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Houston Breakthrough, Vol. 2, No. 9, October 1977
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Houston Breakthrough, Vol. 2, No. 9, October 1977 - Page 2. October 1977. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library. Web. May 10, 2021. https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/2779/show/2764.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

(October 1977). Houston Breakthrough, Vol. 2, No. 9, October 1977 - Page 2. Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. Retrieved from https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/2779/show/2764

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

Houston Breakthrough, Vol. 2, No. 9, October 1977 - Page 2, October 1977, Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed May 10, 2021, https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/2779/show/2764.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

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Title Houston Breakthrough, Vol. 2, No. 9, October 1977
Publisher Breakthrough Publishing Co.
Date October 1977
Subject.Topical (LCSH)
  • Women
  • Periodicals
  • Feminism--United States--Periodicals
  • Newsletters
Subject.Geographic (TGN)
  • Houston, Texas
Genre (AAT)
  • periodicals
Language English
Type (DCMI)
  • Text
  • Image
Original Item Location HQ1101 .B74
Original Item URL http://library.uh.edu/record=b2332724~S11
Digital Collection Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters
Digital Collection URL http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Repository URL http://info.lib.uh.edu/about/campus-libraries-collections/special-collections
Use and Reproduction Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by the content creator, author, artist or other entity, and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the copyright owner. For more information please see UH Digital Library Fair Use policy on the UH Digital Library About page.
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Transcript HOUSTON 500sq.mi NEW YORK 320sq.mi. PAT BOHAN Women & Minorities At Large By Chandler Davis Discriminatory elections in the nation's largest city council district When the votes for city council are tallied next month, seven of the eight winners will probably be WAS Ms - White Anglo-Saxon Males - if the past is any guide. From 1955, when the present method for electing council went into effect, through 1975, eight elective positions have been filled every two years, for a total of 88. In 85 of the cases, they were filled by WASMs. In the three other races they were filled by incumbent Judson Robinson, Jr., a wealthy black businessman. During this period, there were more than30 minority candidacies. Most of the challengers seemed to be as well-qualified as the white incumbents and enjoyed strong support in the ethnic precincts. Nonetheless, with the exception of Robinson, none succeeded in getting more than 40% of the vote city-wide. The reason for WASM predominance is obvious. A combination of discriminatory electoral devices make it very difficult for other types of candidates to win, despite the fact that Houston's minority population is now over 40%. These are the place voting system, the -runoff requirement, and the at-large device. The small size of the council is also a culprit. Students of electoral behavior are virtually unanimous in their opinion that these factors dilute the minority vote in cities where racial polarization exists. In Houston they probably exclude women as well. This is especially true for feminists, who have about the same chance in a council race as a candidate representing the Symbionese Liberation Army, at least if their feminism is well-known. All eight councilmen (I use the term advisedly) are elected city- wide. Of course, five must reside in given districts, but they are still elected at large. In other words, there is only one district from which the councilmen are elected. It is the largest of its kind in the nation. Had J ordan not benefited from a court-ordered redistricting scheme, she might very well be quietly practicing law today in her office on Lyons Avenue. Black and Chicano leaders, along with some white allies, filed suit against the city in 1973, arguing that the method of electing of the law school at Texas Southern University, as Houston's first black city attorney. King's presence as chief defense counsel in the trial lent credibility to the city's case. Under attack for being unresponsive to the needs of minorities, the city would argue that its black attorney was drama- "In 1973, I ran against Homer Ford. Out of four candidates I was fortunate enough to get into the run-off. In the election, I received 80 per cent of the district, but lost in the at-large vote. In 1975, the same thing happened."—Lawrence Pope, District D "To run a campaign in a city the size of Houston would take 10 people doing what I am doing every day to contact all the different groups that we want to contact."—Kathryn Ross, Position 2 "It would keep the expense down in running a campaign. Right now it costs around $25,000 to get a councilman in." -Stan Casey, District A "We have got to have single member districts. Running at large means a media campaign, which means thousands of dollars. If we went to single member districts, five of the present council members would lose their seats."-Merylyn Whited, District C "Had Barbara Jordan not benefitted from a court-ordered redistricting scheme, she might very well be quietly practicing law today in her office on Lyons Avenue."-Chandler Davidson The district has a population of 1.5 million, larger than that of 16 individual states. The minority community alone-Blacks and Chi- canos-is greater than the total populations of all but about 20 of the largest cities in America. Houston is also gargantuan in terms of area. It contains over 500 square miles, compared with the 320 occupied by the five boroughs of New York City. Houston's great and ever-growing size, measured both in terms of population and geographical spread, makes a low-budget, shoe- leather campaign by a candidate representing minority voters or dissenting viewpoints a rather Utopian enterprise. It is no accident that Barbara Jordan was unable to win her Harris County race for the legislature in 1962 and 1964 under the at- large requirement. Testifying before a Congressional committee not long ago, Jordan stressed that without legislative reapportionment, "I would have lost again....I could not get elected in an at-large election." council is unconstitutional because it dilutes the minority vote. The Houston League of Women Voters filed an amicus curiae brief. They .had tried unsuccessfully in 1972 to collect the 50,000 signatures that were then required to petition for a referendum on a city charter change. The League favored a mixed system of both at-large and single-member-district elections. In 1975, as the case had not yet been tried, the council allowed a nonbinding "straw vote" to be taken on the issue during that year's municipal elections. Some observers believed that their motive was to provide ammunition for the city's case by demonstrating citywide support for the at- large method. If so, the council made a grievous mistake. Of the people voting on the issue, 53% preferred single- member districts to an at-large type of election. When the case came to trial last fall, a political development benefitted the city's argument immeasurably. Mayor Fred Hofheinz had recently appointed Otis King, dean tic evidence to the contrary. Federal Judge Allen Hannay, in announcing his decision last April, cited King's appointment as one of his reasons for ruling against the plaintiffs. That decision is now on appeal. For the time being, consequently, the council is still the preserve of WASMs. Things could have been very different. Consider, for example, the possibilities open to women and minorities if single-member districts had been decreed and the size of the council were enlarged to 24—the number of state representatives that Harris County elects to the legislature. There is an ironic footnote to the so-called "single member district suit." In their courtroom tes timony, the defendant's three main academic experts minimized the influence of the at-large system in diluting the minority vote. Outside the courtroom, however, all three are on record in support of the opposite view. Professors George Antunes and Kenneth Mladenka of the Universities of Houston and Virginia, respectively, co-authored an article that appeared a few months before the trial began. They wrote: "(An) important feature of American local government is the at-large election where council candidates are not elected by district but by the entire community.... (In) larger communities at-large council elections dilute minority representation, substantially increase the cost of campaigning for office and make government even more remote from the citizens." The city's other academic expert, Professor Susan McManus of the University of Houston, presented data during the trial which she claimed showed that the at-large system was not an important cause of minority underrepresentation on city councils. But in an unpublished paper co-authored with another political scientist, intended for an academic audience, McManus reached strikingly different conclusions from those expressed in the courtroom. The data base used by McManus to support these divergent opinions is the same in both instances. In her post-trial paper McManus wrote that minorities' "inequita- bility of representation is associated with at-large election systems and small city councils." Minorities (and in my view, women) will probably continue to depend largely on WASMs to represent their interests in Houston city government. CHANDLER DAVIDSON teaches sociology at Rice University. He. and Professor Richard Murray of the University of Houston testified as experts- for the plaintiffs in last year's "single-member-district suit" challenging the constitutionality of the method by which the city council is elected. HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH OCTOBER 1977 PAGE 1