Those being the Houston and San Antonio Mayors races, with a look at how candidates of color are faring.
If former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte wins the runoff for San Antonio mayor next weekend, she’ll become the Alamo City’s first Hispanic female mayor, though not the first Hispanic, nor the first female.
If opponent Ivy Taylor wins, she’ll become the first black person elected to the position, though she’s already the first black mayor by appointment, taking over when Julián Castro left for a federal job.
And when Houston voters pick their next mayor in the fall, they could make former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia the first Hispanic mayor of the state’s most populous city. A win by state Rep. Sylvester Turner would give the city only its second black mayor.
As Texas’ major cities continue their decades-long evolution to minority-majority populations — where there are fewer whites than blacks and Hispanics combined — tracking minority and female ascension to mayoral firsts has almost reached the complexity of a political trivia game.
But the diversity of candidates is not a mere function of census numbers, political organizers and local leaders say. It’s the result of years of work in the trenches as people of color have labored to accumulate political capital.
“It’s not a magic bullet,” said Laura Barbarena, a San Antonio-based political consultant.
In modern times, San Antonio has been led by only three Hispanic mayors, despite the massive Hispanic share — 63.2 percent — of the population.
But the configuration of its local and legislative districts — particularly on the East Side — has also helped propel blacks into leadership positions. Taylor hails from the East Side and represented it on the City Council from 2009 until her peers appointed her interim mayor in July 2014.
Whichever way it goes, the June 13 runoff will give San Antonio its first woman of color elected to the top post at City Hall.
Still in its early stages, the Houston race has no clear front-runners in a crowded field, with at least seven candidates looking to win the Nov. 3 election. But with high name identification and wide appeal, Garcia and Turner are likely among the top contenders. The five other candidates are all also men, four white and one black.
In a city more diverse than San Antonio — Hispanics make up 43.8 percent of the population, blacks 23.7 percent, almost double the state’s share — both candidates have been more overt with messages about bringing people together.
As far as Houston goes, I would note that we had an African-American candidate and a Hispanic candidate in each of the last two open-seat Mayor’s races. Gene Locke in 2009 and Orlando Sanchez in 2003 (as he had against then-Mayor Lee Brown in 2001) made it into the runoff but lost there. This year, I would not bet any amount of money on any runoff candidate combination, and I would not bet any amount of money on any runoff outcome. There are too many candidates with a credible shot at making it into overtime, and too many possible variables in play once that happens. Unless something happens to clearly separate one or two candidates from the rest of the pack, I will continue to believe that the difference between finishing in the money and finishing fourth or fifth could be as little as a couple thousand votes, much like the At Large 3 race in 2013. Anyone who says otherwise is probably on one of the candidates’ payrolls.
Today is the last day of early voting in the San Antonio runoff, with Runoff Day being this Saturday, the 13th. Early voting turnout is up from the May election, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that final turnout will be up. From what I have gleaned on Facebook, there are a decent number of new voters (i.e., those who did not vote in May) in the mix, so an uptick is definitely a possibility. Who that favors is a question I’m not in a position to answer. If you’re from San Antonio, what’s been your impression of how the vote is going so far?