There are nine candidates for mayor of Houston.
Six of them showed up for the Houston Public Media-League of Women Voters Debate last night, but most of the focus was on just two of them, Mayor Annise Parker and top challenger and former City Attorney Ben Hall.
It was a half hour into the debate before Hall took his first shot at Parker.
“We have streets that are deteriorating. You’ve been in office as mayor for four years. You’ve had command of $20 billion. Our streets are deplorable. As the next mayor of the city of Houston, the first line of addressing transportation will be to repair and correct these abysmal streets that we have in Houston.”
Parker, who never really went on the offensive during the 2-hour debate, defended her efforts to fix Houston streets, pointing out voter approval of Renew Houston in 2011, a 20-year plan to improve infrastructure.
“We are just two years into a twenty year program. We went from debt financing, which is the way we’ve always done this kind of business, to pay as you go and that transition was a little hard and I understand it. I see the condition of the streets of Houston as well as anyone else. But over the next 20 years, you’re going to see a complete transformation of those streets thanks to rebuilding our infrastructure.”
Word that Hall has had to pay almost $700,000 in back taxes and penalties this year led to this question from the Houston Chronicle’s Mike Morris.
Morris: “If you can’t pay your tax bills on time, why should Houston taxpayers put you in charge of their tax money?”
Hall:“Well, this is a question that I never thought would be asked tonight. Well, clearly, this is a question that is appropriate for this inquiry. First of all, I want to say that my wife and I Sandra have paid ever penny that we owed to every governmental agency. And in fact, we’ve paid two-and-a-half times more property taxes in the city of Houston than my neighbor, Miss Parker.”
Parker, who seemed restrained in her criticism of Hall’s tax issues, had this to say.
“97-percent of Houstonians pay their taxes on time. If you’re a school teacher in Spring Branch ISD, you expect to receive your paycheck on time. If more Houstonians followed Mr. Hall’s practice, that might not happen.”
Brandon Rottinghaus is an associate professor of political science at the University of Houston. He says the debate likely did little to change anyone’s mind.
“I think that Ben Hall did an adequate job of trying to make some points and try to chip away at the Mayor’s lead. The Mayor did a good job at maintaining focus and tentatively making the case that we should stay the course and re-elect her. There’s nothing there that seemed like it really upset the general trend of the election.”
The four other candidates at the debate, Eric Dick, Keryl Burgess Douglas, Michael Fitzsimmons and Don Cook, did little to distinguish themselves last night.
Early voting begins October 21st.