A Quick Look at Houston’s Mayoral Candidates
By Nayeli Garza
Illustrations by Shelby Hohl
Leon casino, Election season looms in Houston. This November, citizens will vote a new mayor into office, to replace Democrat Anise Parker, who has served the maximum three terms since 2010. Seven candidates have declared their bid — five Democrats and two Republicans — and each offers his own response to the city’s challenges, as well as strategies to ensure its growth.
Given that local voter turnout in mayoral elections has steadily decreased in the last few decades, it is critical to engage as Houstonians that have a vested interest not only in the city’s cultural development, but in its political life as well. We are a progressive hotspot in an otherwise mostly red Texas, after all.
Read on to for a sixty-second snapshot of each mayoral candidate.
Chris Bell (Democrat) served as a lawyer, councilmember, and Congressman, and ran a strong campaign against Rick Perry in a bid for Governor. He recognizes issues such as the need for better schools, improved roads, and an improved budget. What makes Bell’s vision for the city a truly exciting one is the way he integrates innovative technology as the basis of his response to those issues.
Bell’s administration would tighten the city’s finances to enable a more effective and accountable government. He calls for a universally accessible pre-kindergarten program, made possible through the improved use of public spaces such as libraries. On infrastructure, Bell calls for more efficient methods of fixing the roads and sharing information with all Houstonians. He urges the importance of a strong public transit system, noting that given the city’s growth rate, simply building more roads won’t ease congestion.
Ben Hall (Democrat) started a career in Houston politics by serving as City Attorney under Mayor Lanier’s administration in the 1990’s.
His platform first addresses our crumbling infrastructure, which prompts his promise to dedicate new technology and a greater amount of labor to remediate. Hall highlights the city’s pension system as unsustainable (as most of the mayoral candidates do), and deserving of immediate action, though his exact plan to address the issue is unclear. Also, like the other candidates, Hall calls for a decrease in criminal activity and pledges to promote improved relations between local law enforcement and communities.
Sylvester Turner’s (Democrat) approach to the question of the city focuses on increasing the opportunities available to the city’s middle class families (in line with his voting record during his twenty-six year tenure as a State Representative).
Turner’s platform addresses key issues that his peers also recognize — like failing infrastructure and a need for better education. Turner set himself apart with thoroughly crafted strategies to address these issues. He offers the Road to the Future initiative, to align community college and vocational programs with the needs of the private sector (an effort to increase the number of students trained to engineer and construct the roadways). Turner also promotes the improved expansion and integration of HPD into local communities, and invites supporters to sign a petition to fund police body cameras.
Adrian Garcia (Democrat), the Harris County Sheriff turned mayoral candidate is, interestingly, the only one among his peers whose official platform is not detailed on his website. Rather, most of the site is a display of Garcia’s life as a public figure, highlighting past accomplishments. He offers only a quick nod toward the promise of balancing the budget, saving the taxpayers money, and protecting citizens.
From the standpoint of a citizen who adores the city and grows excited prospects of its continued evolution, it is truly difficult to feel inspired by a candidate whose vision seems only to contain his own reflection.
Marty McVey (Democrat) nominates himself as one who can, “lead our city government with sound business practices,” on the basis of his illustrious history managing businesses.
Though it is the case that a city is not a business, McVey vision for Houston calls for a strategy of strong economic development. His platform is largely built upon an observation of the city’s present financial crisis, caused in large part by an unsustainable pension program, and worsened by limited revenue. McVey promises to attract international investment to the city: new jobs, new businesses, and new industry, with an emphasis on technological and manufacturing firms. McVey addresses his target issues with precision, even calculating the specific figure it would require to achieve the city’s balanced budget ($78.4 billion, if you’re wondering).
Interestingly, McVey’s official candidacy website gestures towards inclusivity by listing a Chinese translation of his biography. Oddly, there is no Spanish translation — although in Houston, Spanish speakers outnumber Chinese speakers roughly twenty-four to one (according to data published within the past ten years).
Stephen Costello (Republican) is an engineer who has also served as an At-Large member of City Council. He prefaces his candidacy with the commitment to local communities he’s demonstrated as councilmember.
Costello promises to expand and better equip HPD at no additional burden to the taxpayer. He also addresses the city’s financial unsustainability. He declares a (somewhat vague) plan to return jurisdiction over the pension system to municipal rather than state politicians. Costello offers the Neighborhoods to Standards effort to improve the quality of the streets and drainage systems on the question of infrastructure.
Bill King (Republican) served as a managing partner in a law firm that represented local government, where he learned how entities like the City of Houston manage finances.
‘Back to Basics’ is the slogan on which King’s straightforward, three-part platform is built. He highlights the dire state of the city’s finances, and offers methods to correct the crisis, like zero-based budgeting. King calls attention to public safety and proposes the establishment of an independent entity to review HPD’s operations (instead of just investing more money in the department). King also notes the urgency with which the roadways, waste and water systems in the city need repair.
King, like his Democratic counterpart Marty McVey, delivers touching homages to the city’s great assets. And, like McVey, he anchors his vision in the pursuit of growing the economy to ensure the continuation of world-class level commerce.
by Guest Author