In a decisive election held on Saturday night, Houston elected 74-year-old Democratic state Senator John Whitmire as its next mayor, besting U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee in a runoff. With a political career spanning 50 years, Whitmire, one of Texas’ most influential Democratic legislators, now assumes leadership over America’s fourth-largest city.
In an exclusive interview with ABC13’s Brooke Taylor just before his acceptance speech, Whitmire expressed his optimism for Houston, stating, “We ran a very positive campaign. Houston is a great city – it’s a special city, and we’re demonstrating it tonight.” His campaign primarily focused on addressing issues such as reducing crime, improving infrastructure, and fostering unity within the diverse community.
Whitmire’s victory marked a notable contrast in campaign spending, as he significantly outspent Jackson Lee, who aimed to become Houston’s first Black female mayor. Emphasizing a commitment to creating a safer city and resolving longstanding problems, Whitmire asserted, “We’re not New York or Chicago or LA. We’re Houston. We fix our problems.”
The runoff followed a crowded field of nearly 20 candidates in the general election on Nov. 7, where both Whitmire and Jackson Lee emerged as leading contenders. The campaigns of these political stalwarts highlighted their extensive political experience, each boasting decades in public service, as qualifications to address the city’s challenges, including crime, infrastructure issues, and potential budget shortfalls.
Houston’s growth over the past decade has presented challenges, but it has also solidified its position as an expanding stronghold for Texas Democrats. While the mayoral race is officially nonpartisan, both Whitmire and Jackson Lee are Democrats. Whitmire, who began his political career in the Texas Legislature in 1973, will now hold the distinction of being the oldest big city mayor in the U.S.
The choice between Whitmire and Jackson Lee, both in their 70s, has sparked frustration among some Democratic voters, particularly younger ones seeking new political voices in Texas.
The new mayor inherits a city facing legislative changes from the GOP-led state government, impacting local elections and regulatory powers. Whitmire succeeds Mayor Sylvester Turner, serving eight years and unable to run again due to term limits.
Houston, recognized as the energy capital of the world, faces economic shifts toward cleaner energy. The city also grapples with challenges common to many large U.S. cities, including affordable housing shortages and concerns about economic inequality. As Whitmire assumes leadership, he navigates a diverse metropolis, with 45% Latino, 23% Black, and 24% white residents, reflecting the city’s status as one of the most diverse in the country.