Houston mayoral race: 18 candidates, election laws and crime concerns

(NewsNation) — The Houston mayoral election has a crowded field with 18 candidates looking to address crime, infrastructure, budget shortfalls and affordable housing.

Houston, with a population of 2.3 million, is the most populous city in Texas and the most diverse city in the United States. While it leans Democratic, the mayor’s office is nonpartisan.

Some Democrats worry this race is about more than just picking a new mayor. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a new law clearing the way for the state to control elections in Houston if they determine there has been any tampering. Voting rights groups are concerned that Republicans might use any problems in the upcoming election to take control in 2024. 

There’s also a law that limits what city officials can do, and Houston officials are suing over it. They made Harris County, which includes Houston, change how it handles elections. 

The top candidates are two long-time Democrats: U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Sen. John Whitmire. They’re trying to follow the current mayor, Sylvester Turner, who can’t run again due to term limits. 

A recent poll shows Whitmire leading Jackson Lee by a few percentage points, but a lot of voters are still undecided. In the latest survey, Whitmire led Jackson Lee 34% to 31%, within the margin of error. All other candidates combined got 12%. 

Jackson Lee is getting support from big-name Democrats and is trying to make the election about standing up to Republicans. Whitmire is trying to get support from both parties while keeping his Democratic values and working with Republicans who control the state. 

Both candidates have garnered various local endorsements in the race, but Jackson Lee has secured more high-profile supporters from beyond the city. She enjoys the support of prominent figures like Nancy Pelosi, Beto O’Rourke, and Hillary Clinton. 

With such a crowded field, it is hard to predict any candidate will get more than 50 percent of the vote to win without a runoff. 

Here are all the 18 candidates running for Houston Mayor:

  1. Gaylon C. Caldwell
  2. Dr. Jack Christie
  3. Robert Gallegos
  4. Annie “Mama” Garcia
  5. Gilbert Garcia
  6. M. ‘Griff’ Griffin
  7. Naoufal Houjami
  8. B. Ivy
  9. Lee Kaplan
  10. M.J. Khan
  11. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee
  12. David C. Lowy
  13. Julian Martinez
  14. Chanel Mbala
  15. Dr. Kathy Lee Tatum
  16. Roy Vasquez
  17. Sen. John Whitmire
  18. Robin Williams

Read more about the individual candidates.

Jackson Lee has been running TV ads linking Whitmire to Republican Abbott and former President Donald Trump.

However, Jackson Lee has faced a significant financial disadvantage. Whitmire raised nearly double the funds that Jackson Lee did from July to late September and outspent her more than five times over, according to the latest campaign finance reports. By the end of that period, Whitmire had $6.9 million in his campaign fund, while Jackson Lee had $902,000, according to the Texas Tribune.

Despite a decrease in Houston’s overall crime rate, crime remains the top concern. Houston, like many major U.S. cities, experienced an increase in violent crime, including homicides, during the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, overall crime has decreased by approximately 5 percent.

The drop in the city’s overall crime rate hasn’t eased voter concerns. According to a recent poll by the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston, 83% of likely voters in the mayoral race believe that addressing crime should be the next mayor’s top priority.

Whitmire, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, plans to collaborate with all law enforcement agencies in Harris County, increase efforts to recruit police officers and expedite the processing of violent offenders if elected mayor.

Among his plans to combat crime is bringing in 200 Texas Department of Public Safety troopers to assist Houston police officers due to a shortage of law enforcement personnel.

This approach has been tried in other places, such as Austin, but it disproportionately impacted communities of color. Whitmire believes that the DPS partnership was effective in reducing crime in Austin, considered a more progressive city, until politics interfered. He aims to prevent a similar outcome in Houston.

During an Oct. 10 debate hosted by KPRC, Jackson Lee expressed her desire for officers to target high-crime areas using data analysis and increase their visibility, among other ideas. She said that it is unacceptable for families to feel unsafe.

Whitmire has shown a willingness to mend the strained relationship with the state’s Republican leadership, which has drawn criticism from Jackson Lee and progressive circles. While he has been supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, his close relationship with Republicans and ties to GOP donors like Houston restaurateur Tilman Fertitta has raised concerns among members of the Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus PAC, leading to their endorsement of Jackson Lee.

The next Houston mayor will assume office amid high tensions with the state’s Republican leadership. The Republican-controlled Legislature has focused on the Houston region regarding voting access and public safety spending, as the area has become a Democratic stronghold over the last decade.

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