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The Race for City Hall: Who Will Be Houston’s Next Mayor?

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OutSmart takes an in-depth look at Houston’s mayoral candidates.
By Megan Smith

On December 12, 2009, confetti rained down on Annise Parker and her now-wife, Kathy Hubbard. The election results were in—she was now Mayor Annise Parker, and the first openly gay mayor of a major U.S. city. “Tonight the voters of Houston have opened the door to history,” Parker said in her victory speech.

Six years later, Mayor Parker’s three-term legacy is coming to end, leaving Houstonians to ponder the city’s next step. Who will replace her as the head of City Hall?

Although the election isn’t until November 3, mayoral hopefuls are already in full-on campaign mode, each fiercely fighting to be considered a frontrunner. To help our readers decide which candidate would best represent them, OutSmart spoke with seven candidates about their credentials, visions for Houston, and support for the city’s LGBT community.

Sylvester Turner

Megan Smith: How has your background shaped your politics and made you best qualified to be the next mayor of Houston?

Sylvester Turner
Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner: I grew up one of nine kids in a two-bedroom house in Acres Homes. My father, who died when I was 13 years old, painted houses for a local company and operated a yard service on the weekends. My mother worked as a maid in the old Rice Hotel. They taught me everything I know about the importance of hard work, community, and dreaming big. That’s why, as a kid, I would take the bus from the north side to downtown and walk up Main Street dreaming of one day working in one of those tall buildings. Today, the business I started 32 years ago is located in one of those big downtown buildings. I am running for mayor to ensure that today’s young people have the opportunity to pursue their dreams, just like I did.

If elected, what do you hope to accomplish in the next two years?

I want to bring more transparency and accountability to how the city’s Public Works Department is run, and to the city fund that pays for repairs to streets and roads. We need to strike a better balance between making emergency road repairs now and continuing the long-term upgrade work. We must focus on making it easier for people to get from point A to point B—mobility. I want to work with other agencies—state and federal government—to significantly improve drainage and reduce flooding.

I want to make our city safer—including improving relations between the Houston Police Department, communities of color, and the LGBT community. That will require a stepped-up focus on community policing and making sure there are enough officers to do community-based policing right.

I want to support our schools, including providing safe routes to school for our youth, increasing communication, and sharing resources among the city and our school districts, and ensuring community-college graduates have an opportunity to get good local jobs.

More than anything, I want Houston to be a city that will meet the needs of everyone’s families at the most fundamental level.

Equality Texas recently gave you an “A+” on their Texas House Scorecard and named you one of their top-10 House members. How will you effectively represent the interests of Houston’s diverse LGBT community?

This is the most diverse city in the country, and it must welcome that diversity at the table of decision-making. I am honored to have received recognition from Equality Texas for my work on behalf of the LGBT community. During my time in the Texas House, I have been especially concerned with issues affecting LGBT youth, and I supported legislation to strengthen bullying protections and suicide-prevention practices in school districts across the state. I am especially proud to have authored a bill this year to address youth homelessness in Texas—an issue that disproportionately impacts LGBT youth. I will bring this same commitment to the needs of the LGBT community through my service as mayor. I will start by vigorously fighting for the HERO equal-rights ordinance adopted last year, and I am committed to protecting every Houstonian’s basic right to live free of discrimination.

Is there anything else about yourself that you would like our OutSmart readers to know?

First and foremost, I have faith in Houston and in Houstonians as we move forward together. Some of us are Democrats, some are Republicans, and some are neither. We are middle-class, rich, and poor. We are straight and LGBT. We come in many colors and from many backgrounds. But, in so many ways, we are all the same. We all have families. We all have core values. And we all want to build a city that will give our young people a brighter future.

Adrian Garcia

Megan Smith: How has your background shaped your politics and made you best qualified to be the next mayor of Houston?

Adrian Garcia
Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia: As the only native-born American in my family, and as a lifelong Houstonian, I want to make sure it remains the city of opportunity for the next generation of Houstonians.

