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Interview with: George Greanias
Interviewed by: Louis J. Marchiafava
Date: January 25, 1982
Archive Number: OH 319
LM: (00:08) January 25, 1982. Interviewer: Louis J. Marchiafava. Interviewee: Council member George Greanias.
LM: Greanias. Now wait a minute.
I: Give me your pronunciation again. (Pause, tape resumes.)
LM: I’d like to begin the interview by just getting some brief background description of your activities prior to your election. If—I realize you’ve done a lot of things, but simply for the record, I would like to just pick up on some of your major activities. I’d like to start off with your education, how long you’ve been living in Houston, and your activities profession-wise prior to your election and then we can pick it up from there. In this first interview, we’ll be discussing primarily your election, the problems of being elected, your program, your objectives and goals.
GG: Okay. Let’s see. In terms of biographical data, I was born in Illinois. I lived there—I was born in ’48 and lived there for 18 years, essentially until I decided to go to Rice for college, and I started at Rice in ’66 and graduated in 1970 and spent the third of those four years in England at Trinity College. I was a classmate of Prince Charles at the time. But I graduated in 1970 and went to Harvard Law School and graduated from there in ’73. I took a job with a law firm here in town, Liddell, Sapp, Zivley & Brown, now Liddell, Sapp, Zivley, Brown & LaBoon. At that point, they had their offices in the Gulf—in the Gulf Building, the old Gulf Building and then moved over to the Texas Tower.
I left then, after about a year; I wasn’t very happy at law practice and decided that I would like to try my hand at playwriting, which I had already had some success with. And at the point where I left the firm, the Rockefeller Foundation had picked up one of my plays and was sponsoring it in a production in Miami and the Alley had thereafter picked it up and optioned it and they were going to do it in October of ’74, so I said I’ll give playwriting a chance. And from ’74—the early part of ’74 until about early ’75, I was doing mostly full-time playwriting. In ’75, I found myself do a variety of things in New York City. The thinking then was that I would work a law job and continue to write. As time went on, though, I decided that I was less and less interested in playwriting as a career; not that I wasn’t interested in it, but just in terms of what I wanted to do, and that I wanted to do something law-related and publicly-related. So led me to decide that okay, I’d better settle down, and New York, to my mind, is not the place to settle, so—it’s a nice place to grow up, but once you’ve grown up, it’s time to move on.
(02:56) So I spent about six months in late ’76—it was the bicentennial, it’s the only reason I remember it now—trying to decide where I was going to settle, and Houston got to be the choice just because I had more friends and more connections here. There seemed to be more of a future, so in ’77—early ’77—I decided I’m going to move back and at that point, the Jones School of Administration--the graduate school of administration out at Rice—was just getting underway and Bob Sterling, who was the first Dean, said--through the auspice of the help of Hank Hudspeth, who’s an attorney here in town, said, “Would you like a job teaching law at the school?” And so I took an Assistant Professorship there, thinking it was going to be a temporary or part-time job and opened a law office over on Woodway and near 610. Quickly, though, it became clear that the teaching was going to be more than a part-time job and it gradually took more and more of my time. I also started teaching not just law, but public management; sort of in addition to my part of the curriculum, both required courses, and I started doing research and writing and business government relations.
And then in ’79-. (buzzing noise) No, I don’t need to answer the phones. (buzzing) For those of you in the listening audience, that’s the telephone buzzing and the councilman who’s ignoring it—council member--is ignoring it. For of those of you in the dim, distant future, there has been a problem here with nomenclature, and up til recent years before there were women on the council, you could say “councilman” with a fair degree of safety, and now, however, you have to watch out for your life (buzzing) so you say, “council member,” which is, I guess, leading to the concept of the generic councilperson.
Anyway, (buzzing) so in ’79, the city had to redistrict and I think you have the history of that someplace else. (buzzing) And as part of that process, a district was carved out in the Southwest part of Houston and termed District C and I decided to make a race for that and ran in a field of thirteen. I was unknown and among the other contestants were a number of people who had run before, including Lance Lalor, who was a state representative at the time. Laylor was clear and away the favorite. I was back in the field someplace. I came very close into getting into the run-off; missed it by 60 votes.
That impressed a lot of people. They said, “Golly, this schlemiel of a professor was able to do that well. He must have something on the ball.” But I assumed that after that race that Lalor would stay in his position for at least two terms, maybe three; that consequently, any kind of city council race was really out of the question and that I would just go back into teaching, which is what I did. I closed my law office in early ’80, just after the campaign, and started doing a little bit of consulting work instead rather than doing law work, which didn’t seem to fit very well with what I was doing. I took on companies that had problems in the business government area and had to worry about community relations and so forth.
(05:46) I was very happy doing that, had published a number of pieces and had gotten two book—several book contracts and actually got one book out and was getting another one underway, and then in early ’81, I was at the gym—the Rice Gym, finishing a racquetball game, and a friend of mine came up who said that, “Did you know that Lalor is thinking of running for controller if Whitmire runs for Mayor?”
