Members of a broad-based coalition appeared at city council in support of single member districts. Virtually every spokesperson for the groups in the coalition vowed to defeat the
city's 9-5 plan at the polls on August 11 - and then to get 20,000 signatures to force another charter change referendum on a more representative system of city government.
in favor of single-member districts. The
city's attorneys ask why the plaintiffs
went to court to seek change instead of
gathering signatures to call a vote on a
proposal of their own.
That route was tried, spearheaded by
the League of Women Voters, in 1973—
just before the first suit was filed. But the
requirement then was for 50,000 signatures. And the issue, which is difficult to
explain quickly in door-to-door canvasing,
had received little publicity.
"It's not like going up to somebody on
the street and asking, 'Hey, how'd you
like to have your taxes lowered,' " Greene
said. That is an allusion to the success of
tax reform groups in getting a tax limitation proposal on the ballot.
Even though Justice later knocked it
off, most of the tax reformers appear to
be staying with the coalition efforts. Their
support, along with that of Alief and
Gear Lake City residents (most of whom
never wanted to be part of Houston in
the first place and certainly want better
representation on council if they have to
be), could give the coalition the margin of
victory. It is not often blacks, Mexican
Americans and gays are joined in political
battle by any part of the white, middle-
class, suburban electorate.
It is one of the ironies of this complicated condition of the body politic, however, that the downtown establishment is
now able to steal the basic arguments of
single-member proponents. This has not
been lost on city council, which sent its
lone black member, Robinson, to make
an appearance in a debate on the issue on
KUHT-TV, Channel 8, July 15. Robinson
was able to espouse the virtues of single-
member districts, since the nine-five plan
does have some such districts.
The downtown establishment can be
expected to fall in line behind nine-five,
since the Justice Department has made it
clear zero-eight simply won't cut the mustard. The single-member coalition must
explain to voters that nine-five isn't good
enough while all this is going on. That's
no mean task, considering most Houstonians don't even know what a single-
member district is.
But the coalition's hopes have been
bouyed by the fact that there will be only
one issue on the ballot August 11. Simplicity may be the saving factor.
Another irony is that a defeat of the
council plan could be of help to the incumbents, since it will delay the next general election. Justice has said it will not
permit any other elections until the
council make-up is changed. Richmond,
Virginia went five years without a general
election recently during a similar brouhaha.
Although McConn almost daily bemoans the prospect of having to push the
election ahead, some say he is crying
crocodile tears. Some single-member advocates say privately that McConn wants
the election delayed to get as much dis
tance as possible from the scandal surrounding former city purchasing agent
Jack Key. This would be especially helpful if McConn himself happens to be indicted in connection with Key sending
him money in Las Vegas to cover gambling debts.
If one thing is clear from the single-
member district debate, it is that many, if
not all, the present city councilmen will
be in serious trouble whenever the next
election is held. The inevitable change in
the election system will spell defeat for
some. Others, such as McConn, will suffer
the wrath of the coalition.
McConn didn't exactly have the unanimous support of minorities in 1977, but
without the help he did get, he couldn't
have won. And many of the coalition's
groups have no doubt already told McConn
to kiss their support goodbye.
Red Zenger is a pen name for a Houston
1728 Bissonnet • Houston 77005 • 713 527-8522
Fine feminist books and magazines including
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JULY/ AUGUST 1979