Living Archives Transcript
interviewed by Andrea Greene
Menil Collection, Houston, Texas
May 14, 1998
Welcome, I’m Elizabeth Gregory, Director of the UH women’s Studies Program and this is the second in this year’s series [inaudible]....This series aims to present a sense of the complex history of women’s lives in Houston and of the struggles and changes that have characterized that history. This interview format was developed as an extension of the program’s archives, the women's archive and research center which is located in the MD Anderson campus at the University of Houston, to serve students, scholars and the Houston community as a whole. a focus on both oral histories of Texas women and the papers of Houston area women’s organizations. The Living Archives is a way to focus public awareness on the need to document women’s history, as well as on the Archive and [inaudible]... and your ticket tonight is a contribution to the WARC. Tonight our guest is Eleanor Tinsley [inaudible]. Mrs. Tinsley has a long and prominent history in Houston politics, she served 8 terms on the ??? council as a member of ??? where she was an advocate for ??? and [inadible] and she attended [inaudible].
Our interviewer is Andrea Greene from Houston ??. After the interview, there will be an opportunity for questions and I'll give you cards to write them down [inaudible]. And after that we'd like to invite you all to stay for refreshments. [inaudible]
A.G: Thank you all very much for coming. I suppose like me, you guys have your VCR’s running tonight to catch Seinfeld. I’m glad your priorities are in the right place. The last time I did one of these interviews I was competing with or the program was competing with the Rockets play-offs, so I don’t know what we’re trying to do here. It gives me a lot of pleasure to be here interviewing Eleanor Tinsley. In learning about your career, I was amazed at the breadth of changes and the impact that you’ve had on this city. It’s just been amazing and you’ll recognize a lot of her accomplishments as things that are truly unique and have had lasting impact in this city. There’s no way I could begin to memorize this list it’s so extensive. I’m justs wanto to read a few of Ms. Tinsley’s accomplishments. I’m going to name the Boot Program first. I don’t know if that’s an accomplishment or a pain but, <laugh>. She initiated the Boot Program to deter downtown parking violations. She initiated a program by which elderly residence could have their water bills, have assistance with their water bills. She helped ban smoking - let me thank you here and now for that -- in many public places in Houston. You didn’t have a chance to get to the Mexican farmers yet <laugh>. She initiated an amendment requiring city pools to comply with new swimming pool ordinances, including the radical provision that a life guard be on duty at all times. You initiated regulations concerning smoke detectors in day care centers and in apartments, hotels and homes upon change of owner. You were active and a supporter of the Minority Women in Business Program and the affirmative action program in the city of Houston. And on and on and on and on. She’s been active in Historical preservation efforts and city beautification efforts and it’s my pleasure to welcome you to the living archives interview tonight. I have some questions here and I’m going to go down the list. We can digress as the conversation warrants. You are a native Texan, born in Dallas. You came to Houston in 1953.
E.T.: Yes, my husband had, ah, well, we met at Baylor and both got B.A. degrees there and then he went to the Univiversity of North Carolina and I went with him there, where he got his Masters. Then to Wisconsin where he got his PhD and I came to Houston in 1953. I came as most wife’s did at that time, with my husband, for him to teach at the University of Houston.
A.G.: Houston is very lucky to have you.
E.T.: Thank you
A.G.: You are a mother of 3 children and you have how many grandchildren?
A.G.: 7 grandchildren. How did you balance the role of wife and mother with all the volunteer work that you were doing - the political work and all of your other activities outside of the home?
E.T.: A lot of the the people here who know my husband, but it really takes a supportive spouse, whether it’s a man or a woman and it takes somebody who will put up with the odd schedule and meetings at night and the sometimes impossible to please people sort of environment that you live in. I came out of the volunteer world and had served on a number of boards before the School Board and I was in that world, everyone was patting you on the back and thanking you for what you were doing as a volunteer on boards. So I was used to that environment. And then going on the School Board was a complete change. And this is '69 and the old, very conservative, ultra conservative boards had put off integration for 15 years here in Houston. The courts at this point were saying “Integrate now. Litigate later.” And so, no matter who had been there they would have had to find a way to integrate the schools and 4 of us out of the 7, at that point there was just a 7 member School Board, and 4 of us were for integration and so we found 2 cities, Macon, GA and one in Florida that had plans that were accepted by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. And so we followed those plans and we had our plan accepted.
