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Houston voters to decide whether John Whitmire or Sheila Jackson Lee will be mayor

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Houston voters to decide whether John Whitmire or Sheila Jackson Lee will be mayor” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Voters in Houston on Saturday are picking between two long-serving Democrats in the runoff to determine the next mayor of Texas’ largest city.

The ballot features state Sen. John Whitmire and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, the top two finishers in the initial November election to lead the fourth most populous city in the country.

The winner will succeed Mayor Sylvester Turner, who is term-limited.

The office is nonpartisan, though Whitmire and Jackson Lee are both well-known Democrats with long tenures and powerful allies. Whitmire has served in the Senate since 1983, making him the chamber’s most senior member.

[In Houston mayoral race, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Sen. John Whitmire head to a runoff]

Whitmire and Jackson Lee finished far ahead of a crowded field in November. Whitmire finished first with 43% of the vote, while Jackson Lee got 36%.

Whitmire has run on a platform of increasing public safety, fixing streets and reducing cronyism at City Hall. He has also promised to improve the relationship between Houston and the Republican-led Legislature in Austin.

Jackson Lee has also focused on bread-and-butter issues but positioned herself as a more reliable Democrat who would stand up to “MAGA extremists.” She has the support of national Democratic figures such as Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.

The two have split local endorsements in the race. Jackson Lee has the backing of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Turner, who dropped his neutrality in the runoff, while Whitmire has leaned heavily on support from state Sen. Carol Alvarado and U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia.

Whitmire has long been seen as the frontrunner, bringing a massive warchest thanks to his long time in the Senate. He outraised Jackson Lee 4-to-1 — and outspent her 10-to-1 — on the latest campaign finance reports, which covered Oct. 29 through Nov. 29.

Whitmire has also led in every public poll of the contest. The latest survey — released Nov. 27 — found Whitmire leading Jackson Lee, 42% to 35%, with 22% of voters undecided.

Jackson Lee entered the race later than Whitmire and has faced headwinds like the October release of an audio recording showing her berating staffers with profanity.

Whitmire has had to contend with fresh questions about his ethics in office. The Houston Chronicle recently published a story outlining Whitmire’s history of “blurring lines between his public and private roles.”

The runoff could determine whether either candidate’s current seats will be up for grabs in the March primary. The filing deadline is Monday evening, and neither Whitmire nor Jackson Lee has said whether they plan to run for reelection if they lose the mayoral contest.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/12/09/john-whitmire-sheila-jackson-lee-houston-mayor/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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