My nearly 35 years in public service, starting as a patrol officer with the Houston Police Department, taught me a great deal about our government. From the front seat of a patrol car, you get a firsthand look at where our city is serving its residents and where it is failing to provide the services it should. My efforts to decrease gang involvement prompted Mayor Bob Lanier to appoint me to the Mayor’s Anti-Gang Office in 1994, and within five years I was promoted to be the director of the program. Our efforts were tremendously successful in decreasing the gang violence plaguing Houston neighborhoods by building trusting relationships between the patrolling officers and the community.

I then was elected to a seat on the Houston City Council, where I served three terms. Throughout my tenure on City Council, I worked tirelessly and collaboratively to tackle major issues like crime prevention while also supporting the kinds of smart infrastructure and economic-development initiatives that helped make Houston even greater.

Voters then awarded me the honor of leading the sheriff’s office. When I arrived on my first day, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office was $60 million over-budget, and the county jail was so overcrowded that taxpayers were paying over $10 million annually to house prisoners in Louisiana. By demonstrating leadership and establishing reforms aimed at progressive community policing, I was able to keep a lid on crime while delivering four straight fiscal years under-budget. I was also able to dramatically lower our jail population and stop sending prisoners out of state by developing programs and partnerships to make sure that our mentally ill Houstonians began receiving the treatment they needed instead of yet another ticket to our county jail.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge currently facing the City of Houston?

The biggest challenge we face is confronting a challenging, unsustainable fiscal situation while making sure that we are able to pay for public infrastructure and the municipal and public-safety personnel necessary for this city to thrive. As mayor, I will restore fiscal stability by partnering with employee groups to develop systems incorporating technology and best-management practices aimed at eliminating waste or redundant operational costs. The savings of taxpayer dollars will be reprogrammed toward meeting our obligations to Houston residents and to our employees and retirees.

The unpaid pension obligations currently faced by our city cannot be ignored if we are to maintain a prosperous Houston for future generations. I believe we need to take a holistic look at all of the city’s finances—including pensions—to find an efficient solution going forward. Some people approach the pensions as three silos outside of the city’s finances, but I feel that such an approach misses the opportunity to redefine how our pension obligations play a role in our overall city finances. I am committed to bringing all parties to the table to craft a local solution that allows the city to keep its promises to public employees while still maintaining critical infrastructure and hiring the public-safety personnel we need to keep Houston safe.

How will you effectively represent the interests of LGBT Houstonians?

Throughout my career, I’ve prioritized and achieved a high level of diversity on my staff, and I’ve always been keenly attuned to representing and protecting the LGBT community. My command staff at the Sheriff’s Department was the most diverse in the department’s 178-year history, and included the first openly gay deputy to achieve such a rank.

I was proud to be the first sheriff in the history of the department to walk proudly alongside my deputies in the Houston Pride Parade, and I was even prouder when I was able to welcome LGBT activists from across the world to Houston as a keynote speaker at the Creating Change conference last year.

As sheriff, I oversaw the establishment of the first LGBT liaison program in the department’s history to ensure that the sheriff’s office was properly skilled in handling issues within the LGBT community. Part of what this LGBT liaison program was tasked with assisting in was my groundbreaking policy directive to house inmates at the county jail according to their gender identity rather than their biological sex. This housing policy was among the first in the entire country, and I am extremely touched by the appreciation that I received from transgender inmates and their families for implementing this long-overdue change.

As mayor, I will also protect the HERO ordinance and make sure that our city is never in the business of denying rights to its residents.

Is there anything else about yourself that you would like our OutSmart readers to know?

As an elected official, I was given an opportunity to dedicate time and energy to bring attention and support to HIV/AIDS—an issue that has affected many families, including my very own immediate family. This disease has taken too many lives too soon, and as mayor, I hope to continue to support and work with those who are in the fight to save lives.

Stephen Costello

Megan Smith: How has your background shaped your politics and made you best qualified to be the next mayor of Houston?

Stephen Costello
Stephen Costello

Stephen Costello: I am an engineer, business owner, and an at-large Houston City Council member.

