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John Whitmire elected Houston's next mayor

John Whitmire gives his victory speech at his watch night party for the runoff election.
Andrew Schneider
Houston Public Media
John Whitmire gives his victory speech at his watch night party for the runoff election.

Texas State Senator John Whitmire has defeated Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee to win the election as the 63rd mayor of Houston. The tally from the Harris County Clerk's Office showed Whitmire beating Jackson Lee by a margin of 65% to 35% with roughly over 131,000 early votes cast.

"Great cities solve their problems. Together, we can solve our problems. The first way you solve your problem is admit you have one. And I don't mind telling folks what a great city we have, but we've got great challenges," Whitmire said at his victory party at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. "It'll be an opportunity to show the nation what the city of Houston can do. We will not kick our can down the road any longer."

While Houston's mayoral election was officially nonpartisan, Whitmire will enter the mayor's office with half a century's experience in public service as an elected Democrat.

Whitmire led consistently in most polling ever since his first public announcement that he planned to run for mayor more than two years ago. The most recent – the Houston Public Media/Houston Chronicle/University of Houston Political Science and Population Health Poll, conducted after the first round of voting – showed several trends that seem to have ultimately worked in Whitmire's favor. The senator led strongly among older white voters and conservatives, two groups that are more likely than others to come out to vote in municipal runoff elections.

Black voters, a core constituency of Jackson Lee's, did not show the same support to the congresswoman in the first round of the mayoral contest as they did for Sylvester Turner, the current mayor, during his first victory in 2015. Turner had endorsed Jackson Lee in the current election. Whitmire also benefited from a plurality of support among Latino voters. And while Whitmire led among men in Houston Public Media's poll, he also tied among women, cutting into another critical Jackson Lee support group.

In her concession speech, Jackson Lee said that she was grateful for every vote, and said of Whitmire that she "commit to working with him, because as I saw the city and listened to all of you, I know that our ideas can put this city in the future, as I have said."

The Houston Public Media poll pinpointed the main issues on voters' minds. Thirty-five percent of likely voters polled said crime was the most important issue in the race.

Whitmire made fighting crime and improving public safety the cornerstone of his campaign, saying he would bring 200 state troopers to Houston while the city hired and trained hundreds more police officers. While Jackson Lee also talked about the importance of public safety, she took a more nuanced approach, emphasizing the importance of creating jobs, and violence intervention to get at some of the root causes of crime.

By comparison, 18% of voters polled said the economy is the most important issue facing the next mayor. Fourteen percent pointed to the cost of housing, while 10% said the city's finances were their chief concern.

Whitmire was first elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1972 and won election to the Texas Senate in 1982. He was first appointed chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee in 1993 and continued to hold the post long after Republicans took over the chamber. He is currently its longest-serving member, with the unofficial title of "Dean of the Senate."

Whitmire is the former brother-in-law of Kathy Whitmire, who served as Houston's mayor from 1982 to 1991.

"We will make this a safer city," Whitmire said of his plans going forward. "We will do it by recruiting more officers, supporting the officers we have, the coalition building with other agencies. Our infrastructure will be repaired and fixed, not only streets but water. Great cities do not boil their water for two days."

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