Bob Lanier’s victory in the Houston mayoral runoff guaranteed that all three of the state’s biggest cities will be led by white male political insiders for the first time since 1971. A year ago all three cities had women mayors. But the elections of Lanier, Steve Bartlett in Dallas, and Nelson Wolff in San Antonio cannot be read as a return to old politics. The one thing that the three mayors have in common is an estrangement from the downtown business interests that once dominated urban politics. The split between the central city and outlying areas was most obvious in Houston: Lanier’s runnoff opponent, black state legislator Sylvester Turner, had the support of the downtown crows because Lanier has long been the chief critic of downtown-backed rail transit for Houston. In Dallas, Bartlett is viewed as skeptical of DART, the Dallas transit authority, which also has grandiose plans for rail. In San Antonio, Wolff had the support of North Side business interests against incumbent mayor Lila Cockrell, who was supported by the business establishment. Another departure from the past: Neither Lanier nor Bartlett is the kind of mayor who usually gets elected in their cities. Dallas mayors typically have been business and civic leaders; Houston mayors have been politicians. But Bartlett is a former city councilman and Republican congressman, and Lanier is a major developer. Indeed, Bartlett and Lanier have more in common with their female predecessors than with the white males who used to run their cities. Retiring Dallas mayor Annette Strauss, a Democrat, enjoyed substantial Republican support because of her civic and charitable activities; Bartlett used alliances with environmental and disabled groups to cross party lines. The issue that won the run-off for Lanier was competence-the same issue that launched Kathy Whitmore’s long run as mayor.
The stakes are huge in the unspeakably snarled