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Helena Brown Says No to HIV Prevention, Yes to a New Nissan

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Helena Brown

Most weeks, Houston City Council member Helena Brown votes against a bunch of stuff at the council meeting, then releases a little video listing what she voted against, sometimes with brief explanations. They are usually boring. But the video Brown’s office sent out today is awesome.

The four-minute video takes place inside Mossy Nissan, a car dealership in Brown’s district. A cool, newsy graphic introduces “Student/Intern Reporter Claudia Miranda,” a petite woman standing before the hindquarters of a maroon SUV, the thumb of her non-microphone hand tucked nervously into her fist.

“Hi, I’m Claudia Miranda,” she says, “here with council member Helena Brown and David Hruska, General Manager of Mossy Nissan.”

She then hands the microphone to… Mr. Hruska.

“Hi, I’m David Hruska and we welcome you to Mossy Nissan,” he says, gently but eagerly, like a small-town pastor. He congratulates Brown on having recently been named one of Houston’s Fifty Most Influential Women just as what sounds like Christmas chimes begins playing in the background. But it’s actually the opening strains of the Phil Collins 1989 humanitarian smash hit, “Another Day in Paradise.”

Hruska invites you to participate in “one of the greatest family stories in town” and “be part of who we are” by buying a car from him.

The picture fades and then CM Brown appears for the first time, one minute and eight seconds into her own video, before a white coupe. She reports that of the 40 items on the City Council’s most recent agenda, she voted no to seven. “That’s 18 percent,” she says.

Then she fades out again… and reappears in front of the same car.

“First item’s number twelve, $7.1 million for so-called HIV-prevention activities,” she says cannily. “Number 14, $1.8 million for HIV surveillance activities—what are we doing as a city, uh, getting involved in surveilling medical situations or, uh, HIV, uh, type activities—what’s, what is all that about?”

And airline food—am I right?

Brown evaporates again and reappears in front of a different Nissan (weird that she didn’t point out the new fierce new front-end styling of the 2013 models) to highlight her votes for juvenile delinquency and against childcare. Then she screws her mouth to the side, disappears, and reappears inside a car on the dealership floor.

“Item number 17 is $3.5 million to assist 7,800 individuals who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. And, of course, this is always better handled by the private sector, and they do such a better job at addressing these homeless needs.”

Because the profit margin on housing the homeless is just incredible. It’s the fountain soda of social services.

But CM Brown doesn’t get really Churchillian until she explains how the city’s decision to maintain current energy rates will actually cost Houstonians more.

“What this ends up doing is passing on, uh, additional costs to the consumer, because, the, whatever costs the Centerpoint is incurring currently that cannot be covered, because the, the maintenance of current rates, uh, they’ll end up having to pay down the road, in addition to additional costs that they will have to incur in this dealing with this situation of, ah, debating, arguing, and defending, ah, their expenses having to be carried on in their, uh, updating their rates to the consumers.”

In other words (or, in words), the city should do what businesses want because the city’s just going to end up paying for the business’s legal bills after they win.

“So, in the long run,” CM Brown concludes, “I don’t think this is going to benefit the citizens. But it did pass, so the rates will be maintained until further notice.”

Ah, influence.

Get the full scoop on Helena Brown’s bizarre first year in office by reading the Observer’s December feature, “Helena Handbasket.”

Emily DePrang joined The Texas Observer in 2011 as a staff writer covering criminal justice and public health. Before that, she was nonfiction editor of the Sonora Review. Before that, she was a waitress. She's also appeared in The Atlantic,, and VICE. She holds an MFA in Nonfiction from the University of Arizona and has won some things, including the Public Service Award from the Society of Professional Journalists (2012), the National Health Journalism Fellowship from USC Annenberg (2013), and a nomination for a National Magazine Award in Reporting (2014). She still sometimes thinks about waitressing.

  • Nicholas D.

    Helena Brown isn’t saying no to HIV-prevention. She’s just saying no to the public funding of HIV-prevention. Good for her. HIV is a private problem that deserves private attention. Finally, someone who actually looks out for the interests of the tax payer. I’m glad Brown sees that it’s not the taxpayer’s responsibility to house anybody. Private individuals and private entities fund private charities who minister to the private needs of the homeless. In fact, so many homeless refuse the services of these organizations because they don’t want to be held accountable for their conduct or choices. Finally, Brown is smart enough to realize that government regulations on private business only hurt the public. Houston is among the nation’s strongest economies because we have a business-friendly climate, which benefits everyone – including the poor. Even though this video is quite cheesily produced, the info it communicates is quite refreshing to me as a hard-working taxpayer.