues that you ran on?
AWH: They are essentially the same issues that we are now . . . an interest in improving public education, a profound interest I had at the time in improving the prison system in Texas and the way we did it in the past legislation. Texas Southern is technically just across the district boundary but I altered the legislation that made Texas Southern designated by the state as an institution for public policy. Technically, this is called a special purpose university but the idea is to have a special designation towards and focus on solving urban problems - housing, education, crime. I was very fortunate because I got appointed to the appropriations committee my first term which gave you an opportunity to learn all of the intricacies of state government because all of the agencies have to come in and present to you and tell you what they do and justify their budgets. It was at a time when there was not any involvement by the substantive committees in money. All of it was done by the appropriation committees. That has now changed so that there is input from the substance committees about the budgets of these agencies for the different times. So, I was fortunate in that regard. I spent a good deal of my time dealing with small business economic development issues - MWV programs to try to get involved in it because it became clear to me early, unless we could have full participation in the economic life of the state of minorities, that their status and opportunity would not significantly improve.
DG: I have an appreciation for the people who might look at this now or years from now and when they see somebody's career path, they just sort of take for granted the logical progression, but getting elected to the State Legislature is not something you just decide to do one day, like enlist in the Army.
DG: Did it cost a lot of money? Did you have to do a lot of _______.
AWH: It did. I was very fortunate. My mother had been active - as I said, I was 27 years old - my mother had been active. My mother and my dad divorced when I was about 4 years old but maintained a very, very close relationship, particularly with me, so that I tell people I grew up with 2 dads: my stepfather was like a dad to me, and they talked and there was no animosity particularly about me. And my father-in-law . . . I had gotten married, and my father-in-law was the secretary/treasurer of one of the two predominantly black labor unions here. And so, I had that support but we put together a thing and I say we . . . I will describe that in a moment . . . we actually put up billboards. We were smart. Craig Washington, Mickey Leland, a fellow named Russell Hayes, and a man named Cecil Butch who was a lawyer who was Barbara Jordan's law partner at the time, the Legislature had just created single member districts and we knew that as young people, we would not be the real decision makers in that process because we were all, within 5 years or so roughly except Russell Hayes and Cecil, but Mickey, Craig and I were roughly the same age. Mickey and I were the same age. Craig was only a year or two older than we were. And so, we actually put together a slate that was called the Peoples Five. That is what we did. And we actually pooled money and bought billboards. And the idea, and we did it very early, and the idea was to establish ourselves as the leading and preeminient candidates in each of the 5 districts that are black to be elected in. And as it turned out, Woody Denson who is Anglo, who was a district judge later here, got elected in 1 of those 5 districts. And Sinfronia Thompson who served in the Legislature to this day since that time was elected to those. But 3 of us got elected. And all of us I think were under 30 at the time. All 3 of us. So, it is kind of an interesting story.
DG: It is fascinating and I had not heard it before. Now, beyond the efficacy of running together, was it a shared platform, was there a sense that it was . . .
AWH: It was a shared platform and there was also a sense on our part that we brought different strengths. Greg was viewed as a very, very talented and promising criminal defense lawyer here. Mickey was viewed as an activist, if you will. He had been very active in the student Civil Rights Movement, having been a leader at Texas Southern of that movement. And I had been involved in county government and involved in the Labor Movement. And at that time, the Labor Movement probably realistically had more influence then than it does today. Russell Hayes was kind of the preeminent advocate for the War on Poverty program as chairman of the board. There was a thing called the Harris County Community Action Association . . . he wasn't the chairman of the board but he was one of the community elected representatives to that board and it was at a time when they had a budget of $50-60 million a year. It was the War on Poverty era of Lyndon Johnson. And Cecil Bush was Barbara Jordan's law partner who was considered the preeminent African American politician in this community. And so, we were trying to identify and touch all the bases. That was our theory, so that we would have seeds of influence into all of these different areas and for 3 out of 5 of us, it worked. And then, the one instance, the Russell Hayes instance, the district was strangely drawn so that it included both Sunnyside and Meyerland. And so, the winner was actually Engel.
DG: Now, Mickey went and stayed awhile and Craig went and stayed awhile. How long did you stay?
