Three thoughts on the state of the Mayor’s race

Inspired by this story, which doesn’t name any potential additions to the ever-large field of Mayoral wannabes for 2015 but which does put some things in context.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Most observers consider Rep. Sylvester Turner, with his support base from the African-American population that could cast a third of next year’s vote, to be the man to beat in November. Yet his fortunes to win in a December runoff – all but guaranteed to be needed in a large field – depend heavily on whom he faces in a one-on-one comparison.

Councilmen Oliver Pennington and Stephen Costello have committed to the race, with Pennington going as far as to send mailers to potential supporters in July, 18 months before the first votes are to be cast. Ben Hall, who lost to Parker in 2013, launched radio advertisements last month, and former Kemah mayor and Chronicle columnist Bill King designated a campaign treasurer. Former Democratic congressman Chris Bell also is an all-but-filed entrant.

Six weeks before the campaign fundraising floodgates open, the field is settling save for a potential entrant who looms over much of the discussion in Houston power circles: Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who has not yet declared his intentions. Legally, Garcia cannot make an affirmative move toward running without being forced to resign his county post, though he has acknowledged the pressure he faces from others.

That pressure, though, is pushing him in both directions. Commissioners Court likely would replace Garcia with a Republican sheriff ahead of the next election cycle.

“You’re going to be giving them an early 2016 gift,” said Democratic Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who had the sheriff at her home this month and expressed concern about a run. “Nobody wants a Latino mayor more than I do, but it’s got to be the right time.”


If Garcia does not enter the race, Councilman Ed Gonzalez, a close friend of Garcia, could look to capture Latinos’ support. Other prominent Hispanic leaders look to pass on the race, including Metro chairman and Parker ally Gilbert Garcia and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce head Laura Murillo. Both expressed some signs of interest earlier, but do not appear to be joining the field.

Garcia’s exit also could create political lanes for other Democratic alternatives to Turner, like Bell. Though Bell has not formally committed to the race, he has filed a lawsuit challenging Turner’s fundraising strategy and plans to make an official announcement in January.

The other four candidates most seriously weighing bids are: Councilman Jack Christie, an at-large councilman uncertain whether he can raise the money needed to compete; County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez, who like Garcia would have to resign to run for mayor; Sean Roberts, a local attorney; and businessman and political neophyte Marty McVey.

Councilmen Michael Kubosh and C.O. Bradford considered the race earlier this year, but both now say they are unlikely to launch campaigns. And despite floating the idea that he was open to a run, outgoing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said this month he had no plans to do so.

Conservatives have not yet coalesced around any of the six non-liberal candidates: Pennington, Costello, Hall, King, Christie or Sanchez.

“Right now, there’s no clear conservative choice yet, but people are obviously angling for being it,” said Paul Bettencourt, the new Republican senator from northwest Harris County.

1. It may be useful to think of these candidates as falling into one of three groups: Candidates with an obvious base of support, coalition candidates, and gadflies. Turner and Pennington fall into the first group, and as such you can sort of guess about what they might expect to get in November if that’s the limit of their appeal. It’s a decent position from which to start, especially in a multi-candidate race, but it’s no guarantee, as Turner himself could attest from his 2003 experience. Coalition candidates don’t have an obvious base of support, but can reasonably hope to draw from a broad range of constituencies. Bill White is the poster boy for such candidates, and folks like Bell, Costello, King, and Christie will all be competing for the kind of voters that propelled White to victory in 2003. Coalition candidates have a higher ceiling, but with so many people fishing in the same pond, it will be harder to stand out. White also had the advantage of lots of money to spend and no activity from anyone else at the time he launched his campaign. No one has that this year. Another consideration is that Turner and Pennington could have their bases eroded by Hall and Sanchez. I’d consider Sanchez a much bigger threat to Pennington if he runs than Hall would be to Turner – and Sanchez would have some appeal to Latino voters as well, not that he did so well with them in 2003 – but in a race where the difference between first and fourth or fifth could be a few thousand votes, I’d still be worried about it if I were Turner.

As for gadflies, he’s not mentioned in this story but Eric Dick, who I feel confident will run again since the publicity is good for his law firm’s business, is the canonical example. From what I have heard, Sean Roberts may be following in those footsteps. One could argue that Hall is a gadfly at this point based on the ridiculousness of his ads so far, but anyone with that kind of money to spend is still a threat to do better than the three to five points a typical gadfly might get.

Yes, there’s one candidate I haven’t mentioned here, and no I don’t mean Marty McVey, about whom I know nothing. I’ll get to him in a bit.

