Restaurateur Mary Beth Ringgold (Capers, Cajun’s), apparently will be invading the downtown market before long.

She told us last week that she’s going to provide the promised food operation in 300 Third, the high-rise condo and commercial project that Moses Tucker is erecting at Third and Cumberland.

Ringgold says she’ll have a restaurant and a market/gourmet-to-go operation (the latter bigger than her new venture in Capers on Highway 10). No name and theme have been revealed just yet. It won’t be known as the Food Palace, though, one name that once had been suggested as tribute to a legendary grocery and bakery in the Heights. Food Palace was home to the fabled butter gooey (you can still get one at the Stockpot in the River Market).

Eyes on I Street

Builder Gary Purcell was ordered off residential property at 4410 I St. last week after he was seen working on an expensive home under construction there despite a city stop-work order. Purcell, who was seen speeding away from the site with his horn blaring after city employees told him to leave, said he was only cleaning up the site. But, city planning head Tony Bozynski said, the stop-work order means “they are not to be on the property at all.”

Purcell and development partner Larry Chisenhall aren’t winning any popularity contests with neighbors. After cutting down all the trees on the large lot, which backs up to Allsopp Park, they began building a house that violates footprint and setback agreements in the plan approved by the city. Neighbors also note that a ground floor, which has windows and a screened porch extending from it, is being described as “basement” to avoid restrictions on square footage.

Bozynski said the city attorney’s office is “reviewing options” to deal with the violations. Neighbors have questioned whether the city should be meeting privately with developers, rather than sending the plan back to the Planning Commission for public discussion. The Hillcrest Residents Association has formally asked that the meetings be held in public.

The house is one of several planned on property that become controversial when the developers tore down a single house that stood there to make way for multiple houses.

The good fight

Through an Arkansas connection, we hear that Susan McDougal has been in Houston recently helping her brother, Jim Henley, by attending fund-raisers for him. (As we learned at our national newsweeklies convention in Little Rock last week, McDougal’s story of persecution by Kenneth Starr retains powerful appeal.)

Henley is a middle school debate coach, and won the Democratic primary in Houston’s 7th Congressional District to oppose entrenched incumbent Republican Rep. John Culberson. But Henley has told reporters, “I just thought it would be a poor example for me to allow us to lose our voice in the House of Representatives and not fight back.”

Henley, a Camden native, has sworn off PAC money and is trying to raise individual contributions in neighborhoods including the Texas Medical Center, West University and Bellaire that still actually include at least a few Democrats. He’s called for withdrawal of troops from Iraq by December, has decried NSA surveillance of American citizens and favors a ban on automatic assault weapons. Sounds like a loser in Texas, right?


Since the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has so far ignored it, we’ll treat as inside news the fact that the New York Times last Sunday led the newspaper with an in-depth look at the (“at least”) 90 officials of the Bush administration who’ve capitalized on their government jobs to build lucrative private careers in homeland security.

Former Homeland Security undersecretary Asa Hutchinson, the Republican nominee for governor, was the leading example of the phenomenon.

Some of the reporting was rehash — Hutchinson’s participation in a shell company that hopes to use Hutchinson’s name and those of other prominent Republicans to find a way to make money off government. But it also reported new details on how Hutchinson had used staff members to do lobbying during the time he was banned from lobbying. They even set up a meeting for a company in which Hutchinson is involved to pitch goods to the government.

Comments included this from Clark Kent Ervin, former inspector general of the Homeland Security Department. “People have a right to make a living. But working virtually immediately for a company that is bidding for work in an area where you were just setting policy – that is too close. It is almost incestuous.”

Scott Amey of the Project on Government Oversight saw in Hutchinson’s use of former government colleagues as intermediaries as disregard for the spirit of the lobbying ban that covered him.

“It is a dirty way to get around the conflict-of-interest and ethics rules. It is legal. But is it appropriate? I don’t think so.”

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