HERE'S WHAT we know for sure:
Both the Chronicle and the Dallas Morning News ran news analyses this weekend about Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White's years as Houston mayor.
The Morning News was considerably tougher on White ("Texas gubernatorial candidate Bill White gets a mixed report card for years as Houston mayor") than was the Chronicle ("Success, unfinished business mark White's legacy").
Both stories had the same byline -- Chronicle reporter Bradley Olson.
Now the suppositions:
That after the Chronicle's desk editors finished with the story, they shipped it to the Morning News.
That The Dallas paper published the story in substantially the same form as it was submitted from Houston.
But that after the story was exported to Dallas, Chronicle editor Jeff Cohen came to the office telephoned the desk late Sunday morning night and engineered a heavy rewrite of the Houston version.
However it happened, the result was dramatic. Many of the Chronicle's second-round edits were technical. But other, substantive changes produced a frontpager that accentuated the positive (successes) and downplayed the negative (unfinished business, not failures). The result: a far more sympathetic portrait of Mr. White than Dallas subscribers were seeing.
Here is Mr. Olson's White-as-mayor analysis as it appeared in the Dallas Morning News, marked to show text the Chronicle deleted and added in the second editorial round. Substantive changes are marked in red.
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By BRADLEY OLSON/Houston Chronicle
For Bill White, the numbers don't quite tell the whole tale of his six years as mayor of Houston.
Some of his most significant accomplishments – and failures – moments occurred on the margins as he stretched the limits of his authority as the city's chief executive, from using litigation to wrest concessions from companies polluting Houston's air to the management of a transit agency that since has found itself reeling from local and federal investigations. to his leadership during Hurricane Katrina.
In many ways, the story of Mayor Bill White can be told through the prism of what did not happen while he was at the helm.
Under White, Houston often succeeded where other governments foundered. While other cities struggled during the economic turndown, Houston had no layoffs or furloughs. As the federal government became overwhelmed with crisis crises after Hurricane Katrina, Houston under White's guidance absorbed more than 200,000 people from Louisiana.
Crime did not go up, and there were no housing or other shortages.
When he announced he was running for governor against incumbent Rick Perry, White said he didn't have "the polish or fame of career politicians who have been running for office for 30 years. But I do know how to bring people together and get things done."
[Unca D: The paragraph above was lifted from Mr. White's campaign press release. The editor then added the sentence below to declare, in effect, "Mission accomplished."]
Former Mayor Fred Hofheinz gives him credit for doing just that. "He managed to straddle the political gaps in Houston, Houston and he was well respected on both sides," said former Mayor Fred Hofheinz said. "He got along well with his [City] Council. ... (city) council . . . I can't tell you any great monuments that he created or big projects that have his stamp on them, but all in all, he was a good yeoman mayor, well respected by everybody."
Yet there is no denying that when he left office, having thrown his hat in a long-shot race against Republican Gov. Rick Perry, plenty was left undone.
Not a single new foot of track was laid for light rail, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority unraveled would unravel in short order with one piece of bad news after another. City pension systems remained woefully underfunded. White's successor, Mayor Annise Parker, Parker took office and almost immediately passed drastic water rate increases to shore up the city's flagging water-sewer water and sewer system [read systems].
The multitude of financial challenges she inherited led her at one point to say the city's finances, which she was party to as city controller during White's tenure, had been run in an "unbusinesslike" fashion "for years."
Perry pounced, and the remark has been a staple of his TV ads for months.
The average crime rate during White's tenure was 6,652 per 100,000 residents, a drop of 7 percent from the previous administration. The rate of includes 1,124 violent crimes per 100,000, was a drop of 4 percent, and the rate of 5,528 property crimes per 100,000 residents, was a decrease of 7.6 percent.
Even as crime was dropping, White presided over a significant reduction in the ranks of police officers.
