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Charles Kuffner makes a living as an information technology consultant, but he’s made a considerable reputation for himself for a decade as Houston’s most prolific and comprehensive political blogger.
The Heights resident churns out his OfftheKuff.com postings daily, logging on to WordPress at 5 a.m. from home, tackling the local issues and political races that most media no longer address with consistency. “I realized nobody was writing about what was going on in my own backyard,” says Kuffner. “It was a niche, and I thought there was a need.”
Kuffner fills that perceived need by writing about everything from the judiciary, to city council, county and state legislative races, as well as polls, redistricting and quality-of-life issues ranging from neighborhood controversies about urban planning to education and taxation to regulation of craft beers.
Raised in New York City’s Staten Island (he took the fabled ferry to Manhattan to attend rigorous Stuyvesant High School), his father was an elected supreme court judge for 14 years, the equivalent of a district judge here. Kuffner was recruited to attend Trinity University in San Antonio, then in 1988, started graduate school in mathematics at Rice University. Houston became his home.
At both schools, he dabbled in writing sports for the student newspapers, and when he “turned out not to be so good at grad school,” he went to work for a software firm largely populated by Rice alumni.
In 2002, when blogging was just starting to take off, he began contributing sports and travel articles to others’ websites, but didn’t like writing for others and having no access to archives of his work. That’s when he launched offthekuff.com. “I didn’t have a bug in my ear about politics,” Kuffner recalls. “It was just about writing, where it would be easy to do.”
He began with what he still does – aggregating issues information from a variety of sources and injecting it with his own analysis. He did his first political interview in 2004 and began including them in earnest during the 2006 Houston municipal elections. Now those interviews have become a staple of Off the Kuff, the most comprehensive collection of Q&As with local candidates in the Houston area.
Kuffner labels himself a “progressive Democrat,” and yes, his political views are on display in his blog.” I have tried, especially in nonpartisan races – city races, school board races and stuff like that – to be fair and focus on issues,” he says. “And I guess I’ve been successful, because people are willing to talk to me.”
That balance is achievable, he explains, because he’s “data driven.”
“I do try to be as objective as I can when we’re talking about objective things,” says Kuffner. “ I don’t have any quarrel with people who do their best to analyze and make sense of data when they draw different conclusions and see different solutions than I do. My problem is with people who don’t pay attention to the evidence or distort it or otherwise try to force a conclusion on the evidence.“
While the “other guys” are covering the presidential election, he’s happy to be covering “all that stuff further down on the ballot.”
One issue down the ballot which he’s unabashedly endorsed is the Houston ISD’s $1.9 billion bond referendum. He and his wife, Tiffany Tyler, have two daughters – Olivia, 8, and Audrey, 5 – both pupils at HISD’s Travis Elementary in the Heights.
“You can have a great school without a great facility, but you’re needlessly handicapping yourself by doing so,” Kuffner blogged after the measure was placed on the November ballot by trustees. “This is a big step in the right direction and we’d be fools not to take it.”
Family life is a focus for Kuffner. He bought his first home in the Heights in 1997, and he and Tyler married in 1998. He’s clearly proud of her role managing the Central City Co-op, and he’s a devoted dad whose daughters, their achievements and antics are visible on his social media.
Although Kuffner’s time at Rice University didn’t end with a graduate degree, it did provide him with a 25-year avocation – playing saxophone in the quirky and sometimes controversial Marching Owl Band. Being in the MOB doesn’t require a huge time commitment, lets him play music with others, and gets his daughters to Rice games with him “to see something I do.”
His blogging, so far, is abstract to the girls. He does it at their Norhill home before they awaken, and makes sure it “doesn’t interfere with the family.”
But Off the Kuff is part of a the daily media diet for a growing number of online readers in Houston. And Kuffner likes interacting with them, hearing the variety of opinions among his followers. “I have readers who do help keep me honest,” he smiles. “Obviously a lot of my readers share my viewpoint, but I do have a lot of readers who come at me with other views.”
He values them all. “I can’t tell you how many people tell me they use my blog as a primary source of information,” says Kuffner with a bit of awe. “They tell me they see stuff there they don’t see elsewhere.”