As an engineer, I have firsthand experience in the design of challenging infrastructure projects. Those experiences have shaped my views on how, as a city, we can best improve the condition of our streets that have been neglected for decades, as well as improving our drainage infrastructure.

In 1991, I cofounded Costello, Inc., an engineering firm that has grown to upwards of 120 employees and has developed a strong reputation for delivering projects on time and on budget. That is the same mindset and approach that I will use to manage our city going forward. The City of Houston just received its five-year financial projections, and they reflect over a $120 million budget deficit for each of those years. Our next mayor needs a strong financial and management background that can get our finances in order while placing a premium on the protection of the tax-payers’ money.

And as an at-large City Council member over the last five years, I have worked hard to increase investment in our roads, prioritize drainage improvements, put more police on the streets, and offer solutions that will cut out wasteful spending from the city budget.

Lastly, I recognize that the challenges we face as a city not only impact each of us today, but will also have a long-term impact on future generations of Houstonians. That is why we need to make the smart, tough decisions today so that we ensure a better Houston for tomorrow.

If elected, what do you hope to accomplish in the next two years?

My top three priorities will be to fix our roads and improve local traffic while tackling the tough drainage problems we face, to prioritize public safety and ensure we put more police officers on our streets and into our neighborhoods, and to cut out more wasteful spending from the city budget and get our finances in order.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge currently facing the city of Houston?

Easily, our biggest challenges are the three pension systems and our inability to sustain them. The truth is that if we don’t reform our pension system in a way that is fair to our public safety [workers], municipal personnel, and our taxpayers—and soon—Houston will face a catastrophic financial crisis.

Houston’s pension systems are actually controlled by our state legislature. Currently, politicians from Waco, El Paso, Austin, and even Dallas hold our financial future in their hands. I was the only candidate to advocate for local control at the state capitol this session, and next session I’ll build a coalition of mayors from around the state to go to Austin and finally get local control of our pensions. Houstonians should have the authority to craft our own solution rather than continuing to leave our fate in the hands of typical politicians in Austin.

As mayor, I will also finally put an end to the damaging cycle where the City of Houston fails to fund the pensions, thereby racking up tens of millions of dollars of unfunded liabilities. That’s an unfair practice to our employees, and a recipe for catastrophe.

During your time on City Council, you voted in support of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). How will you continue to effectively represent the interests of Houston’s LGBT community?

I voted “yes” because no one in the City of Houston should be discriminated against.

Chris Bell

Megan Smith: How has your background shaped your politics and made you best qualified to be the next mayor of Houston?

Chris Bell
Chris Bell

Chris Bell: Having served three terms on Houston City Council, serving in the United States Congress, and having the honor of being the Democratic nominee for governor of Texas, I have a unique perspective and understanding of government at multiple levels. In these experiences, I’ve come to understand how citizens connect with their elected officials and how policy intersects with our daily lives. I firmly believe it’s this background that sets me apart from other candidates and provides the experience necessary to serve Houstonians as mayor.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge currently facing the city of Houston?

Houston cannot be the fourth-largest city and have third-world streets. Our crumbling infrastructure and roadways affect our quality of life and hinder our ability to grow into an even greater city. As mayor, I will tackle our infrastructure challenges, repairing and rebuilding as needed. Additionally, while improving infrastructure is critical, we must also expand public transit options for our residents and visitors.

How will you effectively represent the interests of LGBT Houstonians?

Even at times when it was not politically popular—and long before other candidates embraced LGBT rights—I was a staunch supporter for equality and fairness.

I believe an effective city government mirrors the city it serves, and this includes ensuring members of the LGBT community are adequately represented within city government. To be a successful mayor, it is crucial to be in the community on a regular basis seeking input from the constituents you serve. I would depend on a constant dialogue with the LGBT community to ensure their interests are being heard and properly represented at City Hall.

