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US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Sen. John Whitmire lead crowded field in Houston mayor’s race

Nov 6, 2023, 9:31 PM

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, speaks at a news conference after the property tax relief bill...

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, speaks at a news conference after the property tax relief bill SB 26 was passed by the Senate at the Capitol in Austin, Texas, June 20, 2023. Voters in Houston are heading to the polls to elect a new mayor to lead the nation’s fourth-largest city. They will choose from a crowded field that includes U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Sen. Whitmire, two longtime Democratic lawmakers. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP, file)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP, file)

HOUSTON (AP) — Voters in Houston headed to the polls Tuesday to elect the next mayor of the nation’s fourth largest city, choosing from a crowded field that includes U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Sen. John Whitmire, two longtime Democratic lawmakers.

Jackson Lee and Whitmire have dominated an open mayoral race that drew 17 candidates to the ballot and one write-in candidate, and that has been focused on issues of crime, crumbling infrastructure and potential budget shortfalls.

If elected, Jackson Lee would be Houston’s first Black female mayor. Since 1995, she has represented Houston in Congress. Whitmire has spent five decades in the Texas Legislature, where he has helped drive policies that were tough on crime while casting himself as a reformer.

If no candidate manages to get more than half of the vote on Tuesday, the top two will head to a runoff, which would be held Dec. 9.

Voting in the Houston area, a Democratic stronghold in GOP-led Texas, was under additional scrutiny on Tuesday following a new law signed this year by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. The law clears the way for the state to take control of voting in Harris County, which includes Houston, if it determines there is a “recurring pattern of problems” with elections. Another new state law eliminated the county’s elections administrator and transferred the responsibility to other local officials.

Harris County election officials said there were some problems at polling locations on Tuesday, including issues with voting machines, which can cause long lines, and some locations opening late. But none of the problems severely disrupted voting on Tuesday and 93% of the county’s 701 voting centers were open by 7 a.m., officials said.

One of the officials now responsible for running local elections, Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth, said her office had a plan in place to deal with Tuesday’s problems, including assigning a technician to every voting location and promptly dealing with calls for help.

“Elections are not flawless and these are some of the challenges we face every election cycle,” Hudspeth said.

Jackson Lee, 73, and Whitmire, 74, have touted their experience in a race to lead one of the youngest major cities in the U.S. Although the mayoral race is nonpartisan, most of the candidates are Democrats.

About two weeks before the election, Jackson Lee’s campaign had to contend with the release of an unverified audio recording, which is purported to capture her berating staff members with a barrage of expletives.

Whitmire and Jackson Lee are seeking to replace Mayor Sylvester Turner, who has served eight years and can’t run again because of term limits.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on X, formerly known as Twitter: twitter.com/juanlozano70

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US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Sen. John Whitmire lead crowded field in Houston mayor’s race