Democratic challenger Ed Gonzalez defeated incumbent Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman by nearly 64,000 votes Tuesday. Hickman conceded to Gonzalez shortly after 10 p.m., with roughly 81 percent of the votes counted.
Since Hickman's appointment by the Harris County Commissioners Court in May 2015, his administration had been plagued by continuing problems at the Harris County Jail — poor conditions that Hickman blamed largely on his predecessor, Adrian Garcia. (Garcia stepped down to run for mayor).
By 10:20 p.m., Hickman was trailing Gonzalez, 578,830 to 642,828. We will update this post Wednesday morning with the final tally.
In a September interview with Houston Public Media, Gonzalez, a former Houston Police Department homicide detective and three-time city councilman, called Hickman's administration "stagnant" and "almost going backwards."
Gonzalez told the radio station “There’s three things that we’re addressing in law enforcement that do not have a law enforcement response, and that’s mental illness, poverty, and addiction. We’ve got to find community-based solutions to that."
Hickman's campaign had centered largely on the fact that Gonzalez was no longer a licensed peace officer, while stressing the incumbent's law enforcement bona fides. This earned him endorsements by the Houston Police Officers Union, the Harris County Deputies Organization and the Mexican-American Sheriffs Organization. (Perhaps even more importantly, he had the blessing of Gallery Furniture founder Jim "Mattress Mac" McIngvale).
But Gonzalez was endorsed by the Houston Chronicle, saying that the former homicide detective and three-term city councilman "built a record as a policymaker dedicated to diverting people from our jail — one of the major challenges facing the sheriff's office."
Hickman didn't exactly inherit a well-oiled machine. For years, the Harris County Jail, which houses as many as 10,000 inmates, has suffered from overcrowding. Accusations of inmate abuse, excessive force, and healthcare deficiencies resulted in a U.S. Department of Justice investigation in 2009. But critics alleged that, unlike predecessor Adrian Garcia, Hickman wasn't doing enough to get things under control.
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In October, Hickman's management, or lack thereof, of conditions at the Harris County Jail was criticized in a six-part investigation by the Chronicle. Hickman responded in large part by saying that most problems were holdovers from Garcia's tenure.
Hickman almost immediately earned the ire of the LGBT community by firing a transgender rights advocate hired by Garcia to help train jailers in protecting LGBT inmates from harassment. He also demoted the LGBT liason.
But Hickman did make some positive changes, including improving jailer training requirements and streamlining the booking process. But apparently he did not do enough, and voters noticed.
Update, November 9, 6:06 a.m.: With 100 percent of votes tallied, Gonzales beat Hickman 52 percent to 48 percent. A total of 95,276 Harris County residents cast ballots.