Since the beginning of the year, I have been intermittently trying to sit down with the prospective candidates for Mayor in 2015. Mayor Annise Parker, of course, is term-limited at that time, meaning that the election will be an open race. At this time, there is only one candidate openly running for Mayor, complete with signs and social media presence, and that is City Councilmember Oliver Pennington (R-District G). However, there are typically about nine other names that keep coming up as likely Mayoral candidates. These individuals range from being completely ready to go, to simply intently looking into the situation. Additionally, there are about two or three other people I have heard mentioned in passing as possible candidates, but never by anyone willing to go on the record. I will only be discussing the former category.
The eight other candidates, in addition to Pennington, are former Congressman Chris Bell (D-TX), City Councilmember Jack Christie (R-At Large 5), Eric Dick (R), City Councilmember Stephen Costello (R-AL1), METRO Chairman Gilbert Garcia (D), City Councilmember Ed Gonzalez (D-District H), former City Attorney Ben Hall (D), City Councilmember Michael Kubosh (R-At Large 3) and State Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Harris County). Among those I have heard passing on the race are Sheriff Adrian Garcia (D), City Controller Ronald Green (D), Laura Murillo and County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez (R).
First, with the candidates opting not to run, many may be surprised by the revelation that Laura Murillo, the President & CEO of the Greater Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, will not be running. Marc Campos and Off the Kuff both reported on Murillo’s rather low-key entrance into the race last month. However, according to individuals familiar with the situation, Murillo has now reportedly changed her mind.
City Controller Ronald Green, who has held his post concurrently with Mayor Annise Parker (since 2010), and who previously served as a member of the Houston City Council from 2004 to 2010, is another no on the Mayor’s race. Green, of course, faced some pretty serious negative press a couple years ago. It didn’t end up sinking his re-election chances in 2013, but it likely prevented him from looking too closely into the 2015 Mayoral election.
Sheriff Adrian Garcia and County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez, meanwhile, chose not to run as a result of state election laws, which require county officials such as them to resign their positions in order to run for another office. Given the competitiveness of an open election for Mayor, I fail to see why either would forsake their comfortable incumbent posts. Adrian Garcia in particular, who has been Sheriff since 2009 and was previously a member of the Houston City Council from 2004 to 2009, would have been unwise to run for Mayor. He is arguably the highest ranking Democrat in the State of Texas.
State Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Harris County), in my opinion, is the undisputed leader of the pre-campaign Mayoral race. A legislator since the 1980s, Turner has run twice before for Mayor (once in 1991 and once in 2003). The first time Turner ran for Mayor, he advanced into a runoff and ultimately can very close to winning.
In the Legislature, Turner has become a well-respected force for good on both sides of the aisle. Texpatriate named him one of the best members of the House last session, while Texas Monthly named him “Bull of the Brazos” for his invaluable role in bringing about a comprehensive budget solution. As the Vice-Chair of Appropriations and Chair of an important Appropriations Subcommittee, Turner wields huge power under the dome. However, it has always appeared crystal clear to me that his true love is Houston. Simply put, he always has wanted to help Houston by being its Mayor.
A couple months ago, I talked for about an hour and a half with Turner, and it appears to me that he is completely ready to go with the Mayoral run. However, (and this was back in March) he had yet to put together too substantive of a platform. Rather, Turner has been remarkably busy putting together a sterling coalition of the political intelligentsia, as well as a good staff for his future political endeavors. Turner may not necessarily run as a continuation of the Parker’s administration, but I suspect the campaign will have all the hallmarks of the dominant political system. I don’t mean this as a bad thing, as I think it is important for a prospective Mayor to receive support from major stakeholders in the city.
Former Congressman Chris Bell also has a history with coveting the Mayor’s seat. A member of the Houston City Council from 1996 to 2002, Bell ran for Mayor in 2001 against incumbent Mayor Lee Brown. A fellow Democrat, he raised eyebrows from many in the City’s left-of-center political class. Thereafter, he served one term in Congress, from 2003 to 2005, before being gerrymandered out of office by Tom DeLay’s mid-decade redistricting. He served as the Democratic candidate for Governor in 2006, where he garnered a small 29% of the vote in the infamous contest that featured three other major candidates.
I also sat down with Bell for a significant amount of time a few months back, and the interview was almost the polar opposite of my experience with Turner. He appeared to have very few details in place about his campaign team or logistics, but was extraordinarily open about his platform. All in all, Bell appeared likely to want to continue much of Parker’s centrist, business-friendly ideology in a way that Costello likely will strive toward as well. He was pro-development, pro-Uber, pro-rail and pro-business. Interestingly enough, he talked quite openly on the topic of reforming City Hall power structures, specifically reducing some of the Mayor’s powers and increasing those to the City Council.
City Councilmember Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1) is someone I have unfortunately not been able to talk to at length about the future, but I have always gotten the feeling that he has much of the same priorities that Bell has. Costello is a remarkably moderate Republican, a distinction that won him the spot of Texpatriate’s Best Councilmember last year.
I obviously disagreed with Costello sharply on the Uber/Lyft debate this summer (for those unfamiliar, we wrote dueling Op/Eds on the topic at The Texas Tribune), but beyond that one big exception, I have remarkably similar views on local issues to Costello. However, far bigger than disagreement on substance, I have been much more pestered with Costello on the style of his time in office. Simply put, I have seen no significant way in which he has distinguished himself on the horseshoe from the Mayor. Such predictability is not necessary all that great of a trait to look for in a leader such as Mayor.
