Heard made much of his law enforcement career, playing on the fears of crime-weary Houstonians. His ads prominently mentioned his three terms as county sheriff, three years as Houston police chief, his 15 years as assistant director of the Texas Department of Corrections and his service on panels such as the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, Texas Organized Crime Prevention Council, Assembly of American Correctional Association and International Association of Chiefs of Police. “A big man for a big job,” his ads read. Whitmire, a relative newcomer to political life, played up her four years as the city’s finandial manager and her background in accounting and business. Houston is big business and needs a businesslike manager, was the message her ads delivered. The attacks? Heard’s ads cited Whitmire’s inexperience in law enforcement. “If you’re frightened about crime,” said one frequent ad, “you’d better be frightened about Kathy.” \(Notice the use of the familiar first name there. Mayor Jack could deal with the police department, it seemed to ‘say. What about a Whitmire countered with ads arguing, “Houston can’t afford a one-dimensional mayor,” pointing out that Heard lacked experience outside the field of law enforcement. THE CLOSER it got to runoff day, the weirder, and dirtier, the campaign got. Growth, crime, mass transit the real issues were eclipsed by a couple of offthe wall questions: 1. Which candidate was most willing to meet in a public debate? and 2. Which candidate was the most moral? Right after the general election, Whitmire had challenged Heard to meet her in a televised debate. Heard agreed, and then spent the next couple of weeks laying low, trying to avoid debating his opponent, all the time saying he’d be more than happy to oblige. “Jack Heard, come out and fight like a man,” urged one of Whitmire’s newspaper ads. A few days before the runoff, it appeared the debate would never materialize. Then, a tape surfaced of Heard’s appearance before a closed meeting of a Houston police officers’ group. During the gathering, a question was asked about the debate. Heard admitted avoiding a public forum with Whitmire, saying he “had nothing to gain and everything to lose.” When a Houston Chronicle reporter called Heard to check on the quote, the 12 DECEMBER 4, 1981 sheriff allowed as how he must’ve misspoken himself; he had no recollection of saying such a thing, Heard said. Later the same night, he announced he was ready at last to debate. The second question revolved around Whitmire’s endorsement by the Houston Gay Political Caucus. Although she had been only one of several GPC-backed candidates in the general and runoff elections, Whitmire alone was the target of a vicious smear campaign. In some of his speeches, Heard alluded to what he described as Whitmire’s “different lifestyle,” and talked of “morality at City Hall.” But things did not stop there. The weekend before the runoff, a four-page tabloid was distributed in parts of Houston, courtesy of the Young Conservatives of Texas, a group that had split from the Young Americans for Freedom because its members felt YAF was too liberal. Under headlines such as “Kathy `pleased’ at ‘gay’ backing” and “Homos finding ‘gay mecca’ in Houston,” the paper carried a variety of hysterical anti-gay, anti-Whitmire stories. And still more. The day before the runoff, some 100,000 Houstonians opened their mail to fmd a Mailgram attacking Whitmire. Among other things, it alleged that “many” San Francisco homosexuals had organized her campaign and that Whitmire had agreed to seek the mandatory teaching of homosexuality in public schools starting in kindergarten. Of course, it did not mention that Houston mayors have absolutely no say over public school curriculum. The attack was signed by something called Houston Concerned Citizens. The day the Mailgram appeared, Houston attorney Walter Pink filed papers to designate Houston Concerned Citizens as a political action committee. Pink refused to disclose any information about the group, but said he represented an individual who had spent $203,000 to send the Mailgrams. Early the next day, election day, a Chronicle reporter and photographer went to the River Oaks home of a 38 year-old real estate investor, William C. Morris III, to ask him about reports he was associated with Houston Concerned Citizens. As they stood on the front porch, a man pointed a shotgun through a window at them and said, “You want a story, I’ll give you a story. Don’t leave.” As reporter Paul Reyes and photographer Buster Dean retreated, the man fired two shots in the air. Morris later was identified by Macy, one of the losing candidates in the general election ; as the man who had offered to take care of his campaign debt in return for an endorsement of Heard. Heard, by the way, disavowed all knowledge of either the tabloid or the Mailgram. Whew! Well, that brings us up to the runoff, where, as we’ve said, Whitmire emerged the victor. Statistic time. More than 90 percent of the blacks who went to the polls voted for Whitmire, as did about 60 percent of the Hispanics. A little more than half of the blue-collar vote went to her. Heard did a little better among whites, pulling roughly 55 percent of that vote not even near what he needed to overcome Whitmire’s lead. Voter turnout in both elections was a record high almost 40 percent of the registered voters went to the polls both times. The final count on expenditures isn’t in yet, but Heard appears to have spent well in excess of $1.5 million in his campaign, compared to Whitmire’s thrifty budget of about $650,000. So, Heard now goes back to fulltime sheriffin’, at least until 1984, when his term expires. ,He says he’s undecided whether to seek reelection to a fourth term as sheriff or to run again for mayor in 1983. Either way, he may find the going rough. Although the mayor’s race was non-partisan, Heard, a conservative Democrat, played a hot and heavy game of footsies with Houston Republicans in his runoff campaign. In doing that, he may have alienated the folks whose support he needs in the partisan sheriff’s race. And Whitmire . . . who is this woman who soon will become Houston’s mayor? She’s a native Houstonian. She’s widowed and lives alone. She’s energetic, low-key and efficient. She’s smart and serious. She seldom laughs or smiles in public. She is articulate and quick to fashion solutions to problems she perceives. She was Houston’s first woman elected city official at 31, and will be Houston’s first woman mayor at 35. Finally, she means business. The day after her victory, she announced she would seek the deannexation of Clear Lake City, an area annexed by Houston in 1977 over the strong objections of its residents. Although the city charter forbids the deannexation of areas in which the city has spent bond funds for improvements, Whitmire points out it also requires the city to maintain a certain level of services. The level, she maintains, is not being met. That, folks, was the city election, 1981, in Houston. Still big and growing. Just maybe not as wild now.
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