WHITE'S HANDLING OF CRISIS EARNING POLITICAL CAPITAL
By KRISTEN MACK
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
Four out of five area residents like the way Houston Mayor Bill White has responded to the arrival of Katrina's displaced people, an attitude that could help push him toward the big re-election mandate he wants in November.
A majority of respondents to a Houston Chronicle / KHOU (Channel 11) poll also gives Harris County Judge Robert Eckels and Gov. Rick Perry good marks, but reflect the national disapproval of how President Bush and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have handled the disaster.
Harris County residents also are unimpressed with the Democratic leaders in Louisiana, Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Mayor C. Ray Nagin.
The poll of 501 Harris County residents was conducted Friday-Sunday.
The sampling error is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Eighty percent of those polled rate White's response to the sudden arrival of evacuees as excellent or good.
"The best politics is good public policy," said Rice University political scientist Bob Stein, who conducted the poll with University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray. "He managed something people expected him to manage. The mayor has maintained a high visible profile and great public image."
White, however, deflects much of the praise.
"Maybe I get credit that rightfully belongs to everybody from firefighters to teachers to volunteers," White said. "People in our community have done a great job. True leaders give more credit than they take, and I try to make that my attitude. Real leaders inspire the best in those around them."
Fifty-four percent of respondents rated Eckels' response as excellent or good. But 33 percent of those polled could not rate his performance, suggesting Eckels' name identification was not as high as White's. All but 7 percent polled had an opinion about White.
Eckels said he's glad the public approves of his and White's response to the evacuees, but that approval wasn't the focus.
"We're always happy that folks agree and think we're handling the situation well," Eckels said, praising the city-county cooperation and the roughly 50,000 volunteers who helped at the major shelters.
"We really weren't thinking about the public perception. We were just doing what needed to be done."
Perry, who asked Eckels to open Reliant Astrodome for evacuees, garnered a 59 percent favorable rating for his response.
Only 38 percent of those polled viewed Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina favorably, while 56 percent viewed his response as fair (21 percent) or poor (35 percent).
That roughly tracks national opinion. An AP-Ipsos poll found that slightly more than half, 52 percent of respondents, disapprove of Bush's handling of the hurricane relief.
Only 26 percent of Chronicle/KHOU poll respondents favorably rated the performance of Blanco in the disaster, and 36 percent gave good or excellent ratings to Nagin.
FEMA's response to Katrina was rated favorably by 31 percent, with the highest percentage of respondents, 37 percent, rating it as poor.
Stein said White has been able to parlay his image as a good manager into that of a humanitarian.
"White will have an enormous amount of capital in public trust and confidence," said Stein, whose wife is a member of the mayor's senior staff.
Chronicle reporter Matt Stiles contributed to this story.