Now, at that point, it was clear that Whitmire was going to run for Mayor. It was just a matter of when she was going to announce, but it was a surprise to me that Lalor would consider running for controller. In fact—and as far as the implications for me, I didn’t really think about them. In fact, we talked for about 20 minutes on why Lance Lalor would want to be controller before it occurred to me that if he ran for that job, that the District C seat would be open and that I would have to at least consider whether I was going to run.
That was the last I had made of it for about two months, until April, at which point it became clear that Lalor was going to run for controller, although he had not made the official announcement, that he was moving in that direction. And I-.
LM: Why does that surprise you—excuse me—why did that surprise you that he would run for it?
GG: Because he’s not an accountant. It’s a managerial job, which is different than anything he’s done before, and if Whitmire became mayor, it was clear to me that one of the things that the controller has been able to do with that job under Castillo and Whitmire both is to use it as a political stepping stone. In fact, it’s almost regarded as the formal procedure by which you become a candidate for mayor, is that you become controller. But if Whitmire’s the mayor, that’s a lot different than having Jim McConn or Fred Hofheinz and the ability to have an adversarial relationship in which you come out as the good guy is more difficult.
So I couldn’t quite understand if that was part of Lalor’s strategy, was to develop exposure for himself by playing that role as Whitmire had and as Castillo had—(??)hadn’t before her. I wasn’t sure that he could do that with Whitmire as mayor, so it raised a real question in my mind about how successful a move it would be. On the other hand, I was told that he was not bored of council, but he found it very confining. He complained—I noticed several people about the number of constituent calls he would get, and I think that he just did not find it as much as enjoyable. And I think also he regarded it as an interim step towards something else. That’s the impression I’ve always gotten about it.
(07:55) So the more I thought about it, the more sense it made to me, that he would do it. It would separate him out from the rest of the council and give him more visibility. (buzz) And it would enable him to finance—to focus on financial issues (buzz) and get out of the social issues spectrum. And financial issues in this town are a very safe thing. If you’re fiscal responsibility and you’re fiscally conservative and you work hard at your numbers, which he does, that’s a good place to be. (Telephone ringing) And if you avoid social issues-. (Answers telephone).
That is a problem because in the District C area, there’s a number of—it’s a very active area politically and more of it’s got a substantial gay population, which is a politically active group and the prospects of having to deal with them on a long-term basis is a major constituency without the dilution factor having the whole city behind—know to work with, might have—might have—influenced him.
Anyway, it seemed rational to me the more I thought about it, so in April, I started trying to make my mind up and by May 1 had decided and told several people that I was not going to run. I was just too happy doing what I was doing. I didn’t feel like going through another race. It would be an even longer race because we’d have to start right away, and just decided against it and went off to Michigan for a trip and vacation. And sometime during the time I was gone, I changed my mind, and when I came back, I had pretty much decided that I was going to run. I started making my rounds, visiting with people, making clear to them that I intended to run.
At that point, it wasn’t clear who else might get in the race. There was a guy named John Shanahan who had run two years prior in ’79 who had been the guy who’d beaten me into the runoff. Shanahan was a former civic club leader, had something of a name for himself in the southwest part. Lalor had wiped him out in the runoff, and the only place he hadn’t, right in his civic club area, which was just south of Southgate in the Braes Heights area.
Shanahan, however, had a bunch of—just decided he was not going to run. He told me that July 4, right? July 3, July 4, July 5—somewhere in there we had a luncheon at the Weezy’s table which may not be there by the time this tape is—I imagine it’ll always be there, charging high prices and so forth, but for small portions—but anyway, we met at Weezy’s at a fashionable—those of you—it’s a social phenomenon more than a restaurant. So anyway, we met there, and John told me he wasn’t going to run, and told me that he just had—business was too good and so forth. Now, I think also the fact was that he’d gotten divorced during those two years, gone through a bunch of personal things and that it was just not an opportune moment. Also, some indication that he was still in debt from the prior campaign. So again, he was disinclined to run and just agreed to support me, and that turned out to be very helpful, initially, because political wisdom in this town is not very deep and the first question I was asked when I was starting to run is, “Who is that guy that beat you two years ago into the runoff, and what is he going to do?” And the minute I could say, “It was John Shanahan and he’s going to support me,” that was a big plus. It didn’t matter that in my mind, and by our calculations, we could have beaten him if he’d gotten into the race. The fact of the matter is people wanted him out before they felt secure with me. That opened up the initial money for us and we were able to raise about $10,000 off the bat, thanks to that. This was still in July.
I announced—oh, July 28 or something like that, July 21; I don’t have the specific dates, but it was the end of July—and I was the first one to announce. And at that point, it became clear that a number of the people were likely to get into the race, including Joe Pentony, who was a former state representative, had run a series of losing races but still had some potential potent name identification in the district, in the area. His old state legislative district crossed over a good deal of the District C area.
