HOUSTON -- Inside her loft on Post Oak Boulevard, Dene Hofheinz keeps a home full of memories that’s a sort of museum of Houston history and celebrity.
Alongside photographs of her standing next to Frank Sinatra hittng the town in Houston is a picture of her with Andy Williams after he sang at The Astrodome. On another wall hangs an autographed drawing of Muhammed Ali.
But the most conspicuous face among the framed pictures covering almost every inch of wall space is a chubby, bespectacled man who was once arguably the most powerful man in Houston.
Her daddy, Roy Hofheinz, was the former mayor and Harris County judge credited with building The Astrodome.
“And Billy Graham nicknamed The Astrodome the Eighth Wonder of the World,” she said.
So it’s no wonder Dene Hofheinz has relentlessly lobbied county leaders to save the Harris County Domed Stadium. And it’s no wonder she’s appeared at a news conference unveiling a committee of prominent Houstonians raising money to save the dome.
“We make history, we don’t break history,” she said. “I just feel like people are too proud, too proud of what we’ve accomplished.”
Harris County political leaders have announced the formation of a political action committee backing the bond referendum that would save The Astrodome. The $217-million proposal going before voters in November would convert the dome into what they’re calling a “multi-purpose special event center” that could host anything from conventions to concerts to sports attractions.
The plan produced by county officials came after more than a decade of debate about the future of The Astrodome, which now sits dormant and dirty next to Reliant Stadium. And although they haven’t openly advocated tearing down the dome, the leadership of the Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the main tenants of Reliant Stadium, have waged an escalating campaign to pressure county elected officials into taking some sort of action.
Now, with less than eight weeks before Election Day, “The New Dome PAC” will try to raise enough money to bankroll a media campaign lobbying voters to support the bond referendum.
“Our goal, I think, is to get 200 to 250-thousand dollars so we can really make an impact, in that neighborhood,” said Jon Lindsay, a former Harris County judge and former state senator who’s helping with the fundraising effort. “Now, it’s going to be tough.”
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and Commissioner El Franco Lee, appearing at the news launching conference unveiling the PAC, both publicly handed over $5000 checks. But raising money from other political donors won’t be so easy.
They’re launching their late effort during an especially competitive political season. Traditional donors have already been tapped not only by candidates for mayor and city council running this year, but also by candidates for statewide offices like governor and lieutenant governor running primaries early next year.
No organized opposition to the bond referendum has emerged yet, but polling conducted in past years for KHOU 11 News and KUHF Houston Public Radio has indicated the public is split. One curious pattern: Younger voters, who are less likely to have seen an event at The Astrodome, are generally less likely to support spending money to keep it standing.
Organizers of the PAC say they’ll put a special focus on winning support from voters inside Houston’s city limits, who will probably turn out in larger numbers because of the mayoral election.
“It’s a little late,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU political analyst. “However, if the supporters of the referendum are organized, spend a lot of money and there is no organized and vocal opposition, I don’t see this having great difficulty in passing.”