Been There, Done That
Discussing the “one who would be mayor” with the ones who once were mayor
by Ernie Manouse
With the race for mayor on everyone’s mind in Space City, Houstonians are making decisions and voting for candidates that they hope will make a difference. Looking back at past mayoral terms, Ernie Manouse got a chance to speak with former Mr. Mayors about their terms and what leading the Bayou City was like. In a joint venture with Channel 8’s “the connection” and HoustonPBS, we bring you a bit of wisdom from three men who used to run our city.
In office 1992-1997
EM: What does it take to be a good mayor?
BL: I think you need to have a vision of where you want to take the city. You need to be a good leader. You need to have a program that earns and gains the trust of all our people, whatever political party, whatever ethnic group – and then the skill set to carry it out. You need to have articulated that vision in the campaign, and then you need a crackerjack team to help you to carry it out. And I think if you do, it can be such a rewarding experience.
EM: What makes someone right to be mayor?
BL: I think a person needs to have integrity. I think he needs to have vision – look out and see the future. I think he needs to look at things from other people’s viewpoint and to understand how the problem looks to somebody living here in River Oaks, at the same time understand how it looks from Navigation or Jensen or the Third Ward. To understand the desires of and be able to put yourself in the shoes of other people and see the city from their vantage point, see what their real true concerns are. To be able to listen to them, not just in a mechanical sense, but almost listen to their soul and see what is it they’re really after.
EM: Any advice for our next mayor?
BL: State your vision. Serve with integrity. Bring a very competent staff of people around you because you’ll be no better than your staff. Decide what’s important to you, and go for it. Recognize that we are a diverse city and capitalize on that. Keep up this city’s infrastructure. Tend to this city’s finances. Tend to this city’s administration. Tend to the 20-odd thousand people that work for it.
In office 1974-1977
EM: What advice would you give today’s mayoral candidates?
FH: I’ll tell you what I tell everybody that comes by to see me that wants to run for office: That they have no idea at this point in their life what they’re getting into because it is an all-consuming, completely consuming job for as long as they want to perform it. It means that you’ll be doing virtually nothing but being mayor. You know, your family will suffer. Your private life will suffer tremendously. You’ll have no private life because everywhere you go, everyone will know who you are. And they better make up their mind if they want to be mayor of Houston, if they are willing to give up all that. It’s a totally consuming occupation.
EM: What do you think the candidates need to be watching for when they campaign for this office?
FH: Anyone who?s elected mayor can’t just do it by standing up and saying, “I want to be.” It’s not an “I want to be.” It’s not an “?I – I – I” thing. It’s a”?we,” and you don’t get elected mayor of Houston unless you’re part of a movement that gets you there. There has to be reasons for people to vote for you. It’s not a personality contest. And everybody that I’ve advised about running for mayor, and there’ve been several in the last few years, I always advise, don’t do it unless you see that wave out there. You see what it is that the community wants, what the vision of the community is. Not your vision, but the community’s vision, and you get out there and follow that wave to the goal. If you just stand up and say, “I want to be mayor because my face is pretty,” you’re not gonna have much luck.
In office 1964-1973
EM: What does it take to be a good mayor?
LW: I think they have to have a recognition that you don’t have all the answers. You have to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are. What I’m saying is, surround me with people who know what they’re doing and know how to do it well. When I say the biggest job the mayor has is to pick up the garbage, that’s something that’s done every week, twice for everybody in Houston. And so many things that are relatively important fade into insignificance if the fifth day comes and no garbage has been picked up. It puts it in perspective. The basic job of the city government is to perform for the citizens things that they cannot do for themselves, or they cannot do it economically.
EM: What are the qualifications you look for in a candidate?
LW: No. 1: integrity. And I would put intelligence probably second or third. But integrity, character, intelligence, and I like for them to have some kind of knowledge of what the job is about. I don’t think you can choose the chairman of the board of the biggest bank in the United States and put him in the mayor’s office and know you’ve got a guaranteed success. The objective of business is to make a profit. No city can make a profit. The object of a city is to render service, and it’s always been that way.
EM: When voters go to the polls, what do you think they are looking for?
LW: Many times they’re just looking for change. They don’t like what they have, and they think anything will be an improvement. Many times they’re looking for a way to get rid of the incumbent, and sometimes they are just tired of the status quo. The issue may be a water rate, it may be a tax rate, or it may be a bump in a road. And more people vote when there’s a bump in the road, and I think they’ll have plenty of reason to vote this year. We have plenty of bumps in the road.