Election

Runoff Ahead in Houston Mayor's Race

Mayoral candidates State Senator John Whitmire, Attorney Lee Kaplan, former METRO chair Gilbert Garcia and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, at a recent mayoral forum.
Mayoral candidates State Senator John Whitmire, Attorney Lee Kaplan, former METRO chair Gilbert Garcia and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, at a recent mayoral forum. Screenshot
State Senator John Whitmire and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee will face each other in a runoff in December. Whitmire 105,975 votes to Jackson Lee’s 85,875 or 43 percent to 35 percent.

Several political organizations had already planned mayoral forums for the two candidates to have an opportunity to debate more in-depth before the race's final outcome.

In the City Controller race, former Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins is headed for a runoff against former City Council Member Orlando Sanchez

Political experts had predicted a close race. Hollins had 94,789 to Sanchez’s 57,585 or 44.09 percent to 27.2 percent. Term-limited Council Member and Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin ran third with 15.6 percent. Chief Deputy City Controller Shannan Nobles 12 percent in the final count.

Hollins served as county clerk in 2020 and instituted new voting practices, including 24-hour poll locations and drive-thru voting – two measures that were not well-received by GOP officials but received praise from their Democratic counterparts.

The four candidates sought to fill current-term limited controller Chris Brown’s seat. Brown has alerted city officials of the projected budget shortfall that will take effect after COVID-19 federal relief funds begin to run out.

Another runoff is scheduled for the District G City Council race pitting incumbent Mary Nan Huffman  against well known attorney Tony Buzbee. Huffman had 17,463 votes to Buzbee's 14,596 or 49 percent versus 41 percent.

District G covers West Houston and one of the city's wealthiest and Republican-leaning regions, including Buzbee’s neighborhood River Oaks, Afton Oaks, Memorial and Briar Forest.

Former Humble ISD board trustee Martina Lemond Dixon and Businessman Fred Flickinger ran for Martin's spot on City Council with Flickinger prevailing to represent District E, covering Kingwood and parts of the Clear Lake area. Flickinger won with 14,829 votes to Lemond Dixon's 11,181 or 57 percent to 43 percent.

In the mayor's race, Whitmire had led Jackson Lee in a poll conducted by the University of Houston ahead of the race. However, both candidates have divisive reputations, with some residents opting not to elect either.

Those plugged into local politics were reminded of this the night before early voting when a voice recording of a woman who allegedly was Jackson Lee was sent to local news publications.

In a written statement, Jackson Lee neither confirmed nor denied that her voice was the one overhead in recording berating who was said to be a campaign employee of the mayoral candidate.

However, she did take the opportunity to – without naming Whitmire directly – to pin the recording's release on a political opponent, who she described had worked to exploit it and who she said was backed by extreme Republican supporters.

Whitmire’s campaign responded by denying any involvement in leaking the recording.

The back-and-forth between Jackson Lee and Whitmire occurred during several hosted mayoral debates, where other candidates, such as former METRO chair Gilbert Garcia, also aimed at Whitmire over his work in the State Legislature.

They took stabs at actions Whitmire had taken in the past, including voting in support of the state takeover of Houston ISD amid growing concerns from parents, students and community advocates over the state's involvement in the district.

This vote and Whitmire aligning himself with Republicans in the Legislature has also garnered criticism from Democratic voters.

Local political experts expected the mayoral race to narrow to Whitmire and Jackson Lee opposing one another in a runoff, as Houston's past mayoral elections in 2015 and 2019 also ended up with two leading candidates facing off against one another.

Among the additional candidates, Garcia and Jack Christie gained the most traction, each collecting about 7 percent of the vote. Garcia raked in 17,949 votes, with Christie trailing behind at 17,193 votes.

Whitmire and Jackson Lee will likely have to answer more questions concerning voters’ pressing issues, including crime, the city’s budget crisis, infrastructure improvements, illegal dumping, rising costs of water bills and rectifying the city’s relationship with lawmakers in Austin in upcoming mayoral forums.

Three city council members, Martha Castex-Tatum, Amy Peck, and Tiffany Thomas, representing Districts K, A and F, respectively, did not appear on the ballot because they were unopposed and not term-limited.
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Faith Bugenhagen is on staff as a news reporter for The Houston Press, assigned to cover the Greater-Houston area.