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Saturday, December 9, 2023


‘Your Houston, Your Vote’: Final mayoral debate highlights crime, Latino community

Houston Mayoral Candidates from left to right: Jack Christie, Robert Gallegos, Gilbert Garcia, Lee Kaplan and John Whitmire. | Courtesy of Houston Public Media

Thursday, the UH Hobby School of Public Affairs along with Univision and Houston Public Media hosted the final mayoral debate before early voting begins. 

The five mayoral candidates spotlighted at “Your Houston, Your Vote,” were State Sen. John Whitmire, former METRO Chair Gilbert Garcia, former City Council member Jack Christie, Councilmember Robert Gallegos and attorney Lee Kaplan. 

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee pulled out from the debate due to the ongoing speakership vote in the House of Representatives right now. 

The candidates fielded questions regarding crime rates, Hispanic voter’s concerns, immigration and affordable housing in Houston, among other topics. 

Crime remains a priority for Houstonians, however, likely voters ranked Sen. Whitmire’s plan to Department of Public Safety intervention as a last resort, according to a poll conducted by the Hobby School.

Garcia, who has been quick to create distinctions between himself and the other candidates, said the city needs to be realistic about the timeline of adding more police officers and offloading some of the civilian jobs and criticized Whitmire’s proposal to bring in DPS troopers. 

“We know what they’re doing in Austin where they’re racially profiling people of color, primarily Hispanics and African Americans. We don’t need DPS. We don’t need to militarize our city,” he said. 

In response, Whitmire said the city needs DPS troopers to bridge the gap while the city invests in training new officers. 

“We obviously got to recruit,  recruit,  recruit. If you do that successfully you don’t need outside law enforcement but they are our state police,” Whitmire said. “They’re trained. They are in Houston today but mostly we need their resources and money to attack crime in Houston.”

Approximately 44.5% of the city is Hispanic or Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Last year, candidates agreed the next administration should take steps to better address the needs of the Latino community. 

Christie said the Latino community needed to vote for the change they wanted to see. 

“If you registered to vote and vote 42% of the population is Hispanic, why do we only have one good Hispanic here? He’s done a good job,” Christie said. “So, this city is multicultural, it’s a tall salad of society and we need everyone represented.”

The lack of Latino representation struck with public policy junior Gabriela Hamdieh who was pleased to see the candidates focus on topics important to her community. 

“I liked that some candidates addressed how little Hispanic and Latinx representation there is in the City Council and overall local government,” Hamdieh said. 

Affordable housing is a priority for 50% of Houstonians, according to a poll conducted by the Hobby School of Public Affairs. Gallegos said his work with the City Council has been towards increasing livable places and building more housing options. 

“This is extra housing stock, so that way the prices can hopefully come down and students can also afford these new houses,” he said. 

A hot topic for mayors of Democratic cities has been the influx of immigrants since the COVID era restrictions have ended and the strain on city resources. 

“Why is it that Bill White could welcome so many Katrina victims to Houston and absorb them. And now we’re having problems? That’s leadership. It comes from the top,” Kaplan said. “A welcoming attitude for people who want to work.” 

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

Early voting starts on Oct. 23rd and the mayoral election will be held on Nov. 7. 

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