But Pentony did not announce, and for the rest of July and most of August, I was alone in the field. No one else put their name out, and we essentially put an organization together which was pretty complex. One of the things that people said afterwards and they’re still saying now, and this is—we’re doing this tape, what, three months after the election?—was how well organized and how impressive a campaign it was. Many people called it the best-organized city council race they’d ever seen, and I think that may be true. My brother became my campaign manager. It was the same job he had held in the earlier campaign. We lined up a number of people to handle specific positions in terms of issues, of coordinating the different areas of the district, that all of the mailing we did, (buzzing) we were very heavy on mailings and so forth. And by late August, we’d had several fundraisers. We had raised something close to $20,000 and were rolling pretty well.
We relied heavily on the use of computers, for example, used the Rice computer facilities, opened a commercial account of a very careful voter identification, a technique that’s gained in usage in town where you go through prior voting records and try to ascertain who’s most likely to show up. That’s more cost-effective than mailing to every registered voter because if only 30 percent or 40 percent show up, you’re mailing to twice as many people as you need to in order to reach those people who really vote.
(13:00) Later, that strategy proof nearly failed. The reason was this: in estimating how many of those voters on the registered voter list were likely to show up, we used the ’79 general election, and that was a turnout of roughly 36 percent, 33 percent. Well, the turnout for our election turned out to be much higher and in the general election, it hurt us because we didn’t reach nearly as many people as actually turned out to vote. We did not expect the interest to be that high. We—and that accounted for--that was part of the reason that we didn’t show up nearly as well as everybody thought we were going to in the general.
But in the runoff, we took that into account, stepped up the number of mailings, the number of people to whom we mailed, and that pulled us through. I mean, we in some cases tripled the number of people we mailed to in certain precincts just because they were voting a lot heavier than we expected.
So in August, we opened the headquarters. I think it was August 25, and at that point, the rumor started going around that Gottlieb was going to run. Now, Gottlieb, for those of you who don’t know, had been a radio and television personality.
M: Excuse me. [Paused, resumed.]
GG: We continue where we left off—we were just interrupted by Jim Greenwood, who’s the new at-large councilman. Gottlieb had been in radio and television, I guess, since the early ‘50s and then in late ‘60—in ’69, ran for city council and won and won again in ’71. He then ran for mayor in ’73 and came within one percentage point of defeating Fred Hofheinz, who became the mayor. I hope I got these years right—’73, ’75, ’77. That’s right, because Hofheinz served ’73 to ’77. He ran two more times for mayor, and then he went back into television, hosting things like the cerebral palsy telethon and a variety of advertising and hosting a number of banquets and so forth. So he was essentially a 25-year incumbent, or a 20-year incumbent by the time he ran for the council job. Now, as of August 25, the scuttlebutt was that he probably would not run, that he was thinking about it but that he would not. Now, the rumor had been circulated earlier in the summer and again had been denied. Now, one of the things that seems to have happened—I’ve never pieced this together completely, but the best I can tell what might have happened is this—is a man named Martin Perlman who’s very influential with the Greater Houston Builder’s Association. The Greater Houston Builder’s Association has been in the past one of the primary political contributors and political action groups among the construction trade in the City of Houston. Perlman—I never made a connection with him--during the summer of meeting with people, he’s one of the people I just never quite had a meeting with, so he didn’t know me and along the way, he seemed to have gotten a misimpression of who I was and the prospect of having Kathy Whitmire as mayor and a new unknown person as a city council representative may have caused him to urge Gottlieb to get into the race as sort of a counterbalance. Indeed, I think that’s what happened. And so if I had gotten in touch with Perlman at some earlier point, perhaps the Gottlieb candidacy (buzzing) would never have occurred. But I did not and (buzzing) we waited and waited. Pentony was still out there (buzzing) knocking on doors by now. Joe Pentony had no money. I think he totally raised about $8,000 but he was a very hard campaigner who goes door to door, and he was knocking doors. I did not start knocking on doors until after Labor Day, which worried me tremendously. One of the biggest gripes I had with my staff was that they had not gotten me out knocking on doors soon enough, and once I got out knocking on doors, it turned out we didn’t do as many as I had wanted to because there were so many other demands on my time.
LM: How many could you feasibly do?
GG: (16:35) I should have been able to knock on 5,000. I knocked on about half that number; about 2,500. However, some curious things happened. For example, people confused me and Pentony, so they assumed that because I had more advertising and eventually had radio spots and so forth which talked about my door-to-door, they would frequently think that it was me that had been to the door when it was really Joe Pentony. Joe’s wife Carole also did door-to-door for him and frequently people say, “Oh, yes. I met your wife going door to door,” and I had to explain to them that I was not only not married but it was not my wife, it was Dr. Pentony’s wife, who was running.
