A brief look at the Council incumbents who face contested races

I think two, and hopefully three, of these races are truly competitive. The others, not so much.

Raj Salhotra

Asked how she would operate differently from City Councilwoman Karla Cisneros, the District H incumbent she is trying to unseat in November, Isabel Longoria did not mince words.

“What I would do different is … not be afraid to stand up to folks and say, here are the decisions we have to make — and not hide until the last minute because I’m scared to upset people,” Longoria, a former city planning commissioner and legislative policy aide, told the Chronicle editorial board last week.

Cisneros, a former HISD board president and first-term council member, shot back, “I’ve experienced this my whole life. I have a very feminine look about me, my voice is soft, and I can tell you that I am often underestimated. I’ve been called an iron fist in a velvet glove, for good reason.”

The exchange displayed the heightening intensity evident in many of the 16 Houston city council races, including eight involving incumbents defending their seats this fall. If any one of their challengers wins, the result would add to what already is guaranteed to be a seismic turnover on council, as half the current body is term-limited or not seeking re-election.


Aside from the District H race, which also includes real estate agent and neighborhood advocate Cynthia Reyes-Revilla and scientific researcher Gaby Salcedo, multiple challengers are hoping to force At-Large Councilmen Mike Knox (Position 1), David Robinson (Position 2) and Michael Kubosh (Position 3) into runoffs. Two district council members — Greg Travis of District G and Martha Castex-Tatum of District K — also face multiple opponents, while District E Councilman Dave Martin and District I Councilman Robert Gallegos each have drawn one challenger.

Knox, an Air Force veteran and former Houston police officer, generally is seen as one of the most vulnerable incumbents, thanks in part to a sluggish fundraising start compared to Raj Salhotra, one of his opponents. Salhotra raised $220,000 during the first six months of the year, compared to Knox’s $40,000 haul.

Still, Knox’s opponents — Larry Blackmon, Yolanda Navarro Flores, Georgia Provost and Salhotra — may have a tough time unseating him, depending on how many people turn out to vote. Knox would have the edge “if the electorate is the way it typically is in a municipal year — older and conservative,” [UH poli saci prof Brandon] Rottinghaus said.

Salhotra’s fundraising, and Provost’s strength among black voters — especially with competitive races in District B and D drawing voters — will counter Knox’s strengths, said Jay Aiyer, a public policy consultant and former chief of staff to Mayor Lee Brown. However, Aiyer added, Knox’s opponent in a potential runoff would need to draw at least some non-traditional voters.

“That’s one of the dangers when assessing the vulnerability of someone like Knox,” Aiyer said. “A lot of the younger candidates running social media-driven campaigns, geared toward energizing new or young voters — that’s a real uphill battle in a municipal election.”

Rottinghaus said the partisan nature of the race — with Democrats generally coalescing behind Salhotra and Republicans backing Knox — means the result will say a lot about the state of Houston’s electorate.

“This is really a story about the changing nature of the city. In a microcosm, this will be the most telling election — in addition to the mayor’s race — of how Houston and the region has changed,” he said.

Beating Kubosh, meanwhile, will require a mix of grass-roots support and a large war chest, Aiyer said. One of Kubosh’s opponents, Janaeya Carmouche, has built connections in progressive circles as a city council staffer and, more recently, deputy director of engagement for Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis. Carmouche also will have to report a significant fundraising amount in her next campaign finance report to be competitive, Aiyer said.

“I’m undaunted by the idea of incumbency, because I don’t believe in ownership of a position,” Carmouche said. “I believe that we have to earn that right every time.”

Also challenging Kubosh is Marcel McClinton, a recent high school graduate who has gained renown for his gun control advocacy after surviving a 2016 church shooting. He said he would push council to consider recommendations from the mayor’s commission against gun violence and prioritize climate change initiatives and flood control.

At Large #1 and District H, where I am, are definitely the ones to watch. Raj Salhotra has run a strong campaign and raised a lot of money, which he’s going to need to get his name out there to enough voters. I remain puzzled by Knox’s anemic fundraising totals. He’s a conservative Republican in a Democratic city, he’s not been very high profile on Council, and he has nowhere near enough money to run a robust citywide campaign. Maybe he figured he was playing with house money to begin with, maybe he just isn’t much for doing the dirty work, I don’t know. What I do know is that if Raj can get him into a runoff – he has to finish ahead of Georgia Provost, which is not a slam dunk – he can win.

As for District H, I don’t underestimate CM Cisneros, but I will note that in my neighborhood, which is also her neighborhood, I see a lot of Longoria and Reyes-Revilla signs. That doesn’t strike me as a great omen for her. I do see Cisneros signs, too, it just seems like her base has eroded. Looking back at the four-person race in November of 2015, she got 269 of 510 votes (52.7%) in Precinct 3 and 361 of 578 votes (62.5%) in Precinct 4, which combine to cover much of the Woodland Heights. I’m not feeling that for her this time. I could be wrong, and she can at least easily make it to a runoff even with a lesser performance in those two boxes. Outside of Knox, though, she appears to be the incumbent with the strongest opposition.