A.G.: How did you, you were there when Houston schools were first being integrated. Now we’ve gotten to a situation where people are interested in having their neighborhood schools back. A lot of the people who fled the schools, now want to come back. River Oaks Elementary School is a case in point. Where do you think we are now in terms of, and let me also say that there are so many minority students in HISD now, it would be really numerically impossible to integrate the schools. Do you see that we could be doing something different? Do you think those efforts were worth it? And do you think that it was handled, that it could have been handled in another way in light of where we are today?
E.T.: I'm sure it could it have been handled any number of ways. I think the fact that our way was upheld though and we never had the cross-town bussing that people talked about and they did have it in Dallas and San Antonio and Austin and other cities. And so, I think what we accomplished did a whole lot because at that point individuals had not served with black teachers. Whites had not been with black teachers and our way of integrating the schools was to have the black teachers and the white teachers go to the opposite schools. So at first, our young people had the experience of having the black or the white teacher. And then, our next rule was that to integrate the schools, they had to go to the next nearest school where it would make for more integration and that might be a small amount of integration, but still it was making integration occur. And we won. I can remember going to Washington where we won the top award for school districts and this had been in 1971. For what all we were doing, while we were integrating the schools and the real hate that was in the community. That also was a surprise to me. I had never experienced in my public life of being on volunteer boards just the literal hate that people really had that if they had moved to another school that they didn’t want. So, that part was very difficult, but our Board, Dr. George ??? who was a physicist and Dr. Luna Robins, who was a medical doctor and Rev. Leon Everett who was a black preacher. And so we, I think we helped the city a great deal avoid the turmoil that existed in all of the South at that time. So yes, things could have been done differently, they could have been done lots of other ways, but we hired Dr., not doctor, but James Cronzer, Jim Cronzer, who was head of a large law firm here in Houston and he was unusually good and so we didn’t even use our regular city attorney to handle the integration. We used somebody different who got the job done. And so, I’m proud of what we did and it a hurt a lot of people were frustrated because they had to move. Our son was in his Sr. year at Westbury and he had his Sr. ring around his finger every night at supper for 6 mos. or so and he tried to enroll himself in various private schools in the community and there was one front page picture of him and me and he had that scowl that only a child could for his mother and but he, and I said no, there will be no exceptions. I will not say that somebody else has to change schools and you don’t. But he made his best friends at that new school. The friends that he has kept up with all these years are the ones he made at Madison. And so, I think children have to learn that they have to obey the same rules that others do. That people in public office should never make exceptions for themselves or for their family. The law is the law.
A.G.: I have to point out at this point that you were responsible for HSPVA - the High School for Visual and Performing Arts and that certainly is one of the gems in this city and in HISD.
E.T.: I give George [??] a lot of credit for that. I can remember one time when we were walking across the campus and 2 young people were sitting on the ground doing their homework and not the way that schools usually operate and they looked up at us and said, “Thank you for this school.” And that meant more than anything to me because they realized what they were getting. There was just about one other school of that kind in the United States at that time. I believe it was in NY. We did that one and then the school for Medical Careers and about 5 or 6 other schools. And we started the Houston Community College during those 4 years in 1971. And that was my committee on the School Board. It was terrible that Houston did not have a Community College. We were not using those buildings that should have been used after school or at other times. But we started the Community College. We had to go to Austin and get approval by the coordinating board. And even on the day we went to Austin and actually got there; I went with George Garver who was Superintendent and Dr.[??] who was on the board with me and the 3 of us went in and we were greeted by the chairman of the coordinating board and he said, it’s no use in your even being here. They decided several hours ago that, the coordinating board, that you couldn’t do it this way - the way we were trying to do it in Houston, because we were going to get some money from Austin for our students. Both of the George’s plopped down in their seats and my attitude was, which is what many women’s attitude would be, was to start making some phone calls. So I called so-called important people in Houston and you could look down and see the coordinating board, which was about 5 people, picking up the phone and talking for a few minutes. And we were #15 on the list and by the time they got to 15 on the list, they voted for us. It was wonderful.
