At first glance, the June 30 concert at Reliant Arena might have seemed just a routine hip-hop affair. But this one was different. Even though 7,500 teens and young adults turned out to hear Lil’ Wayne, J Xavier, Mista Madd and a host of other hip-hop celebrities, the only way to get into this event was to be tested for HIV.
Hip Hop 4 HIV was the brainchild of freshman state Rep. Borris Miles, a flamboyant insurance agent-turned-politician whose heavily black District 146 accounts for three-fourths of Harris County’s HIV infections.
To Miles’ supporters, the concert was characteristic of the fresh thinking the legislator had brought to his inner-city district after a surprise 2006 runoff victory over 27-year incumbent Al Edwards. But even as backers celebrate Miles’ innovations, others are concerned about a series of incidents involving the lawmaker that ranged from awkward to frightening.
The episodes culminated in December when Miles crashed a party at the posh St. Regis Hotel. Party host David Harris said a drunken Miles shocked guests with loud, profane language before planting a Godfather-style “kiss of death” on his cheeks, handing him a pistol and declaring,”You don’t know what I’m capable of doing.”
After proclaiming himself a “gangsta,” Miles then allegedly kissed a female guest on the lips while her husband was away from the table.
Prosecutors are scrutinizing the episode. Meanwhile, the female recipient of Miles’ unsolicited smooch filed a lawsuit seeking $1 million in damages and demanding the lawmaker be tested for HIV. A hearing is set for Feb. 15.
Other moments include Miles’ unilateral decision to censor an anti-death penalty art exhibit at the State Capitol and his profane chastisement of former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell at a downtown party.
Miles, gearing up for a March primary rematch with Edwards, declined to comment on the Harris and Bell incidents. He defends his art exhibit action.
‘Not tomorrow, but today’
Aggressiveness is a point of pride for Miles, an athletic man who strikes a stylish pose with close-cropped hair and a taste for Gucci shoes and expensive suits. But beneath the confident exterior, the 42-year-old lawmaker wrestles with the knowledge that he suffers from an illness — sickle cell anemia — that often claims its victims in mid-life. Miles spent more than a week in January hospitalized with pneumonia.
“Because of the short mortality rate,” he said in an interview after his release, “I’ve tried to get things done, not tomorrow, but today.”
City Councilman Ronald Green, who has known Miles for 18 years, characterized the lawmaker as “passionate about his work in the district.”
His credits include stints on the local board of the Urban League and the United Negro College Fund. In 2003, he received the YMCA’s Super Achievers Award. Two years later, he won the Houston Citizens Chamber of Commerce’s Pinnacle Award, in part for moving his business to the Third Ward and redeveloping its rundown location.
“He’s very bright, young and wealthy,” said Francis Cook, an official with the Across the Track PAC, which typically supports minority candidates. “It might come off as brash, depending on circumstances. He’s extremely confident. He’s a ‘free Negro’ and can’t be bought. He’s a little hard to deal with, hard to intimidate unless you can convince him to your way of thinking.”
Miles, who grew up in Sunnyside, the son of a Louisiana-born welder and his social worker wife, is best known as the owner of a successful insurance agency. Started in 1992 in a garage apartment, the company now writes more than $45 million in premiums annually, Miles notes on his Web site.
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