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Checking in on the Mayor’s race

Remember the Mayor’s race? Yeah, that.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

“The candidates have been running for months but were focused on fundraising and defining their message,” said Nancy Sims, a Houston political analyst. “Labor Day is when people tune into the election.”

The stretch-run of the race follows months of campaigning from Buzbee, a businessman and trial lawyer who announced his candidacy last October. King, also a businessman and lawyer, joined the race in February, then the field expanded in June with the candidacy of District D Councilman Dwight Boykins and, weeks later, former At-Large Councilwoman Sue Lovell.

Seven other lesser-known candidates also are running.

Despite vigorous campaigning from Turner’s opponents, the race has yet to reach its loudest pitch, in part because Turner only has appeared at campaign events without other mayoral candidates. Earlier this week, Buzbee and King criticized the mayor for not yet attending any candidate forums.

A Turner campaign spokesperson said he was not invited to the Wednesday forum or to a prior forum held in June by the Lake Houston Pachyderm Club, which Buzbee and King attended.

Even as the race heats up, mayoral candidates are battling with a bloated field of Democratic presidential candidates for the attention of Houston voters, who typically do not tune into city elections en masse until September.

“I think the challenge for the city candidates this year is that they are greatly overshadowed by the 2020 race,” Sims said. “They are struggling to get the attention they need for people to focus in on the city elections.”

Even without distractions, such as the Sept. 12 Democratic presidential debate in Houston, municipal candidates often struggle to drag voters to the polls: Just 27 percent of registered Houston voters turned out in the 2015 race, the first time since 2003 that turnout was more than 20 percent.

Still, the candidates are entering the critical part of the race with ample resources to draw out voters. Buzbee is self-funding his campaign and as of June 30 had contributed $7.5 million of his personal wealth. He had spent more than $2.3 million at the same point, and recently made a six-figure TV ad buy through the end of September.

“Tony Buzbee is a very unique candidate because of his ability to self-fund, so the normal rules and strategies regarding TV don’t really apply to him, because he effectively has a bottomless wallet,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “For other candidates who have to keep their powder dry, we’re unlikely to see major media buys until the first or second week of October.”

We’ve discussed this before, but as a reminder what drives turnout in city elections is a high profile referendum on the ballot. Contested Mayoral races are a factor too, but the addition of a referendum is the difference between 2003 (381K votes, Metro light rail referendum) or 2015 (286K votes, HERO repeal) and 2009 (181K, no referendum). Even without a contested Mayor’s race, a sufficiently hot ballot item can bring a lot of voters out – see, for example, 2005 (332K, anti-gay marriage Constitutional amendment). The Metro referendum this year isn’t nearly as controversial as the 2003 one was, and there may not be any astroturf opposition effort to it, but Metro will be pushing voters to the polls as well as the candidates are, and that should boost turnout a bit.

I would also push back against the notion that no one pays much attention to the Mayoral races before Labor Day, and I’d point to the last three open Mayoral elections as evidence. Bill White was running those white-background ads in 2003 early on in the year. Annise Parker, Gene Locke, and Peter Brown were releasing position papers and talking about ideas for traffic, crime, neighborhoods, economic development, and a whole lot of other things well before September. The pension issue, HERO, and the Adrian Garcia will-he-or-won’t-he tease dominated 2015. Maybe it was just the more engaged voters tuning in, but speaking as one of those engaged voters, there was a lot more happening in those past elections than there has been in this one.

Why might that be? Well, let me summarize the campaigns of the main Turner opponents so far.

Bill King: I’m a rich old guy who was once the Mayor of a town with fewer people than most HISD high schools, and I’m not Sylvester Turner.

Tony Buzbee: I’m a rich guy who’s buddies with Rick Perry, and I’m not Sylvester Turner.

Dwight Boykins: I’m not Sylvester Turner, and I supported Prop B.

Sue Lovell: I’m not Sylvester Turner, I supported Prop B, and unlike these other guys I also supported HERO.

I mean, you tell me why the excitement level has been set to “Meh”. I don’t see a whole lot changing from here, and it will be turned up to 11 in the runoff. Welcome to election season, y’all.