A.G.: There are like 60,000 students now in the HCCS which I think is phenomenal.
E.T.: It’s wonderful that it’s all over the city and it’s let youngsters be in school. Bob Lanier had been a friend at that time for, I guess he began to be a friend at that time, because he had gone to a community college and he could not have had an education if he couldn’t have started out at a very low cost in his neighborhood. Now I believe it was in Baytown. But he started there and then was able to go on to the University of Texas and get a law degree. But for many people, they were able to get an education. Still are.
A.G.: Your family has a history in education. Your great grandfather was the president of Baylor for 50 years?
E.T.: Well, off and on for 50 years but it was nearly that many years and there were a couple of times during those years that Baylor moved to Independence and then they moved somewhere else and it was called Waco University for awhile and essentially he was president for that long.
A.G.: Did that have a bearing on the work that you’ve done in your career; an influence?
E.T.: I think as I grew up; we lived in Dallas. We went to Waco back and forth during all those years and I think it’s bound to have had some sort of sub-conscious - made me feel proud of him of course and to see what could be done. And many times, Texas was a poor state then and still is not one of the richest states, but he was able to make an indelible mark on Baylor. And I did go to Baylor and I mentioned that my husband did...
A.G.: You are a distinguished alumni.
E.T.: Yes, and that is a tremendous thrill. And Drayton McLean happened to get it the same year I got it. And that was fun to get to know him cause there were several - about 4-5 people get it each year. And so we got to know each other in a different way.
A.G.: It sounds like you already had a bent toward public service and volunteer work. How did you make the shift into politics? And also, I made some calls before I came here to get some information about you, “What should I ask Eleanor Tinsley?” to a couple of politicians around town that I knew from county government and the 2 people that I talked to said that you had been a very good friend to them and had helped several people in this city get their start in politics. How did you get yours?
E.T.: Citizens For Good Schools was formed in about 1967 and George Oser and Vic Samuels were the ones who actually started it and George ran, at first they thought all they had to do was to bring all these good ideas to the School Board, these progressive ideas and they would just take them and do them. So this group formed called Citizens For Good Schools and did all the research and when they found that they took it to an ultra-conservative board, nothing happened, whatsoever. And so George ran one time and then it was decided that they would have to put a slate up actually to become a board majority. No one ever dreamed that we would win that election. But George and I won the first round and Leonard and Leon ran, I mean won, the second round so we went in with a full majority which also was amazing. And one of the first things I did, a teacher, a counselor came up to me and said that women were called Deans and men were called Asst. Principals. It was Claudia Atkinson whose husband, Gene Atkinson at the U of H. for a long time, but, so one of the first things I got passed was that simple thing and the right thing was for women to be, if men were going to be Asst. Principals and make a certain amount of money, then women should be doing the same thing.
A.G.: Was there resistance to you as a woman in politics?
A.G.: Would you talk about some of the experiences you had?
E.T.: I think at this point, men didn’t see women in the political arena. In the School Board it was a little easier than it was in City Council. Because women, over the years, they’d had 2 or 3 women, Gertrude Barnstone ?? White and Ms. Dower. A number of women had been leaders on the School Board. And so it was sorta an OK thing because you’re dealing with our children and so it’s ok for a woman to be on the School Board. But it was still difficult and still, they didn’t want you there. And when I ran for City Council in 1969 and it was Judge Woodrow Seals whom I think many would know who sort of called me aside at a party and said “I’ve been thinking it over and I think you ought to run for City Council.” I had never thought of running for City Council because a woman had never run and won. And he said he had these 4 different names of women that he had thought of and he said “none of them can win, but you can win. And he encouraged me tremendously. So then I started talking to other people and within a year, I really started 15 months ahead of time. People who think that running for citywide elections in Houston can be done in 3 months time. How crazy. It is a tremendous job to get around the city and to speak to a million Civic Clubs and what we would call in a vernacular way, rednecks, were certainly out there. There were a lot of people who literally hated me from those School Board days because I worked on integrating the schools and the people on Council didn’t want me there.
A.G.: There had never been a woman on council?