AWH: Mickey and I stayed the same period of time because when Barbara Jordan died, Mickey and I both ran to replace her and there were 10 of us, I think, candidates including Judson Robinson who was here. There were a lot of us who wanted to follow her. He and I wound up in a runoff and he won. That would have been in May or so. And literally a month or two later is when we got single member council districts on Houston City Council following that election. And Mickey became my biggest supporter for a Council seat on City Council. That is when I came to the Houston City Council. Craig Washington got elected later to the State Senate. We were all in the House together. And he got elected to the Senate. And then, he and I 10 years later wound up in a runoff for that seat after Mickey got killed. And we wound up in a runoff and I lost.
DG: That decision to run against Mickey . . .
AWH: No, I wasn't running against Mickey now. We both were running for that seat.
DG: Well, that is what I wanted you to clarify. You were both running for the seat.
AWH: It was an open seat.
DG: Was it a friendly rivalry, may the best man win or was there a falling out?
AWH: I suppose we were both civil and courteous enough during that time to say may the best man win but it wasn't friendly, I don't suppose. Both of us wanted the job. But to put a better face on it I think, it wasn't just between me and him. Judson Robinson was the first black who had been elected to City Council. He was a candidate. A fellow named Moss Leroy that you probably have in the history who had been an . . . he was a candidate. I mean, there were 10 very, very active folks in the community in that race. It just so happened that Mickey and I wound up in the runoff as the two highest vote getters, and he beat me in that race. But I guess one of the things that I am most proud of . . . as I said, I later ran at large. I served 2 terms - this was before term limits - 2 terms as a district councilman and I later served 3 terms as a Houston at large city councilman - I did not have a stronger supporter and fundraiser in those efforts than Mickey Leland.
DG: That was a credit to the friendship, I am sure. What was your primary motivation for public service at this stage? Were there specific issues that drove you, was it a desire to help people, was it all of the above?
AWH: I think it was all of the above. I think it was specifically all of the above and the sense that I had been blessed to get a chance to get some insight into how you effect change, systemic change is what is important -- I have been given the opportunity to learn something about the system and I did throw some obligation to try to make a difference with what I had been given. Those who come from my era are much impacted by the Civil Rights Movement and I think it kind of imbued with the kind of sense of obligation that you have been given kind of a special place and you've got to try to use that to the common good. It is put a lot of ways but we stand on a lot of folks' shoulders. I have no illusion that the opportunities that I have gotten have been created by me. They were created by people who could only dream of being in the place.
DG: Representing your district and in many times certainly the entire city at the state legislature, Houston has never not been able to be described as undergoing change. So, from the time that you came to the Legislature to the time you left the Legislature and during that period of public service, how did the issues change? What was going on in Houston during that time?
AWH: Well, many of the issues didn't change. It is fair to say that the primary public issue for, remember I told you this was a period of segregation in reality - the primary public issue was actually symbolized through the Houston Police Department, and a specific person over time - a man called Herman Short who was the police chief who was the symbol of evil for most of the minority community in Houston because the attitude was that the police force existed, at least we perceived it that way, existed to control these minority communities. And that seemed to evidence itself into police brutality and actually what later were proven murders of minority citizens. It was a dark era in my view for the Houston Police Department when actually these cases came to light where they were planning throwdown guns on people after they killed them and stuff like that, in at least 2 instances that was proven. The changes that were made I am proud to say I had something to do with. The legislation that created the Metropolitan Transit Authority, I actually carried in the legislation. I was the principal sponsor of that legislation. As I told you, the Texas Southern legislation. The legislation that increased and improved the meager financial assistance we give people coming out of prison. I was very proud that I was productive and I indicated that I took a little different view. I mean, I had been kind of blessed to learn how the system worked and how you created some systemic change. Sadly, we have yet to achieve my vision for the Metropolitan Transit Authority. We don't have high speed rapid mass transit in Houston yet. I hope we will get that. And I think we are suffering today because we don't.
DG: Again, for the perspective of somebody looking at this later, as a young black legislator in Austin, it is not easy to get something done. It is certainly not easy to get major things done. What was the secret? Was it alliances, did you work harder?
AWH: That is what it was about and I worked at that. Being effective as a legislator is hard work but more importantly, it is quick studying to understand the dynamics of how you make things happen and how you put coalitions together. Legislators don't pass legislation in a vacuum. I mean, you have to develop constituencies for it. You have to develop alliances with people who have that same common interest. That is probably more important than the "individual" legislative skills. I consider that harder legislative skills. Some people don't. But you create the constituencies and you create the constituency, for instance, public transit was here in Houston. For Texas Southern, it was probably a little different in that legislation. Of course, I was on the appropriations committee. You can create alliances that allow you to get things like that done. But life was not as tough for me as maybe for some because I had been in the military, I understood how you make alliances, how you create feelings of teamsmanship, and how you frankly make certain that your associations reach across people of your own party or philosophical beliefs. Some of my closest friends in the Legislature were not people who regularly voted with me. My roommate, suitemate they called it, and shared office in Legislature - my first session was a guy who later served 10 years as Speaker of the House. And we became good friends.
