Have they reached "good guy" status yet?

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How much longer can Reps. Tom DeLay and John Culberson remain Chronicle and Metro “bad guys” with news like this:

Metro says it got all it wanted and then some in a transportation bill Congress passed Friday, including authorization for at least $245 million toward its revised transit plan featuring rail and guided busways.

That’s a huge turnaround since the previous bill, when legislation backed by local congressional leaders blocked the Metropolitan Transit Authority from using federal money for any rail project.

But in June the ice finally broke.

Mayor Bill White and Metro officials announced that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, who previously had blocked rail funding, and another rail critic, U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, had agreed to help the agency obtain $1 billion in federal funding over the next 10 years.

The bill passed Friday also gives Metro credit toward federal matching money for $324 million already spent on its Main Street light rail line, which was built without federal assistance.

On Friday, the mayor and Metro leaders had nothing but praise for DeLay’s work in helping get the agency back on track.

In a statement headed “Promises made, promises kept,” Metro President and CEO Frank Wilson said DeLay and others in Congress “kept their commitments and ushered in a new era of cooperation and support.”

White echoed the theme. “From Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to Majority Leader Tom DeLay and on, our entire congressional delegation has stepped up to move us forward,” he said.

“There’s more than we had asked for,” White said. “We requested the members of the House and Senate to fight for Houston, to get the maximum amount of money we could. We have people who can, every year, make sure that … Congress is able to disburse the money.”

Culberson and Hutchison sit on congressional committees responsible for doling out federal transportation dollars.

Amid the jubilation, however, spokesmen for Metro, DeLay and Culberson emphasized that the bill, which covers the remaining four years of the 2004-09 transportation funding cycle, does not actually guarantee money for Metro. The agency still must win Federal Transit Administration approval of its projects and compete with other cities for annual appropriations. But the authorization, they said, shows strong support from Congress, which should increase Metro’s clout with the FTA and make it easier to sell bonds for the agency’s local match of the federal dollars.

Will the Chronicle‘s editorial board be mollified now?

KEVIN WHITED ADDS: Actually, I think the political game is a little more complicated. Mayor White and staff framed this issue beautifully, including their consultations with Reps. Culberson (R) and DeLay (R) and not Democrats whose districts are also affected. That way, when minorities object that they aren’t getting the rail or the bus expansion they were promised, Mayor White deflects all criticism to Culberson and DeLay, saying they forced this plan on him, and he reluctantly went along because it was better than nothing (despite their denials that they helped at all in formulating this plan). And White therefore will continue to count on minority votes when he moves on to his seemingly inevitable statewide political race.

Rep. Culberson and his staff got played by our “aww shucks” mayor on this one (at least House Majority DeLay’s staff had the good sense to be FAR away from it). No wonder they want to change the topic to border militias.

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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.