E.T.: There had never been a woman. And Kristin Hartung and I went on at the same time. We really had very different philosophies, though. And I’ll give only 1 example: For 2 years on her little card that we had for everything, she had Council man on it. And I was insisting that everyone be called Council member because that was inclusive and it let everybody be the same thing and finally I won, but and Kristin, within a couple of years, changed it to Council member. So we were very different in our styles of leadership.
A.G.: You won a city wide election and it was '79, right?
E.T.: '79, yes
A.G.: '79. Did you tell people that you were going to try to get rid of billboards and keep them from smoking in public places?
E.T.: <laugh> Well billboards, I even used 3 billboards at that time and the billboard industry has let me know that 5,000 times since then but, so no that was not an issue. Smoking was not one of the issues that I was thinking about at that time. But I did think I could do the job better than it was being done and I was able to get the support of a number of different communities: the Black community, the Jewish, the various groups, I had a harder time with the white community, the Anglo community than I did a lot of the other communities.
A.G.: Is that because of the integration?
E.T.: Probably so because I got probably 35% of the Anglo community and 90% of the black community so it was very difficult and they really didn’t want me there after I got there. So they, I had won one of those 5 At- large races but they wouldn’t let me be on the same floor they were on. So they put me on the 9th floor
A.G.: Your office?
E.T.: My office. And all the At-large members and the older members were on the 8th floor. So I wouldn’t accept the assignment and so I can remember that for 2-3 weeks there was front page news with me sitting with the phone on the floor and no furniture, no nothing. Within 3-4 years, it did take that long, when somebody, there was a vacancy, those so-called good ol’ boys invited me to come to that floor. Then they wanted me there because I had begun to make my mark and I said, “Well, I’ll come if you take the “men off of Council men that was over the door.” And that was a big problem for them. But I said I’m not going to come unless you do that. And so they took their time getting it done but now, I don’t know how it would be when we go back to the old City Hall, but for 15 years, it was a little off-sided. It said Council and they had taken the men off. They didn’t even center it. <laugh>
A.G.: That’s wonderful to know the story behind that and I haven’t seen the new, the renovated city hall yet, but I’ll have to go by and check that out.
E.T.: Well, it’s really not open yet.
A.G.: I think is Council meeting back…
ET: The meetings are back over there.
E.T.: But not in, the first floor is open, but the council members offices are still in the old building and they might stay there.
A.G.: Not only did you start to make your mark, you became very, very popular and you won several landslide elections garnering more votes in '81 than any other candidate had ever won in an At-large election. To what do you attribute that?
E.T.: I think a lot of, any time anyone is able to do that and at that time, especially as a woman, you work real hard. And, you go to a lot of meetings. We went to probably three meetings every night and say 5 or 6 nights a week. And I went to meetings all during the day. And I always had projects that I was trying to get passed and even many times to this day, Councilmembers have not taken on a project to really work through so that ordinances are passed and there is some difference because you were there. And fluoride being put in the water in 1980; that was a controversial thing. I was told I was a Communist and everyone was going to go crazy if they drank the water and so it was a terrible thing to get that passed. It was the dental society who wanted me to do it. And they had come to me. And so we got it done. No one went crazy or anything and very little is said after these battles. But they had brought people in from all over the United States and so I had to argue against these so-called experts.
A.G.: You know, when I look at how much you did on City Council and how many different areas you had some influence in, I wonder what, how different things would have been if we had had term limits at that time? What do you think about term limits? Do you think we are losing some talent?
E.T.: I think we’re losing seniority in a big city like this, whether you’re talking about Houston or Washington. Washington nor Austin have term limits and I think you cannot make the impact. It takes you a couple of years to sort of know how to get something done and to get the people to know them well enough and to get them to commit to what you’re trying to do. And I always made a point to go around to every single Council member when I was trying to get something passed and try to give them my position. And I think a lot of people don’t ever do that. They think that people will just vote with them. And they won't. At the last minute they’ll flake off and not vote, but I really got commitments over and over. So it was hard to get things actually made into law. There’s a big difference in, you know the County can’t pass laws. They can take something to the State and the State obviously can pass laws. But the City has the ability to pass laws that affect all of us.