So anyway, Joe was running quite hard and then at the very last minute, I think it was September—it would be October 4 or something like that, five weeks out from the election, Gottlieb announces that he’s going to run, so you’ve got him in the race. And we didn’t know at the time, but he raised a considerable amount of money. Our total fund expenditures were $80,000. We raised—actually raised $60,000, so we ended the campaign with a $20,000 deficit. Unfortunately, you all missed the fundraiser which wipes out that deficit. It’s going to be held a week from the date of this interview—a week and a day. But he was raising very substantial sums of money early on, but then it had dried up for him for a while because the assumption was that he might not win. The perception got that I was the frontrunner and that it was a fight between Pentony and Gottlieb to come into the runoff with me, and that was the way we sort of saw it.
(18:01) The campaign was interesting. We can talk about it more in terms of what questions you’ve got, but city council campaigns are historically very low-profile and there was very difficult to get any attention at all, but the primary forums were through the civic club meetings, which held candidates forums. There were a few TV things but there were very minimal kinds of exposure. We did pretty well in our fund raising. In fact, the Gottlieb candidacy turned out to be a real in one respect. People like Alan Rudy. Alan is a president of a group of a company called The Columbia Companies, which includes cable television, real estate, the land development and so forth--what I would call part of the progressive business element in the community. Anyway, Alan had already said he would support me and he would give me some money, would help raise money, but he was not extremely active and mostly because he assumed that it was a shoe-in situation. When Gottlieb got into the race, his attitude changed. He no longer assumed it was a shoe-in and he dove in with both hands—or both feet, which ever part of your hand you want to focus on—and really started pushing fundraising. And that turned out to be a real benefit, so while there was a downside to the Gottlieb candidacy, there was also a very positive element to it in that it motivated people.
LM: What group? Is there any particular group that represents your largest contributors?
GG: (19:18) No, not really. I would say the substantial—obviously, the most substantial things come from political action committees, from the law firms, various business enterprises, and I would say that the money tends to split, and I would say we got more of the progressive business money and we did not get as much of the contractor money or what I would call the (inaudible) conservative business money. So there was that kind of split and that was between—I mean, most of the money went either to Gottlieb or went to me. Very little of it went to Pentony. Almost none went to some other—there were three other candidates in the race. Two others, I’m sorry; a guy named Harold Harris who’s a civic club activist of a far south part of the district and a fellow named Peter Elloway who was a libertarian candidate. Neither of those people—maybe two or three or four thousand dollars. I think Harris spent $6000 of his own money, but really marginal candidates. However, they did get enough of the most creative runoff situation.
So we got into the race and we ran it through to the runoff on to the general election, which was November 4, and when the totals came in, it was not as nearly as good as we had hoped. Gottlieb had gotten 39-point-something percent of the vote. I was second with 30.1 percent and Pentony came in with 25 or 24 percent, so we had gotten a spot in the runoff but we came in second place behind a well-known figure who only needed 11 percentage points more to win. We were 20 points down from winning, and a lot of skepticism. I felt really bleak for about a day and a half. We didn’t have any victory celebration that night because we had gotten in the runoff. We were just sort of despondent. (buzzing) A day and a half later, we all sat down and analyzed the race (buzzing) and made some fundamental decisions which I think accounted for our victory (buzzing).
And number one, we decided that we had not mailed to nearly enough people and since ours was a direct contact kind of campaign, we decided that we had to up the direct contact. As it turned out, we were very smart to do that because as it turned out, 6,000 more people voted in the runoff than they did the general election, so if we had kept our numbers the same, we wouldn’t have done it and we wouldn’t have made it. We also upped the mailings in the areas we had done the weakest, which was the southern part of the district. In some cases, we tripled the number of mailings (buzzing) in some of those areas. Some places, we just did saturation mailings. (buzzing) That was the first thing.
(21:38)The second thing, we were able to mobilize a lot of Pentony’s people (buzzing) to come over to me on the threat—if they didn’t love me, they didn’t really much care much for Gottlieb, so one way or the other, I got their support, and I would say that in the end, we got substantially every Pentony voter came over, almost without exception. And they were very helpful. Some of those people who got involved in the campaign put in some yeoman service for me in the last two weeks.
Third, we organized a very detailed card-pushing campaign for Election Day. We had almost every precinct in the district covered on Election Day, on runoff day, which when the runoff total—the difference was 894 votes, I think, between the two of us—I’m sure we turned around at least 1,000 votes; probably more than that on election day itself. People who were persuaded to vote for me who were going to vote for Gottlieb or people who were going to vote in the mayor’s race and then leave the rest of the ballot untouched. So I think that that might have been one of the most crucial factors. Apart from our own direct efforts, the Gay Political Caucus, which was extremely active in the district, had a second huge voter registration drive, so the total number of their voters went up and they pushed very hard, partly because of the Whitmire race, partly because the Lalor race because Lalor at that point looked to be a trouble, and largely because of mine because I looked to be in the most trouble of anybody. I was clearly the underdog in my race.
