Four candidates running to be the next mayor of Houston were invited to be participate in the Houston Mayoral Forum at the Ripley House hosted by the Texas Organizing Project (TOP) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Texas. The candidates sat in alphabetical order with Adrian Garcia at one end, then Bill King, Marty McVey, and Sylvester Turner. As with any planned event, something unexpected took place when an energetic female candidate made it clear to the audience that there was a fifth candidate present. The hosts began explaining how their process worked and why only four candidates were invited. Demetria Smith then voiced her response as to why she missed her interview appointment. The organizers quickly pulled out a chair to appease this rogue agent.
After the dust settled, the forum commenced with the hosts explaining the four pillars of their platform. It boiled down to: 1) Good Jobs; 2) Neighborhoods of Opportunity; 3) Infrastructure; and 4) Immigrant Rights. At the end of the forum, all the candidates would be asked to endorse this platform by signing a large four by five feet petition. Every candidate except Bill King would end up signing and supporting the platform.
The first question was regarding the first 100 days as mayor. Garcia and Turner employed their well-rehearsed and appropriate non responsive answers explaining that each candidate would meet with TOP and SEIU Texas to set an agenda. Garcia stated that he would welcome and support immigrants. Turner also welcomes immigrants to our city but added that he would want to help out areas that have been ignored. King, on the other hand, noted that he would address the redistribution of wealth in neighborhoods, citing the current Houston decision to spend millions on Post Oak to create dedicated bus lanes in the Galleria area. McVey stated he would implement an Identification Card program for undocumented residents and supported a $15 minimum wage in the city. It was not clear if this minimum wage would only apply to municipal employees or all employees within the city.
“I fought for comprehensive immigration reform as Sheriff and will continue to as Mayor.” – Adrian Garcia The next sets of questions were addressed to each candidate individually. Garcia was hit hard for not standing up against the controversial 287(g) program as Harris County Sheriff. 287(g) allows trained local law enforcement officials to conduct immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions. In Harris County, this usually takes place when a suspect is booked after being arrested regardless of culpability. Some defendants then have an immigration hold placed, which results in deportation. Garcia began his response by reminding folks, “First and foremost, I worked as sheriff to keep people safe. I worked to get criminals off the streets.” Then, he attempted to spin the question by claiming that it only applies to criminals in jail. This is a false statement. He concluded his response by claiming to have fought against the program. How? I am not really sure.
King was asked which program he would cut first as mayor. He did not hesitate to throw the Houston Crime Lab under the bus and vowed to eliminate programs that provided duplicate services. McVey was asked to share his strategy for success as an unknown candidate; he began by explaining that he was unknown because he was not a career politician, then he cited his resume as someone that comes from the private sector that knows how to create jobs. Turner had the softer question of the group when he was asked to explain how he would improve the quality of jobs for employees. Turner took the opportunity to support a $15 minimum wage. He would also like to provide Houstonians with skills to obtain new trade jobs. He noted that not everyone is destined for college.
Turner was then asked how he would improve Houston neighbors when he has not done so as a Texas State Representative. Turner took the opportunity to explain how he improved West Little York Park, which was renamed Sylvester Turner Park in 2006. He reminded the audience that he still lives in Acres Homes and is a proud resident of the community. Although, to be fair, as a State Representative, he kind of needs to live in his district to run for it.
“I do not see the apparent need for a discrimination ordinance.” – Bill King Then, the event turned interesting when Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) was addressed. Smith took the opportunity to be a demagogue when she claimed HERO would “allow grown men to go into the bathroom behind your little girl.” A small minority of the audience cheered for her unpolished response. McVey gave the best response when he said, “I am not black, but I will stand for black rights. I am not gay, but I will stand for gay rights. I am not an immigrant, but I will stand for immigrant rights.” The crowd roared at his response.
The event concluded with members of SEIU Texas and TOP submitting ballots for which candidate they will end up endorsing. The take-away from this event is that HERO may play a bigger role in how this election turns out in light of the recent Texas Supreme Court decision.