By Alex Wukman
Image courtesy of d-mars.com
When Ben Hall announced he was running against Annise Parker in December 2012 the only people who seemed to know who he was were the courthouse mavens and downtown politicos. Hall, who served as a city attorney in the early 1990s administration of Mayor Bob Lanier, has previously considered running for the city’s highest office. In 2009, he announced his candidacy only to withdraw his name after Gene Locke entered the race. In 2011, he expressed interest in the race before ultimately deciding to sit it out.
While Parker was able to beat off a pack of mostly unknown and underfunded candidates, her slim margin of victory–she won only 50.8 percent of the vote, barely enough to avoid a runoff– has many City Hall watchers thinking she is vulnerable. Something that Hall hopes to exploit. He also plans to use his candidacy to address what he sees as the current lack of vision in the mayor’s office.
“In the 16 years Mayor Parker has been at City Hall, name one serious economic policy she has advanced,” Hall asked rhetorically. He went on to describe how his administration would focus on “reversing the doughnut effect” that he perceives as defining Houston. The doughnut effect is the term used to describe the idea that the outer rings of the city are populated while the inner core is abandoned after 5 p.m. Hall seeks to reverse the doughnut effect by “incentivizing businesses to do active retail and incentivizing people to live in the city.”
He explained that his administration would focus on “developing a centralized retail center in downtown,” and that he envisions downtown redeveloped into something similar to the Galleria. He also said that he wants to remove the food desert that exists in downtown.
“I’ve already been approached by major developers who are interested in forming a public-private partnership to establish an entertainment district and revitalize downtown in a wholesome, family-friendly way,” said Hall. Ambitious ideas are something that characterizes Hall. When asked about his transportation plans, Hall outlined a bold, audacious idea. “We need to at least explore underground transportation options. This may not work in downtown but it could work if we know traffic is going in a certain direction, like to Katy,” said Hall. He went on to clarify that he didn’t envision a subway but an automotive tunnel that might run under I-10. “We’d need TxDOT to work with us, and the freeway might be the best place for it since we already have the right-of-way,” said Hall. His focus on grand plans and large visions can lead to the dismissal of ordinances that many residents of Inner Loop Houston consider crucial quality of life issues.
When asked about the city’s recent food truck ordinance, Hall initially waved it away as a trivial matter blown out of proportion. However, when pressed on his stance on a city ordinance that creates a protected class of favored business owners by preventing competitors from selling their wares, Hall said that he was opposed to regulations that punish business.
He also expanded his pro-business attitude toward the recent parking ordinance, which he characterized as a punitive measure, but that he believed the controversial sound ordinance needs to exist in some manner. “I drafted the original iteration of the sound ordinance in 1992, and it required officers to use a standardized, calibrated instrument,” said Hall. He indicated that he believes changes to the ordinance need to be enacted that require the usage of some form of standardized instrument to measure sound.
Hall, a personal injury lawyer, was most recently in the spotlight as the attorney representing Chad Holley—the 18-year-old burglary suspect who was videotaped being beaten by HPD officers. Hall said that his work in private practice has increased his advocacy for additional racial sensitivity and sexual predation training within the department.
Hall also outlined a vision for establishing a series of safe houses throughout Houston for victims of human trafficking. He did not say whether the centers would be established in a public-private partnership, although it is highly unlikely that the city would foot the bill completely on its own. He went on to say that his advisors are already working on a policy proposal. Hall said that his overarching vision for the city is that of a change agent.
“I believe that the city should be a catalyst for the third prong of the constitutional guarantee, the pursuit of happiness,” said Hall.