A.G.: It must have been difficult with some of these less popular issues. But you were able to convince your colleagues on Council to go along with you.
What was the hardest battle?
E.T.: From the public’s point of view, the smoking was something that affected them. And anytime you have an issue that affects you or your son John, it’s a hard, difficult thing to get passed. In '63 we got the first, oh, the knowledge then, that smoking was dangerous to you health. Up until that time, people smoked and no one knew it was dangerous and but then this was 15 years later in 86 that I went through, once again, it was Dr. Charles Lamader who came to me, and this at first was on second hand smoke. And he was showing me that 2nd hand smoke was going to hurt people just as, different ones would point out who had died of 2nd hand smoke, that this really was a problem and he came before Council himself 3 different times but we got that passed. Then each year for about 10 years, each year after that while I was on Council I got one more, sort of, nail in the coffin and the last one was in the malls. And that would have been, say 2 or 3 years ago. But I think people learned a lot. They hated it because they wanted to do what they want. If they wanted to kill themselves, they wanted to do it. And I had the same problem on the bicycle helmet. And it was “Let my bloodied hair blow in the wind. It’s none of your business.” And so when you’re affecting someone personally, it really makes a difference.
A.G.: And I can only imagine some of the town hall meetings you must have been involved with, but you must feel vindicated on a lot of these battles?
E.T.: I do. After it’s over and you have gone through and Anthony Hall was on the other side of the smoking issue and Jonathan Day was the representative of the tobacco companies. Jonathan was my Treasurer for one of the times I ran for office. And Anthony and I had been good friends and I think one thing we should look at in public officials is how do they relate to each other when they are on differing sides. Are they able to argue and present their side and then sort of close ranks after something has been decided? And Anthony and I had an agreement. The vote was going to be so close. It would be on the agenda every week but we wouldn’t vote on it until everyone was there. And so, we finally voted after 2 or 3 months and it started the effort that finally made Houston sort of a premier city in the non-smoking effort.
A.G.: I just want to touch on one other thing, sort of a looking back. When you drive along the toll roads and there are no billboards and there are only trees, does that also give you a feeling that you did the right thing on that?
E.T.: Oh Yes
A.G.: I love it personally.
E.T.: And there again that was individuals. Carol Shaddock, and there was a group called Billboards Limited. They had worked for years to try to slow down the billboards in the City of Houston. But we are an unzoned city, so we are a Developers city. And the Developers could make a lot of money off of selling a little land to a billboard owner and it was asking them to give up that money. And they would tell you about the poor person who lived in the house and the billboard was in their yard and this was there only income and all that, it was a rough issue. And I did and do feel very strongly about it. And Houston still has way too many. But we got some dates in there that eventually will come and the State didn’t help us any at that point. We passed something that would make billboards illegal in Texas in '86 and then the State Legislature, which has more authority than any local City Council, reversed what we had done. So it took more years and we’re not to that final year yet when all of them will have to come down. But it will have to come.
A.G.: I have to ask you about something else and I don’t know the answer to this question, so I hope it’s right. One of my colleagues asked me to ask you if you know why Houston police patrol vehicles have such large bumpers on them? I don’t know the answer to this and I hope I’m not being tricked but that you had, but that it’s a public purpose and you had something to do with that.
E.T.: I don’t remember. I don’t remember.
A.G.: Well, Okay. I’ll have to get back with you to find out what you did on that <laugh> You served under 3 mayors?