In 2004 and 2005, the total number of officers dropped went down by 591, or more than 10 percent of the total. Those figures were never built back up, with the number reaching 5,225 at the end of fiscal 2009. There were 27 cadet classes, adding a total of 1,151 officers, in White's six years, years --double what is planned through 2014.
Although crime steadily declined and White worked to hire more officers, the Houston Police Officers Union endorsed Perry in the gubernatorial contest, as did the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Union.
The budget of the tax- and fee-supported general fund, which serves as the city's operating account, was about $1.4 billion in 2004 and grew to about $2.1 billion in 2010, an increase of 50 percent in six years.
The overall Houston budget, including debt-based spending on infrastructure and the city's three aviation facilities, was about $2.6 billion in 2004 and swelled to $4.05 billion by 2010.
The spending boom White presided over allowed him to put more money into public safety and parks, increasing certain services such as library hours. He also made ample use of private funds, using them to help build the Discovery Green park downtown.
Immediately upon taking office, White faced severe budget challenges and acted swiftly. He saved tens of millions of dollars by restructuring the water and sewer system, system [read systems] and he significantly reduced soaring pension liabilities that threatened to bankrupt the city.
He also helped pass passed a spending cap in a referendum and oversaw a reduction in reduced the property tax rate in five of six years.
Yet White failed to raise water rates, which rates as many city officials believed was necessary. He also consistently funded the city's pensions with less than what actuaries thought was needed to keep the systems financially sound. What he did fund often came from pension bonds – that is, the payment of debt with other debt, a practice some which was questeioned by some financial analysts and critics questioned.
Although he built up surpluses for several years in the general fund, leaving a cushion that became critical in the recession, some still see his fiscal management as a mixed bag.
The pension underfunding set the city up "for a major financial crisis," said John Diamond, an economist and public finance fellow with Rice University's Baker Institute. "It's something we're seeing in so many municipalities that I don't see why people aren't realizing what a gigantic threat this is."
On the margins
For all that could be discerned by the changes in crime, finance, public housing stock or road construction during White's tenure, many of his greatest accomplishments and failures moments came largely outside those traditional arenas.
He was defined, both locally and nationally, as a leader who excelled in crisis, managing the aftermath of two major hurricanes to widespread praise.
When hundreds of thousands of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina fled to Houston in 2005, White helped nearly a quarter-million quarter million make the city their permanent home, putting them up in apartments with an innovative voucher program rather than the "FEMA trailers" that predominated elsewhere.
Amid that crisis, he presided over the large-scale evacuation of much of Houston during Hurricane Rita, a process that met with decidedly different results as many faced desperate circumstances on highways that were clogged for days.
In 2008, he helped oversee another massive relief and cleanup effort after Hurricane Ike, largely without incident. For his leadership after Katrina, White was recognized in 2007 with a John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.
Throughout his tenure, he also used his experience as a litigator and took on several companies responsible for toxic emissions in Houston's air.
While he was accused at one point of overreaching and had to back down in an effort to extend his advocacy beyond Houston's city limits, White largely won the concessions he sought.
But several significant problems have come to light since he left office.
The U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department faulted his housing department's use of federal funds nearly 30 times, issuing findings that could require repayment of millions to HUD on projects worth more than $36 million.
The most severe issues have been at Metro, an agency that before White largely had been run out of City Hall and to which White appointed a majority of the board.
Since Parker took over, Metro's plan to build five new light rail lines has been put in jeopardy as she and the Federal Transit Administration have repeatedly faulted the people White put in charge.
An FTA investigation found that Metro leaders failed to follow federal procurement rules, actions that cost the agency tens of millions of dollars and have significantly delayed a $900 million federal grant that was critical to the light rail expansion plan.
White has said he is not responsible for the actions of those Metro officials, because noting that he did not meddle in matters of procurement as mayor and would have had no way of knowing they had botched the contracting process.
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Go here for Unca D's commentary on the Olson rewrite.