2. Conservatives may be better off not falling in line behind a single candidate just yet. Getting someone into the runoff is nice and all, but any Republican candidate will likely be an underdog in that runoff. The dream scenario for conservatives is what happened in the 2013 At Large #3 race, where three well-qualified Democratic candidates split the vote so evenly that none of them were able to catch up to the two Republicans. Michael Kubosh and Roy Morales were splitting a smaller piece of the electorate, but their two shares of that smaller group were greater than each of the three shares of the larger group. I still think Sylvester Turner is the frontrunner right now, but it’s not insane to imagine a Pennington-Sanchez runoff, especially if Ben Hall can be serious enough to put a dent in his numbers.

3. And then there’s Adrian Garcia. Will he or won’t he? You already know how I feel, so I won’t belabor that here. Garcia is both a candidate with a base and a coalition candidate, which is why he was as strong as he was in 2008 and 2012. Running against flawed opponents those years didn’t hurt him, either, so a little tempering of expectations may be in order here. I’m sure Garcia is carefully measuring the support he might have if he ran. I wonder if he’s trying to gauge how many Democrats he’d piss off by resigning and handing his office to a Republican, and how long said Dems would nurse that grudge when they will have at least two viable options in Turner and Bell to go with instead. It would be one thing if this were December of 2008, and Democrats had just had a great election and were feeling good about themselves. After last month’s debacle, I don’t know how forgiving anyone will be about any Dem that yields a freebie like that to the Republicans. I may be overestimating the effect, especially given how much time Garcia would have to make up for it, and I personally think the Presidential race will have a much larger effect on Democratic fortunes in Harris County in 2016 than Garcia would. But I think it’s real and I think Garcia needs to be concerned about it. Whether it’s enough to affect his decision or not, I have no idea.

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23 Responses to Three thoughts on the state of the Mayor’s race

  1. Manuel Barrera says:

    Garcia isn’t he the one that bragged about deporting 1,000 Latinos a month.

    Isn’t he the one that bragged that he became more conservative to the Texas Tribune.

    He over estimates his ability to draw votes with the Latinos.

    They will be reminded about his bragging.

  2. Mainstream says:

    Sheriff Garcia has crossover appeal with some law and order Republicans. At a recent gathering of Republicans in Spring Branch, the consensus was that Pennington could not win a run-off, and probably would not even make the run-off, but other choices were not appealing either. King and Costello are viewed with suspicion by the hard right, the former for immigration views and the latter on the pejoratively named “rain tax.” Republicans detest Chris Bell, more so than they dislike Turner, who is viewed as sometimes more pragmatic and business-friendly. I don’t expect Christie or Sanchez to enter the fray. For disclosure, I will likely support Costello so long as he appears viable.

  3. joshua ben bullard says:

    Theres a huge media assumption that the general voting public in houston is going to go along to get along and allow the houston media to decide whom they elect for mayor=however i am beginning to suspect that this race will go any way by november,there is going to be a mountain of candidates in the charge for the mound and i think some of your typical mainline candidates could easily get lost in the shuffle,as for me i am undecided because its not feb yet.

    joshua ben bullard

  4. Steve Houston says:

    It all depends on who runs, how they run, and how many people vote. Garcia has enough mainstream appeal on both sides of the aisle to make it to a runoff with Turner, none of the existing councilman mentioned able to match that kind of drawing power. Heck, there are republicans willing to promote Garcia just to open up the Sheriff’s office, a few were quite vocal at a recent Cherry Tree Republicans meeting up north, including one who waved his checkbook. Contrary to Manuel’s assertions, Garcia would get a large part of the Latino vote in such a runoff just as he would get pretty much all the conservative vote given his stances to save money while running the jail. That they know they would keep him out of the Sheriff’s office and higher level offices for six years is the cherry on top but he is considered a better alternative than some of the diehard liberals and remains a pragmatic choice. I just don’t think he is ready to run for it.

    Bradford has so many scandals tied to his record, from the rape kits, K-Mart raid, crime lab, and scores of other failures that he even lost his county run for DA against a republican candidate detested by many AND during the democratic sweep. He’d do better running in some gerrymandered statewide seat where he won’t be looked at as critically, but just as Turner easily trumps Hall, he does likewise with Bradford. Kubosh would have a better chance after a few more years as councilman but any of the candidates considered GOP friendly have to remember that the city leans moderately to the left in terms of voters so anyone earning the undisputed backing of the GOP will lose the majority vote in the runoff.

  5. Ross says:

    I am still trying to understand what difference party makes for Sheriff.

