Annise Parker

Nerd Power: Houston mayor opens up on closet cleaning, sci-fi love and Bill Clinton lessons

Nerd proud: Houston mayor opens up on closet cleaning and sci-fi love

The Influentials Mayor Annise Parker January 2014
Photo by © Michelle Watson/

"Nerd" is a word that Mayor Annise Parker considers a badge of honor. During an interview, she proudly ticks off her self-described "nerd credentials" —  she likes to read (vampire and werewolf themes are her favorites, she told the Wall Street Journal), she collects comptometers (old-fashioned mechanical calculators) and she writes with a fountain pen, keeping a collection on her desk at City Hall.

And when Parker's really stressed out, she cleans house or rearranges the cans in her pantry.

Not your typical politician, that's for sure.

But in a long and illustrious governmental career, Parker has broken the mold. In this, her last term, as Houston's mayor, after stints as city controller and city council member, Parker can't think of anything else she'd rather do.

"I love being mayor of Houston. I love talking shop," she says. "I spend all my time working. People ask me about down time. I unplug. I am an introvert. When I go home, I have to recharge. But going off on vacation? I enjoy what I do. It doesn't feel like work."

Her last two years as mayor should be interesting as she pursues such hot-button issues as city pensions, homelessness and term limits with a council that might not be as receptive to her desire to get a lot of things accomplished before she leaves office.

"It's a good crop of council members. They're passionate about the city. They want to do things," Parker says. "(But) the first thing I said to them in council member orientation was that this is a strong mayor system. You are a board of directors, not a legislative body in the sense of Austin and Washington.

"Work with me and I'll find things for you to be successful on, but you can't come in with the expectation that you are going to run things. It's different than any other city I can think of."

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Curled up in a good, comfy chair and a great reading light and a really good book, either in my home or a tropical beach some place, but still in a chair. But I can't tell you the last time I took a vacation for more than two days.

What is your idea of perfect misery?

Long meetings where nothing happens. I could spend all day and all night in a meeting where we are working through the minutia of some ordinance or policy. But a meeting where it's just a bunch of people talking and you never get to a resolution — it's why I have publicly stated over and over again that you never have to worry about me running for Congress.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

Don't fall on your sword over the little things. If you are going to go down, make it worth something. I keep this on my computer, the advice I give myself every day: "It's better to be hated for what one is than to be loved for what one is not."

How do you chill out?

Either curling up with a good book or I putter in my garden or I clean house. It drives Kathy crazy because she thinks housecleaning is the waste of a good mind, but if I have a really, really stressful week at council, I'll go home on the weekend and I'll organize closets or put all the canned goods in the pantry in order. I don't put them in alph(abetical) order. But I make sure everything is together. I'm organized.

What talent would you most love to have?

I'd like to sing. I can't carry a tune. While I played saxophone in middle school band and can read music, I don't have any innate ability to sing. And I would love to.

Who are your favorite singers?

They tend to be the balladeers, people with beautiful voices. Also those who can write beautiful songs. My iPod has everything from Johnny Mathis to Kris Kristofferson. It tends to be older stuff.

Who are your favorite writers?

I love to read. I read the back of the cereal box. I read a lot of science fiction, fantasy. I like to envision worlds that don't exist and possibilities that might be out there. Recently, my favorite science fiction authors are Kate Elliott, Elizabeth Moon, a longtime favorite, Lois McMaster Bujold.

What would you do if you won the lottery?

I'd pay off all my debts, put a little money aside for the kids in the future and start a foundation for charity. I'm personally particularly interested in preserving wilderness and endangered animal species, so I'd put my money in that direction.

What living politican do you most admire?

Unfortunately, Nelson Mandela just died, so I can't name him. The power of forgiveness, that was an example (of how amazing he was). I admire the ability of certain politicians to make things happen, but I don't hold up politicians as role models. I admire skill sets of certain politicians. Bill Clinton is a phenomenal politician in the way he can articulate an issue and compromise and mold and shape and move things forward.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I'm not done yet. I'm still striving.