However, I have heard (granted, from partisan sources) a number of times that Costello will be moving to the right in preparation for his Mayoral campaign. I will give him the benefit of the doubt, but assuming arguendo that he chooses to do this, it would be a spectacularly bad idea. Costello has already totally burned all bridges to the right-wing. He supported a non-discrimination ordinance and even signed a letter asking for the repeal of the omnibus anti-abortion law. Any faux moves to the right will only cause him to lose his base of support on the left. At that point, I just don’t know who his base would be. Obviously, I hope any campaign continues with his unique-but-respectable political style.
City Councilmember Oliver Pennington (R-District G), meanwhile, is unique among his fellow candidates for so outwardly running for office throughout the preceding season. He has a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter page and even an Instagram account for specifically those purposes. Of course, there are some burning questions I still have about his forthcoming candidacy. Pennington is a tried-and-true Republican with some fairly conservative beliefs on fiscal affairs. He has always represented his constituents remarkably well, which is something Texpatriate’s Editorial Board noted last year when endorsing him. It remains to be seen how this will translate to a citywide election.
Now, I am certain that I have some big doubts about the prospective Mayor run from City Councilmember Jack Christie (R-At Large 5). First of all, I have no idea who his big base of support would be? Obviously, I have some big disagreements with Christie, namely his medieval views on immunizations and his flagrant dishonesty to the LGBT Community/Houston Chronicle Editorial Board about his stand on a non-discrimination ordinance. He certainly has ticked off liberals for such causes, but has also been seen as an unreliable ally to the right for such being an ally of the Mayor in many circumstances. Now, unlike Costello, Pennington or Gonzalez, Christie will also not be term-limited next year. This could prove troublesome.
Next is Councilmember Ed Gonzalez (D-District H), who also holds the distinction of Mayor Pro Tem. He has held that post since 2012, previously serving as the Vice Mayor Pro Tem from 2010 to 2012. He was first elected to the City Council in June of 2009, in the special election following Adrian Garcia’s resignation. Now, much like Costello, I am a fan of his politics but not necessarily of his style on the Council. All too often, Gonzalez is obsequious to the Mayor to an extent that is troubling. While I have overall been a fan of the Mayor, there are things that I would rather change for the next administration. With individuals such as Gonzalez, who are –in my opinion– afraid to truly express themselves with views divergent from the Mayor, it makes such a high-profile campaign quite difficult. Of course, Gonzalez also got into some hot water back in April regarding some loose ends from his time as a Police Officer. That could end up becoming a bigger issue.
Finally, there is METRO Chairman Gilbert Garcia. The Chairman of METRO since 2010, Garcia has capably fought time and time again for invaluable transportation projects. An appointee of Parker, he has also been able to quite effectively garner support from both sides of the aisle. When he was reappointed the past summer, Garcia –a card-carrying Democrat– received a glowing profile and vote-of-confidence in Big Jolly Politics. He has been very quiet on his forthcoming Mayoral bid, but I have no doubt that Garcia could easily be the underdog of the election. He has strong principles, ties to the Hispanic political community and bipartisan support.
Ben Hall also comes up. The former City Attorney infamously ran for Mayor last year, running what I called in the past “the single most awful campaign I have ever seen.” He wasted millions of dollars of his own money on faulty PR without ever developing a serious plan to solve any of Houston’s major issues. He played hopscotch with the truth on multiple occasions and even squarely lied about a couple of issues. I had a tremendous amount of professional respect for Hall at the start of his campaign last cycle, but it was steadily depleted. I simply do not see what type of coalition he could hobble together now. Most all of his support last year came from the broadly anti-Parker African-American community. Simply put, I see no reason why that demographic would not go with Turner (the viable candidate).
Eric Dick is another retread that pops up. An insurance lawyer who ran for Mayor in 2013 in what –at times– looked more like an advertisement for his law firm than a political campaign, Dick is a pretty longshot, second-tier candidate. However, with up to four other Republicans in the field in a very, very Democratic city, Dick could prove troublesome for a Republican trying to reach a virtually-obligatory runoff. He could conceivably get as much as 10% of the vote.
Last, but not least, I count Councilmember Michael Kubosh (R-At Large 3). I include him last because, almost more than any other person on this list, he is still quite undecided on whether or not to run. I am a fan of Kubosh on just a personal level. He is a very personable, kind man who is always more than willing to sit down with any of his constituents. I very, very strongly disagreed with his positions on the non-discrimination ordinance, and many of his comments may have even bordered on homophobia. However, as I noted in my NDO writeup, this typically stems from Kubosh’s central belief that majoritarian rule is for the best. Thus, since vociferous Houstonians by-and-large opposed the NDO, so did he. Say what you want about Kubosh, but if he gets elected Mayor, Houston would experience direct democracy on a literally unprecedented scale.
Assuming for the sake of argument that Kubosh does not jump into the field, nor do any of the people I wrote off, I think that Turner, Bell, Pennington and (Gilbert) Garcia are the individuals to watch. Garcia’s value is wholly dependent on what he does in the crucial next few months, as he lacks the name recognition from the general public that most of his competitors possess. However, if the right coalition comes together to back him, Garcia could easily be the dark-horse Hispanic candidate Houston has been waiting for. As for those who would say that merely being the METRO Chair does not qualify one for the Mayorship, I have two words for you: Bob Lanier.
Pennington, in my opinion, would be the leader among Republicans. He is respected by both pragmatic business interests and more socially conservative interest groups in an invaluable way. In a perfect storm, one that has few Republican candidates and many Democratic candidates (who themselves have little crossover appeal), Penninton might even find his way into a runoff.
As I said at the start, Turner is the frontrunner, very likely to get to the runoff, but Bell could easily find his way into runoff territory if he plays his cards right. Specifically, he has to claim a core constituency and begin receiving support from it. Houston politics is dominated by four major political demographics: African-Americans, LGBT people, inner-loop business interests and older, conservative Whites. Who will go for who? That is the defining question that will dominate the next year.
Did I miss anyone? What do you think about the field?