  6. Manuel Barrera says:

    Steve, Garcia has his own scandals, he gets Latino votes because of his last name, but he had no history to speak off when he first ran. Of course he would get a large share of the Latino votes for the same reason that a Republican would get a large share of the Republican vote. But he will not get a 100% nor will he draw voters out. Perfect example is Morales a Republican that caries the Latino pcts. One does not have to turn everyone around, a small percentage could make the difference if one gets in a run-off. I cannot see Garcia getting significant support from Republicans as there are Republicans running. I don’t see Garcia even getting into a run-off as there are several Latinos that may jump in because of his history of deporting Latinos. No intent to win only to hurt him, a la Ben Hall, or more as was done to him. The only way that Garcia would have a chance at winning is if got into a run-off with an ultra liberal like Bell.

    Turner is very qualified, have no problems with him. But the African American voters is not really supportive of the men in bathroom and that may be an issue in November. We will see how that plays out.

    Bill King has been around a lot and I expect that he will be working the campaign the same way Lanier did, with probably the same type of coalition.

    Costello the rain man, I don’t think so. Pennington is a decent person not much of a record that never hurts.

    Steve as to the last statement, not quite true, Orlando Sanchez would appeal to the Latino voters and Republicans. If he had not gotten cocky he would have been Mayor. Brown ran a perfect campaign, same person that did that campaign for Brown is the one that ran Lanier’s first campaign. Craig Varoga.

  7. Steve Houston says:

    Manuel, it’s all about getting into the runoff. I like Turner myself and feel he would get the majority of black votes based on the color of his skin alone. Of all the coalitions and likely voting blocs, if conservatives pick a truly conservative candidate, they will lose in the runoff unless there is a very, very low turnout. Turner does not appeal to conservatives in the slightest, nor do they trust King, and few think throwing away a vote on one of the term limited councilmen makes sense outside of core followers.

    Garcia may have a “D” next to his name but he supports enforcing immigration laws and has run the jail on a tighter budget than any of his “R” counterparts in recent memory. As someone who has won a countywide election despite a “D” next to his name, won three terms as Councilman, and was Mayor Pro Tem, he could pick up much of the Latino vote on recognition alone, a lot of democrats based on past votes, and yes, a fair amount of centrist and slightly right folks. I don’t think he intends on running but given his track record, it is much more likely he makes a runoff than anyone other than perhaps Turner. In a runoff, he would win under most realistic scenarios. I don’t think he’s ready for the spot but given some of the crazy statements made by many of the others, he’d be far preferable to most of them. Given only two groups seem to vote largely on race alone, he and Turner start ahead of the curve: Garcia already has close to half a million in his campaign coffers and Turner had about the same (maybe a bit more).

  8. Eric Dick says:


    Don’t know if I’ll have the time this go around but thanks for thinking of me.

    So please put me down as a “maybe.”

    – Eric Dick

  9. Manuel Barrera says:

    Steve, Garcia has run twice during presidential elections. That doesn’t tell us much. In a run-off he has to have appeal to get voters back out he doesn’t. Not now, quite a few of us will continue to tell people how he likes to separate Latinos. Is that supporting immigration laws? District H is one of the lowest voter turnout district, it was like that when he first got elected to District H. But he was a different person then, I have known him for over 30 years when he was member of OSSO with Victor Trevino and other people that I know very well.

    The Democratic Party needs to get the Latino community involved in politics, but they are failing aren’t they? I recall him pitching to the Latino community to come out an vote this last election, how did he do? Stace from Dos Centavos used to pitch him often, he hasn’t lately, wonder why? Where are the big boys that will back Garcia?Does he get some independents thus far yes, but he has not had any real competition.

    How is Garcia doing with that investigation where they were treating a prisoner worse than an animal? People don’t realize that you only have to convince a small percentage to not vote for a person to turn a close race around.

  10. Steve Houston says:

    Manuel, how many politicians in Harris county have won a county wide spot with a “D” next to their name the last two elections in a row? I’ll give you a hint, you can count them with one finger (and not the middle finger), “R’ candidates pummeling their foes regardless of the top of the ticket last time.

    In terms of how Garcia has handled his staff and insisted they treat the prisoners/general public, one need only look up the numbers of employees he has terminated for misconduct and the improvement in verifiable metrics under his control. In any large organization things will happen but since he has taken office, he’s done a better job in most meaningful ways.

    I’m acquainted with him but not particularly close and I’m not his cheerleader. To suggest his last opponent lost because of the overwhelming support of Garcia by car wash employees seems unlikely (a jab at Guthrie for those who forget). The Latino vote is not yet the be all, end all it should become in years to follow but I’d be lying if I said his chances were anything less than very solid should he run. I’d advise him to wait for voter discontent to settle in two or four years from now, city finances being totally screwed until then, but as much as I think Turner is the best candidate for the position given the various factors, others may well be spending some time working on their game too.

