The Chron covers the District I race.
The contrasts in this eastside, heavily-Latino council district are dramatic: from the gleaming George R. Brown Convention Center in the heart of downtown, to older neighborhoods lacking modern street drainage where vacant lots become clandestine dump sites.
Four candidates are campaigning to represent a historic slice of central Houston they all agree has both huge potential and a long list of improvements. The near completion of a multimillion-dollar extension of Metro’s light rail passenger line into the district holds the promise of increased economic development, as well as an anticipated influx of travelers who will use the $156 million international terminal under construction at William Hobby Airport.
Demographics explain some of the challenges facing District I and its 180,000 residents.
The average household income of $36,900 annually is $6,000 lower than the citywide average of $42,960. Educational attainment, while improving, is still low with 45 percent of residents lacking a high school diploma. The district is 77 percent Hispanic, the highest concentration of Latinos in any of the council districts, and, not surprisingly, Spanish is the primary language in 68 percent of the homes.
The incumbent, James Rodriguez, is term-limited. The election is Nov. 5.
The ballot features a longtime community worker/activist turned county jailer, a City Council aide with a decade of experience in the district office, and a private businessman with years of managing large city and school district building projects. Rounding out the race is a grass-roots candidate, who polled a surprising 35 percent of the vote against the well-financed incumbent in the 2011 election.
I interviewed all four candidates in this race – Robert Gallegos, Graci Garces, Ben Mendez, Leticia Ablaza. All but Ablaza also did at least one Q&A with Texpatriate or Texas Leftist; you can find those links on my 2013 Election page. The Chron endorsed Garces in the race.
I found the comment about Ablaza and her “surprising” 35% against CM Rodriguez in 2011 to be interesting. As we know, 2011 was a pretty good year to run against an incumbent Council member, as two of them lost and three others at the citywide level (Mayor Parker, CM Costello, CM Noriega) were re-elected with 55% or less. In all these cases, the incumbent had multiple opponents, so even though the not-incumbent vote was 45% or more, it was split multiple ways, often among candidates with minimal resources. A possibly useful comparison is in District H, where like CM Rodriguez, CM Ed Gonzalez had a lone opponent. Here’s how those races compared:
Dist Candidate Votes Pct
H E Gonzalez 4,347 68.24%
H P Rodriguez 2,023 31.76%
I J Rodriguez 4,050 64.46%
I L Ablaza 2,233 35.54%
So Patricia Rodriguez, who as far as I could tell in 2011 ran no campaign and raised $500 on the one finance report she filed, received 31.76% of the vote. Leticia Ablaza, who did run a campaign and who raised over $7,500 on the two reports she filed, received 35.54%. You tell me if that qualifies as a surprise. I will further note that neither CM Rodriguez nor CM Gonzalez had an opponent in November 2009 (CM Gonzalez of course won a special election in a June 2009 runoff to succeed now-Sheriff Adrian Garcia), but the undervote in each case (see page 6) was 36.52% for Gonzalez and 37.56% for Rodriguez. Again, you tell me what it all means.
To put this all another way, suppose there had been a third candidate in District I in 2011, and suppose that candidate had been of the no-name, no-campaign variety. How do you think the final outcome would have differed? Would you expect it to be something like 65-33-2, 63-35-2, 65-25-10, 55-35-10, or something else? I’ll say this much – if Leticia Ablaza matches her 2011 percentage, she’s not just a lock for the runoff, she’s almost surely leading the pack. I think that’s certainly possible, but I have no idea how likely it is. We’ll know soon enough.