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5 Comments

  1. Jason Hochman says:

    There is actually a little more to the mayoral race than this. There is first and foremost the ongoing dispute with the firefighters. I just read in the Chronicle last week, that the HFD responded to a house fire in the East End under “Fire Resource Management,” meaning that they had a limited amount of personnel and equipment for fighting fires. Then, there is a police detective charged with two counts of murder, during the drug raid in January. The new mayor will need to repeal and replace HPD with an entirely new department. Further, there is the fact that HUD did send a scathing letter stating that Mayor Turner’s policies were supporting segregation, so how could anyone support a segregationist is beyond me. Mayor Turner responds to criticisms by saying show some respect. Well, I’m sorry to say it but being in public office (or for that matter playing pro sports, or being a Hollywood actor, or a musician, etc.) means that you are going to get criticism. Perhaps some not deserved, but it does go with the territory and it’s not a matter of respect.

    It is a bit disturbing that all three leading candidates are lawyers. I saw a movie that said, “If you ask a lawyer what time it is, he’ll tell you how to build a watch.” Lawyers don’t do much to build or create things. However, Bill King would be the best choice. He sent me a video showing him going into a sewer to find out why the city floods all the time. Even though he’s a lawyer, he’s a practical nuts and bolts kind of guy, and if the flooding and the Vision Zero things are going to move forward, he’s the only one who can do it. He also sent me the city budget and said that the city does NOT have a balanced budget, so,he does have the business acumen to understand the fiscal reality. Add to that he’s a lawyer, so he can negotiate and will work things out with the HFD, which is crucial. HFD is one of the few city departments that has helpful, hardworking, and courteous staff. With the abundance of structure fires in Houston, not to mention the hourly car crashes, and finally that HFD does water rescue in the floods (except for Harvey when the mayor told them to stay home), it is clear that HFD needs to be properly funded, staffed, and equipped. So Bill King has a little more substance than just saying I’m a rich old guy.

    Also, how come this entry doesn’t mention the candidate named Houjami? I haven’t heard much from/about him, so I would be interested to hear about him.

  2. Manny says:

    Jason;

    Lawyers for the most part were responsible for the type of government we have.

    https://sbmblog.typepad.com/sbm-blog/2011/07/how-many-of-the-founding-fathers-were-lawyers.html

    You must really hate Trump if you hate segregation that much, heck you must hate the Republican Party because that is what they stand for.

  3. Jason Hochman says:

    Hi Manny, I’m not a fan of either of the Big Two. Let me also point out that the Democrat party was founded for preserving slavery and segregation. There is a popular misconception that it changed at some point, and that while the “Dixie Crats” once dominated the party, it switched its entire philosophy at some point. In fact, Sen. Fulbright, who was a great role model and influence of the Clintons, was a rabid segregationist. Governor Wallace threatened to physically block integration of Alabama schools, and another Democrat, JFK, was going to send the National Guard. Senator Byrd was a Klansman and served until his death not that long ago, and Strom Thurmond was a Democrat, eventually switching to Republican. Many Republicans were and still are critical of Trump Yeah, neither of these parties are a great option. Which is why I don’t vote. My hands are clean; and I can honestly say that I’m not to blame for this debacle. I deny both parties my approval. In Germany in the early 30s, who knows, Hitler may have been the lesser of two evils, the strong stable leader opposing the uncertainty of the Bosheviks and socialists. Look how that turned out.

  4. Manny says:

    Typical for Trump loving Republicans, the Democrats did it also. We are not talking about the past Jason, we are talking about the present and at the moment the Republicans stand for racism and bigotry, I imagine that there are exceptions.

    So you must really hate the Republicans if you feel that strongly about segregation, Jason.

    Not voting does not mean your hands are clean Jason.

    But I am curious why you only pick on a Democrat when it comes to segregation? Can’t find any Republicans to pick on, do you need a list? The list starts with Trump at the top.

  5. C.L. says:

    “The new mayor will need to repeal and replace HPD with an entirely new department.” ???

    Jason NOT voting may be what’s best for Houston.