E.T. : Yes. Mayor McConn was the first one and he served as Mayor for 4 years. And he was very nice to all these new Council members. A Council that was in '79, when Council expanded and it went from about 7 people or 8 people plus the Mayor to 14 plus the Mayor. And so that was a time that was very hard and he could have treated all of us as new people. You had minorities, you had the first Hispanic on Council, had 2 women and he could have, you know, not given us any committees or done all sorts of things but instead of that he made the department heads available to us and had session after session with the department heads to teach us if we wanted to learn what was going on. And so I’ll always give him a lot of credit for making the job easier on us. Kathy Whitmire had a hard time passing legislation. I was in her corner. So we worked together very very well and she put me in charge of a tremendous number of committees because I would, we would talk and I would know what she wanted to do and I was able to get the votes together and she served for 10 years and then was defeated by Bob Lanier. And so I served under him for 4 years. But he and I had had, you wouldn’t say a falling out, but you would say, we had a strong difference of opinion on the rail issue. And before he came on as Mayor and he asked me to come to his office and talk about this issue. And you’ve heard him talk and he has the answer for any question
E.T.: He thought we should have buses forever and I thought we should have rail at some point in our future. We had $688 million dollars that had been saved for rail. But he was determined that we wouldn’t have it and so sometimes you don’t get what you want, and, but you still have to work with the ones who are there. And now, this same issue, under Lee Brown, has come up again and how it will turn out this time I don’t know. But Dallas and the other major cities even in Texas..
A.G.: I’m seeing a lot of support for it now
E.T.: I am to, but he was strong Mayor that he literally was able to put it off for the 6 years he was on Council.
A.G.: I’ll tell you, with the growth in the inner city and renovations and revitalization’s closer in, improvements in the schools, more and more families coming back to town and wanting to go to public schools, it seems like the structure is there now for rail and it will be interesting to see how Mayor Brown….
E.T.: I think Mayor Brown is for it. I worked on his campaign and served on his transition team and I think, and I helped to bring him here as Police Chief in '82 and we kept up with each other while he was in New York. So we’re good friends and I’ve served on 2 or 3 of his committees these several months. But he’s gonna, I think, be a very good Mayor.
A.G.: You think now-a-days for women in politics it’s a lot easier? I’ve even been led to believe from time to time that being a woman is even an advantage in politics.
E.T.: I think you have to count the numbers. We have fewer people on Council who are women now than we did when I was there. And so I think it’s still very difficult. I think the 3 things that any one has to do to get elected: they have to have the qualifications. They have to have DONE something in the community. And then they have to be able to raise the money. And as we said a while ago, some people think all they have to do is present themselves. And the world is going to accept them and find it lucky, but they have to be able to raise, in Houston, a tremendous amount of money. That first election for city council that I ran in '79 I had to raise $170,000, which was more than had ever been raised. But it broke new ground, but I’m sure more money has been spent every election ever since. But you have to have, you have to be able to get volunteers together, you have to have your own qualifications that can be sold to others and…
A.G.: Do you think there’s a structure in place for bringing up young women, bringing them into politics, into local government?
E.T.: I happened to be at a luncheon yesterday where a group of young women were meeting and talking about the future and the things that we needed to do to bring more women into government. But it has been hard. And they were realizing that it takes money and they were saying everyone needs in this group needs to commit a certain amount of money. Women have never been good at giving money. It was the men who gave the $500 checks and the $1,000 checks and on up. But women have had their grocery money and didn’t have the purse strings in the families to give the money that it took. And so I think we’ve got to get the word out to women as well as men that it takes money. If you want somebody to be elected you’re going to have to not send them $25.00, send them $150.00 or make some sacrifice and then help if you can’t give the money, you need to help them in their campaign.
A.G.: I think part of it had to be also, this tradition of not being part of the process as well as what you say about not having the purse strings. These days women are working more, have their own money, hopefully they’re becoming more educated about how to handle money and that sort of thing. And then are organizations like Emily’s list. Could you see an Emily’s List type organization working in Houston?
E.T.: Yes, I think Democrats and Republicans now have groups who are specifically to elect Democrats or Republicans. But this group yesterday was wanting both Democrats and Republicans in it and wanting to elect the best person.
A.G.: For women...
E.T.: For women, uh huh. But actually get women to run. When Vic Samuels and Steven Coffman came to me to run for the School Board that many years ago, 25 yrs ago now, they were able to speak for this Citizens for Good Schools and help raise some money. But I can’t stress enough that we’ve got to give women a chance by raising the necessary money.
A.G.: You, clearly, just by being, by virtue to the positions that you’ve held and the work that you’ve done, you’ve done a lot for the cause of advancing women. Have you done work specifically in the women’s movement?
E.T.: I would say I was not one of those early leaders here in Houston. I attended some of those first meetings, but not as a leader. So, others did that. I didn’t come up through the PTA or the PTO. I was on several citywide boards when I ran for the School Board and that had given me an advantage in that this group came to me and asked me to run.