  11. Mainstream says:

    I think the County Attorney Vince Ryan would also qualify as a D winning two countywide elections in a row.

  12. Steve Houston says:

    I stand corrected, there are a whooping 2 democrats qualifying. Like many, I forgot all about old Vince. 😉

  13. Manuel Barrera says:

    Well, Steve, if you don’t count judges there are two, but I think the District and County judges run county wide, off course if both you and mainstream think I am wrong about the judges please correct me.

    Garcia if he stays at Sheriff can probably keep that seat for a while, but he has reached the level of his accomplishments. If he and Turner were the only ones running, Garcia would pull Republican votes, but pray tell how will he pull in Republicans when he supports the same issues as Parker? By the way, I have a list of Latinos in name only, at the top are Sylvia Garcia, Adrian Garcia, Jessica Farrar and had listed Mary Ann Perez. She is out now, Jessica is the next goal in two years. My goal as well as others is to support candidates that support the Latino community in their issues, regardless of color. Right now there are not many, but Adrian Garcia is a top target to remove from politics. We are patient and we have a goal to hurt the Democratic party in Harris County until they wake up and smell the roses. But honestly we don’t have do much the Democratic party does a good dang job by itself.

    I know that the Democratic Party supports deportation of Latinos, Lane Lewis proved that when he closed the doors on DREAMERs. That is why here in Harris County the Democratic Party may be less than insignificant if the Republicans can control themselves on the immigration issue.

  14. Manuel Barrera says:

    By the way Steve there were nearly a quarter of a million Spanish surnamed persons that voted in the last presidential election here in Harris County. I have a list of all of them.

  15. Steve Houston says:

    Manuel, remember that Turner was just re-elected with under 22k votes, nearly 25% refusing to vote for him with no opposition at all. Democrat Garcia was elected with over 613k votes in a year when the GOP reclaimed most of the spots they lost, his policies well established enough for Latinos to know what they were voting for. The circumstances were different but frankly, who were they going to vote for, Gutherie, a man who was meeting with fringe types to intimidate Latinos on Stubener-Airline? Yeah, the GOP in Harris county is sooooo quiet about the immigration issue. lol

    So while the county GOP picks up whatever spots are left in two years, remember that “not Latino enough” is hardly going to win the community better representation. If your goal is truly to “hurt the Democratic party in Harris County until they wake up and smell the roses”, you are only going to prolong the existing reign that causes so much grief in your community rather than further your goals. But just for kicks, please provide us all a list of all the county wide elections won by democrats this year and maybe even a list of such that met your criteria of being Latino enough. I’m curious…

  16. Manuel Barrera says:

    Yes the goal is to hurt the Democratic party, you give too much credit to Garcia. Almost my entire life, I have refused to criticize our Latino politicians, as they get enough of that already. But when Adrian and Sylvia both start dumping on Latinos and they seem to forget their roots then it is time to play by the same rules.

    I don’t think adrian will run for mayor as it is just a ploy to keep Orlando out. If they both run neither one will get in a run-off and they will both be out of a job. Orlando would have a very good chance to get in a run-off and win the election with the support of those Latinos that would vote for Garcia, it is all in the last name.

    Garcia will sell himself, as it is about self, to the Republican Party if he thinks it will benefit him. Of course they support him, they have a Latino deporting Latinos, they have a Democrat deporting Latinos. They encouraged him to push for Safe Communities when it expired here in Harris County. They chose not to run a strong candidate why should they when the Latino in name only is pushing their agenda. Think about that. They are also weakening the Democratic party and laughing while they do it.

    Until the Democratic Party wakes up and realizes that they cannot win Harris County without strong support from the Latinos they will continue to be losers. Better hope that the Democrats have a strong person in 2016 or the judges may swing back to the R column.

    By the way when all the liberals from the Heights were in love with Gabby Vasquez, I told quite a few people that don’t be surprise if he turns on you. I am saying the same thing now, don’t be surprised if Adrian Garcia turns on you.

  17. Manuel Barrera says:

    By the way, we know that the unions speak with forked tongue on the immigration issue with the exception of the SEIU. Reisner would also have lost if the Republican had been allowed to stay in the ballot. I have problems when a Politician who allows a top level employee who writes she is going “wetback” hunting to stay employed. In case you don’t know that was JP Reisner’s employee who is very active in the Democratic party, close buddy of gayle fellon, and a union activist.

