HOUSTON -- Annise Parker, who narrowly won her last election, is apparently on the brink of attracting her first serious opposition since she was elected Houston’s mayor.
Benjamin Hall III, a wealthy attorney who seriously considered running in 2009, is assembling an election committee and says he plans to make a formal announcement within the next two weeks. Although he stopped just short of declaring himself a candidate in an interview with KHOU 11 News, he spoke as though he’s already in the race.
“I don’t think that we’re running against an incumbent mayor,” Hall said. “What we’re running against are ideas and issues that the electorate should consider.”
Hall, who served as city attorney under former mayor Bob Lanier, bowed out of the running in 2009 as part of an effort to rally African-American voters behind a single black candidate. Gene Locke, who stayed in the race, lost to Parker.
But Parker won re-election in 2011 by a razor-thin plurality, carrying only 50.4 percent of the vote and narrowly avoiding a runoff against token opposition from virtually unknown candidates with almost no campaign funds.
“Against marginal candidates, that kind of performance suggests that perhaps some alternative views and ideas should be advanced out of the mayor’s office,” Hall said.
Parker, who wouldn’t comment for this story, recently celebrated the easy passage of a bond package and a referendum on Metro finances. A poll conducted for KHOU and KUHF Radio last month indicated 57 percent of surveyed voters approved of her performance in office, while 30 percent disapproved and 12 percent were undecided.
“Right now, I think the mayor’s in a very strong position,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU political analyst who conducted the poll. “Her position gets stronger as we go forward, as the economy improves and she’s able to spend money on new projects that she wasn’t able to do in the first four years.”
Hall’s potential candidacy has been a subject of speculation among political insiders for years. He’s one of a number of candidates who Lanier and other powerful political players pressured to bail out of the 2009 race in an attempt to clear the field for Locke. The tactic failed, making Parker the first mayoral candidate in memory to win election without the support of the traditional downtown political establishment.
Hall avoided answering questions about his priorities as a candidate, deferring specific questions until the announcement he’s planning within “10 to 14 days.”
“We’re going to roll that out, in fact, when I make my announcement,” he said. “We do have it, but we want to wait and roll it out when we do have the announcement with the formal election committee.”
The prospect of Parker facing serious opposition raises a number of possibilities, especially if other candidates jump into the race and force the election into a runoff. Stein suggested Hall may hope to forge a coalition between African-Americans lining up behind a black candidate and white Republicans opposing Parker, a possibility Hall may have eluded to in his interview with KHOU 11 News.
“I think that there is an opportunity to really shift the way we think about Houston,” Hall said. “So I would welcome any additional candidates, any credible candidates, to get into this race.”
Nonetheless, Stein believes any opponent would find it difficult to unseat the incumbent mayor.
“Of course, the mayor can be defeated,” Stein said. “If a crisis occurs and she doesn’t respond to it or (if there’s) a major scandal. But the bottom line is I don’t think the mayor’s going to be defeated by anyone.”