A.G.: Do you see some young leadership out there?
E.T.: Yes I think there is. And I think they’re going to have to go through all these hoops of raising the money and getting the qualifications, serving on Civic Clubs Boards and working in the Democrat or Republican Party and actually getting those qualifications. It just doesn’t happen. You have to work for it. So I think it can be done and women certainly are more and more educated. It’s really been a wonderful 25 yrs for me and I’ve certainly gotten more than my share of awards. And last week they named an Eleanor Tinsely park on Allen Parkway.
A.G.: And you stole the thunder
E.T.: And I was thrilled to death. It is a beautiful park and it goes 8 or 10 blocks on Allen Parkway. It is such a tribute and so I don’t care about running for office again. I will enjoy staying on committees and staying active in the community. I really enjoy that. A lot of people don’t want to be on boards or committees but I enjoy it and I’m doing a good bit of that.
A.G.: You are doing a good bit. You’re on the Planned Parenthood Board, the Parks Board?
E.T.: The Houston Parks Board and I started the schools park program. SPARK. That was in '83 and so now, and people said, you can’t do that. This is the schools property. And we finally got people convinced that it was everybody’s property. And the Superintendent went along with us and either the Principals didn’t want any change or didn’t want people coming in. But our one rule was that you had to have the gates open after school and on the weekend so that the community could use the parks. So now we’ve developed 119 school parks in 5 different school districts. We’re adding Galena Park this next year. And so, I’m real proud of that. And then I’m proud of Houston International Initiatives that I started in '86. And we took 25 trade missions to Mexico, Central and South America. And what was being done at that time was, there were missions happening, people going to Asia and to Europe. They were not concentrating on Latin America. I saw that as our future.
A.G.: This woman is amazing. That truly is where our economic future in Houston and in Texas is going. You sort of already started talking about your legacy. What do you see as your primary achievements for Houston?
E.T.: Probably the parks because they affect more people than anything else. The smoking I guess a lot of people would say one way or another. But it’s not the thing “to do” to smoke anymore. We’ve changed our social habits, People understand the risk and if they do smoke, they go outside. And so we’ve learned a lot in these years. But I think the parks are really, we were 148th in the nation when I started the SPARK Program. And so we badly needed pocket parks all over the city. It cost tremendous amounts of money to do a Coleman Park or a Memorial Park or Hermann Park, but these small parks that can be done on the land that we already own, I think will be a continuing contribution.
A.G.: Another area that you’re very interested in along those lines has been historic preservation. But Houston has also had a tremendous amount of criticism about its lack of willingness to preserve it’s historic buildings and monuments. What do we need to be doing different in that regard?
E.T.: Well, there again, when you have an unzoned city, people can buy a piece of land. We have the ordinances. We put them in place. Archaeological and historical ordinance I got passed 15 or 20 years ago but still in the dead of night somebody can go in and take a historic building down. We have not preserved our history. It’s too bad. We’ve, we’re a new city. And we’ve been a boom city. And it was 1982-87 that really everything caved in and maybe it gave us time to think that we really do need to start preserving history, what there was left. And I love the Market Square area. And you admire places like Treebears and Christ Church Cathedral that have gone through all of these years and have stayed there. And I think there’ll be more of that, but we’ve lost a tremendous amount. And we’ll, I think we have one of the most beautiful skylines in the world by Phillip Johnson, has done a number of our buildings and so we’ve had wonderful architects. You give the Gerald Hines the credit for promoting the very good builders. I can remember when I was trying to get a sprinkler ordinance passed, we didn’t have a sprinkler ordinance. He was building these big tall buildings with no sprinklers in them. And I was arguing with him over “We’ve got to have sprinklers in these buildings” and so he was arguing the other way. It was going to cost X number of dollars to put them in. And one thing that any of us in public life do is argue with the movers and shakers to try to get what we think needs to be done for our cities. And it’s not an easy thing because they have the power and they have the money. But you get the votes and you get sprinklers in all new buildings.
A.G.: I wonder if you miss some of that, arguing with the movers and shakers?
