BY: Rachel Thompson
With early voting starting October 23rd and Election Day on November 7th, Houston will say ‘farewell’ to Mayor Sylvester Turner after serving two 4-year terms. Prior to that, Turner served for 27 years as the Representative for Texas House District 139. The contenders with name recognition who want to take his place are US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, State Senator John Whitmire, Houston City Councilman Robert Gallegos, and managing partner for Garcia Hamilton and Associates, Gilbert Garcia. Voters need to decide if they want another career politician or a businessman.
In 1994, then Houston City Councilwoman Sheila Jackson Lee ousted US Rep. Craig Washington from the TX 18 Congressional District seat with help from now deceased Kenneth (Ken) Lay of Enron. She has held that position for 28 years. Have African American people benefited from her 28 years of representation? Another question to consider is whether she can be bought or persuaded to upend another Black person making real change for Black people at the behest of another influential person like Ken Lay.
It was not a coincidence when Jackson-Lee entered the race that Chris Hollins exited and, instead, is now running for City Controller. State Senator John Whitmire, “Dean of the Texas Senate,” has represented District 15 of the Texas State Senate since 1983, and represented the 82nd District of the Texas State House for 10 years prior to that. Since Whitmire is a Democrat, African American people have largely voted for Senator John Whitmire for 50 years. While Chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, incarnation has steadily increased under his watch. According to Vera data as of August 2023, Black people in particular are incarcerated at strikingly higher rates than White people in Harris County and Texas.
The number of incarcerated women has grown exponentially in the last several decades, outpacing rates of growth for men. So what, if anything, will change for Black people with Whitmire as mayor? African Americans have been loyal to him, but it seems that he is not loyal to them. Maybe he can only perceive African Americans as prisoners, hence his support for the Darrington Seminary Program at the Darrington Unit in Rosharon, TX. To date there have been four classes of the Darrington Seminary Program. Concerning loyalty, perhaps it is Jes-us! That may explain why Whitmire has not endorsed an African American candidate for the Senate seat he is vacating!
Councilman Robert Gallegos has represented District I since 2013. He represents the council district that encompasses downtown, the area east of downtown (EaDo), Clinton Park, parts of northeast Houston, the greater East End and the Houston Ship Channel, as well as communities along I-45 south from downtown to Hobby Airport. How have his constituents benefitted from his leadership in 10 years? Where is the Black and Brown Coalition? Does it still exist?
Gilbert Garcia is a career businessman. Having joined his firm in 2002 and grown from managing about $350 million in assets to more than $20 billion. Yet he has been politically adjacent having served as Mayor Annise Parker’s campaign chair in 2009, and as chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, under Parker. He claims that he can ‘shake things up’ in City Hall as well has bring fiscal responsibility to the city of Houston. The question still has to be asked…can he address Black Houstonians needs in Acres Homes, Sunnyside, Hiram Clarke and all the other predominately African American neighborhoods in Houston.
According to the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston, while both Jackson Lee and Whitmire identify as Democrats, they differ in their base of partisan support in the November election, with Jackson Lee backed by 51% of Democratic, 15% of Independent and 1% of Republican voters and Whitmire by 51% of Republican, 37% of Independent and 24% of Democratic voters. Garcia was backed by 9% of Latino voters. The mayoral race is nonpartisan.
Depending on where voters live within Houston, their issues of interest may deal with crime, traffic, flooding, potholes, inconsistent City services, and/ or homelessness. According to the Rice University Kinder Institute for Urban Research’s Election 2023 – Priorities and Concerns of Houston Residents report, the topics on the minds of most residents are: crime and safety, infrastructure and the cost of housing. This conclusion is based on insights gathered from a large sample of Houston residents, not just those registered to vote. So which candidate can deliver?