I have a few thoughts about this.
Houston mayoral candidates took aim at “feel-good” public safety initiatives such as gun buybacks and proposed plans to boost the city budget at a Friday forum organized by United Republicans of Harris County.
Early polls show Houston’s Republican voters, who make up about a third of the city electorate, favor state Sen. John Whitmire, a tough-on-crime Democrat. Meanwhile, Republican contenders MJ Khan and Jack Christie, both former council members, are seeking to consolidate conservative votes in a “field dominated by liberals,” as Khan put it.
Khan, former Metro Chair Gilbert Garcia and attorney Lee Kaplan were the only candidates to attend the United Republicans’ forum Friday night. In front of dozens at the Trini Mendenhall Community Center, the contenders criticized outgoing Mayor Sylvester Turner’s policies on issues ranging from public safety and street design to city finances and transparency.
“I’m a Democrat, but I’m running because I can’t take it anymore,” Garcia said, citing several federal investigations and corruption allegations during Turner’s tenure, which he mayor has rejected at various times. Garcia labeled all three attending candidates as a “fresh face” against mayoral front-runners Whitmire and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who he said would only perpetuate the existing insider culture at City Hall.
Kaplan, noting the uncertainty around the corruption accusations, instead went after Turner’s public safety plan. He dubbed the recent gun buyback events “boneheaded” and called Houston’s ShotSpotter system a “silly, bogus idea.” The other two concurred, pointing to a lack of evidence linking these initiatives to crime rate reduction.
“The city is not some corrupt socialistic organization. There’s a lot of people trying to do the right thing,” Kaplan said. But the next mayor needs to craft more rigorous policies to enhance public safety and city services, he said.
Khan, the only Republican on stage, said he would cut spending and vet every city dollar if elected. He also lamented the strained city-state relationship and denounced the Turner administration’s support for business closures during COVID-19, earning him a light round of applause from the audience.
Bike lanes faced a barrage of criticism from all candidates Friday night. Kaplan said Houston is still car-centric and “bikers shouldn’t control the city.” Khan agreed, adding that the current patchwork of dedicated bike lanes also present safety risks.
Garcia last week received rounds of cheers at a transit forum for championing alternative transportation methods before a cyclist-friendly crowd. But he underscored the rift between him and the pro-biking community Friday night and highlighted the need to scrutinize the “cannibalization of streets for bike lanes” in Houston.
“I can’t tell you how many people in the bike community have been trolling me, being mean and angry, all those things,” Garcia said. But due to the high costs of constructing bike lanes, he said the funds would be better spent on other causes such as public safety and drainage improvement.
In no particular order:
– It’s a little weird to call a Mayoral candidate event in which only three of the 17 candidates, none of whom are considered likely to be in the eventual runoff, a “candidate forum”. It just feels like something is missing. It’s great to hear from candidates – I do the interviews I do for a reason – but with such a small share of the field present you’re not getting anything like a full picture. Even if you dismiss the horde of no-names, this is less than half of the “viable” field. Just semantics maybe, but if I had attended this, I’d have come away at least a little disappointed.
– LOL at the idea that bikers “control” the city. Anyone who can say that with a straight face has probably not ridden a bike since they were in middle school.
– Also, as I’ve said before, that “vetting of every dollar” rhetoric is so old and unoriginal and just plain meaningless. We don’t care what’s on your new album, play that one hit that we all love again.
– The story refers to “early polls”, but I’m only aware of one public poll so far, and I hope by now we all understand the very limited value of a single poll, let alone one that is months old and pertaining to a race that is difficult to sample. I’m ready for there to be another poll, even a crappy one, just so that we can have another data point and stop pretending that this one poll really told us anything.
– That said, let’s assume that the poll is correct in that Whitmire and SJL are the clear frontrunners. Let’s also assume that SJL’s base of support is impregnable enough that she is assured a spot in the runoff. Whitmire, whose base includes Democrats and Republicans, might in theory be susceptible to his support declining if other candidates, at least two of which are actual Republicans, can chip away at that part of his base. If we posit that this is possible, and that Whitmire could lose ten or even fifteen points of support due to Republicans abandoning him, then the question is, who is in third place? And is that person likely to be the sole beneficiary of Whitmire’s hypothetical loss of Republican votes, thus putting him in position to maybe slip into the runoff? Or are those lost Republican voters likely to be divided up by the four main candidates vying for them (Khan and Christie and based on their appearance here Garcia and Kaplan) thus boosting them all by a couple of points and in the end leaving them all still well behind Whitmire? If you don’t have a clear answer for my first question, about who’s in third place, then I think you’ll agree the latter scenario is the more likely.
– Just curious what these candidates have been saying about these issues at campaign forums that are non-partisan or hosted by Democratic/progressive groups. Might be worth noting one or two of these quotes and then asking them about it at the next one.
– To be fair, the evidence we have strongly suggests that ShotSpotter is useless and should be abandoned. Not that this will help trim the budget in any way, since that’s spending on “public safety” and would have to be redirected to some other items in that part of the budget since cutting spending on public safety is now illegal thanks to the Lege. Not that any Mayoral candidate in my memory has ever called for any kind of scrutiny of the public safety budget, mind you. Reallocating ShotSpotter money to something else is called for and may end up as a better use of that funding. But no one should mistake it for shrinking expenditures in any way.