Since the 1980s, Houston politics has been led by majority Democratic leaders at the county and city levels. As a result, the office of the mayor of Houston is run on a nonpartisan ballot that is meant to accommodate all residents regardless of party affiliation: Democrats, Republicans, Independents and Libertarians.
With the election for mayor a year and a half away (Nov. 7, 2023), leaders from various positions have already declared their candidacies. With more candidates likely to announce in the coming months, the four publicly announced as of now include Texas State Sen. John Whitmire, former Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, former City Council member Amanda Edwards and Missouri City Police Officer Robin Williams. Each candidate has a different background, job title and vision for the city, but consistently focuses on similar problems that remain the top concern for Houstonians.
Houston’s current mayor, Sylvester Turner, has been hit with a number of infrastructure issues that have garnered mixed feelings about his final term, much like any politician. One year into his second term in 2017, the city was hit by Hurricane Harvey, one of the most devastating hurricanes in Texas history with a total of $125 billion in damage. Turner did his best to revive the city from a tragic natural disaster that many Houstonians hadn’t experienced since Hurricane Rita in 2005. While he’s created programs with METRO, the city’s main public system line, to better address a functioning city for all residents, many Houstonians still think that the city’s system could be better. In his six years, with the impact of Hurricane Harvey, Winter Storm Uri, a severe COVID-19 pandemic, adopted city budget deficits and an increase in unhoused Houstonians, Turner has kept the ship afloat. Some positives in his current term include creating access to housing for unhoused Houstonians, starting the transition to move the city to solar energy, and maintaining a positive relationship with the Houston LGBTQ+ community.
But Houstonians still want the next mayor to address the same problems they were concerned about before Turner took office. For example, issues like flooding, road repairs, the unhoused community, traffic congestion and public transportation are some, and a decrease in crime is another. Additionally, sewage system management, recycling services and proper drainage remain a top priority for Houstonians. And worrying about flooding every time that it rains isn’t sustainable. With the county currently in a lawsuit with the Texas Department of Transportation’s expansion of I-45, if adopted, the city could see a complete shift in transportation. Depending on how court proceedings go, this could mean more congestion, environmental hazards and five-plus years of construction.
Moreover, the city’s affordability and property taxes will lead to pushing out more families who have lived in the city for generations. Homelessness is a problem that every mayor has had to face since the crisis started in the ’80s, although the number of unhoused Houstonians has declined since the early 2000s. In 2021, the unhoused population hit an all-time low with 3,605 reported either on the streets or in public housing. But it skyrocketed again most recently in 2022.
Additionally, criminal justice reform advocates weren’t shy in denouncing Turner for his lack of transparency during contract negotiations with the Houston Police Union, a resolution that eventually passed unanimously in the council. The backlog of cases, bail bond inequities and spike in repeat offenders will also be another task for the next mayor to tackle. Here is background on the current declared candidates:
Amanda Edwards, Attorney
Attorney Amanda Edwards is the third candidate to announce her run and she’s the only former City Council member running. After serving for four years as the At-Large Position 4 City Council member, Edwards said if elected, she wanted to expand on the work she accomplished on the council. While on the council, Edwards served as vice-chair of the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee, Economic Development Committee, and the Transportation, Technology and Infrastructure Committee. She also worked on a city task force that focused on traffic congestion and environmental impacts on residents and created a city innovation district. This race for mayor comes after Edwards’ failed attempt to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in 2020. Edwards points to her experience in municipal finance, as well as serving on various boards across private and nonprofit sectors, as the key factors that set her apart from the other candidates. Like the others, Edwards said her main issues will be reducing crime, flood mitigation and increasing equitable economic opportunities. To address the rise in crime, she believes that the city needs to add more police officers on the streets while also creating a culture where community policing and proper training are prioritized. As another born and raised Houstonian, Edwards said her focus will also be on creating a coalition of all community members from public servants, community leaders, elected officials and everyday residents to make sure that everyone has a seat at the table and an opinion on the future of the city. If elected, Edwards would be the first Black woman to lead the city.
