Garcia’s candidacy has been an open secret in Houston politics for months, if not years. His name has appeared on most early polls of the field, and he has participated in candidate endorsement screenings even before launching his bid. Garcia said he plans to file a form appointing a campaign treasurer with the city secretary’s office before 5 p.m. Friday.
He joins an increasingly crowded field that includes state Sen. John Whitmire, former Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, former City Councilmember Amanda Edwards, attorney Lee Kaplan and Councilmember Robert Gallegos. Rumors have intensified in recent months that U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee may enter the race, as well. The election is Nov. 8.
Garcia, 59, is managing partner at Garcia Hamilton & Associates, a wealth management firm specializing in bonds. The Corpus Christi native went to Yale University and then staked out a career in finance, joining his current firm in 2002. It since has grown from managing about $350 million in assets to more than $20 billion, he said.
Then-Mayor Annise Parker appointed Garcia, who was her campaign chair in 2009, as chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, an agency beset by ethics scandals and shaky finances at the time. Garcia said he knew nothing about transit at the time, but that was the point: Parker was appointing him to “shake up” the organization.
Along with CEO George Greanias, Garcia branded the agency a “new Metro,” stabilizing its fiscal outlook, reorganizing its pension system and increasing transparency by posting its check register online. He helped oversee a redesign of the agency’s local bus routes and the opening of three light rail segments, though the latter did not come without challenges.
There were long delays in work on the rail lines, and he angered many East End residents when the agency had to go back on its promise to build an underpass where the Green Line intersects with Harrisburg. That dispute included sparring with Gallegos, who represents the East End and now is one of his mayoral opponents.
Garcia’s pitch to mayoral voters is that City Hall now is in need of a similar shake-up. He cites separate federal investigations into the city Health Department and a mayoral aide, the public accusation of corruption by the former housing director, a lingering pay dispute with firefighters and a shaky financial outlook.
“I read the news like everyone else, and I have seen so many challenges that are challenges, frankly, of our own making,” Garcia said. “Those are all things that I think can be solved or done better, because those are not things that are part of the economic environment… I would do a Metro re-do for the city.”
Renée Cross, senior executive director at the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, said Garcia will make a credible candidate, but he will have to overcome his lack of electoral experience, which will include building name recognition among voters who do not closely follow city politics.
“He’s well-liked on both sides of the aisle,” Cross said. “Now, whether he can go up against experienced candidates like John Whitmire, we’ll have to see, because he’s never run for office.”
Like Gallegos, who announced last month, Garcia is seeking to be Houston’s first Latino mayor. Cross said she thinks the two will pull from different bases, and she would not be surprised if Garcia tries to pull in more conservative voters.
As the story notes, Garcia was a candidate in all but official announcement well before this. I’ll say that I thought he was an excellent Metro board chair – I interviewed him twice, along with then-Board member Christof Spieler, back in the day – and I like him personally. He has some fundraising ground to make up, and as with everyone else in this large field he’s going to have to differentiate himself and get voters’ attention. This is going to be a very busy year.