Gottlieb, on the other hand, ran a very sort of media-oriented thing. He had some radio spots. He made a few appearances. He never seemed to adjust to the differences between a city council race in a district and an at-large city-wide race for the mayorship or the council position, and that was very helpful, too.
In the general election on Election Day, he had had people at every poll or at a lot of the polls pushing cards—people he’d hired, but he didn’t do that on the runoff day and my only thought is that he just assumed he had it in the bag and didn’t need to do it, which was lucky for us. Being underestimated helped. All along the way, being underestimated was a big plus. So anyway, that day of the runoff, I spent some time at three of the precincts, two of them in the Rice area, which were supposedly safe for us in which we got good response.
I then went down to the Braeswood area, which was, in Meyer’s language, supposed to be Gottlieb’s stronghold, and I went to his home precinct, which is 176. At that point, the Lovett School is where 176 was at that time, and started pushing cards, and the response was so positive that I decided to stay the rest of the day. And as things worked out, I got about 39 percent of the vote in his home precinct, so if I turned around 200 votes on my own that day, that was a good part of the victory total.
That evening, in terms of the runoff, everybody who had finished—that they had a poll was asked to stay and get the vote totals as they were read off the machines. By the time you all read this, you’re on punch cards—computer cards--unless they’ve really been fouled up—but back in the ancient days, we had voting machines and the state law required that at the end of the polling day, the back of the machine be opened and the judge read the totals off out loud before he sent them downtown to be counted by the city secretary. So in the process of reading them out loud, our people would get the numbers down and phone them in to us. By about 7:20, we had about 40 or 44 out of 50 precincts reporting and it was clear that by our totals, I had a lead which he could not overcome, given the precincts that were still out, and that I was going to win, although it was going to be a very narrow victory.
(25:14) However, the press didn’t see it that way, and they kept reporting that I was behind, and in fact, several radio stations, I’m told, declared that I had lost and declared Gottlieb the winner. And it wasn’t until 9:30 that night—about an hour and a half or almost two hours after we knew that I had won that Dick Murray declared on television that I had developed a small but nevertheless insurmountable lead.
Now, that’s interesting for a couple of points, but one of the most interesting is that as far as the press was concerned, the last two boxes they got to report were boxes from the Montrose precincts where I swept. And like I said, about an 800 or 900 vote margin, on the case, about 700 votes, and the impression thereafter was that it was Montrose that had won me the election. That was not correct in the sense that if I hadn’t as well as I had in the southern part of the district, there was no way that Montrose could elect me. In other words, the Gay Political Caucus in particular, this is continuing issue as in the terms of some political analysts--they cannot on their own elect a candidate in the district—even in their home district at this point in 1981--1982, because their vote is diluted by a substantially larger vote that is non-gay throughout the district. So the idea that they alone did it was not true. With a weaker candidate, with somebody who had been less well-organized, with a Pentony, it’s quite likely that they would have lost. We came damned close to losing as it was. But from the press point of view, the perception was that since those two Montrose boxes were the last ones to be heard from and they’re the ones that put me over the top, it was the GPC endorsement that did it. It was one critical element out of a number of critical elements.
(26:50) I felt like I had a decent chance when I saw Precinct 525, which is way out in the farther and southwest area, when I got 42 percent of the vote there. Even though I had lost, that was a quadrupling of my vote from the general election and had only gotten 11 percent in that precinct and that made me feel like I had a fighting chance because the strategy was to win big in the north, split the middle, and lose the south, but by relatively small margins. That’s essentially what we ended up doing, but without every element of that strategy working, no one group could put me in. And that says, I think, something interesting about consensus politics in Houston. Even in that district was supposedly where you might see might block power—muscle—than anyplace else, even there, you have to have a consensus approach. I think one reason that the Gay Political Caucus had such success in terms of the candidates that it endorsed in ’81 was that it picked people who were in tune with the city at large, not just on their particular issues but on issues that are affecting the entire city, and I think that’s a large part of the success. They’ve picked good people.
LM: How large is the block that we’re discussing?
GG: (27:55) Nobody knows. I would estimate it’s 20 percent of the vote in District C and if the votes cast totaled 44,000, then you’re looking at somewhere between 8,000 and 9,000 votes.
Now, the number that you’ve got to worry about—the question of how much of a halo effect does the endorsement have, because it does have some substantial impact for a variety of reasons. Number one, for example, there are people who follow the Gay Political Caucus endorsement. There are also people who vote directly against whomever the Caucus endorses, so then you lose as many as you win. Also, though, the more important influences—it isn’t just the raw vote they can muster but the fact that they are willing to work for their candidates, unlike a lot of organizations in town, so that when they back you, you’re going to get organizational support and it wasn’t just their votes that helped. It was the willingness of a lot of very good people in that organization who put in long hours preparing huge mailings. In the last two weeks, we went from scratch: nothing at all to printing out material and mailing out something like 60,000 pieces of literature.
