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Activists demand apology after Houston mayor’s comments on Gulfton community: ‘We expect better’

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — A coalition of community groups is asking Houston Mayor John Whitmire to apologize for comments he made last month regarding the immigrant community in the city’s Gulfton neighborhood.

Twenty-eight community activists from different organizations, including those who represent undocumented immigrants, signed the letter that says Whitmire’s comments last month about rapid transit in Gulfton “reveal a shocking level of ignorance and prejudice.”

Nonprofit newsroom Houston Public Landing published the mayor’s comments, where he was quoted as saying the Gulfton population is largely undocumented and wants basic services.

“I don’t think what the mayor has to say about immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, is reflective of our values as Houstonians,” Jasmine Khadem Gonzalez said. “And so, what do you want to see happen? I want to see the mayor do better.”

The comments surrounding efforts to improve the city’s public transportation also drew criticism from City Council Member Edward Pollard last month. The mayor addressed his concerns, but it apparently was not enough for those who wrote and signed the open letter.

The activists want a retraction and an apology.

RELATED: Mayor defends remarks about undocumented Gulfton residents, calling criticism ‘misrepresentation’

“What do we expect?” community activist Daniel J. Cohen asked. “We expect better. We’d like to see reflection. We’d like to see an apology.”

“Just because we have no status and we are migrants or refugees, it doesn’t mean that we don’t deserve better,” Maria Hernandez, who helps undocumented immigrants, said.

In a statement to ABC13, Mayor Whitmire wrote:

“My support for Gulfton as a senator and now as mayor is well established. I am partnering with Harris County Commissioner Briones and other stakeholders. We are listening to residents and will make a positive difference in Gulfton. Metro has a plan for the area. It is in the process of designing a data-driven strategy to improve mobility, giving people better access to reach services at Baker Ripley and Legacy Clinic.”

Tammy Rodriguez, who has advocated for the Gulfton community and southwest Houston for three decades, says she knows the mayor means well, even if she did not agree with his choice of words.

“Knowing him and taking him at face value, I know his heart is in the community,” Rodriguez said. “With the mayor. I have every confidence in the world. We’re going to get what the community wants.”

And in a statement to ABC13 on Monday, Metro Chair Elizabeth Gonzalez Brock wrote:

“Mayor Whitmire has gone immediately to work addressing crucial needs in Gulfton – needs that existed years before he came into office. His administration is coordinating directly with METRO and Harris County Commissioner Lesley Briones’ office to develop and implement a revitalization plan that is evidence-based and sustainable. Mayor Whitmire has been boots on the ground in Gulfton, regularly listening to residents and stakeholders, meeting them where they are now, and we are all working together to bring relief in the areas of public safety, transit, and drainage. METRO is excited to participate in what will be a victory for the residents of Gulfton, the city, and the county alike. We are excited to soon reveal plans to revitalize this diverse community. We are laser focused on supporting Gulfton residents and will not allow special interest to derail our progress.”

Whitmire has not directly responded to the letter. Those who signed it hope they can meet with him to share their concerns about the community face-to-face.

For updates on this story, follow Tom Abrahams on FacebookX and Instagram.

This story comes from our news partner ABC13 Houston.