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Thursday, December 7, 2023


UH hosts first mayoral debate of 2023 election season

The 2023 mayoral candidates on stage at the Student Center South Theater fielded questions regarding corruption within the city, infrastructure, crime rates and illegal dumping.   

The five mayoral candidates (left to right) spotlighted at the debate were U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, state Sen. John Whitmire, attorney Lee Kaplan, former City Council member Jack Christie and former METRO Chair Gilbert Garcia.| Courtesy of Anh Le/The Cougar

Monday, FOX 26 Houston along with UH hosted the first of the four mayoral debates at the University of Houston Student Center Theater. 

The five mayoral candidates spotlighted at the debate were U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, state Sen. John Whitmire, former METRO Chair Gilbert Garcia, former City Council member Jack Christie and attorney Lee Kaplan. The candidates fielded questions regarding corruption within the city, infrastructure, crime rates and illegal dumping.   

Throughout the debate, the candidates focused more on their vision for the city rather than attacking one another. But they did not shy away from criticizing Mayor Sylvester Turner on multiple issues — his alleged mismanagement of the city drainage fund being top of list. 

The Drainage Drainage and Street Renewal Fund was passed in 2020. It was intended to provide for additional infrastructure projects but thus far, Houstonians have not seen results. A poll by the Hobby School of Public Affairs showed that crime and infrastructure are among the top priorities for Houstonians in the upcoming election. 

Christie was among the candidates who criticized Turner’s handling of the Fund. 

“I will not let one penny out of that drainage fee be used for anything other than streets and drainage,” Christie said.

While all candidates saw infrastructure as a major concern, some placed law and order above the city’s streets and roads. 

Whitmire has taken a strong stance against crime and said curbing it is his first priority. His administration would prioritize improving relations between the city and the firefighters union and adding more law enforcement, he said.  

“We cannot live in a great city with those lack of resources, what we must do is acknowledge we’ve got a problem. You’re not going to fix a problem if you don’t admit you have it,” Whitmire said. 

Jackson Lee, who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1995, is building her campaign on her ability to leverage existing connections in Washington to the benefit of Houstonians. 

“I’m the only candidate here who has experience in multiple levels of government,” Jackson Lee said. “I know how to get things done.”

According to polling, November’s election has narrowed to a two-person race between Jackson Lee and Whitmire. The two candidates are neck-and-neck in support, and the race is expected to end in a runoff. 

Students who attended the debate were pleased with the candidate’s diversity in background and experience. 

“There’s a really good diversity of qualification, the experience that was prior, whether it’s on the federal level, the state level, the city level. And I think that’s super important and I’m really excited to see how it turns out in November,” said music education junior Aiden Judd.

Others, like public policy freshman Sam Milan, hope to see the winner follow through on their promises to improve the city’s infrastructure. 

“I expect them to go and make sure that there’s proper investment in the public transportation system,” Milan said. “I hope that, especially the arts district, they would develop it more and use sustainable development and hopefully keep climate policies in mind when they’re building a lot of these things.”

Next week, the Student Government Association will host a mayoral candidate forum at UH on Oct. 6, in partnership with the Hispanic Business Student Association and Gen HTX. 

The mayoral election will be held Nov. 7. 

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