DG: Who was that?
AWH: Pete Laine (sp?). We actually shared . . . this is strange . . . he had an African American employee during the interim, we called it when we are not in session, a woman who worked for me, and that job is to answer the phone, send you the mail because you don't spend all your time up there. And I think now, they have more staffing so they may have permanent people there but we did not. He actually shared . . . he is from ________ Texas and we could not have represented different constituencies in terms of what their daily lives were about. But we became very good friends.
DG: There have been other people that talk about that era of politics as being a little bit more civil.
AWH: It was. It was not nearly as vicious and you would have the most vigorous legislative fights and go out and have dinner together, have drinks together in the evening during that era. I understand that doesn't happen as much anymore.
DG: I understand as well. Besides yourself, who else served the City of Houston well in the Legislature during that time period?
AWH: I think all of those people I mentioned did. I think Craig Watson and Mickey Leland were consummate legislators in different ways, frankly, with different talents. But Houston was served well. And obviously, we have had very, very good non-minority legislators in the Legislature during our time. Some of them are very legendary. Some of them come from surrounding areas. There is a guy named Neal Caldwell who served as chairman of the appropriations committee who actually is from Angleton in that area that I just described. A superb representative for us. There are many, many former legislators in and around Houston who have done good work. Woody Denson was a superb representative that I indicated to you, was a good representative. And these are people from that era. Obviously as you move forward, the list grows very long.
DG: I see. Let's continue the chronology. You were in the Legislature, you graduated from Texas Southern in 1982, so how did you get from the Legislature to Texas Southern?
AWH: When I lost that race to Mickey Leland and started running for City Council, I started law school at almost the same time, identical time, as Texas Southern and I went to the bank and borrowed lots of money because I had to get finished. I was obviously an adult and married and so I actually finished law school in 2-1/2 years. And I actually took the Bar. It is kind of a long story. We were allowed to do that on a grandfathering - of a statute that was later repealed. I could take the Bar after my second year of law school and I did and fortunately, I passed the Bar after 2 years of law school but I wanted a degree so I went back the next semester. But I did that by going to summer school straight through 2 summers.
DG: Why law?
AWH: Oh, part of the reason is because I found it fascinating. It was very fascinating in the legislative process of necessity. You deal with loss in the Legislature and the law. And probably I would have to confess that when I was in the Legislature as a nonlawyer, I probably felt something was missing. I don't think it is at all a necessity for legislators but I would like to have been a little more versed and knowledgeable about the law while I was there. But probably the most important reason is that I was committed to public service and I viewed the law as at least 1 profession that would not make me captive of any interest or interest group. That is my feeling . . . I have said over the years, if I could crawl out of bed and open my mouth, I could make a living and I could do it independently and would not be a captive of any interest that would have any kind of undue influence because I would get fired if I didn't do what they wanted me to do.
DG: So, it is an interesting career choice at that point in your life. You are married, you are working. Kids at that point?
DG: That was Ursula and Anthony and _________?
DG: So, you've got young kids at home and you are working. It must have been a little tough, I mean, to make that kind of career choice.
AWH: My wife was a school teacher so she was working also. She always did so there were always 2 of us working. But it was tough. That is why I went, as I said, to the bank and borrowed money because I had planned this out so that I recognized that it would be 2-1/2 years when I would have some diminished . . . I worked part-time also. The Council, going to law school full-time and working part-time. I did all those at one time. But I tell people, 2-1/2 years, you can stand on your head. You couldn't do that for a whole lifetime but you could always see the end. I could. In other words, I knew I had to get through it. Could not string it out. And my personality is such that I could not have gone to law school for 6 years or 7 years or going at night or something. So, I had to get finished with it. And that is what I did. Frankly, people think maybe I am nuts but I loved going to law school. Actual law school - you learn so much. I enjoy learning. It was so gratifying when I went to law school.
DG: I imagine for a former company commander in Vietnam, it wasn't that heavy of a load. Let me just sort of recap. What were you most proud of during your time in the Legislature?
AWH: I think proud of the legislation I passed. And, as you say, as a young legislator by legislative standards, I passed the legislation creating the Metropolitan Transit Authority, I passed the legislation that designated Texas Southern as a special purpose institution in this state, with a state designation. I passed legislation that proved the benefits that inmates get when they are released from TDC. Those accomplishments, I mean, to me, that is what you are there for and those last.