LM: How many volunteers do you have?
GG: Well, I’m a Pete Knight of mailings. We had something like 80 people the office at one time, and that’s a lot of volunteers for a city council race. Most evenings, we averaged at least 25 folks running around, and without that manpower, you can’t mail 60,000 pieces of mail, from designing it to printing it to stamping it and getting it out in two weeks. Actually, less than two weeks; about 10 days. It was a pretty big assignment, especially when it’s all volunteer, which it was.
So I think the organizational support—one thing that people learned—a lot of the business community to learn in this election, is that money by itself cannot win you a city election anymore. Whitmire was outspent two to one, I heard, and she still beat him a substantial margin, largely because she was much better organized. Not only that she was more attuned, but you simply cannot PR your way to a victory in this town anymore, at least not under current circumstances, so it was an object lesson.
LM: What did you see as the crucial issues that you had to get across or that you had to push?
GG: (29:57) Oh, I think that a lot of it was competence. There are people who said, “What does this guy know? Gottlieb’s been around-” especially in the runoff when things clarified, but you know, “Gottlieb’s been around for a long time. He’s had experience. What does this new guy know? How can he be effective? Gottlieb knows where all the bodies are downtown,” so on and so forth. So competence was it.
I think, and of course, competence you have to show by showing in-depth understanding of the issues, so I was pretty well-schooled in the issues, but I think that the theme that won was that the Gottlieb would represent a step backwards towards a council system and a way of doing things that was no longer valid and that I somehow would not represent a step backwards but a step forwards; something in-tune with the change that had taken place in the council structure over the last two years. We’d already had the general election where Whitmire had pretty much trounced the incumbent and was leading everybody, and so one of the arguments you could make was it was inconceivable that you would let somebody—a progressive like Whitmire, and then a throwback like Gottlieb. Roughly, that was the theme of the argument, and I think it played very well for a lot of people. It also helped, and I’m glad we’re not going to do—Dick simply did not know the issues. He did not know--at one debate situation, he did not know how you change the city charter. He didn’t know what the role of referendum was. He was ill-versed in a lot of things; just was not up to date on what was going on. At one point, he advocated the use of model cities programs moneys to redevelop parts of the inner city. Of course, there is no model cities program, per se, anymore. There’s chunks of it show up in community development, but it’s largely dead.
One of the funnier things that happened was that during the general election, we were all on a panel at the Jewish Community Center, which is-
LM: Excuse me; I have to turn the tape.
[end side 1, begin side 2]
GG: So anyway, there was this debate at the Jewish Community Center where we were each asked a question and we all had to answer it and so on and so forth, but at one point, the question was, “What role do you think that civic organizations have in political affairs in Houston?” and Gottlieb tried to use it as a jumping-off place to show his vast experience in public affairs and in his booming voice. He had a very deep, impressive voice, which was a problem in terms of credibility for me because I don’t have a deep, booming voice—but started talking about what he thought, it was fine, the civic club should go downtown and “they really should be willing to state their views forcefully and emphatically, but remember that those men on that council were trying to do a good job and those men didn’t appreciate being told they were not trying to do a good job and the best way to help those men and get those men to cooperate with you was to tell those men what they need to know and then be willing to work with those men to get the job done.”
And I followed immediately, and I said, “Well, first of all, Dick, you’ve got to be careful because there are now women on the council,” and that got a big roar of applause from the women who are very sensitive politically in the crowd and Dick got very upset about that and later on would talk about those persons on council and emphasizing the word “persons.”
(01:18) But it emphasized, I think, in a sort of humorous way the fact that he simply had not gotten tuned into the changes that had taken place. He had dived into the race with really no thought, was not up to date on what was going on and it was relatively easy to show up into a debate. However, that did not negate the fact that he was a very credible candidate because of his name identification. (buzzing) In the end, we both got about 22,000 votes, so (buzzing) I think it’s a good lesson in how your political clout sometimes had nothing to do with your fitness for the job in particular. In terms of qualifications, well, with all due respect, I think that I was better qualified at this point in time for the job. But that had nothing to do with the ability to get the job from the voter’s mind because a lot of people knew Dick Gottlieb’s name, they were comfortable with it and people will tend to go with what they’re comfortable with. I did not represent such a comfortable image for a lot of people, and it played a big role.
LM: In the campaign, you highlighted several important areas that you wanted to work in, and-?
GG: Yes. Oh—I’m still here.
LM: Do you need to-?
GG: No, I’m just sort of listening.
LM: Okay. One of the areas involves city civil service changes.
GG: Uh-hunh. (affirmative)
LM: Can you tell me a little bit about that? What would you like to see done in the area?
GG: I would like—what I want to see done and what I think is pretty much consonant with the mayor’s program—is to remove the upper levels of city employment; what I would call policy-making position--from the civil service protections.