As a public servant and private citizen, I have always advocated for fairness and equality for all. I have consistently stood with the LGBT community for more than two decades. While we have come a long way, we have far more work to do. As your mayor, I will be an ally and friend to Houston’s LGBT community.

You stress the importance of city government playing a more active role in education and providing all children with access to pre-kindergarten programs. Can you explain your approach in more detail?

This is a fundamental plank in my campaign platform. I am proposing that the unused space in our public libraries be used for pre-kindergarten and early-childhood programs. Early learning builds better students. The City holds an incredible asset in its libraries. They’re well distributed geographically, and they hold other assets including books and computers that can only enhance the early learning experience.

There are a number of organizations in Houston already working to improve early learning opportunities, and we can tap those valuable resources and work together to help children and their families build better futures.

Bill King

Megan Smith: How has your background shaped your politics and made you best qualified to be the next mayor of Houston?

Bill King
Bill King

Bill King: I worked my way through undergraduate studies and law school at the University of Houston, and have practiced law and run businesses for the past 40 years. For example, as managing partner at Linebarger, Goggan, Blair, and Simpson, I gained unique insights into how the City of Houston and other local entities operate—particularly their finances. During this time, the firm was awarded the U.S. Conference of Mayors Outstanding Public-Private Partnership Award for the work it did in establishing a land bank of abandoned lots in the City of Houston. I also headed Southwest Airport Services, managing operations at Ellington Field Airport.

Public service has also been an important part of my life: I wrote a column for the Houston Chronicle and a blog about the city’s fiscal issues. I served as chairman of the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Hurricane Evacuation Task Force and was proud to be recognized for that work by the National Hurricane Council. I cofounded the Fire Fighters Foundation of Houston, and served as the capital campaign chair for Interfaith Ministries’ Meals on Wheels of Greater Houston. I cochaired a recent HISD bond campaign that brought much-needed infrastructure financing to local schools.

If elected, what do you hope to accomplish in the next two years?

I want to get Houston back to basics. My campaign priorities are simple: fix the streets, catch the crooks, and balance the budget. If the city can make significant progress in repairing potholes and improving drainage, in lowering unacceptably high violent-crime rates, and in preparing to meet the financial challenges of the future, I would consider my first term in office a success.

How will you effectively represent the interests of LGBT Houstonians?

I believe that LGBT residents want the same things as anyone else living in Houston—safe streets, a strong economy, and effective and transparent municipal government. I will make sure that all Houstonians benefit from the progress our city makes.

Debates are ongoing in Houston and nationally about what it means to have an accepting society. Personally, as someone focused on filling potholes and fighting high crime rates, I have not been eager to take a position on every point. At the end of the day, I trust that Houstonians are sensible, friendly, respectful, and hospitable, and where we do have differences on these issues, we can get together and talk them out rather than reinforcing old divisions.

Is there anything else about yourself that you would like our OutSmart readers to know?

City government should work for the benefit of every neighborhood. Business owners in the landmark Montrose neighborhood recently had to come together to prevent the area from being annexed into a tax increment reinvestment zone that would have taken the neighborhood’s property tax dollars and used them to build improvements in Midtown and the Museum District. Montrose is one of many neighborhoods whose future is in jeopardy because of decisions made at City Hall without meaningful public input. Don’t let City Hall keep giving away your tax dollars to wealthy neighborhoods: elect a mayor who has the leadership ability and financial know-how to unite the entire city behind an agenda of progress and prosperity.

Marty McVey

Megan Smith: How has your background shaped your politics and made you best qualified to be the next mayor of Houston?

Marty McVey
Marty McVey

Marty McVey: The City of Houston is essentially a business, and I have run large businesses, taken risks, and have had both success and failure, which tempers a person. In addition, my extensive travels, public service with the U.S. Agency for International Development, and disaster-relief work allows me the perspective and experience we need in Houston to bring the world’s business to our front door.

My parents taught me the value of hard work, small business, public service, and “if anyone counts, then everyone counts.” I grew up in a family of strong women—there were five sisters and my mom—and a father who was both a cop and a judge.

If elected, what do you hope to accomplish in the next two years?

