By Carol Bartholdi
There are eight positions on the
Houston City Council, and during
this November's election there are
Being an incumbent has certain
distinct advantages when it comes
to running a campaign. In a city
with approximately 600,000 voters, it is almost financially and
politically impossible for challengers to wage a successful enough
campaign to overcome the name
recognition that accompanies incumbency.
Two of the city council members are running unopposed: Frank
Mancuso, in District E, and
Johnny Goyen for councilman at
large, Position 3. These two men
have been on the council for 13
years and 20 years respectively.
Among the other council members, Frank Mann, councilman at
large, Position 2, has served the
city in this capacity since 1959.
Homer Ford has been elected for
six two-year terms from District
The other men are relative
newcomers to the council: Jim
Westmoreland, elected in 1973 as
councilmember at large, Position
1; Larry McKaskle, in the district
B council seat since 1969; Louis
Macey, elected to District C seat
in 1975, and Judson Robinson,
Jr., elected to District A in 1971.
Four of the eight members
have been on the council for more
than ten years.
Some persons have suggested
changing the city charter so that
council members' terms would be
limited in duration. Last June,
Mayor Hofheinz proposed several
changes for the city government.
They included a suggestion to
double the length of the terms of
three at large city council seats
to four years, and limit office-
holding to two consecutive terms.
Breakthrough spoke to several
of the challengers and asked them
if they were encoutering special
problems trying to unseat a council member.
"Anyone who runs against an
incumbent will have difficulty
because historical myth is that the
incumbent wins," said Merylyn
Whited, candidate from District C,
running against Louis Macey.
"We're working an uphill battle.
I don't know if I want to gamble
on you, is what people think,"
Whited believes that the number of terms a person can serve on
the council should be limited to
two, and that the terms should be
four years long. The elections
should be staggered also, she said,
"so that every two years everyone
is not out campaigning."
Kathryn Ross, a newcomer
challenging Frank Mann for Position 2, says that she also has
faced problems challenging an
incumbent. "It is difficult trying
to make contacts, it's hard to break
in," she said. "For two years, the
news media have been covering
the meetings of the city council.
It is the incumbents' faces that
the people see often. People know
"In addition, it is difficult to
get financial support," said Ross.
"It takes money to get radio and
TV spots and printing. People
who have been on the council are
more likely to get financial
support." She stressed that groups
are more likely to support the
person they believe has the better
chance of winning "because they
are practical, and don't believe
any one can beat the incumbent,
and they want him on their side."
Ross also would like to see
four year terms for council members and staggered elections.
Francis Page, a challenger to
Homer Ford in District D, agrees
with Whited and Ross.
He said that the name identification of the incumbent is a
great advantage. Challengers of
incumbents often have financial
troubles in running their campaigns, because "people don't
believe they can do it," he said.
"It is real interesting, but the
smart money will go with the
incumbent," said Page, "because
people like to bet on a winner."
One candidate for city council,
Jack Lee, dropped out of the race
last July for financial reasons.
According to the Houston Post,
Lee said Houston business people
were "afraid to put their money
on the line against an incumbent."
All of these candidates agreed
that challenging an incumbent is a
difficult task. However, they all
also agreed that there is an even
greater problem. That is the system
of voting in Houston. "Probably
the biggest problem is the city wide
vote," said Page. "A candidate has
to try to be everywhere at once,"
he said, because he or she must be
known throughout the city, not
only in one district.
Carol Bartholdi is working on her master's thesis from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
Houston City Council
PAGE 4 OCTOBER 1977 HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH