Houston News & Search
Photo: Marie D. De Jesus, Houston Chronicle
Sophie Blitz, 8, loves performing magic tricks. On Friday, she celebrated her biggest one yet, persuading the city of Houston to complete the unfinished sidewalk along her route to school and conjuring the mayor himself to appear on her street.
The chain of events began earlier this year when Sophie’s mother said it was not safe to ride her bicycle in the street where the sidewalk was missing along Cortlandt in the Heights.
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When Sophie asked if her parents could buy a new sidewalk, her mother explained how citizens pay taxes to the city for improvements like sidewalks. Well, Sophie asked, who’s in charge of the city?
And so began Sophie’s correspondence, carried out the old-fashioned way, with stamps and envelopes. On March 3, Mayor Sylvester Turner‘s office received a typed letter with a second-grader’s signature asking the mayor to fix the problem.
“I can also show you where it is so maybe you could come to my house,” Sophie wrote, adding an enticement: She would take him to the neighborhood gelato shop.
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“If you want to ride your bike, bring your bike. Do you have a bike? Or my mom can drive us there,” she offered. “What day would be best for you? … My sister has piano lessons on Wednesdays so no Wednesdays.”
The mayor replied with a hand-signed letter of his own saying he had forwarded her request to Public Works and describing the city’s 311 helpline. The letter, however, did not mention anything about a visit.
Sophie wrote back that she was happy that a new sidewalk had been poured in one day. Ever persistent, the little constituent added that she was “very, very, very super excited to go out to get gelato with you.” The mayor responded just this Tuesday that, unfortunately, his busy schedule wouldn’t permit a visit.
Then on Friday afternoon – perhaps after Sophie cast a magic spell – Turner arrived at the Blitz family bungalow, no bike in tow.
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Sophie and her 5-year-old sister, Annie, greeted the mayor with a handmade butterfly and thank-you notes. One of them featured a stick-figure portrait of Sophie and the mayor, who grinned and noted that it depicted him with more hair than he has in reality.
Turner shook the girls’ hands then chatted with their parents, as Sophie clasped her hands behind her back and Annie bounced on her heels. The purple pom-pom on Sophie’s hairband matched the mayor’s purple dress shirt and tie – coincidence, perhaps, or maybe magic.
About 10 minutes later, the party left the Blitzes’ house and walked one block north to the newly finished sidewalk. Turner turned to Sophie.
“What do you think, is it nice?” he asked.
“This is a very persuasive constituent,” he told reporters.
One strip of freshly laid concrete awaited Sophie and Turner, who together pressed in an orange plastic board with bumps to help people in wheelchairs traverse the ramp.
“Keep the letters coming, because we do read them,” Turner said. “You can be young and you can have an impact. You don’t have to be my age. You’re never too young to be very powerful.”
As the group trooped to the gelato shop, neighbor Christa Nichols waved and shouted, “Sophie, thank you for writing your letter!”
“She’s our official Cortlandt politician,” said another neighbor, Michelle Jovanelly. “I would vote for her.”
At the Gelazzi ice cream shop, both sisters used the occasion as an excuse to order two scoops each – chocolate and Oreo for Sophie, rasberry and lemon for Annie. The mayor stuck with a single scoop of plain vanilla. His staff and the girls’ parents, Dawn and Mitch Blitz, exchanged offers to pay the tab. In the end, as in so much of politics, it wasn’t clear who ended up footing the bill.
The girls munched happily as they sat on either side of Turner in the row of plush red seats bought from the Astrodome.
“I’ve never seen Sophie so quiet,” said the store’s co-owner, Leigh Rubino, who has known the family for three years, since the shop opened. “If Sophie has something to say, she’ll let you know.”
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