Many people have had so much to say about former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier. Much has been shared that has been touching and kind. I just feel the need to share my own perspective.
I first met Bob Lanier in the “smoke-filled” rooms when I worked for powerful leaders of Texas. I was often the driver or just the campaign aide along for the ride, sitting quietly in rooms that were filled with such power, I had stars in my eyes. Bob Lanier was one of those people. Even in the 80’s, he was a powerhouse. In his folksy, aw shucks style, he would determine who would be a leader or the direction of complex legislation. Personally, I was in awe of him.
When he was appointed to the Texas Highway Commission, we began calling him “Commissioner” as a sign of respect. We had such hopes that he would bring highway funds to Houston and that he did. He took his responsibility of fighting for funds in our city seriously. By the way, he was a Democratic appointee.
As his term ended, Mayor Whitmire appointed him to Chair the Board of Metro in Houston. The thought was that he could help garner federal funds and move rail forward. Alas, this was not a good move for Mayor Whitmire. She ultimately fired him. When he was appointed, I worked for Mayor Whitmire on appointments to Boards and Commissions. I left before their spat emerged.
He was so angry with her that he sought to find a candidate to defeat her. His position as a “power broker” in the city was stronger than ever. In those days, there was still a newtwork of mostly white males that directed the city from backrooms, with the best of intentions.
When he failed to be satisfied with the field of candidates, he entered the race late. He defeated Sylvester Turner on the news of a very nagative story that most believed his team was responsible for releasing. While he was thrilled to be elected, he always felt a little bad about defeating what would have been Houston’s firt Afircan-American mayor. He spent his entire term healing wounds and building up the African-American community. He also ensured that the next Mayor would be Afircan-American and appointed many black leaders in his administration.
Bob Lanier was also our firs term-limited Mayor and his success made many people question whether term-limits were such a good idea but City Council of the era reinforced their position. Lanier faced challenges from a number of younger Council Members that were elected in his second and third terms. All of them grew under his tutelage and most importantly, learned leadership.
For leadership is the one word that captures Bob Lanier more than any other. From his time in the military to his time in law and as a developer, he has been a leader. He always considered betterment of the state and city as an important part of his job. He took unpopular positions and if he believed enough, he would roll over anyone who got in his way while he advocated for change. Most people never even saw these contributions.
While he is most recognized for being Mayor of Houston, it was really just an encapsulation of stepping into the limelight for something he had always done.
Houstonians adored him. Business leaders respected him. He and Elyse made major contributions to the city’s parks (they supported parks before it was cool) and many other charities.
Most importantly, I knew him as a father too. He loved his family unconditionally and he loved many others as if they were family. His home was always open and his laughter would roar across the city.
Thank you Mayor Bob – you were among the last of a breed of civic leaders that put Houston first in your heart!
Blessings to the entire Lanier family.