John Whitmire, Texas State Sen.
The longest-serving member of the Texas Senate, Democrat John Whitmire is the first of the now four candidates to announce his run for mayor. With an $11 million warchest and thousands of possible endorsements from city and state officials, Whitmire could be seen as the frontrunner in the race. After his latest primary victory in March, Whitmire said he still plans to serve in the 2023 legislative session, then campaign for mayor before the November 2023 municipal election. At 72, he is the oldest candidate in the race, with more than 30 years of legislative experience in the state Senate representing District 15. His political career started in 1973 where he served as a representative before moving to the state Senate. As chair of the Texas Criminal Justice Committee, he primarily has focused on addressing issues in the criminal legal system. And he prides himself on being “tough and smart on crime.” Also known as the dean of the Senate, Whitmire has also focused on creating relationships with public employee unions, supporting increased funding for public educators and cracking down on crime, sometimes even aligning with officials from across the aisle, breaking away from the traditional Democrat opinion. In 2021, Whitmire was asked about the lack of air-conditioning units in Houston jails and replied, “Don’t commit a crime and you can be cool at home.” With only an announcement of his run for mayor, one could assume that Whitmire will keep fighting for the same policies he’s supported in his 49 years in government.
Robin Williams, Missouri City Police Officer and a Former Marine
Robin Williams comes to the race with the most amount of first-hand public safety experience. Williams served for four years on active duty in the United States Marine Corps, which led her to join the American Red Cross International Social Services Department, where she supported and connected displaced families and veterans who had been impacted by war. This led Willims to create her own nonprofit organization, A Hero Needs a Story, which gives vets and active members a platform to express their experiences in the armed services, all while working with families and managing the veterans program at the Michael E. Debakey VA Medical Center. Now in the running for mayor of Houston, Williams is focused on police engagement/community policing across the Houston area, homelessness, road repair, improving mental health accessibility and public transportation. At 31, Williams is the only candidate who has never held public office, but said her background in the armed services and policing makes her fit to fix crime in the city. As a Missouri City police officer, she said her campaign will reflect her experience as a Black woman and an officer to build a relationship of trust between the community and residents. Moreover, her push for accountability in all Houston agencies shows a paradigm shift in the current system. Like her website states, Williams’ term will be to “back the blue, but not bullies in blue.” Her focus on economic growth, job security and flood mitigation also mimics issues cited by the three other candidates in the race. If elected, Williams could also be the first Black woman to lead the city and council in 2023.
Chris Hollins, Attorney-Metro Board Member
Widely known for creating accessible voting options such as 24-hour, drive-thru and online mail ballot tracking for the 2020 elections during the COVD-19 pandemic, Chris Hollins was the second candidate to announce his run for mayor. Since the 2020 election, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 1, a restrictive voting measure specifically targeted at Hollins and Harris County for creating new ways for seniors, minorities and disabled voters to cast their ballots safely. Hollins was successful in beating out a slew of lawsuits from Texas Republicans and has since focused on creating innovative ways for all Texans to have access to the polls. Since leaving his former position as Harris County clerk, Hollins now serves as vice-chair of finance for the Texas Democratic Party and he is a member of the METRO board. In his run for mayor, in addition to accessibility to voting, Hollins supports decriminalizing marijuana, fixing the city’s public transportation system, addressing environmental matters impacting residents and other issues. In terms of addressing crime in the city, Hollins said he wants to add more police officers in the streets, a position similar to his opponents, who are also making reducing the crime rate one of their top priorities. Moreover, Hollins wants to address flooding, housing, investment in green space, partnering with school districts and road repair. In his current job as a METRO Board member, Hollins is managing the $7 billion expansion plan while also hoping to transition the public transportation system to renewable energy by 2030.