One underappreciated aspect of this year’s election is that we may wind up with more than two new At Large City Council members. We started with two open seats, and with incumbents Sue Lovell and Jolanda Jones in runoffs, the possibility exists that we could have as many as four freshman members in January. This would be a first for Houston, at least in the term limits era. Since 1997, here are all of the newly-elected Council members for that year:
1997 – Annise Parker (1), Carroll Robinson (5)
1999 – Gordon Quan (2)
2001 – Shelley Sekula Rodriguez/Gibbs (3), Michael Berry (4)
2003 – Mark Ellis (1), Ronald Green (4)
2005 – Peter Brown (1), Sue Lovell (2)
2007 – Melissa Noriega (3), Jolanda Jones (5)
There actually was a third new Council member in 1997, but not in November. John Peavy won a special election in January of 1995 to replace Sheila Jackson Lee in At Large #4 after she was elected to Congress. After he won re-election that November, he announced in 1996 that he was stepping down. Chris Bell then won a special election in January, and won election to a full term that November. His seat came open in 2001 when he ran for Mayor (Orlando Sanchez, who had been the incumbent in At Large #3, was first elected in 1995 and thus was term limited out that year.) Michael Berry, who won #4 in 2001, briefly ran for Mayor in 2003, and when he pulled back from that he filed instead for At Large #5; I forget what the reasoning behind that was. As such, there were technically three open seats in 2003, but only because of Berry’s seat shifting. Besides, Mark Ellis had been a two-term incumbent in District F before winning a final term in Council as the At Large #1 member, so even if one of Berry or Shelley Sekula now-Gibbs, who nipped Peter Brown in a runoff for her first re-election, had been beaten, there still would have been only two truly new At Large members.
This year, we will have new At Large members CO Bradford and the winner of the Stephen Costello/Karen Derr runoff. I think Sue Lovell will win easily enough in #2, but Jolanda Jones has a tough race on her hands, and may well lose. If either one does lose, then we’ll have the unprecedented situation of three or more new At Large members, and in a year with a new Mayor and a new Controller. I’m thinking the first few Council meetings would be a lot of fun under those conditions.
One other thing to consider in the event we do have three or four new At Large members is that there would not be an open seat until 2013, when Melissa Noriega gets term limited. I would think that a Council Member Andrew Burks or a Council Member Jack Christie would be wise to prepare for a strong challenge from somebody in 2011, for two reasons. One is that those with ambitions for Council aren’t going to want to wait that long. The pent-up demand for an open Council seat by then would surely lead to a ginormous field, in which even a good candidate’s chances would be a pure crapshoot. Seems to me you’d get better odds taking on a freshman incumbent in 2011, in what could be a straight up two-person race. And two, the political establishment might well view Burks and/or Christie as flukes whose victories said more about their opponents than themselves. I believe the likelihood of that is greater if the turnout for the runoff is low. The same could happen to Bradford or Costello/Derr, of course, but I’d expect Burks or Christie to be a more inviting target.
Anyway. Just something I’ve been thinking about. What do you think?
UPDATE: Forgot to include Jolanda Jones as a new Member in 2007. Whether she wins or loses, the only seat that would be open in 2011 is Sue Lovell’s seat, assuming Lovell wins. If Lovell wins and Jones loses, we have one open seat in 2011 and one in 2013, then three in 2015. If Lovell loses and Jones wins, we have no open seats in 2011, two in 2013, and three in 2015. If both lose, no open seats in 2011, one in 2013, and four in 2015. I should have been more clear about that. Also, as noted by Jennifer in the comments, we will have two new District Council seats in 2011, which may provide an outlet for some of those who would otherwise run At Large if there’s a paucity of those seats available.