GALVESTON — Mayor Lewis Rosen’s support of mayoral candidate Jim Yarbrough has become a point of criticism for Yarbrough’s opponents, who say that the lame duck mayor’s endorsement is a sign the former judge would be more of the same for the City Council.
The criticism comes amid a debate about which candidate — all of whom have backgrounds in local politics — represents a true change from the Rosen administration.
Yarbrough, for his part, says that he’s happy to accept Rosen’s support, while Elizabeth Beeton and Don Mafrige say they are looking for the opportunity to lead after two years of being on the losing side of many arguments.
To find Beeton’s anti-Yarbrough advertisements, a little digging is required on her campaign website.
On a page called “The Poster Shop,” Beeton invites her supporters to “grab some images and share them with all your friends!”
The images in question include a pastiche of a Marlboro cigarette advertisement called “the Yarbrough Man” that says Yarbrough is “hand-picked by current Mayor Lewis Rosen.”
Beeton said Friday that the posters on the website are less formal than her standard campaign mailers.
“They’re intended to make a point and be entertaining at the same time,” Beeton said. “The point is that the residents are ready for a change in the mayor’s office, so they might not want to choose someone that Mayor Rosen thinks would continue his administration’s platform.”
Likewise, Mafrige’s campaign has produced an online video that contains the same critique.
The video shows Rosen standing in front of the Galveston County Courthouse — where the polls opened to early voters April 28 — holding a campaign sign supporting Yarbrough.
“Can you tell me why you’re supporting Yarbrough for mayor?” an unnamed videographer asks Rosen.
“I really think that he can do a better job and continue the good work that’s been going on downtown,” Rosen says.
The video closes with audio of a clever sound bite Yarbrough has used throughout his campaign — in which he says that voters should not choose him if they’re happy with the way the city is currently run — juxtaposed with a picture of sign-holding Rosen.
In mailings that began appearing in local mailboxes Friday, the attacks appeared to be in sync. Galveston residents began to receive Yarbrough Man mailers, which also depict the image from the Mafrige video.
The mailers however bear only Mafrige’s name, with no indication they are also connected to Beeton.
Rosen, who was elected in 2012 following a runoff with former Mayor Joe Jaworski, has not been bashful about his support of Yarbrough.
“I have a tremendous amount of support in this town,” Rosen said when reached by phone Tuesday. “And I support Jim Yarbrough for mayor. I think he is the best choice for mayor.”
Rosen ended the call by inviting a reporter to visit the polling location, where he would again be campaigning for Yarbrough.
Campaign finance reports due eight days before the election show that Rosen donated $5,000 to Yarbrough’s campaign in April. Rosen also held a “meet and greet” event at his home on Driftwood Lane earlier in the month, an in-kind campaign expense that financial disclosures show cost $4,000.
Soon after Yarbrough’s campaign officially began in January, Rosen began sometimes removing the “city of Galveston” sticker that usually adorned his white GMC Yukon and replacing it with a “Yarbrough for Mayor” decal. Rosen was adamant during an interview that the two stickers were never on his car at the same time.
In a phone interview Friday, Yarbrough said that he wholeheartedly accepted Rosen’s support — adding that the incumbent mayor had been his friend for more than 20 years.
“I gladly accept Mayor Rosen’s support, as well as anybody else’s,” he said. “I don’t know why they’re making it such a criticism. Just because I have somebody’s support does not mean that I will operate in the same fashion.”
What’s an outsider, anyway?
Both Beeton and Mafrige appear to be walking a fine political line while criticizing Yarbrough as an insider into Galveston politics. Beeton has been a council member for six years, and Mafrige is a former council member and the current chair of the finance committee.
Both candidates claim that despite their existing presence at City Hall, they are essentially running as minority bloc candidates and cite past disagreements with Rosen as evidence of that status.
For Beeton, those examples are numerous. From her seat directly to the right of Rosen in the council chambers, Beeton has more than once been gaveled to silence by Rosen. She has voted opposite Rosen on topics related to the seawall parking program, changes to zoning standards and even on continuing the city’s opposition to public housing, a topic they both campaigned in support of in 2012.
Their most notable spat, perhaps, came in August 2013, when the council voted to reorganize the Galveston Island Redevelopment Authority by removing both Beeton and Rosen from that board. Rosen supported the move, but Beeton claimed the vote was aimed specifically at her and her disagreements with developers in the city’s Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones.
Mafrige said that he, too, had been targeted by Rosen, citing a January 2013 proposal by the mayor that would have limited the number of times the city’s finance committee could meet and who could determine that committee’s agenda. That proposal failed.
“Do you know how many times that we’ve recommended that they lower the taxes and that council just ignores?” Mafrige said about his role at City Hall with the finance committee. “Any committee that recommends is just on the outside.”
Beeton said she had been excluded from leadership posts, despite her seniority on the City Council.
“I’ve been a member of the minority on the council,” Beeton said. “I have tried to move us in a different direction.”