LM: Now, the city departments are already awful for civil service.
GG: (02:29) No. No, actually, the upper levels, except the department heads, are protected.
LM: Right. I’m saying the city department heads, though, are--that part of it.
GG: Oh, city departments, yeah. But that’s a very small fraction of the total and what it makes difficult for a department head to be held accountable if he or she cannot turn around and essentially operate--exercise some control over subordinates--especially the immediate subordinates. I can’t conceive of a corporation where a president would not be allowed to hire and fire people at the upper echelons of the management structure so that he could get some conformity with his policies.
The problem is even more severe in the police department; however, that’s a separate issue because police civil service protection is under 1269M, which is a state law. However, many of the same reasons that apply to getting rid of civil service in the upper levels also apply to the police department.
Now, for the lower levels of public service, that’s a different issue and I don’t seem to think that the removal of civil service at that point is critical. What you need there are employee incentives.
LM: Critics might point out, however, that—or they have pointed out already—that this would be a return to political patronage.
GG: It’s a possibility, but quite honestly, I will be willing to take the gamble. I recognize that ploy but I’m willing to take the gamble because I think that what you’ve got instead is a government that is essentially inert. It is impossible—nearly impossible—unless for some reason an entire department has accepted the ethic of progress to get anything changed, to get responsiveness. If you do, it’s because you exert great amount of pressure on a particular specific critical point.
Case in—an example is today, a very small thing; there’s a deed restriction problem in my district and the lawyer in the legal department who is responsible for it has simply refused to do anything. Why? Because historically, there’s not been a lot of energy expended by the legal department on deed restrictions. Why? Because it’s just in their policy. Council has griped about that for years, but the department just has not responded to it. It took me a half an hour—a 20-minute phone call with the attorney to persuade him that maybe he should take some action. That’s a ridiculous system. It’s a ridiculous waste of my time and it’s certainly not the way to operate in a city which is growing as fast as ours which doesn’t have zoning deed restriction enforcement becomes a key element of neighborhood preservation. And so the department—the legal department should be sensitive to that and be doing something more than it is on the enforcement of deed restrictions.
(05:26) Just a small example, but I guess that I am willing, and especially after having been here for just three or four weeks—that I think it’s even more necessary than I did during the campaign—that those kinds of changes take place. The politicization issue is somewhat nullified by the fact that the council has some say over the department head appointments and it may be that they need to have a second level of approval over a secondary if not tertiary appointments. It’s a possibility.
(05:56) Now, the firing, of course, every executive’s always had the right to fire people without getting approval of whoever--the council. That’s been a standard thing. You may have to get approval by the council to be a Public Works Department chairman or head, but you don’t need the council’s approval to fire that person.
I just think that as a management tool, you’ve got to run the political risk and I’m willing to do that because I think that the current situation is that we’ve gotten no responses. There’s no accountability. That game can be played endlessly in this town. The council can say, “Well, it’s not our fault. It’s the mayor’s fault.” And the mayor can say, “Well, it’s not my fault. It’s my department head’s fault.” The department head could say, “Well, you can’t blame me. I can’t do anything. I can’t control my subordinates,” and it goes round and around and around. Somehow, you have to break that circle so that the council can hold the mayor accountable and the mayor can hold the department heads accountable and the public could hold everybody through the council and the mayor to account, and that’s got to be done. It’s the only way. The only way you get these people to move is if they said if they feel they’re going to pay a price if they don’t. And right now, there’s no sense on the part of the departments that they’re going to pay any price for sluggardly conduct or sluggardly work.
Now, there are exceptions to that. There are certain departments that don’t have—for one reason or another, don’t think that way but they’re few and far between. The classic example is the police department. The police department undercuts its only chief, consistently goes around behind the chief’s back--this is already happened to me twice in the three weeks I’ve been here—and resists all forms of meaningful change.
Now, if we were getting good police protection out of this, if people felt safe and criminals were being caught and find those rates were relatively low, I don’t think I would complain. Any organizational structure that gets the job done—if you’re on the Titanic, anything to plug the leak. The point is, though, that the department is not doing a good job, that we are not protecting our citizens, that crime is the biggest fear on the average citizen’s mind, that incorporations which are trying to decide whether to move here or whether to expand their operations here—it’s our inability to consider--to control crime along with traffic—that are leading reasons not to relocate to here or to expand operations here. It’s starting to cost us, and I’m perfectly willing to let the department do anything it wants to as long as it can do its primary job. But the point is it’s got no morale; morale’s been destroyed. It’s an ineffective crime fighting force. We cannot attract recruits in the numbers we need, and contrary to what some of the officers say, it’s not money because we pay much as anybody in the nation. We increase our salary compensation—this is ’82—in the last couple of years, we’ve been increasing our compensation package more rapidly than any city in the country except Detroit, and Detroit just went into a pay freeze, so we’re now number one. (08:36) So to my mind, there’s a difficult—a terrible managerial problem. A terrible problem in the department that stems from a lack of management and a lack of accountability. The department essentially will not—does not want to be accountable to the major, does not want to be accountable to council, does not want to have to answer to anybody, and essentially adopt the position they need not be; that they somehow are a privileged elite who are out there to enforce the law without being held to account by anybody, and to me, that’s absolutely empathetically to any kind of constitutional relationship in this country between those who hold military deadly force and those who are elected to run the government. That’s the fundamental issue and that’s where the bone crunch is going to come, because the department’s going to fight it to the death. Certain elements of the department will, and the quick question for the mayor and the council is “Can we build an alliance of the mayor, council, and the business community to lobby for a change in the police department and can the major of business community council build an alliance to change the civil service as far as the other departments are concerned?
