Criminal JusticeLocal NewsState Sen. John Whitmire Announces Run for Houston Mayor in 2023 Election

Touting the campaign slogan “Fix Houston,” Whitmire discussed Houston’s rising crime, fraying infrastructure, and need for transparency.
November 30, 2022
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Longtime state Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) formally launched his campaign for Houston mayor Tuesday evening with promises to address myriad problems faced by the state’s most populous city, unveiling his campaign slogan: ”Fix Houston.”

Addressing a bipartisan crowd of more than 600 at Houston’s Post Oak Hotel, Whitmire said he had personally witnessed the fallout from homelessness, decaying streets, illegal dumping, and dysfunctional city services, and emphasized regional public safety challenges.

“I’m not going to get into squabbles with other elected officials about what the numbers are, but the bottom line is we have a crime issue in Houston, Harris County,” said Whitmire. “We are not New York or Chicago. We fix our problems.”

Whitmire, who has previously criticized local leadership over public safety issues, highlighted city and county struggles to manage the criminal justice system. He noted some courtrooms were still closed despite nearly 2,000 murder suspects awaiting trial and more than 900 suspects out on bond for murder or capital murder.

As the long-time chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, Whitmire said he would bring an understanding of the criminal justice system, work to provide more resources to the courts and forensic crime lab, and improve collaboration between the multiple law enforcement agencies in the region.

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“I want you to tell the firemen and the policemen that help is on the way,” said Whitmire. “I want you to tell Houstonians that help is on the way.”

Tilman Fertitta, billionaire investor and owner of the Houston Rockets basketball team, introduced Whitmire, and while not mentioning incumbent term-limited Mayor Sylvester Turner by name, referenced several controversies under Turner’s leadership.

In 2020, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development audit flagged Houston’s slow pace in administering Hurricane Harvey recovery funds, prompting the federal agency to shift control of the recovery and rebuild efforts to the Texas General Land Office. Later, both Houston and Harris County were temporarily excluded from receiving relief funds.

“When you had a strong mayor form of government and when you are the mayor in this city, you run this city. Every single department here is yours. It is no different than running a huge company,” said Fertitta. “When Harvey happened and the state got billions and billions of dollars, Houston didn’t get any money for years. I can tell you this. If John Whitmire is our mayor, that wouldn’t have happened.”

In other controversies, Turner opposed a voter-approved pay parity measure for the city’s firefighters, and the city’s lawsuit to prevent implementation of the measure remains pending before the state’s Supreme Court.  Should the firefighters prevail, the city may owe back wages topping $1 billion according to some estimates.

Turner also delayed implementation of a financial transparency project that would have put the city’s checkbook online until next year, and last year, former city housing director Tom McCasland accused the mayor of a lack of transparency in awarding a $15 million contract to a former law partner. Earlier this year, William Paul-Thomas, a senior aide to Turner, pled guilty to federal public corruption charges and resigned.

During his remarks, Whitmire said he faced opposition from those who “like the status quo.”

“They know if I’m mayor, it’s going to be very transparent, honest, and play no favors,” said Whitmire.

He also referenced his history of working with both sides of the aisle and holding his committee chairmanship under Republican leadership.

“Houstonians, who would you like in the middle of the night to call the governor’s office for whatever you need?” asked Whitmire.

As the longest-serving member of the state’s upper chamber, Whitmire is known as “Dean of the Senate.” He touts a campaign war chest of $9.7 million, but not all of those funds are available for his mayoral campaign due to the city-imposed contribution limits. As a former state representative, Turner was permitted to transfer the first $5,000 per donation in his state account to his mayoral campaign, but the total impact for Whitmire has yet to be determined.

Other announced candidates include former Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, who presided over the controversial 2020 general election in Harris County and has raised $1.1 million. Former City Council Member Amanda Edwards has raised $789,000, and local attorney Lee Kaplan has $900,000.

In addition to a fundraising advantage, Whitmire — although a staunch Democrat — appears to be drawing support from both sides of the political aisle. The host committee for Tuesday’s event included many Republicans such as retiring state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Humble) and real estate developer Dick Weekley.

Other notable host committee members include the Harris County Deputies’ Organization, Houston Professional Firefighters Association, and Houston Police Officers Union, as well as long-time Turner supporter and fundraiser Cindy Clifford.  Audience members Tuesday included District Attorney Kim Ogg, City Council Member Edward Pollard, and former mayoral candidate and Forward Party State Co-Chair Bill King.

Houston made national news this week following a water treatment facility equipment failure that forced the city to implement a boil water notice, keeping businesses and schools closed for two days. City officials waited nearly eight hours to notify the public, and never activated the emergency alert system until the notice was lifted Tuesday morning.

Houston’s mayoral and city council elections will take place on November 7, 2023, and voters will also have the opportunity to weigh in on a charter amendment Turner successfully deferred in 2021.

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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.