- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 26, 2003

HOUSTON — Orlando Sanchez, 45, a conservative Republican who came close to becoming Houston mayor two years ago, seems assured of gaining a runoff spot as candidates head into the final days of campaigning for a two-year term at City Hall.

Polls show Mr. Sanchez and Democrat Bill White, 48, a businessman, running neck and neck. The third major candidate, Democrat state legislator Sylvester Turner, 49, is running a very close third.

Mr. Sanchez, before losing in a challenge to Mayor Lee Brown in 2001, was a City Council member for six years. He lost by only 4,383 votes in the 2001 runoff. Mr. Brown cannot run again because of city term limits.

Neither Mr. Sanchez nor Mr. White is expected to get a majority vote Nov. 4, and a runoff would then follow.

Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, faces terrible traffic congestion, flood and drainage problems, a police department rife with infighting and turmoil, pollution and a multimillion-dollar budget deficit big enough to worry all the candidates.

In a nine-candidate race, each of the three front-runners offers plans to turn the city around.

Mr. Sanchez, a Cuban-born immigrant who moved to Houston with his family when he was a small child, claims the city’s problems stem from a complete breakdown in city government — with Mr. Brown the main offender.

“The problem is not on the revenue side,” said Mr. Sanchez, addressing the deficit.

“I believe that the taxpayers have done their fair share,” he added. “The problem is on the spending side of the ledger, and we need to bring spending under control.”

He said city revenues had increased at “historic rates,” since the six-year era of Mr. Brown began.

When Mr. Brown’s predecessor, Bob Lanier, left office in 1998, “total revenues in the city of Houston were just under a billion dollars,” Mr. Sanchez said. “Today, they’re at $1.52 billion — almost half a billion increase in revenues.”

Mr. Turner agreed there is too much waste in city government. He said a cap of 5 percent on the raising of property values would force City Hall to live within its means.

The three have jousted on how to improve the city park system and achieve better construction controls, even how to coordinate the city’s 2,200 streetlights. There have been numerous suggestions about spending priorities.

One hot topic involves a $640 million bond issue to fund 22 miles of light-rail transit. Houston is the largest city in America without some sort of rapid transit. Mr. Turner is strongly in favor of the plan. Mr. White is for it, but not quite so strongly. Mr. Sanchez says it’s a waste of money.

Until a week ago, the race was almost devoid of attack campaigning. But that changed when Mr. White sent out 100,000 mailers — some in Spanish — strongly criticizing Mr. Sanchez’s business record.

“Sanchez. Failed business. Ethics problems,” the White mailing declared, adding, “Should we really trust him with our tax dollars?”

Most of the claims in the White mailing appeared two years ago in the Sanchez-Brown battle.

“Old news,” said Gloria Roemer, Mr. Sanchez’s press spokeswoman. “Retreads of the 2001 campaign. Bill White and Lee Brown must have the same adviser.”

The Sanchez campaign has mailed literature to Republican voters linking Mr. White with former President Bill Clinton and Mr. Brown.

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