Houston has been flourishing despite its neglect of economic development, vigorous pursuit of federal and state dollars, and grants. A focused emphasis on bringing funds and business to Houston would elevate the economy, create and lure jobs to our city, and provide prosperity. There are amazing opportunities for development and business—both tech and industry—all across the city, from southeast to east to northeast—not just in the west Energy Corridor.

How will you effectively represent the interests of Houston’s LGBT community?

We don’t want to take any steps backward. The LGBT community has worked hard and made great gains. I follow these strides closely as a member of the [Houston GLBT Political] Caucus. Really, though, LGBT rights are “everybody’s rights.” Everyone deserves a fair shake, education, opportunity, the chance to prosper and succeed, and to be left in peace.

Is there anything else about yourself that you would like our OutSmart readers to know?

I have had the opportunity to build relationships in Austin, D.C., and across the globe, which I want to use to benefit this amazing city. Houston needs to be actively promoted, with every tool available for all of us to prosper and have new opportunity. There are issues such as education, which the mayor doesn’t have jurisdiction for, that need a bully pulpit and some upgrades. The county and the city need to collaborate more closely and work together—not at odds.

Christopher Legier

Megan Smith: How has your background shaped your politics and made you best qualified to be the next mayor of Houston?

Christopher Legier
Christopher Legier

Christopher Legier: I have always loved dialogue with everyone. I was born in Houston and have experienced the decades of change that the city has gone through. I moved to the New Orleans area as a teen and graduated from high school there.

Upon graduation, I enlisted in the military. That experience exposed me to a world of individuals outside my socio-economic status, and I learned how to cooperate and seek the opinions of others to solve problems. The military taught me leadership skills, team building, logistics, project management, and most importantly, the drive to find the answers to issues.

Years later, when I returned to Houston, I received a degree in psychology from the University of Houston-Downtown, and worked in the blue-collar sector. This allowed me to interact with thousands of Houstonians for the past five years. It gave me the opportunity to discuss politics, life, and the things that matter to each of us.

In 2009, I started my radio show, Show #1002. The show purposely gave a voice to those with limited resources to express their views. After years of discussing politics and how government can best serve the needs of all, I found that so many are turned off by the process of politics. I also noticed that our political leaders are no more talented than the average individuals they represent.

I have the ability to see through political rhetoric. What’s needed in Houston is a mayor that understands what everyone goes through, and someone who will govern with the interests of everyone [in mind].

If elected, what do you hope to accomplish in the next two years?

My initiatives upon taking office are: increase citizen participation in government (voter turnout); accelerate mass transit construction; budget reform (revenue cap review, no more crippling budgets for future generations); promote alternate forms of transportation; staggered increase of the local minimum wage; pension reform; to promote diversity for all without regard to race, gender, sexual orientation, or economic status; financial education for neglected communities rebuilding through family commercial loans; and better relations between police and citizens—hiring police that live in their communities.

It’s going to take more than two years to accomplish these initiatives. I will start on day one working hard, and continue advocating for these initiatives even when out of office.

How will you effectively represent the interests of LGBT Houstonians?

The same way I will represent all Houstonians’ interests. The LGBT community will have a voice in my administration. Their views and opinions will be taken into account on policy decisions. LGBT Houstonians? I see Houstonians that are LGBT. I see individuals and don’t judge based on race, gender, and/or orientation.

Is there anything else about yourself that you would like our OutSmart readers to know?

I’ll take an honest approach to solving issues, promoting growth, diversity, and doing what’s right, even if it’s not popular. I am not a professional politician. I’m smart enough to know that experience does not equal intelligence. I will be straight with the public and never do or say things just to get reelected. I believe we should have a mayor who takes time to visit with everyday Houstonians even when there’s not an upcoming election.

Editor’s note: All declared Houston mayoral candidates were contacted for this article. These are only the candidates who had expressed an interest in being interviewed at press time.

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Megan Smith

Megan Smith is the Assistant Editor for OutSmart Magazine.
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