DG: And what are you most proud of on your time on City Council?
AWH: I think probably the creation with Ernest McGowan of the City's model MWB program to improve participation and contracting by city government. The establishment of a more predictable regulatory system for utilities and the process we used for doing that, participated in developing some of our fiscal processes and policies for Council action and rules for Council in the conduct of their business I think is something I would be proud of, because we were the first class. Benny Reyes who had been in the Legislature came to Council at the same time I did. We subsequently had Lance Layler who later got into a little difficulty but who had been sort of the . . . people did not go from City Council to the Legislature then. It was always the other way around. We had been in the Legislature and so we had I think a total of 4 former legislators during my term who were then members of City Council. And we were the first ones to actually have staff and that kind of thing. Individual staffs. We created a whole process and the budget review process was created by, frankly, those of us who had been in the Legislature because we kind of were trying to replicate kind of the process that the Legislature used. And they had not done that before in Houston city government. Those are some of the things I think, and they remain until this day. And so, I am kind of proud of those.
DG: What were the contentious issues of the day when you served on City Council?
AWH: Clearly police community relations was the first and foremost, which is probably the only time I have actually cried in a Legislative session. When Kathy Whitmire named Lee Brown as Houston Police Chief, that was revolutionary in our community. And it wasn't just symbolic. Today, when you go to neighborhoods, the conversation is typically the same all over this community and that is the need for increased police presence but literally if you went to a meeting of candidates in a minority community in the 1980s, literally three-fourths of the time would be taken up talking about police brutality and police incidents and all that kind of stuff. And I have always argued that there was such a disservice to that community because the community had needs beyond that but you never could get to them because the conversations would be literally consumed with those issues. That changed all of that frankly and now, most people who you would be talking to would have no sense of those kinds of issues. Every now and then, the issue comes up - the Escobar case that was in the news yesterday - but that is a rarity. It is not a daily dose that you get. So, that was the premier issue.
Economic involvement in the city's business activities in the community life remains a constant. That is a constant issue which is usually talked about today, usually talked about . . . from a public perspective, categorically, the issues are the same - public safety, city services - those don't change. They are constants and my guess is they will always be and probably should be because that is the primary purpose of city government. Obviously, to do for people what they can't do themselves but first and foremost public safety. You've got to have good police, fire protection including that now, of course, is emergency medical care, ambulance service. Those are primary functions of government and the quality and standards that candidates articulate for those are going to be primary issue. I think the public service issues - good streets, good garbage protection, weeds on the right-of-way and all of those issues will be constants forever in my view.
DG: Your resume continued to be embellished. You led the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County?
DG: What was that experience like?
AWH: Well, it was wonderful. We had accumulated a surplus of $800 million, literally, cash! Almost $800 million. And its purpose was to help us have our matching funds without even borrowing money, to have our 50% match for beginning a rail system here. It was called monorail because it was all to be elevated. I think still had we done it, we would have been on the cutting edge because we would not have the issues of traffic disruption that surface road gives you. That is clearly an issue for some discussion and debate but the technology of monorail I think could have been used and what could have been built using that technology meaning how far it went into various areas like the airport, into west Houston, into southwest Houston, into east Houston, that we would have been a far advanced community with regard to traffic, traffic congestion and we would have, I think, been the model of the world for one of the issues that plagues every large city in the world.
DG: How did you become City Attorney?
AWH: That is another interesting story. Lee Brown, I told you, was recruited to Houston as police chief while I was on City Council from Atlanta. We became very, very good friends. I mean, personally good friends. He ran for mayor. I was in private practice then. I had 10 years where I was not in government. I never intended to come back. But I was advising him. I was one of his advisors. The day after he got elected, he indicated he wanted me to be a city attorney and I indicated that it wasn't in my plan, I could not afford to do that, that I wanted to be an advisor to his administration and offer guidance and all of that. And after some persistence on his part and after I had a conversation with my wife, I wound up being City Attorney. And so, I had made a commitment to do that for 2 years and that apparently wasn't his plan so I wound up staying the whole 6 years that he was mayor, as City Attorney. One of the best experiences of my life in terms of people I worked with over in the legal department and all. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience.
DG: Any particular accomplishments? Anything that gives you a sense of satisfaction from that service?
