There was never any doubt that Hubert Vo's reputation as a slumlord would become the major issue in the 149th District race. Yesterday Greg Meyers' consultants, the Patriot Group, issued a release that challenged Vo's claim that he was unaware of substandard conditions at apartment complexes he owned. The release included stark details of residents' complaints:
Lawsuits on file at the Harris County Courthouse reveal a startling pattern of management neglect, inadequate safety, physical intimidation, racial discrimination and retaliation at apartment complexes owned by State Rep. Hubert Vo.
These lawsuits directly contradict Rep. Vo’s previous claims to not have known about conditions at his apartment complexes prior to being confronted by city inspectors and recent media scrutiny. The lawsuits cover a period from 1996 to 2007 and were all confidentially
settled out of court by Rep. Vo.
Greg Meyers, the challenger to Rep. Vo in House District 149, called the lawsuits a revealing pattern of neglect. “It is troubling that any public servant would allow this type of problem to occur. But what is more disturbing is the fact that Rep. Vo denied knowledge of the dangerous and unhealthy living conditions at his apartment complexes. These lawsuits show he has clearly known about the problems for many years.”
The apartment complexes owned by Rep. Vo have been the subject of an investigation by the City of Houston’s Neighborhood Protection Corps for dangerous and unhealthy living conditions. In addition, a special report by the Houston Chronicle also revealed numerous building code violations including faulty and exposed electrical wiring, rotted wood on balconies, stagnant water in swimming pools, mold-invested and damaged dry-wall, broken windows and unsecured vacant units.
The lawsuits settled by Rep. Vo consist of the following accounts:
* In 1998, Juan Rodriguez was a tenant at Rep. Vo’s Capewood Apartment Complex. In the process of changing a light bulb, Mr. Rodriguez was severely burned with hot water that had accumulated in the bulb due to a leaking air condition unit above Mr. Rodriguez’ apartment.
The leak had been previously reported to building management on four separate occasions to no avail. Rep. Vo settled this state case out of court in 2001.
* In 2004, Victor Arias was a tenant at Rep. Vo’s Capewood Apartment Complex. Mr. Arias was physically subdued, forcibly detained and arrested by a security guard employed by the apartment complex and Mr. Arias’ wife was struck by the security guard. Mr. Arias was released by the Harris County Sheriff’s Department after an investigation of the security guard’s actions. The security guard and apartment manager were later reprimanded by Sheriff’s deputies for filing false charges. Rep. Vo settled this state case out of court in 2007.
* In 1996, Alecia Alexander, an African-American female, moved into the Wall Street Apartments owed by Rep. Vo. Ms. Alexander complained of raw sewage backed up in her unit, feces in her bedroom, and rodents. On several occasions, Ms. Alexander made requests to management for relocation to another unit. These requests were denied and Ms. Alexander was falsely informed that there were no vacant units available. Ms. Alexander witnessed other non African-American residents being frequently relocated. In August of 2000, Ms. Alexander sought protection under the Fair Housing Act because the apartment complex management sought to have her evicted after she filed complaints with HUD. Rep. Vo settled this federal case out of court in 2003.
[final summing-up paragraph omitted]
The Craddick camp is very bullish about Meyers' prospects. The challenger has a formidable resume that includes two terms on the Houston school board and the chairmanship of the West Houston Chamber of Commerce. And the slumlord issue is a serious one in a district in which renters comprise 44% of the households.
The problem for Meyers is that the demographic tide in this district has been running strongly in favor of the Democrats during this decade. In 2002, Republican incumbent Talmadge Heflin defeated unknown challenger Andrew Tran, 55.52% to 44.47%. In 2004, Vo pulled off a shocking upset by defeating Heflin, then the chairman of the House Appropriations committee, by 50.03% to 49.96%, in a race that wasn't decided until an election challenge that went to the House of Representatives. In 2006, Vo won the rematch comfortably, thanks in part to Heflin's widely publicized attempt to adopt his maid's child. The margin was 54.27% to 45.72%. The trend is inexorable. The voting age population in the 2000 census was 40.9% Anglo, 21.1% Hispanic, 17.8% black, and 20.6% other, mainly Asian. (Don't ask me why these numbers don't add up to an even 100%; I just work here.) The census was eight years ago. Those numbers are more favorable for the Democrats today than they were in 2000. Were it not for the slumlord issue, Vo could expect to garner 56-58% of the vote.
Other than Heflin, Republican candidates have fared well here. In 2006, Perry beat Bell in the 149th, 40.2% to 35.1%. The downballot Republican statewides generally ran in the low to mid fifties. In fact, Vo was the only Democrat to carry the district. If this were an off-year election, I think Meyers would have a great shot to beat Vo. It's easier to get voters' attention in an off-year. But it's a presidential year, and the Democrats are more energized than the Republicans, and the demographics are in their favor. Vo will underperform the demographics, but he ought to be able to win with the help of straight-ticket Democratic votes.
The main pitfall for Vo is that in 2006 he made the D's nervous by starting his campaign late. That is a mistake he can't afford to repeat.
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