Eleanor Tinsley was slight, with a soft voice and smiley disposition.
I believe she stood taller and stronger than most City Council members in history.
She had a style all her own that that was never boastful or pride-laden.
She already had a hard-fought, life-risking political track record when she sought a council seat in 1979.
She was among the school board majority that had integrated Houston schools.
A council expansion called for the election of nine district members and five at-large.
Eleanor chose to challenge the arch-typical good ol’ boy known as Councilman-at-Large Frank Mann.
And, man, did she defeat Frank with enormous style alongside a polite, yet firm citation of his record.
As a reporter, I remember that her lead-off hit was baking cookies for the City Hall Press Corps – undoubtedly a “first” in campaign history.
It wasn’t the last time her baking talents and thoughtfulness graced those quarters.
I believe her upset of Mann ended the exclusive good-ol’-boy reign and set the stage for political milestones such as the Bayou City’s first female mayor and its first African-American police chief.
Eleanor was immediately perceived as a threat.
The male powers-that-be gave her the WORST seat in the council chambers.
They put her in the end seat as far away as possible.
Ironically, it became a truly AT LARGE position for someone on the prowl for a more progressive, quality-of-life agenda.
And it gave us reporters better access to her frequent quotes and opinions.
Of all things, Eleanor used her own staff researchers to ferret out pertinent facts about issues such as the large number of unattractive, unregulated Houston billboards.
Here was an elected official using tireless research and open hearings instead of calculating gambits and hidden agendas.
I believe this method worked better than ones used by many predecessors.
With this same modus operandi, Eleanor left her mark by taking this and other well-researched positions on issues such as:
Mounted Police Officers . . . the 911 emergency system . . . water fluoridation for the east side . . . smoke detectors in day cares . . . sprinkler systems for high rises . . . expansion of city parks . . . the still-operative SPARK program . . .
and a series of anti-smoking ordinances that still has smokers fuming.
Throughout this long, progressive walk Eleanor remained ever-devoted to her husband and family . . . while steadfast to many friends of ALL persuasions:
Protestants, Catholics, Jews. Straights and gays. People of color. Liberals AND conservatives . . . Democrats AND Republicans.
Eleanor never personally BAD-MOUTHED an opponent – in an election or at the council table.
I believe that exceptional style lasted 82 years, right on up until we lost her on Feb. 10.
Houston may never again see an elected official with the style, the grace and the downright determination to do what is right for the people . . . than the
and, yes, COOKIE-BAKING individual we know as Eleanor Tinsley.
This, the old City Hall cookie-eater truly believes!
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