Mayoral election 2024: What to know, expect
This November, the city of Houston is going to elect a new mayor for the first time in eight years.
While there are 17 candidates on the ballot, according to polling by the Hobby School of Public Affairs, it’s a close race between U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Texas Sen. John Whitmire. Regardless of who wins, the next mayor will be the executor of the fourth largest city in the U.S. — a hefty responsibility.
“Houston has what’s called a strong mayor-council,” said political science assistant professor J. Bryan Cole. “Which is the arrangement for city government that gives the mayor the greatest amount of power.”
This article will give you a basic rundown of the top candidates, as well as a little bit of what to expect this November. For students interested in getting to know the candidates in-person the Student Government Association is hosting a candidate forum Oct. 6.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee
Jackson Lee has represented Houston’s 18th district in the U.S. House as a Democrat since she was elected in 1995. Before that, she was a municipal judge and served on the city council for five years.
As a candidate, Jackson Lee said her administration will focus on the city’s infrastructure, crime rates and homelessness. She also aims to prioritize economic opportunity by promoting small businesses.
Her campaign page also notes her promise to help “working families thrive” and will “defend reproductive rights and civil rights.”
Crime is the highest priority for Houstonians in this election cycle. Jackson Lee said her administration will take a comprehensive approach focusing on both prevention and enforcement, according to a Houston Chronicle editorial board report.
“I am committed to enhancing violence prevention and intervention programs while ensuring that our police department receives sufficient funding and resources to address the growing population and the persisting crime challenges faced here at home,” Jackson Lee told the Houston Chronicle editorial board.
State Sen. John Whitmire
Whitmire has represented Houston’s District 15 as a Democrat in the state Senate since 1982. The UH alum previously served in the state House for 10 years.
As a mayoral candidate, Whitmire has taken a strong stance on curbing crime in the city and has repeatedly emphasized that crime will be his priority as Houston’s mayor.
If elected, Whitmire has pledged to bring 200 DPS troopers to the city to help the Houston Police Department. This has yielded mixed reviews from Houstonians and has had mixed results in previous cities, according to Houston Public Media.
“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. “If we do not make ourselves safe by supporting our firefighters and (Houston Police Department), then nothing else matters.”
Whitmire, similar to Jackson Lee, has repeatedly emphasized his good relationship at the state capitol. At a mayoral debate at UH last week, he said it was crucial for Houston to build back its relationship with Austin.
His experience in the state legislature has garnered Whitmire support from a number of leading Republican officials, Houston Public Media senior political reporter Andrew Schneider said.
“There is very much the sense that, among leading state Republican figures, that Whitmire is somebody they feel that they can work with, even though he is a Democrat,” Schneider said. “They know him, he’s somebody that they’ve worked with for decades in the state legislature.”
Gilbert Garcia, the former METRO commissioner, is the only candidate to poll at 3% — higher than the other candidates but significantly lower than the frontrunners. He identifies as a Democrat.
His campaign is focused on the city’s crime rates, corruption, clean streets and attracting new businesses.
“Our city needs help with crime, infrastructure, finances and more. My goal is to tackle these issues so Houston can be the thriving city it’s meant to be,” Garcia told the Houston Chronicle editorial board.
Lee Kaplan is an outsider to the political world. He calls himself a practical Democrat, saying he has voted for candidates from all parties if he saw them fit for the job.
His campaign is focused on crime prevention, traffic, city bureaucracy, clean streets and youth opportunities.
“I really want to be a good mayor. I don’t want to be anything else,” Kaplan told the Houston Chronicle. “This is a great city, and it deserves the best leadership and the most thoughtful, hard-working people it can get.”
While the mayoral election is run on a nonpartisan ballot — the candidates are not identified as Democrats or Republicans — previous partisan political actions do influence the way voters think about the candidates, said Cole.
“Whitmire is generally regarded as a little bit more moderate. So for independents, moderates and perhaps conservatives, Whitmire is a more attractive candidate than Sheila Jackson Lee would be,” he said. “She’s perhaps viewed as a little bit more progressive and so that does factor in. Especially because both of them have such well-established records in their respective posts.”
Computer science freshman Vincent Wren said the candidate’s previous voting record will factor into his decision when he casts the ballot.
“You can go back and see their records on how they voted. Are they willing to work both Republicans or are they voting strictly Democratic,” Wren said. “I prefer someone who doesn’t really compromise on their values and someone who doesn’t give into the right-wing and stays true to their policies.”
Senior researcher at the Hobby School of Public Affairs, Renee Cross, said that younger voters need to voice their opinions if they hope to be a part of the discussion.
“Whether it is looking at issues at the neighborhood level or city-wide, young voters will need to engage with the candidates through forums, debates and volunteering in order to help shape the discussion and potential solutions,” Cross said. “If voters – of any age – engage with the candidates, the candidates are much more likely to listen.”