I’d like to add At Large #3 to this list, but I’m going to need to see a stronger finance report from Janaeya Carmouche first, and I’m going to need to see some evidence of actual campaigning from Marcel McClinton. (This isn’t quite what I had in mind, but it is impressive and laudable nonetheless.) Michael Kubosh hasn’t raised much money, either, but he has some self-funding capability, and unlike Knox has a fair amount of name recognition. He’s the favorite until and unless something changes.

The open seat races are more competitive, and much more chaotic overall. I have no idea what might happen in most of them. I presume we’ll get some overview stories on those contests in the next week or two.

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8 Responses to A brief look at the Council incumbents who face contested races

  1. Jennifer says:

    Mike Knox is the weak candidate, don’t fool yourself otherwise. Taj may not make the runoff because he acts a little too extreme and has no name id. I’m not convinced that $300,000 can change that. You hope for #3 is far fetched at best. Liberal democrats vote for Kubosh. He’ll win 60% of the vote.

    I think #4 and #5 are the more interesting races. My hunch is that Plummer wins #4 but that can go all sorts of ways. As far as #5 goes, no matter how I look at it I’m convinced that Dick wins.

  2. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    Liberal Democrats do not vote for Kubosh, an advocate of discrimination against LGBT persons. Kubosh has a highly bespoke group of very conservative African American voters aligned with Harold Dutton and Dwight Boykins, and Conservative Republicans, but thats it. He may win, based upon name recognition, a lack of voters knowledge about his right wing record and ties to truly extreme groups, a lack of funding for his opponents, along with voters preoccpation in other races. If he ever runs for anything truly important, he will find scrutiny and pushback.

    Raj has a lot of endorsements. He is probably in the top two challengers to incumbents. Money matters a lot especially in the ground game. While unseating incumbents in at large races is rare, I think Raj is the test case as to whether its actually doable.

    Republican Eric Dick aint beating Sallie Alcorn. She is the absolute strongest candidate against Eric Dick, as she combines all but the far left from the Democrats with moderate voters. Dick might make the runoff, but he has nowhere to go for more votes.
    Remember Alcorn has plenty of money (and can raise more) to remind voters that Dick is a Republican. That matters more in 2019 than it did in 2015. And attacks by a candidate on Alcorns left do little to help a candidate further right in a runoff.

    Dr Plummer? Yep she will probably make the runoff. Versus Dolcefino, she wins in a walk. Against Hellyar or Baldwin? Dont know.

  3. Htownvoter says:

    I totally agree with Tom about Kubosh, I’m sorry Jennifer but to be blunt, you obviously don’t know very many liberal Democrats, certainly not any that are the least bit politically engaged. He won’t get those votes, Raj will. He’s (Raj) is not as extreme as Kubosh. There will be a run off probably with Plummer & if I had to pick, I’m going to say Hellyar. (Although I’m not overly confident of that prediction). He’s gotten some good organization endorsements while Baldwin has got a few establishment Democrat endorsements. Personally I’m not big on Baldwin, his interest seem to align too much with builders and developers, like they don’t have enough say-so in how this city is run already.

  4. Notsuoh says:

    Man I’ve seen that Dick guy on TV for the last two years. If you see him please tell his volunteers to stop texting me.

  5. Mainstream says:

    I agree with Tom that Eric Dick, despite name ID from perennial contests and legal advertising, is unlikely to win over Sallie Alcorn. One measure of her broad acceptability is her endorsement today by the Houston Realty Breakfast Coalition, which usually endorses Republicans or conservatives. Although clearly identified as a Democrat, she shows up to speak to Republican groups like the Greater Houston Pachyderm Club and Log Cabin Republicans, and worked for council members Greg Travis and Steven Costello.

    I think Dolcefino may make the runoff just from his father’s name ID, coupled with a fair number of conservative/GOP group endorsements.

  6. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    Htownvoter. Raj is running against Knox. Kubosh is being challenged by several candidates, the most notable being Janaeya Carmouche.

  7. Steve in Oak Forest says:

    Sorry but I just don’t see Sallie or Raj even making the runoff. Who are y’all kidding? Kubosh wins easily.

  8. Zeek the Geak says:

    @Jennifer. Kubosh clearly isn’t a democrat! He does bail bonds.

    @Htownvoter. Despite being a nice guy, Hellya is not even going to get close to the runoff. I agree with Mainstream on Dolcefino.

    @Tom. Don’t be mistaken democrats L-O-V-E Dick.

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