- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2003

First-time political candidate Bill White, a Democrat, seems to be a sure bet to win the Houston mayor’s runoff today, despite a spirited campaign by Republican Orlando Sanchez.

The difference appears to be the black vote — supporters who heavily backed state Rep. Sylvester Turner in the primary election Nov. 4, who finished third in that contest.

A Houston Chronicle/KHOU-TV poll this week shows Mr. White with 53 percent to Mr. Sanchez’s 35 percent, with 12 percent still undecided.

This poll, and others in recent weeks, indicate that Mr. Sanchez, 46, who lost narrowly to Mayor Lee Brown in 2001, has not maintained the coalition of white Republicans and Hispanics he needed to win this race. Mr. Brown was banned from running again because of city term limits.

The Cuban-born, three-time city councilman is considered a far more exciting candidate than the more sedate Mr. White, who may have made a bad judgment call early on when he did not make much of an attempt to woo black voters.

“He thought Turner had that vote sewed up,” said Barry Field, a local political adviser. “Orlando wanted to assure he made the runoff, then he figured he would go after the Turner vote.”

But by the time Mr. Sanchez began working the black neighborhoods last month, almost all the black elected officials — including U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat, and Mr. Brown — had strongly endorsed Mr. White.

Meanwhile, Mr. Turner has not endorsed either of the two remaining contestants, but recent polls show that those who voted for him strongly favor the 49-year-old Mr. White.

Rice University political scientist Bob Stein said Mr. White’s strength comes from his ability to unite various factions within the city.

“What this means,” Mr. Stein said, “is that if he wins, as he should, Bill White will have support from all groups, which should minimize attacks at the council table,” a situation that “should help him govern.”

University of Houston pollster and political scientist Richard Murray, said it seemed that Mr. White won this race early on — strongly campaigning to make his name known when some believed Mr. Sanchez was the leader.

“Once it seemed inevitable that White would be in the runoff, the race was virtually over,” he added.

The recent poll completed this week by the political scientists shows that Mr. White and Mr. Sanchez are expected to split the white vote, but Mr. White has a solid advantage among blacks.

Mr. Sanchez, steadily losing ground in the waning days of the campaign, harshly criticized Mr. White’s spending and business record in a final television debate Wednesday, but found himself defending his own business acumen.

Mr. White reportedly will spend more than $9 million on his campaign, including about $2 million of his own money. That means, claimed Mr. Sanchez, that if elected, the Democrat will “tax the people, borrow more money and spend it all.”

“I’ve been building businesses, I’ve been leading civic organizations and I was virtually unknown,” replied Mr. White, explaining that he needed to spend more to become known against his two better-known opponents.

But Mr. Sanchez criticized Mr. White’s involvement in an oil company, Frontera Resources, a firm started by Mr. White that has never turned a profit.

“Frontera is still on its legs,” snapped the Democratic candidate, “still drilling for oil, still creating jobs. Every business Mr. Sanchez started has failed.”

Mr. Sanchez conceded some of his attempts to start businesses “never got off the ground,” adding, “Yes, Frontera may still be operating, but so is Enron.”

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