AWH: Oh, the role of the City Attorney maybe was a little bit different as it always is. Different mayors, they define the role. But the City Attorney historically in Houston has been a close advisor on policy issues in addition to the legal issues, and I think it is fair to say I had a leading role as his principal advisor in house on issues of city government and that kind of thing. And the irony is I planned to leave when he left and Bill White persuaded me to stay.
DG: In a different role which is where we started, as the Chief Administrator of the city.
DG: As might be expected, you have been honored frequently. Let me see - my notes here say for outstanding civic work including the Fifth Ward Enrichment Programs, Heart of Houston, the Black Achiever Award from the YMCA, the Cotton Hook of the Year Award. You are also on the boards of the Houston Symphony, the Boy Scouts, Junior Achievement of Southeast Texas, the Ensemble Theater, the Texas Cultural Trust. It sounds like you are still doing 2 or 3 jobs at the same . . .
AWH: Yes, and I have tried to cut back on some of the nonprofit and community organization service . . . that is what my life has kind of been involved with. Probably most prominent among those, United Negro College Fund has a dedication to the belief that really education is what will cause communities to improve and rise and do better. Because I have, over the last 7 or 8 years, become also involved in corporate board work and frankly, there is not but so much time in a day. And so, I have tried to shed some of those. Obviously, you can't successfully shed them all.
DG: And the board of El Paso Corporation?
AWH: Yes, and Coastal Corporation before that. And I serve on the board of Houston Endowment which is a foundation but requires some time and attention.
DG: In an adult lifetime with service to this city, to this community, what gives you the most pleasure now? What gives you the best sense of accomplishment?
AWH: I think we have a chance in Houston. I really do. I really believe this and I am very proud of our city in a number of ways, to demonstrate to the world what urban life and living can be as relates to appreciation for, and the richness of, diversity and a diversified community. I am still so proud, so very proud, that this is the largest jurisdiction in America that has had a public referendum on Affirmative Action and supported it. That will always be cardinal for me about my community. Do we have problems like other people do? We do but we are fundamentally a fair people in Houston and it is born out of I think some past leadership in this community and articulating to all of us regularly the value of the diversity of this community and how each one of us is better off because we are all not the same.
DG: What does the future hold in store for this city?
AWH: I think we will probably continue to grow more than most. I think there has been some foresight and vision in creating some diversity in the economy because ultimately, the economic activity in a community is what drives its growth, the opportunities that are provided by that. We've got obviously now the port that is critically important. We have got now one of the most viable airport systems in the country. They support the core of Houston which is leadership in energy and I hope we keep that. But we have also now developed obviously the Texas Medical Center is the largest in the world, the kind of research that goes on there - all of these support a number of corollary kinds of business that support activity in our community. When you add that to the fine educational institutions that exist around here - Rice, Texas Southern, University of Houston, St. Thomas - I think Houston is kind of poor as to be. And I really believe this can be the model city for the country. Diversity has a good deal to do with that because we have the second largest number of consulates outside of Washington, D.C. And so, I think when you add energy, what it brings; when you add literally the Medical Center is a server to the world of advanced health care, I think it gives us the opportunity to continue to ascend the way we have been doing and we have truly ascended over the last 50 years. From a city that nobody knew about now to obviously everybody knows about the Space Center and what it brings. I think those are the drivers for this community growing and being successfully prosperous.
DG: My last question for you, Sir. A lot of what you listed are things we can see. Does Houston have a discernible spirit? If so, how would you describe it?
AWH: I think so. I would describe it as a place that allows opportunity for people no matter where you come from based on the value that you bring. And that is special. It is kind of consistent with what I indicated earlier. I mean, people in Houston are not so much driven by what your family name is and what your family background is and it is evident in so many ways. You see it all the time. People come here and you ask people, "How long have you been here? You are the leader of this in this community, the leader of that." "Well, I have been here 8 years, 10 years." And in other communities that I have observed, it doesn't happen that way. If you don't have long, deep grassroots or your family does, you are kind of not allowed to have leadership roles. Houston, I think, is uniquely different in that regard. If you come and you offer value, people will, in fact, embrace you and encourage you to lead. It has happened even from our politicians. Bill White says all the time he is from San Antonio . . . he is not from Houston. He came here after college. That is the story of Houston. And so many of our stories are that way. And I think that that is kind of part and parcel to this diversity thing I was talking about. It is kind of a mindset that we all ought to be judged on what we offer in the way of value as opposed to what our parents did.
DG: Thank you very much, Sir. I appreciate it.
AWH: Thank you for having me. I enjoyed it.