E.T.: Oh no. I really, you know being in public life for 25 years was a long time and I’m enjoying being on these various boards now and the Holocaust Board was the latest one I've gone on. There are so many people in Houston who love our city and want to make it better. And we’ve really have not had a lot of problems with the different ethnic groups in our city which I think is because of the leadership that has been there. And we’ve got to keep encouraging that leadership.
A.G.: Well, we certainly appreciate in Houston having your leadership and I thank you for submitting to my questions.
E.T.: Oh, you’re welcome.
A.G.: And I think that you deserve a round of applause. We appreciate it very much.
Questions from the audience:
A.G.: From whom or from what situation did you learn to demand equal treatment for yourself as a woman?
E.T.: By demanding it. By really not accepting whether it was that office space but being willing to go through the laughter and the ridicule and
A.G.: I probably misread it, I think they’re probably…
E.T.: But I can remember on the School Board that the women would always be passing the coffee around to the men. And I decided I was never passing one cup of coffee to anybody. And so I think my native instincts are not…
A.G:. So, it’s not a role model, per se? You didn’t have a role model?
E.T.: No, I didn’t have one, but I and I’m sure others like Debra have gone through our share of making a stand even on small things. But then when it’s a larger thing you have a lot better chance.
A.G,: I couldn’t agree with you more on that. At the Chronicle we, on the Editorial Board, we meet with people all the time. And I cannot tell you how many times a man has walked in the room, looked at me and then kinda “well, who is she” and then introduced himself to the first man that they saw or asked me which one is Decaf and every single time I say, “I have no idea.”
A.G.: No other Council member before you or with term limits since or future has created such a legacy of accomplishments. It took tenacity. Many of your ?? weather achievements took years of research work. Your intense lobby to build a critical mass and finally become law. With term limits can we expect great achievements or just pop fads and wedge politics?
E.T.: I think term limits are bad. It’s not, if you want to throw the rascals out, you need to vote them out. We’ve not been good about doing that and so people have stayed in office lots longer than they should have. But the mechanism has been there. You could bring bright people in, work for them and get them elected. When I was first elected, I defeated a 20 yr. incumbent. Of course, I ran At-large rather than District. Most of the men on my committee said, “You can’t win. You can’t beat a 20yr incumbent. You can’t win At-large. You ought to try first for District.” I wouldn’t be a good District Council member because my mental feeling was for the whole city and not just for some part of the city. And I couldn’t have done it. So, I think for the long run, term limits are a mistake.
A.G.: I tend to agree with you. Now, I might need some help on this one. What was it like, ok, I’m sorry, what was it like to work in Houston on Council when there was a woman Mayor, a woman Governor and a woman Police Chief?
E.T.: That was amazing and we don’t have any of that now.
A.G.: How do you account for that occurrence?
E.T.: I think a lot of that just sort of happened at that particular time. I think Kathy probably was very willing to try to choose a woman Police Chief but a lot of it just happened. But I think it might be the millennium before it happens again. <laugh>
A.G.: The next millennium. How much compromising is required to realize the passage of your sought after issue? Does compromise severely dilute your program?
E.T.: I think that the thing that a lot of people who don’t succeed in politics need to learn is that they have to compromise. You go as far as you can go with what you want and you know exactly, you know, you’ve done a lot of research and you’ve had experts come in and you think you know all the facts from your point of view but there is somebody else. The smoking issue is a perfect example. Anthony and I both had to compromise before it was over. And I think compromise is the way that you get not everything but keep moving on. But, I’d say most people can’t do that. They really sort of want all or nothing. They can’t compromise and move forward a little bit. I can remember Judge Woodrow Seals who was the one who first wanted me to run say, “Your group will get two steps forward and then you’ll be put one step back , but that’s still progress.” And you do make a little bit of progress along and finally it amounts up.
A.G.: In your vision of the future, what would you like to see happen in Houston?
E.T.: Last night my grandson and I went to the Alley and they had written a nice letter saying that the opening night tickets were a week later this time even though we had it written down on the ticket that it was last night, but I had read the fine print of the letter we had received. And so the Alley was all dark when we got there and everyone else had evidently gotten the word
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