  18. Manuel Barrera says:

    By the way Steve if Obama was against same sex marriage would you support him?

    Would you support Obama if he was for ending all abortions?

    If Obama won because the Republicans voted for him because of his stand on those issues, would you still be supporting Obama?

    Think on that. Ask yourself if Latinos are less than you are, regardless of their citizenship or undocumented.

    Justify why you would support a man who betrays the principals of the Democratic Party.

  19. Steve Houston says:

    Manuel, I suspect you must be confusing me with someone else because I am not an Obama supporter nor would him changing on a single topic influence my beliefs about him. As far as Latinas, you can ask my better half about that since she is active in the community and nor nearly as hateful toward Garcia, don’t confuse my distrust in his last opponent or generally even handed comments about him as being a die hard supporter. Gutherie told GOP die hards what they wanted to hear and they propped him up, the party did little to encourage or discourage “better” candidates from running; none of the right wing constables wanting the job and few others particularly qualified.

    And you seem to think county wide “D” judges won seats this year when they did not, the likelihood of any remaining in 2016 without a miracle at the top of the ticket exceedingly slim. If Latinos want better candidates, they had better start courting both parties, not just their traditional democrats or you will see more deportation talk gain headway.

  20. Manuel Barrera says:

    Steve, I don’t know what you believe in what your wife believes in or that she only has a little hate toward Garcia. I don’t hate him, I just don’t care for his politics. Instead of Obama I could have used any other D or R that is one in name only.

    But I do know that A. Garcia did not win an election this year, either.

    If you go back to 2012 you will quite a few D judges that won, I think one or two incumbents from 2008 lost.

    Frankly, I doubt that you understand politics as much as you may think you do, bye.

  21. Steven Houston says:

    Manuel, rather than get tied up in personal insults over your lack of seeing a big picture or nitpicking all the great many times you’ve been proven wrong in the past, let’s just say that for all your bluster, you’re not a kingmaker. You certainly want to be one and think you are but given all those Latinos/Hispanics in office that just don’t meet up to your personal standards because they have different opinions on some topics, your quest will fail for the foreseeable future.

    If you’re going to suggest Latinos vote on issues and not on ethnicity (or the appearance of such by virtue of a last name), perhaps you can explain how Garcia won those elections. He could not do so based on a “D” alone and a look at the precinct data shows he did just fine in your areas despite making it clear he supported deportation. It might be that many who have lived here legally for generations think others should follow the law too, you know, people that can legally vote and all. 😉

  22. Manuel Barrera says:

    I did say bye, I will respond to one of your statements. Why is that Garcia is going around telling people in the Latino community that he deported less people than the previous Republican sheriff?

    Your stating lies does not make them true. I am not a king maker, that is role that both Garcias have taken for themselves.

    It is bye this time, as you make statements that outright lies but need to be corrected.

    You are so full of Garcia what did he do for you?

  23. Steven Houston says:

    Manuel, if you want an answer regarding what Garcia told some members of the community, you would get the best answer by asking him yourself. Clearly he sees the benefit of pointing out that he did in fact deport illegals, perhaps the fact that he is a politician for a law enforcement position requires the need for him to enforce the law. He is in a position to do so and a great many in this community expect no less of him, if put to a vote, many people completely opposed to more taxes would pony up to fund the buses to the border. Don’t take that personally, nor take it that I necessarily support it, but it is a fact.

    Regarding your desire to be a kingmaker, you have repeatedly claimed to keep various “lists” of this and that while suggesting a unified front with numerous comments like “We are patient and we have a goal to hurt the Democratic party”, the problem is that the community is NOT unified nor does anyone have the proven ability to sway masses of people. The evidence speaks clearly that having a Latino surname alone garners votes, even if not the “nearly quarter of a million” folks you claim to be tracking. That is how you present yourself here whether you want to own up to it or not.

    My purpose here is largely to learn. I occasionally comment on topics of interest or those I happen to have some knowledge about. I’m acquainted with Garcia but I’ve never claimed he was the golden child of the democratic party, the champion of Latinos, or the best possible candidate for Mayor of the city, in fact pointing out better choices. This was not out of self interest like yourself, merely from observation that Garcia can’t “turn on me” as you claim, I don’t need him nor would I expect favors from him. Contrary to your assertions though, as a proven winner in elections, he most certainly has a stronger base to run for mayor than most of the others mentioned, he also has a considerable war chest of campaign funds that do not come out of his own pocket. His stances on certain topics do enhance his position to run compared to most others as well, and given the likely field of candidates to run, he would almost certainly make the runoff with a solid chance of taking office. bye

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