I don’t think the conflict would be nearly as strong in other departments as it will be in the police department and that’s largely because the police department has more political activism in it than the average city department. You’ll just see a lot more—they’re going to go up and lobby on their own again against that repeal. But just in the space of three weeks here, I’ve become ever more convinced that that is absolutely necessary.
(09:50) There’s a story that when John Kennedy had won the election and was sitting around the White House, I guess, after he’d won, and people were asking him, “Well, now that you’ve been on the job for a while, what surprises you most about being president?” He said, “Well, what surprises me most is that things are really as bad as I said they were,” and that’s sort of the situation that I find myself in.
Some of the things that spoke about in the campaign--and which I gently held back on because I didn’t want to overstate the case—I feel even more strongly about now than I did when I was running. The police department, civil service, the need for managerial reform. Not just a reshuffling of organizational charts, which I am always suspicious of, but some real fundamental changes in attitude on the part of the employees. Some of them are going to have to be removed. There’s a fair percentage. In the police department, it comes down to certain names are repeated and repeated and repeated as obstructions and are repeated by every faction, both within the ranking department-
LM: These are ranking officers?
GG: (10:45) These are ranking officers. At this stage of the game, of course, we’re awaiting John Bales as the acting chief and the question is whether or not he will be appointed permanent chief--permanent as anybody’s been in the last five years. I don’t know, but I would not want the job of chief in this department given the lack of authority the chief has and the amount of responsibility that he’s charged with. I really think it’s going to be very difficult to find anybody else who wants the bloody job, at least right now.
LM: Prior to the state’s civil service--of course, the police were on city’s civil service—and there was this great flexibility to appoint and it ended in chaos—that way, also.
GG: Well, yeah, but again, no system is permanent. I’m not saying there’s 50 years from now or 40 years from now that it might not make sense to go back to it, but I’m saying that right now, clearly, it’s not the answer. I’m not a believer that anything that we construct by way of the organizational charts or practices or civil service practices.
Civil service made a whole lot of sense when Garfield got shot. The idea that we’ll protect our public employees from the patronage game and we’ll root out the Tammany Hall syndrome. That was all very valid back in 1880. But these days, I’m not sure that that’s necessarily true in all cases.
Oftentimes, civil service protection where the tradeoff for financial---you know, you didn’t get a whole lot of money but you got a job for life. I’m not sure that now we extend that principle, we give a lot of people jobs for life and we give them fairly decent salaries. People in the upper levels of this administration aren’t being paid private sector money, but they’re getting fairly decent money and it’s oftentimes far in excess of what the performance is and it’s just not justified. So I’m not saying that I’m looking for a permanent solution. I don’t believe there is one. But for this day and time, I think that the civil service thing is not working. There’s something wrong.
LM: Approximately how many city employees do you project this would affect?
GG: No telling because it depends on what—that’s part of the process, would be defining who is a policy-making employee and whether you take that by job level or job description, I don’t know. I know what I would like to see done, but that’s not—I wouldn’t go by job description. But that may prove too difficult and it may prove politically unacceptable to enough people that we’ll have to go, say, job-level down to a certain level will not be civil service in Houston. That’s one thing we have to wait on.
(13:04) Among the council members, it’s kind of like, “Yeah, well, that’s an interesting issue,” but I don’t get the impression that they all want to get deeply involved in it, just the same way that the police department issue—everybody shies away from it. Everybody says it’s a problem but nobody really much wants to grapple with it.
GG: And they should be leery because it’s eaten three or four mayors alive. Hofheinz did not do it. McConn did not do it. Welsh never did it. Welsh essentially survived by letting his police chief do what he wanted and Hofheinz tried to change that situation and ended up with Carol Lynn and then Harry Caldwell, really nothing changed. And McConn had a—a guess a detente of sorts with the department, but nobody has ever really gone in there in and grappled with that problem out of the last three mayors, and if this mayor chooses to do so, she’s going to find herself in her biggest political fight, I would guess, just because that’s why everybody else shied away from it.
LM: You said you had-.
GG: Yeah, hang on a second. Why don’t you stop a second. I’m going to check and see if-.
LM: All right.