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Mayoral candidates trade barbs as Houston voters endure name-calling

December 2, 1997

HOUSTON (AP) _ The economy’s great. Crime’s down. Streets are repaved. So what’s a platform-less Houston mayoral aspirant got to do to grab voters’ attention?

If you’re oil and gas company heir Rob Mosbacher and former drug policy chief Lee Brown, you reach for the mud, start throwing and hope that some of it sticks.

``It’s pretty much rigor mortis,″ political pollster Richard Murray said of the Houston election pulse. ``These candidates don’t seem to stir much passion.″

Of the eight mayoral candidates vying on the Nov. 4 ballot to replace outgoing Mayor Bob Lanier, only the top two finishers _ Brown with his 41 percent and Mosbacher with 29 percent _ will be in a runoff Saturday.

Houston voters have endured a month of finger-pointing and name-calling. Just days after last month’s election, both men launched negative ads to help distinguish themselves in a nonpartisan race.

``It’s gotten a lot dirtier,″ said voter Diane Stotz, a 42-year-old administrative assistant. ``I can’t tell who really started it, but I think one started it and it just kept going.″

``Same old, same old,″ Houston banker John Meyers, 29, lamented.

Mosbacher ads peg Brown, the 60-year-old veteran bureaucrat, as ineffective as chief of police in Houston, Atlanta and New York _ ``everywhere he’s been.″ Brown’s ads point out that Mosbacher promised to support the right to carry concealed weapons _ something that’s already legal in Texas.

``It’s negative campaigning, but nothing that’s shocking or disturbing,″ Murray said. ``I think it’ll turn off some marginal voters who didn’t care much to begin with.″

Conventional election wisdom holds that more conservative voters make it to the polls in a runoff, which ordinarily would benefit Mosbacher.

But the son of former Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher has failed to ignite the interest of conservative whites, many of whom appeared to stay home Nov. 4 or vote for another candidate.

And Mosbacher, 46, has yet to win a race, losing a U.S. Senate bid in 1984 and failing in a run for Texas lieutenant governor in 1990.

Brown is considered the front-runner, but he was aided in part by an anti-affirmative action measure on the November ballot. Many voters who defeated that measure voted for Brown, wanting to make him the city’s first black mayor.

On Saturday, there’s no referendum to rely on and Brown must count on voters _ particularly black voters _ to renew their endorsement.

Brown insists his life of public service makes him a natural for mayor of the nation’s fourth-largest city.

Mosbacher, president of his family’s oil and gas business, has pegged himself as a political outsider who will make city government a leaner business machine.

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