The last major election of 2023 will take place on Saturday, featuring a runoff for the Houston mayoral race.

The last major election of 2023 will take place on Saturday, featuring a runoff for the Houston mayoral race.

Sylvester Turner, hit the airwaves

During the last week before the mayoral runoff election in Houston, an advertisement for Rep. Sylvester Turner was broadcasted.Sheila Jackson Lee

City residents were reminded to cast their votes by December 7th. However, there was a discrepancy as the runoff election was scheduled for Sat., Dec. 9 and the early voting period had already concluded on Dec. 5.

The ad was swiftly removed by Jackson Lee’s team, who informed Houston Public Media that it was first aired on Saturday and appeared on the ABC, CBS, and NBC stations in the area. However, the campaign clarified that the ad was produced by an external advertising agency, not by their own team.

The inaccurate advertisement and lack of awareness about the election date appeared to encapsulate the current state of the mayoral race in the fourth-largest city in America. The race appears to be struggling towards a low turnout result, making it the final major election of 2023.

In the November 7th general election, there were two main candidates among a total of 17 on the ballot and one write-in candidate. The winner, Whitmire, who is 74 years old, received 43% of the vote while Jackson Lee, who is 73, received 36%. The voter turnout was about 21% of Houston’s registered voters, which amounts to 1.2 million people, according to The Associated Press. The current mayor, Sylvester Turner, is unable to run for another term due to term limits.

Election 2023 Houston Mayor

In this composite image, we see U.S. Representative Shelia Jackson Lee on the left and Democratic State Senator John Whitmire on the right.

/ AP

According to Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, the race has been relatively uneventful thus far. Previous mayoral races have been more contentious and divisive, but this one has failed to capture the interest of voters.

Since the November election, there has been little change in the numbers. According to a poll by SurveyUSA Research, commissioned by the University of Houston in mid-November, Whitmire was leading Jackson Lee with 42% compared to 35%.

Although the race is officially nonpartisan, both Whitmire and Jackson Lee belong to the Democratic party. Jackson Lee has received significant endorsements from notable figures such as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. However, as Rottinghaus noted, these high-profile endorsements have not had a significant impact on the outcome of the race.

Whitmire has received significant backing from notable members of the community, such as Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, former Houston City Councilman Jack Christie (who ran as a Republican in the initial round), and prominent Republican donor Tilman Fertitta.

Houston, being the most diverse large city in America, requires the winning of the mayor’s office to also secure a coalition of voters.

In the 2015 election, Turner won by a narrow margin of two points against a conservative businessman. The Houston Chronicle reported that this victory was largely fueled by Black voters and effective get-out-the-vote initiatives. However, Rottinghaus stated that Jackson Lee, who could potentially become the city’s first Black female mayor, has not been able to mobilize Black voters in the same manner. According to Rottinghaus, there has been a significant decrease in voting numbers in precincts with a large population of Black voters.

Whitmire has emphasized his affiliation with the Democratic party, but he has also sought support from Republicans and has received significant donations from prominent GOP supporters. A recent poll conducted by the University of Houston revealed that he holds a substantial 56-point lead among Republican voters. Although Houston tends to lean towards the Democratic party, it is not as solidly blue as other major cities in the United States. Therefore, securing the Republican vote could play a crucial role in winning the election. Additionally, Republicans currently hold full control over the state government, with a Republican governor and majorities in both the Legislature and state Senate.

White, a White candidate, has also gained support from Latino voters, according to a recent poll by the University of Houston. The poll showed him leading by 20 points among Latino voters, who account for approximately 45% of the city’s residents.

Although Houston is a young city, the average age of the Houstonian voter is 62, according to Rottinghaus. The major local issue has been crime, and both candidates said in the final debate on Monday that they would keep Police Chief Troy Finner.

Given that both candidates have similar views on various topics, the competition has been intense.

Two weeks prior to the national election, a recording surfaced in which Jackson Lee can be heard using profane language toward a staff member. In a statement addressing the incident, she acknowledged her imperfections. According to Rottinghaus, a poll question regarding the leaked audio was added in November. While the majority of respondents stated that it did not affect their opinion, a significant portion of the younger and female population believed it did. These are two key demographics that Jackson Lee must win over.

Besides the audio that was released without authorization, Jackson Lee enters the runoff election with a large number of people who do not view her favorably. A survey conducted in October by the Hobby School at the University of Houston showed that 43% of respondents stated they would never vote for her, while only 15% said the same about Whitmire. In the same survey, 41% of people had a “very unfavorable” opinion of Jackson Lee, with only 28% having a “very favorable” view. In comparison, 13% reported a “very unfavorable” view of Whitmire, while 27% said they had a “very favorable” view.

Whitmire has faced claims of potential conflicts of interest during his time as a state senator. The Houston Chronicle reports that he has been accused of blurring the boundaries between his public and private responsibilities. Whitmire argues that as a part-time legislator earning a yearly salary of $7,200, it is not feasible for him to completely avoid potential conflicts of interest.

During the recent debate, Whitmire stated that the main contrast is that if elected as mayor, he would devote himself entirely to the role without maintaining a law practice. He went on to explain that while he could argue against certain issues raised by the Chronicle, it is not relevant as they pertain to his legal work. He also mentioned that most of these accusations have arisen in past campaigns. As a senator, he only makes $600 per month and therefore, like most politicians, needs to have other sources of income.

Harris County, home to Houston, will undergo state audits in 2022 and 2023 regarding voting practices. Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently approved a law that replaced Harris County’s elections administrator and gave control to other local officials. The current election is the first to operate under this new system.