Election

State Senator John Whitmire is Houston's Next Mayor

State Senator John Whitmire is slated to win against U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and takeover for term-limited Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.
State Senator John Whitmire is slated to win against U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and takeover for term-limited Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. Screenshot
Shortly after 9 p.m. Saturday, the Associated Press called the Houston Mayor's race for John Whitmire. The state senator had led all the way through early returns and U.S. Rep Sheila Jackson Lee was never able to catch up.

He received 65 percent of the vote to Jackson Lee's 35 percent as of Sunday morning with all 450 Election Day vote centers reporting.

Whitmire was the favorite among some Democratic and most Republican voters in the polls leading up to the November general election. Despite coming out in front of Jackson Lee with 43 percent of the votes cast in the primaries, he fell short of getting half of the total vote needed to avoid entering into December’s runoff.

After some polls started closing around 7 p.m., Whitmire took to X, formerly Twitter to thank his team and voters for their support throughout his campaign.
Whitmire and Jackson Lee took to the stage at their respective runoff election watch parties to address their friends, family members, voters and employees.

"We are very proud of our coalition. We ran a positive campaign. We're going to have a safer city," Whitmire said while kicking off his mayoral debut. "We're going to quit kicking our problems down the road. We're not New York or Chicago or L.A."

Despite giving kudos to himself for running a fair campaign, the newly elected Houston mayor appeared to take a slight jab at his challenger.

"People want to go to work for me because we respect people. We don't bully people," he said. "My family taught me to treat people the way you want to be treated. And that works wherever you are, regardless of what community you're visiting with, treat these individuals like you want to be treated."

Jackson Lee conceded the race and congratulated Whitmire on his victory. She vowed to work with him in the future.

However, she too seemed to have select responses to Whitmire's statements as she called out in support of those who stand against the state takeover of Houston ISD – something the congresswoman continually criticized Whitmire for backing.

"I never ran away from the fight to make Houston better. I'm grateful to all the unions that were so good to serve in this campaign. I'm grateful to those who believe Houston ISD should not be taken over. Our work is not completed," Jackson Lee said. "This was a journey. I am a public servant. And being a public servant, you never stop working."

Brandon Rottinghaus, the University of Houston political science professor, said Whitmire had a head start in the mayoral race with a war chest of campaign funds. He added that Jackson Lee’s unforced errors and reputation with some Houston-area voters let Whitmire focus on the race rather than the offense against the congresswoman.

“I think his messaging was down the middle, and didn’t want to rock the boat. So, I think he was able to accomplish that pretty successfully,” Rottinghaus said. “Sheila Jackson Lee’s negatives were already pretty high. So, if Whitmire were to attack her, he would just look like a bully.”

However, Rottinghaus said he was slightly surprised that the race didn’t turn a bit more personal earlier in the election cycle. He added that there were several moments last week between the two candidates that were more pointed during the debates leading up to Election Day – but continued to track in a relatively uneventful direction.

Rottinghaus said this could’ve been partly a strategy for Whitmire, as he wanted to be a candidate acceptable to a range of different voters ideologically, and “angry politics” does not lend itself to that.

He said Whitmire successfully obtained the Republican vote early in the race, with these voters voicing their support of the state senator in the polls. Some Democratic voters opted not to turn out for Whitmire – a Democrat himself – criticizing him for being too in cahoots with conservative-leaning local and statewide leaders.

Jackson Lee and Democratic voters also pointed to several of Whitmire’s controversial votes during his time in the state Legislature, including one that set the ground work for the state takeover of Houston ISD.

Whitmire combatted these challenges by saying that his relationship with Republican and conservative leaders in the Senate would assist him in his role as mayor and repair the somewhat shaky relationship between lawmakers in Austin and Houston.

As Houston's mayor, the state senator will face several challenges, including crime, infrastructure needs, ongoing issues related to water bills and the city’s budget crisis. These were all key factors discussed in debates and listed as voter concerns in polls leading up to the general and runoff elections.

Whitmire takes over for term-limited Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. Earlier this year, Turner reflected on his time as the city’s leader during his farewell address. He ran for the position two times before succeeding against former Kemah Mayor Bill King in a 2015 runoff election.

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa issued a statement on what he referred to as Houston Mayor-elect John Whitmire's victory:

"It is my honor to congratulate John Whitmire as the next Mayor of Houston. With his legacy as the longest-serving member of the Texas Senate. I am confident Mayor-elect Whitmire is prepared to lead Houston – and Houston's working families will be well-served under his leadership. We look forward to continuing a strong working relationship with the Houston mayor's office to advance the issues that will improve the lives of Houston residents for generations to come.

The people of Houston were blessed to have two strong Democrats to choose from in the runoff election, and we likewise congratulate Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee on a strong mayoral campaign and her enduring legacy of distinguished service to Houstonians, Texans, and Americans alike. A healthy democracy requires strong candidates and lively debate about how best to make our communities better, and we are grateful to both of these strong Houston Democrats for upholding the sacred values of our system and government."
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Faith Bugenhagen is on staff as a news reporter for The Houston Press, assigned to cover the Greater-Houston area.